In my last blog [Link], I explained what self-confidence is all about and what leads to low self-esteem. It’s now time to look at the specifics: Today, I am going to give you some tips on how to build up or regain your self-confidence. Let’s begin with the most important points: Stop comparing yourself with others, become aware of your strengths and accept your weaknesses. But also pay attention to the words you use and to your body language.
You probably all know the saying: ‘You make your own luck’. This also applies to self-esteem. Even though I explained to you last time that a lack of self-confidence is often based on childhood experiences, you are not at their mercy and can overcome them – or ‘reprogram’ them, to use the technical term.
The best tip I can give you is to stop comparing yourself with others immediately! Avoid statements such as: My friend’s career is advancing faster than mine; another friend earns more than me; my neighbor has a nicer car than me, etc. Comparisons simply make you unhappy because you always only see that you have something bad (or less good). The main problem with comparisons is that there is always someone who can do something better than you or has more than you. So you compare your weakest sides with the best sides of others. And logically, that makes you unhappy!
Be kinder to yourself, don’t constantly reproach yourself or talk yourself down. Ask yourself again and again: Would I talk to my partner, friends or clients in that way? Probably not… Don’t let your inner critic get the better of you. Instead, ask yourself what you would say to a friend or do for him if he once failed to achieve something? You would probably comfort him and try to build up his self-esteem. You should do the same for yourself from now on!
Recognize your successes and strengths
Many people with low self-esteem don’t appreciate the great things they have or are good at doing. Back in the 18th century, Adolph Freiherr von Knigge already wisely said: “Respect yourself if you want others to respect you!” In my coaching sessions, I often ask my clients to write a list of what they have already achieved in their lives – on their own initiative – and to make a note of what they are really good at. This is how I direct their thoughts towards the positive things in their lives, and we celebrate the successes they have already achieved. This makes people confident that they can do more than they were aware of before. This is comparable to writing a list of all the things you are grateful for in life, which I talked about in a previous blog [Link].
Over a month ago, I took part in a symposium at the Hohenegg private clinic on the subject of confidence (which is also a part of self-confidence). Gunther Schmid, the German psychiatrist and founding member of the German Federal Association of Executive Coaching, gave a lecture there. He rightly pointed out that it is very important for people to experience the feeling that they are still capable of taking action – and that they can do something themselves so that they feel better and can have an impact despite everything that is perhaps going on around them and no matter how little confidence they actually have in themselves. So set yourself small goals and make sure you have a sense of achievement. This gives you the confidence that you can also achieve other, larger goals over time – moving from a downward to an upward spiral. This is important because self-confidence is not gained in one day – it has to be built up step by step.
Strengthen your strengths instead of eliminating your weaknesses
Be aware that your strengths and weaknesses are both part of you and that you should focus on playing to your strengths rather than lamenting or combating your weaknesses. The portal www.ausbildungs-tipps.ch summarizes this perfectly: “I don’t have to be a ‘striker’ if my talents make me more of a ‘goalkeeper’. Although goalkeepers can’t win a game, they can prevent their team from losing.” A team needs players with different strengths – the right combination makes a team successful. Working on your weaknesses is often very frustrating and exhausting. In contrast, strengthening your strengths is a faster, more motivating process and therefore gives you energy.
Many people think that adults are the way they are and cannot change. Fortunately, this is not the case! We can use mental techniques to reprogram our brains (thanks to its neuroplasticity). There are different ways of doing this. For example, using your inner eye you can visualize a situation where you would normally be stressed (e.g. speaking to the Executive Board of your company). Now see how you could tackle the situation full of self-confidence. You are calm and confident and feel comfortable in your own skin. Now repeat this visualization 1-2 times a day for several weeks – and do so as vividly as possible, with a lot of detail, and see how good you feel about it. Fortunately, the brain can’t distinguish between visualization and the real situation, which is why you will feel so good over time. Mantras have the same effect: This is when you say something to yourself over and over again (possibly even in front of the mirror), e.g. “I have already achieved a lot. I am good as I am” or “I react very confidently when someone launches an attack against me” – depending on your area of weakness.
Your language and posture influence the way you feel
Finally, here are a few more tips to help build your self-confidence:
- Pay attention to your choice of language. Don’t sabotage your self-confidence by using expressions such as: “I can’t do it anyway”, “It won’t work anyway” or “I’ve failed with it before. Why should it work now?” Avoid words like “perhaps”, “rather not”, etc. that reflect uncertainty. Instead, choose convincing words and speak louder.
- Your posture also has an effect on your self-esteem – either negatively or positively. Avoid nervous gestures such as running your fingers through your hair or chewing your upper lip. Stand up straight, put on a relaxed smile and look the other person straight in the eye. Power posing, which I described in a previous blog, also proves helpful before important meetings [Link].
- The German psychologist Peter Gollwitzer recommends using “if…then…” sentences to increase self-discipline and willpower, e.g. “If my colleague treats me badly the next time, I will stand up straight, look her firmly in the eye and then ignore her”.
- Reflect on the origins of your beliefs and feelings of inferiority. Consciousness is always the first stage in bringing about change – in this context, this means transforming negative beliefs into positive ones (see mental techniques above).
- Think about which situations and people weaken your self-esteem and keep as far away from them as possible.
- Say “stop” or “I won’t do that” if negative thoughts enter your mind.
- Replace your inner critic with an inner mentor. Think of a cool figure and ask him what he would do in critical situations (idea developed by the business coach Erwin Schmäh).
- Accept compliments and be grateful for them instead of dismissing them.
You may have noticed one topic that was missing from this list of points: How to deal with perfectionism. This was a deliberate omission. Based on my coaching experience, I have found that perfectionism is THE biggest-ever trigger of stress. We effectively make life difficult for ourselves through our desire for perfection. I will therefore dedicate an entire blog post to this important topic. You can read more about it in three weeks!
© Claudia Kraaz