Confident by Nature

We all possess a well of confidence. It doesn’t require a boost of self-esteem, and it’s not about feeling better than anyone else. Instead, confidence arises effortlessly when we’re truly and deeply connected with ourselves.

Illustration by Colleen MacIsaac

1. Be a Student

The ability to see life as a classroom can turn obstacles or setbacks into opportunities to grow and feel confident, say Elisha and Stefanie Goldstein, coauthors of 99 Ways to Live a Mindful Life. When a limiting belief arises, pause and take note of it. Then try responding to self-doubt with a learning mindset. This was hard for me before, but this is a new moment, and maybe I can learn something from it.
A learning mindset isn’t about achieving; it’s about aspiring to keep getting better. Instead of falling prey to the idea that we “can” or “can’t” handle obstacles, we can be curious and open. Over time, as you intentionally counter self-doubt with kindness and a learning mindset, your confidence will grow.

2. Go Deep

Whether a circumstance shakes your confidence or you harbor a nagging doubt about yourself, those feelings seem to come from the depths of your being. But through mindfulness, you’re able to touch something even deeper: a trove of natural well-being, and yep, confidence.

Meditation teachers and authors Ed and Deb Shapiro write that the practice “enables you to meet, greet, and make friends with yourself…to know who you really are, and to accept and embrace every part.” When you touch this truth, there’s an expansive sense of welcoming kindness and compassion, for yourself and everyone else.

Science is finding some evidence of this. Two studies found that mindfulness not only increases confidence, but also increases life satisfaction, by making people more accepting toward themselves. “Mindfulness may be a useful way to address the underlying processes associated with low self-esteem, without temporarily bolstering positive views of oneself by focusing on achievement or other transient factors,” the researchers noted.

3. Watch What You Say

Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist who works with the Seattle Seahawks among other pros, knows that confidence is the key to success in any endeavor. “And it comes from just one place: what we say to ourselves,” he says.

To be effective, however, it must be “grounded in credible conversations with yourself,” he adds. This is where mindfulness plays such an important role. Cultivating full presence in the moment helps you to not get caught up in your old stories about the past and letting them color your expectations for the future. Instead, you’re right there with whatever is happening, starting anew.

It’s also what develops awareness of your own baseline of confidence—and when you’re being pulled off track. “Part of the training is being mindful, on a moment-to-moment basis, of whether you’re building or taking away from your confidence. The second part is being able to guide yourself back to the moment and adopt a positive mindset about what is possible,” Gervais notes.

4. Loosen Your Grip

It might seem contradictory that to uncover natural confidence you shouldn’t be too attached to the idea of self-esteem. But the very idea of self-esteem is flawed, says psychologist and researcher Kristin Neff.

First, it indicates feeling special or above average in some way. And that means measuring yourself against others—and determining that you’re better. “The quest to raise one’s esteem at the expense of others is a phenomenon that underlies many societal problems, such as prejudice, social inequality, and bullying,” she warns.

Second, basing your self-worth on constant comparison to others is simply impossible to maintain. Which means that it “rises and falls in step with our latest success or failure.”

Meditation teacher and Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe also suggests that the idea of self-esteem is really about overidentification. On one end of the spectrum, someone may be “full of self-aggrandizing pride or arrogance,” based on factors that have little to do with their nature, he says. At the other end is someone with low self-worth, which is actually the denial of their nature.
Through mindfulness, he says, we get the opportunity to loosen our grip on whatever identity we’ve attached to and experience the confidence already within, or what he calls “the underlying nature of mind.”

“It’s not something that’s too empty, or too full,” Puddicombe says. And it is “inherently and unconditionally loving, toward ourselves and others. It recognizes the so-called ‘good bits’ and ‘bad bits’ without judgment.”

5. Try Self-Compassion Instead

When someone you love feels bad about themselves, you comfort them. Yet this is often the last thing we do for ourselves. Instead, we act as judge and jury—and more often than not, assign some form of self-flagellation as “punishment” for our failings.

What effect do you think that has on your confidence? When we’re hurting, we don’t need harsh judgment heaped onto our already bruised self-view. Nor do we need some kind of aggrandized ego boost. We need understanding that as humans, we all make mistakes, feel inadequate at times, and struggle.
“People are compassionate to themselves because they’re human beings who suffer, not because they’re special and above average,” explains Neff. “Unlike self-esteem,” she continues, “self-compassion emphasizes interconnection rather than separateness. It also offers more emotional stability, because it is always there for you—when you’re on top of the world and when you fall flat on your face.”

PARTING THOUGHT

When you experience suffering, there are three doorways to self-compassion, says Kristin Neff.

1. You can give yourself kindness and understanding.
2. You can remind yourself that suffering is part of the shared human experience.
3. You can be mindful of your thoughts and emotions so that you find greater peace and balance.

Sometimes it’s easier to take one action over another depending on your mood and the situation. Whichever you choose, you’ll be in a state of loving, connected presence. That itself is worthy of your confidence.

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