Self-Confidence – What Is It and How Can We Strengthen It?

By: Other | January 13, 2017

Written by Francine Martinez, Ph.D.


“Confidence in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities”

-Merriam Webster Dictionary

Merriam Webster defines self-confidence in simple terms. Many of us also define self-confidence in relation to what we want to do but feel too anxious, nervous or worried to act. So, for one person self-confidence might be about speaking in public. For another, it might be about being confident in social situations. Whatever the situation, the definition of confidence is about being self-assured, showing self-reliance, or lowering our anxiety and nervousness.

Embedded also in self-confidence is being assertive, to act on what you want. This is about standing up for yourself, about having the presence and the personal power to regard yourself as equal to others. It’s about acting in a manner that demonstrates this.

It is common for many people to confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness, a mistake that adds to our hesitancy to act in a forthright manner. Aggressiveness is defined as pushing an agenda or action in a hostile manner that can leave the recipient feeling attacked. Assertiveness is the ability to act with confidence without being aggressive. The goal of assertiveness is to act on one’s behalf while respecting others’ differences.

For example, aggressiveness is “That was a dumb thing to say!” Assertiveness is “We may have different opinions on the topic, here are my thoughts.” See the difference? Both convey a message of differing opinions wherein one is hostile and demeaning and the other is respectful and thoughtful. Assertiveness and confidence go hand-in-hand.

Factors Underlying Confidence

Key factors that can help you feel confident follow:

1. Control

Feeling in control is an important factor for developing confidence. Controlling your thoughts, perceptions, emotions and reactions are critical for building confidence. As you recall situations wherein you did not feel confident, you may recognize the common factor in them: that the situations were beyond your control. You can increase your confidence by rehearsing for some situations, thereby increasing your control, such as going on stage, being in an interview, taking an exam. These things can be rehearsed to some extent. The more you do so, the more confident you will feel when you’re in the situation “for real.” Rehearsal allows you to prepare for the best and worst case scenarios mentally, emotionally, and intellectually.

2. Predictability

Of course, it follows that the greater the element of predictability, the more confident you may feel. It is about feeling prepared and knowledgeable about a situation or event. In situations with little predictability, you can manage by focusing mentally on your strengths. In all situations, you have some abilities or skills that are helpful and strengths that can reduce your stress levels to get you through the anxiety. Self-talk that is positive and affirming can be very powerful. Examples of affirming statements include “I’ve been through times like this before and have come out the other end stronger,” and “I’m an intelligent, astute, caring and flexible person.”

3. Mental

On a daily basis, we move through our familiar tasks and activities with a layer of clarity in ourselves and our abilities. It is common, however, to lose that clarity when faced with situations that are new or uncomfortable. Our minds become tangled with thoughts, questions and self-challenges about our ability to succeed. Relaxing our minds and bodies can help toward regaining that clarity. You may not feel totally relaxed, but you can learn to reduce your stress response with the aid of some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music or exercising. Such techniques can control adrenalin release and all the symptoms that go with it, including mental confusion. All are ways to help your body and mind relax in preparation for feeling more confident.

Different people feel different degrees of confidence in different situations. You won’t feel equally confident in all situations. While giving a presentation to your colleagues at work may be an ordeal, you might be the person toward which everyone gravitates when socializing. If you’re highly successful in business, you might find personal relationships difficult. And so it goes: Meaningful work on building confidence should be tailored toward your individual needs. Your work includes willingness to let yourself feel uncomfortable in the beginning as you rehearse, developing affirmative self-talk, and learning to relax in situations where you feel little control or predictability in the outcome.

Recall that your first time on a bike was probably not a pleasant or comfortable experience, yet challenging yourself helped you build confidence in mastering the “two-wheeled beast.” Every effort at building your confidence is like learning to ride a bike. So, let’s learn how to ride a bike all over again!


Image: erik forsberg on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

Get our latest articles sent directly to your inbox!