How to Build Self-Confidence From the Inside Out

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“Nothing holds you back more than your own insecurities”


These last few weeks, I’ve been majorly reminded of the fact that long-lasting self-confidence doesn’t come from the things we do and accomplish. It isn’t something we can get from outside sources. A lot of the time we push ourselves to do more, obtain the right titles, and accomplish certain goals in order to feel good about ourselves, impress others, and feel important. We believe that we can’t—or worse, shouldn’t—have confidence unless we have diplomas, riches, trophy partners, and the idolized family. As a chronic overachiever, I know what it’s like to strive to achieve perfection and feel embarrassed if my life goals aren’t met on a deadline.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having goals and wanting to achieve them. But when your confidence, self-worth, and happiness ride on those accomplishments, you’re likely to be left feeling disappointed. This is something I thought I had conquered. I believed the only opinion that mattered to me was my own. I put my articles online, opened myself up to criticism, and often revealed my vulnerabilities in the content I wrote. All in all, I felt happy and confident in my work.

Now I find myself in a different game, with new rules. I’m releasing my very first non-fiction book—something I’ve dreamed about since I first started reading. This book came to life through my sincere desire to share with others the importance of putting themselves first in order to create a better quality of life. I didn’t write this book to impress anyone or feel good about myself—at least, that’s what I thought. But all of my old insecurities rose to the surface when I started sharing the book with colleagues, former professors, mentors, and academic journals for review. Here I was, holding a hard copy of my very first book in my hands, feeling personally proud of the outcome but hanging in the balance waiting to hear others’ opinions. I felt oddly uncomfortable and exposed. “What if they don’t like it?” “What if I only sell two copies?” I tossed these questions around in my mind, feeling more and more vulnerable by the minute. Finally, I caught myself and realized I was falling right back into old patterns. I had gotten caught up in believing my book had to be a big success. I got stuck thinking it had to receive great reviews in order for it to be considered a good book, for my time to have been worth it, and for me to feel good about what I had written.

I broke out of my self-conscious spiral when I remembered that confidence comes before success. Other than my dissertation, I’ve never written a book; so I started my book-writing process with very little previous experience. Therefore, I had to build confidence before achieving success so that I could take effective action toward my goal. If I base my confidence on how many book reviews and sales I get, I’ll be building on a weak foundation. And, in the event that my book ends up not having as many great reviews and sales as I’d like, I’ll be setting myself up to feel like a failure. As a result, I might stop writing and lose my confidence altogether.

The other thing that helped me snap me out of it was reminding myself not to base my confidence on external factors. Rather than externalizing our confidence—by counting our awards and trophies, for example—we have to base our confidence on what we have control over. We have to ask ourselves, “Did I try my best?” “Did I put my best work out there?” “How do I personally feel about what I’ve done?” No matter how much I work on developing my confidence from within, I don’t think it would matter much if I wasn’t living my dream of writing. There’s certainly a difference between feeling good about living your dream and placing your confidence and worth on external factors like what others say, how much money you make, or how many awards you achieve. My desire to write came from within; this helped fuel my efforts to work hard at developing my skills. I mistakenly assumed that the release of my book would bring my self-confidence to the surface. Instead, it shed light on some lingering insecurities about what others think of me. That’s why I had to take a moment to think about all of this: my work, its true value, and the way I feel about all of it.

Last, but not least, I remembered that confidence is a mindset. To be confident is a decision—one we have to make with every new goal we set. It isn’t a one-time thing. It took time for me to develop the confidence in myself to blog and write valuable articles; now I must decide to become confident in my work as a self-help book author. You have to decide to be confident in yourself, work hard, and then let go of the outcome. You have to honestly ask yourself, “Am I happy with what I’ve accomplished?” The answer to that question is the only answer that truly matters.

Building self-confidence is an inside job. No matter how many good reviews or sales I get, I know I wouldn’t feel good about the outcomes of this venture if I didn’t approve of and value my own work. Will getting some good reviews be great? Yes, I’d like that very much. But I’ve decided not to base my worth as an author and psychotherapist on the opinions of others.
I’d love to hear how some of you build your confidence from within. Are you struggling to feel confident in your life? Is there some advice you can offer to others about becoming more confident? Please share!

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Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier




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