As a 30-something, I look back at my confident and spunky college-freshman-self in amazement. What happened to that daring and saucy girl? Where did she go? She got buried under the stress of adult life and lost in the lack of control I realized I had over what I thought were guaranteed parts of life. She got broken and scared.
But this past New Year’s, I decided that I was tired of being afraid and insecure. My word for the year was going to be “courage,” and I was going to do one brave thing a day, whether that was voice a need, be goofy, or do something outside my comfort zone.
If you want to grow in confidence too, here are some practical tips on how to do just that:
Identify What You’re Afraid Of
Step one is to figure out what specific fear is holding you back. This might be obvious or, if it’s a vague but pervasive fear, it might take some reflection, journaling, therapy, or feedback from your close friends and family. Are you hesitant to goof off in front of others because you’re afraid they’ll think you look stupid and reject you? Are you afraid to move to a new city because you’re afraid of losing your current sense of stability? Are you afraid to break even the tiniest rule because you’re afraid to get in trouble because that would mean you’re not perfect? Discovering the reasons why we’re afraid or hesitant is essential to overcoming them, even if we rationally think our emotional fears are silly, stupid, or childish.
Step one is to figure out what specific fear is holding you back.
Name It To Tame It
Psychologists use the phrase “name it to tame it” to describe the phenomenon in which sometimes just talking about what we’re afraid of makes the fear dissipate. Verbalize your fears to a friend or your spouse. Tell them specifically what you’re afraid of and why. Allow them to point out where you might be undervaluing your abilities or catastrophizing the situation. Be open to their encouragement and affirmation.
Another way to nip fear and insecurities in the bud is to do an imaginative thought experiment. For example, let’s pretend you’re nervous to take a cross-country trip by yourself. Visualize the whole process: packing your bag, getting on the plane, renting the car, using Google Maps to drive to your destination, checking in to your lodging, etc. Chances are the act of specifically imagining yourself doing the action will help you to see that it’s totally possible for you to do, removing your fears and boosting your confidence.
Chances are the act of specifically imagining yourself doing the action will help you to see that it’s totally possible for you to do.
Research whatever it is that frightens you. Having sufficient information often reduces or even erases the uncertainties that make us hesitant or afraid. This could mean reading up on the subject, talking to someone who has already done it, doing a trial run before committing, visiting a new city before moving there, etc. If you’re the kind of person who highly values details and information, then taking care to give yourself enough information to feel comfortable is essential. It’s acting in the self-knowledge of how you operate and nothing to be ashamed of.
Make a Plan
Being prepared and equipped gives us a feeling of confidence. So make a plan. Think through your situation in advance and mentally go through various scenarios. Envision the best version, the worst version, and one where things get wacky. Having a specific plan and knowing that you’ve already considered “outside the box” versions will help you to feel competent.
Being prepared and equipped gives us a feeling of confidence.
Look at Your Past
Another way to boost your confidence is to remind yourself of things you’ve already overcome or accomplished in the past. Surviving one difficult or new experience can give you a leg up in getting through the next one. You can give yourself pep talks by reminding yourself of what you’ve already gone through and conquered: “If you’re the kind of person who could get through X (and you are because you’re still alive and well), then you can get through Y!”
Update Your Perspective
Sometimes our fear isn’t rooted in our imagined inability to respond to external circumstances, but rather in our very definition of ourselves. We might need to update the way we evaluate ourselves. We might need to change and see ourselves as imperfect but still loveable, as broken but not a failure, as someone worth taking care of (as Jordan Peterson says), as a lifelong learner, as someone with innate dignity and worth, etc. We will also need to accept that there are some things outside our control that are not our fault, like physical limitations or genetics.
We might need to change and see ourselves as imperfect but still loveable, as broken but not a failure, as someone worth taking care of.
Just Do It Afraid
Ultimately, you’re going to have to take action, regardless of your fear. Doing the thing you’re afraid of, living through it, surviving, (maybe even having a surprisingly pleasant experience) is the substance of building confidence.
Growing in confidence is not something we thought we’d have to do as adults, but adulting is way harder than we ever thought it would be as kids. If we have a foundation of confidence, overcoming the other challenges of adulthood becomes a little easier. It’s worth taking the time and the pains to grow in self-confidence.