By Paolina Milana
Oh, those voices in our heads! You know the ones. They whisper words of judgment and doubt. They ask us, “Who do you think you are?” and “How could you possibly be so clueless?” They are masters at making us feel as if we’re just not good enough. And before we even realize it’s happening, slowly but surely, we start losing confidence in who we are, what we do, and pretty much everything we ever thought we knew.
You’re not alone. According to the online therapy platform BetterHealth, everyone lacks confidence occasionally. It’s also not your fault. So many factors contribute to losing confidence. An article in Psychology Today points to everything from genetic makeup to life experiences to media messages as reasons why we may be losing confidence.
So, what can we do when we’re losing confidence? The answer is “a lot.”
Below are four simple steps that have restored confidence quickly in the people I coach, and I know they’ll help you do the same.
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Step 1: Figure Out the Root Cause
Knowing why you’re losing confidence is key to reversing that downward spiral and not only getting your confidence back but also strengthening it in the process.
So, take the time to become aware of your environment, your thoughts, your behaviors, and your relationships so that you can identify the negative influences that need to be addressed.
- Are you comparing yourself to other people’s “highlight reels” on social media? Does doing that boost your confidence or does it do the very opposite?
- Are you putting unrealistic expectations on yourself? Do you feel as if you have to be “perfect” or that you have to “know it all” from the word go? Are those “unattainables” part of the problem in your losing confidence?
- Are you feeling your age? Whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, or beyond, every season of life brings with it new experiences, and sometimes, having to learn something new contributes to our losing confidence in who we thought we were.
- Are the people in your life—your so-called “friends,” your bosses, colleagues, or even your significant others—disrespecting you to the point of beating you and your self-confidence down?
Asking yourself these questions and getting answers will help you to begin to break free from whoever and whatever is dragging you down.
Step 2: Remember Who You Are
I know. This sounds either too simple or a bit daunting and maybe even scary. But I promise you that all the people I have coached have found it to be empowering.
This is, quite simply, taking inventory of yourself. So, take out a sheet of paper. Write down the years you’ve been alive.
You can start at any age and focus on individual years or group years in increments of five or ten years. It doesn’t matter how you go about doing this. It only matters that you get real with yourself when you do.
Humans tend to remember and reflect more on the negatives in life—past traumas, unfavorable experiences, perceived failures. So, for this exercise, you want to force yourself to write down things you have done in your past that have gotten you to where you are today.
No moment is too small. No judgments and no cherry-picking. You simply write it all down.
For example, when you were 11 months old, did you take your first steps? What year did you speak your first word? When did you learn to ride your bicycle? Were you 16 when you got your driver’s license? Did you learn your computer skills on a PC or a Mac? When was your first crush or kiss? Were you ever responsible for a fur baby or feathered friend? When’s the first time you boarded an airplane? How old were you when you cashed your first paycheck? What’s one thing you did in your past that you never thought you’d ever be able to do?
You see how when we objectively review all the things we’ve done (and succeeded at)—many of which we had no clue how to do at the start—we begin to realize just how capable we are?
It’s not that we didn’t make mistakes or didn’t fall down while trying and learning. We most likely did. The point is that we progressed and that nothing—neither the good things nor the bad—lasted forever.
In doing this exercise, we begin to see ourselves more clearly and boost our self-confidence. We also start to gain perspective from hindsight, often having those lightbulb moments of how one event that didn’t go as planned actually turned into the catalyst for a moment that was bigger and better than you could have ever anticipated.
We then take this to the next level and go outside of ourselves. So, write a little social media post or craft a simple text message asking the other people in your life to share two or three qualities that come to mind when they think about you.
Don’t be shy about it, and don’t fear what they may say. I promise you that the responses you get will surprise you in a positive kind of way.
We all are our own worst enemies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to become friends with who we are (and who those voices of self-doubt and judgment in our heads have us convinced we may be).
