Many people want to have self-confidence. But what is it, really?
The goal the individual most wishes to achieve, the end which he knowingly and unknowingly pursues, is to become himself. – Carl Rogers
The single human problem
As a psychologist, the great Carl Rogers worked with many people. Although each client presented a unique problem – a student was failing college, a housewife disturbed about her marriage, a professional man overcome by sexual fantasies – a single thread connected the gamut of human problems.
Underneath it all, each person was asking, “Who am I, really? How can I get in touch with this real self, underlying all my surface behaviour? How can I become myself?”
But most of us do not really know ourselves.
Our tenuous relationship with ourselves shows up in many ways – feelings of anxiety, emptiness, loneliness, lostness, stuckness. There is a constant seeking of something outside ourselves to fill us. We want the love of another, the validation of another, the acceptance of another.
We feel disconnected at some level. A pervading sense of unease lurks beneath. We try to distract ourselves with food, movies, caffeine, Facebook, whatever, to avoid this uncomfortable feeling.
Having the sense that we’re not truly comfortable in our own skins, we seek a sense of self. We want self-confidence. We want to like ourselves, to feel whole.
How we lose ourselves
When I was choosing a major in university, I really, really wanted to study psychology. I researched all the universities and chose the University of Michigan because it had a great psychology program. But then my father said I would not make any money as a psychologist. My mother said psychology was a second-tier major. I doubted my choice. I switched to the prestigious business school instead.
We lose ourselves every time we say yes when we mean no. We lose ourselves every time we suppress or deny our feelings. We lose ourselves when we give up our essential selves to please or conform.
As children we developed this coping strategy because we had to fit in and gain acceptance to survive. Our behaviour became determined by what we thought we should do. We started doing the ‘right’ thing, the ‘good’ thing, the socially acceptable thing.
Our true selves got buried.
The search begins
At some point, we become aware of the true cost of our trade offs. We get tired of living somebody else’s life.
It’s not worth it anymore.
So how do we start knowing, finding and becoming ourselves? And how do we know we’ve made it?
Signs of true self-confidence
We know that we have a positive relationship with ourselves when:
1. We think and feel for ourselves
We become our own internal compass. We evaluate decisions and situations based on our own knowledge and experience. We stop looking to others to tell us what to do. We realise we can make our own choices.
2. We trust ourselves
We trust that we are able to choose, decide, and act in alignment with our best interests. We become confident that we can overcome challenges.
3. We respond appropriately
Our capacity and range expands. We respond appropriately to different situations and circumstances, no longer stuck in fixed ways of being. We no longer need to bend the situations to fit our beliefs of how things should be.
4. We are okay with uncertainty
We become fine with not knowing. We allow ourselves to be works in progress. We become more open to discovery. We can change our opinions and beliefs when given sufficient evidence. We do not cling to our version of how things should be.
Essential qualities for building self-confidence
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – E. E. Cummings
Courage underpins the decision to start becoming our most authentic selves. We need courage to walk into the unknown.
It takes courage to say, “Hey, something isn’t working. I’m going to do something about it.”
It takes courage to start being honest about our emotions.
It takes courage to face the things we’ve been running away from.
Louis CK has a great description of what it means to truly feel:
Once we dare to feel, we begin experiencing our deeper truths. We walk away from what no longer serves us. Instead of wanting to stay ‘safe’, we seek love, truth, beauty, joy, growth.
To grow and transform requires courage because we have to face our fears.
Love is giving yourself what you need most for your growth. Love is standing by your truest and highest self.
On different days that might mean different things.
In one instance, self-love for me meant having the courage to face failure on the road to my dream. To become a qualified coach, I had to pass a very difficult exam. On my first try, I put in everything I had and still failed. I was depressed. I had already done everything humanly possible. I started to think maybe coaching wasn’t for me. I was giving up on my dream. Self-love then meant to keep believing in myself and to persevere. What I needed was to continue honouring my dream, to try again despite fear of failure.
In another situation, self-love meant giving myself a break. Last year, I was overwhelmed and stressed. While training to become a coach, I was also leading a project at my job and organising a national outreach campaign. I was so stressed my eczema flared up. I was in pain all the time. Some days I could not go to work because I would wake up crying. At that point, self-love meant letting myself rest.
So what is love for you? What would serve your best intentions and truest calling?
Discipline requires willpower and integrity. It is about persevering, hounouring our word, and doing what we set out to do, no matter the circumstances. Without discipline, our courage and love falters, finding no manifestation in the real world.
For example, I love writing, But I also have a full-time job. However, my self-love tells me to honour my desire to express myself. So every day, I write 1,000 words. On weekdays I wake up early and finish the 1,000 words before I go to work. It is a way of honouring myself, before I see to the demands of the world. This requires discipline.
The emergence of self-confidence
Once these qualities are in place, true self-confidence emerges.
Life suddenly starts to make sense. Life no longer appears to be just a random series of events happening to us. We start to see our lives as happening because of us. We feel a sense of power or control over ourselves and our lives.
Our lives become imbued with meaning. The threads in our lives come together, and we start to make sense of where we came from, where we’re going.
That’s when you feel true confidence.