“Mrs. Mantell, your son Michael is not college material. He should definitely consider a vocational high school path.” That’s what Mrs. McCaffery, my 8th grade teacher at Chancellor Ave. Elementary School in Newark, N.J., told my mother with me sitting there…trembling,
My mother, then president of the PTA, looked at her, offered her a few “choice words” and we left. I have no tools in my garage now, maybe a hammer or a screwdriver, maybe, but I do hold a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
When I earned that degree in 1976 my mother suggested that we visit Mrs. McCaffery’s grave and let her know I had far more confidence and grit than she gave me credit for. I may not have been an “A” student then, but I sure had a solid “C.”
You see, in the words of Walt Disney, “Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.
Having practiced psychology for nearly 40 years, now very satisfyingly retired (or as my wife and friends say, reFired and reWired), I can tell you with confidence that Confidence, the “C” that trumps all “A’s,” is very likely the most important personality trait one can develop on the road to fulfillment, increase and accomplishment.
I am using the term self-confidence, not self-esteem, purposely here. What’s the difference? There is a big difference. Self-esteem comes from thinking well of yourself because others think well of you, that others should think well of you and that you deserve others to do so.
Self-confidence comes from you thinking well of, and believing in, yourself. Said slightly differently, self-esteem comes from others telling you that you are terrific, beautiful, smart, while self-confidence comes from knowing—fully believing, seeing and consistently telling yourself – that you are smart, talented, valued, worthy, and able. Self-esteem originates on the outside and self-confidence is well anchored on the inside. Self-confidence is persistently assured and the other is confident only when others confirm it.
Ultimately, self-confidence is a story. It’s what you believe, think and tell yourself about YOU. Many reasons exist for what leads to the development of one story over another, but in the end, it’s the story that you tell yourself about you that you need to work on to gain self-confidence.
Perhaps it’s time to review your self-confidence level. I have a belief, “Even when others stop me…they don’t stop me.” Do you stop in your tracks when others criticize you? Do you reside in a comfort bubble to avoid facing the risk of failure and confirming your “failure story”? Do you acknowledge your errors and move on, or do you live in fear that others will discover a mistake you’ve made, confirming the story you tell yourself of being a loser ?
Albert Bandura, Ph.D., is one of the world’s authorities on developing a specific component of self-confidence that he calls “self-efficacy.” It’s a fancy sounding term that very simply means the conviction you have in your ability to perform a specific task, produce at a high level of particular performance, and influence precise events in your life. Self-confidence is a more general belief in yourself, your worth and value. The amount of this “power juice” you have, determines how you feel, what you think, how motivated you will be, and in fact how long you stick with a goal. The stronger your self-efficacy, the larger the challenges you set for yourself and the more likely you will stick to those goals.
You can begin to see why self-efficacy, and self-confidence more generally, promote your sense of accomplishment and personal wellbeing. Life is full of challenges to master, not threats to avoid. This is similar to what others refer to as “mindset” whether it’s a mindset of growth or a mindset that is fixed.
So how to you develop self-efficacy, the deep belief in yourself that “you can do it”? Bandura suggests four sources:
- Mastery experiences – hard work that paid off in the past predicts more success in the future
- Vicarious experiences – “Hey, they are just like me and if they can do it, I certainly can!”
- Social verbal persuasion – hearing that others think well of your talents, value and worth
- Emotional and physiological status – The link is what you think, so thinking yourself into positivity and preventing “awfulizing” life-sucking, butterflies in your stomach levels of stress enhances self-efficacy.
Here are seven ways to increase your self-confidence and self-efficacy:
- Abolish your negative self-assumptions – Remember, self-confidence is a story you hold about yourself and believe it’s accurate. But it’s just a set of beliefs, of thoughts. Ask yourself if your thoughts are in fact true? It’s a dialogue you have with yourself about yourself. Would a friend say these things to you? Would you tell a friend these things about him/her? If not, why are you saying these things to yourself? Because they are true? Remember, it’s a story. What do you get out of thinking this about yourself? If it makes you feel badly, why not stop thinking it?
- Make a list of at least five of your strengths, values and benefits. Avoid inflammatory, awfulizing thoughts, or calling yourself black or white negative terms (complete failure or complete success). “Know yourself and you will win all battles,” observed Sun Tzu.
- Ensure early successes – Choose activities that you believe for certain you’ll be successful in, then slowly move up the ladder, achieving more and more to build your self-confidence and the “I can do it” Setting small achievable goals promotes self-efficacy and self-confidence. Ask for assignments that are challenging and that are within what you believe is your scope of ability to accomplish. Become more knowledgeable, more well read, more skillful in an area.
- Watch others succeed in an activity you want to take achieve. Observe those highly similar to you including neighbors, friends, co-workers, gym-mates perform and you’ll likely come to think, “If they can do it, so can I.” If you find yourself thinking, “Well, she’s had more education, he comes from a better family, they are more well liked than me,” then go back to #1 and check your story. You are creating a storm and then living with negativity because the weather is bad.
- Find a supportive voice – personal trainers, life coaches, co-workers, mentors, may be skilled in giving appropriate encouragement, and so are good friends…just be sure the feedback is valid, realistic, individually tailored, and about the progress you are making, not comparing you to others. Also be sure you believe the supportive feedback. If you don’t, that’s right, go back to # 1 and check your story. You can’t live predicting defeat and expect success.
- Check your image. How well are you looking in the mirror? Do you need to do a makeover on what you see? Consider changing your external appearance to promote better internal self-dialogue. Maybe it’s your posture that can promote your self-confidence—your thoughts give away a great deal of your body language. Yes, I know that many say, “accept the way you look.” Great. But there are times that changing the way you look can promote greater self-acceptance and confidence. It may be a new hairstyle , a new dress or suit, or losing a few pounds.
- Of course, we know that exercise improves self-confidence in so many ways, so get moving!
Finally, E. E. Cummings summed it up well, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” Catch, challenge and change your story and watch your self-confidence grow.