Step 3: Strike a Pose
Madonna fans may have just uttered the word “Vogue” and, yes, that’s part of what I’m talking about here. If you’ve never actually read the lyrics from Madonna’s 1990 hit bearing that title, I encourage you to do so.
That song is all about getting on the dance floor when you don’t feel good enough inside yourself. The lyrics are speaking to anyone losing confidence, and they suggest how throughout history, icons with attitude just got out there and did their thing—and you can, too.
Don’t believe me? Don’t think it can be that simple? Don’t know or even like to dance?
I hear you. But before you dismiss this step, consider this example from what started me on the path to striking my pose whenever I felt as if I was losing confidence and needed a boost.
I was a young corporate executive struggling to keep my head above water during a particularly challenging time of merging with another team. My paths crossed with an older, wiser “been around the block” celebrity moments before I would be facing a boardroom filled with decision-makers of my fate.
This gracious lady shared with me her secret as to how she was able to exude confidence even in her most dreaded moments.
Ready for it?
In the elevator, hallway, or the bathroom you visit on your way to whatever it is that has shaken your faith in you and your abilities, you do what she told me was called “the Wonder Woman pose” (works no matter how you self-identify).
Simply put, you stand straight, take up some space, put one hand on each hip, chin tilted upward, breathe in, and be present. Hold this pose for a few minutes. It’s one of the power poses by social psychologist Amy Cuddy.
This Harvard Professor, author of the bestselling book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, and TED Talk speaker galvanized millions with ways to access our power and elevate our confidence. If you try it, you’d be in good company.
Beyoncé does it. Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde—the French politician, lawyer, and president of the European Central Bank—does it. And Cuddy’s study explains why it works.
Our attitudes often follow our behaviors, her research suggests, meaning that assuming the body language of a powerful person can make anyone who does it feel more confident.
Step 4: Just Say “No”
Losing confidence means you’ve given your power away. And one of the fastest ways to take back your power is to utter a tiny two-letter word: NO.
Now, this is going to take some practice. But guess what? So did you when you lost confidence in yourself. Revisit Step 1 in this article. Every one of those examples took time and, yes, practice to erode your self-confidence. So now, identify which ones are negatively contributing to how you’re feeling about yourself, and let’s start practicing rebuilding your self-esteem.
Start off small. Is scrolling through your social media doing some damage to your psyche? Then just say “no” to it. Take a break from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or whatever is consuming you.
You get to choose whether or not you allow that noise into your life. Prioritizing yourself by saying “no” to paying attention to others’ posts is something that you control and that has a very powerful payoff.
What if you’ve determined that your losing confidence is directly related to you getting older? It’s no secret that there’s bias and ageism and a socially pervasive idea that you’re either too old to do certain activities or to learn new things.
But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: At every age, we think the decade that came before was easier and that we were somehow better, smarter, faster. Some of that may be true, but most of it isn’t.
Say “no” to focusing on what you think you can’t do or you can no longer do as well as you used to. Put your energies into all that you do know, everything you have experienced, the wisdom you’ve gained, and the skills you’ve acquired. For every moment your inner voice criticizes you, tell it “No. Thanks, but no, you’re wrong, and here’s why…”
Practice saying “no” at least once a day. It can be to your own judgy voices of doubt, or it can be to the external factors you’ve identified that have caused you to lose confidence. It, along with these other suggestions, are very powerful steps in restoring your confidence.
Losing confidence in ourselves happens. It’s happened to me on more than one occasion.
I bet if you asked the people closest to you in your life—the ones who outwardly seem to be so very confident—they’ll shrug and nod, letting you know that they’ve experienced self-doubt and a loss of confidence, too. It’s part of being human and living this thing we call life.
Remember, however, the famous quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady and wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
You get to choose. You always have the power. Remember who you are. Strike a pose, and just say “no” to whatever is dragging you down.
So, what do I want to know? What’s one tiny step you’ll take today to start back on the path of restoring your confidence?
*Paolina is a confidence coach who uses storytelling to help leaders step into their power.
*This article first appeared on the lifehack.org website