Confidence, and especially self-confidence, is something many of my friends and coaching clients consider more a mystery than a characteristic they draw on easily in their lives. To develop and maintain a strong, authentic confidence, the missing element is self-generated confidence.
Confidence is defined as a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers; a visceral belief that one will act well; a relation of trust or intimacy. This last aspect is easily overlooked and really important. For self-generated confidence, you must be your own best friend by trusting your inner voice and forgiving yourself when life takes your breath away.
Authentic, fullhearted confidence is the opposite of perfectionism or certainty.
What does self-generated confidence look like in action? I worked recently with a client who had a negative work incident and requested assistance to increase his confidence, which had been damaged. There were several steps we discussed that are core to cultivating a more resilient confidence that bends but does not break under duress. Self-generated confidence emerged as the missing element in his life, especially because externally generated confidence was out of his sphere of influence.
- Notice and document negative thoughts and their origins.
My client was able to tag some really juicy thoughts like: A thousand people standing behind me can do this job. If I was strong enough I wouldn’t need help. We are taught and we catch confidence-eroding thoughts from our family, our community, and society that become unconsciously embedded in our minds and hearts.
- Pay particular attention to how negative thoughts are tied to one’s societal power and a system of oppression.
In the case of my client, he was the only person of color on the management team in a company that was doing poorly. In letting him go, the CEO used as an excuse that my client hadn’t solved a number of problems that were very damaging to the company, even though my client had no authority or responsibility in the relevant areas. He had to debunk a seemingly positive, but really negative, disempowering thought: ‘If I was truly great they wouldn’t have been able to let me go.’ I gently pointed out that he was on the Titanic and no matter how well he had performed at his company, he was not going to get a seat on the lifeboat. He had neither the right skin color or positional power.
When understanding how internalized oppression works many years ago, I saw how I had bought into negative thoughts I received as a woman of color. The most important lesson I learned was to identify these thoughts, many of which started with the words: “I should have…” That put an expectation on myself to know and anticipate white supremacy culture as well as live by it characteristics of ‘perfectionism’ and ‘one right way’.
- Develop antidote to negative thoughts.
The critical voice has to be quelled by strengthening your nurturing, wise voice. I always have my clients develop a vision of what they will be feeling, thinking, and doing that is different than in the present moment. It is an antidote exercise to cultivate self-generated confidence. It is not a fake, broad ‘you can do this’ affirmation. I encourage specificity and only what my clients can influence – themselves.
My client knew this nurturing voice as he used it with his son. This made it easier to start using this voice with himself. He also got to consciously ponder what attitudes he inherited from his family that he wanted to discard and which ones he wanted to pass on to his son. Breaking our patterns allows us to positively influence those we love.
In speaking with my client, I become conscious of how often I use my inner nurturing voice from years of practice. When I missed an overhead at tennis practice, I mentally noticed the two things I did right BEFORE thinking about how to correct what I did wrong. I reminded myself to hit the ball in front of me rather than saying what I most often hear from the women around me: I can’t believe I did that or how could I…fill in the blank. Given the strength and reinforcement of the critical voice around me, I self-correct constantly. My client told me recently how important it was to be rigorous for the effects to root. He now makes time every day for a self-counseling session where he uses his nurturing voice.
- Accept positive feedback from others when genuine.
‘Thank you’ is enough when given compliments. If it is genuine, take it in completely. Notice your patterns of deflecting or feeling you need to say something positive back. These behaviors are steeped in a dominant critical voice and in wanting to be liked. Your nurturing voice will also let you know when the praise is coming from someone else’s lack of confidence. ‘Thank you’ is even more appropriate then, rather than engaging in an inauthentic exchange of platitudes.
- Repeat steps over and over.
Self-generated confidence is a practice with valuable repercussions. Apart from giving you the capacity to be in charge of your confidence level, it performs another core task. It allows you to weigh external evaluation against data from your own assessment. After any speech, presentation, or performance, I evaluate myself so that any other feedback is weighted based on my inner wise self. I focus on what I did well, especially given any challenging circumstances, and note 1-2 things I would do differently. I practice pride dipped in a warm coating of humility and joy.
Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, says: “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval.”
Self-generated confidence is an essential, often neglected aspect of overall confidence worth cultivating. By increasing your ability to give generously and honestly to yourself and accept positive regard, you can then give it authentically to others. Wellness is contagious and is a gift that never goes out of style.