It happens to everyone eventually – something deeply rattles your confidence. You lose a job, mess up at work, receive tough feedback, or are otherwise set back on your heels. If it’s bad enough, then your very vision of yourself gets cracked, and you can even begin to wonder what your strengths really are.
Given the importance of confidence, if we lose it, how then can we get it back?
In their online book, Catalyst, the founders of G5 Learning explain how confidence and competence are intertwined to create success.
However, without confidence, competence will only get you so far. Authors Smith and Marcum write: “Why do people with deep, distinct strengths, unfaltering motivation, and who dedicate themselves tirelessly to reaching their potential, fall short of their own expectations? In a word, confidence.”
According to research, women suffer from a lack of confidence more than men. A 2011 study by the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed British managers about how confident they feel in their jobs. Half of the female managers expressed a degree of doubt about their job performance while less than one third of male respondents expressed the same doubt. In another study, Brenda Major, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, asked men and women how they thought they were going to do on a variety of tasks. The results? She found that “men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that the women routinely underestimated both.”
Even if women have more confidence doubts, there’s still plenty of insecurity to go around. As Smith and Marcum point out, the key to raise confidence is to rise above others’ (and your own) distorted images of yourself. As they say, it “isn’t controlled with an on-off switch. Instead it’s a constant stream of psychological strength that either sustains you, or is short-circuited by degrees of invincibility and doubt.”
So how do we boost our confidence when we need it most? Here are a few strategies:
1. Even when it’s hard, keep taking risks.
When we feel that we’ve failed, we often want to take ourselves out of the game, lick our wounds, and avoid risk. That’s the worst thing we can do.
Inaction keeps us mired in the space of loss. It’s only action which can create success and, in turn, confidence.
As Churchill famously said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Or if you prefer Joni Mitchell: “Action is the antidote to despair.”
2. Give yourself some small wins.
There’s no doubt that success breeds confidence, but it doesn’t have to be a huge one to help you build your confidence back.
Put yourself in a position to do incremental activities that capitalize on your strengths. Repeated, small wins can slowly bring you back to appreciating your talents.
3. Get perspective with a dose of appreciation.
If a failure is particularly stinging, it can overtake our thoughts and quickly get blown out of proportion. Find a way to take a step back and put it in the larger picture. Did you lose a promotion? Consider how many successes you’ve had to get to the place you are today. One promotion lost in a career is not a dead-end.
Seek out friends and colleagues who appreciate what you do. If you can share the failure in a safe environment, you can gain the viewpoint that others have of you. We are always our harshest critics.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others.
One of the reasons that failure hurts is that we are concerned about what others will think of us. Rationally we may know that it doesn’t matter, but you just have to look at Facebook behavior to see how comparative we all are.
If your failure results in someone else’s success, try not to make it a zero sum game. Your losing a promotion now doesn’t mean you won’t get one later. Come from a place of abundance – there are more opportunities if this one didn’t go your way.
5. Try to find the hidden gem of learning.
No one can be perfect all of the time, and we all fail. When we do, if we can dig deep and see the failure as a chance to learn, we can use it to our advantage. If we can reframe, we may even find a positive message lying hidden inside.
It really is all about the journey. Failure teaches us the most lasting lessons. We get stronger. We learn more about ourselves. We gain perspective. And we go on.
When you do overcome your failures, remember to not hide them. Showing vulnerability can actually make you more influential and inspiring to others. We are drawn to those who have failed and gone on to success. It’s what makes you human…and just like the rest of us.