Self confidence is a general and realistic belief in one's own abilities. Self confident people trust in their own ability to achieve goals that they plan and set out to achieve. This belief needs to be realistic. Self confidence does not mean that an individual can achieve anything and everything, even absurd goals. It simply means that the person will have a sense of control over his own destiny, a positive frame of mind and is likely to make the best use of his talents and skills in achieving positive outcomes. Achieving self confidence is a fine balance. Lack of self confidence or under-confidence will result in an individual doubting his abilities. Such people seek the approval of others for reassurance. They believe they have to conform to the expectations of others to fit in and be accepted. They will tend to avoid taking risks for fear of failure. They expect to fail and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! Under-confident people tend to under-achieve since they have a low estimation of their abilities and therefore will not push their boundaries to achieve their best. They also tend to play down their abilities and are often uncomfortable dealing with compliments - usually discounting them.
On the other hand over confidence is not desirable either, as such individuals may tend to have unrealistically high expectations and beliefs in their abilities and therefore take unwarranted risks.
Self confidence is not necessarily all-pervasive. An individual who is completely comfortable and confident in one area of activity, say his work or profession may lack confidence in other areas such as social situations.
What factors contribute to lack of confidence?
Lack of confidence is often the result of unrealistic expectations. Constantly aiming for perfection is a certain recipe for failure which reinforces feelings of inadequacy. Children who grow up in excessively protective environments and are not allowed to develop their independence may tend to be less confident than others who are allowed to develop their own abilities and self reliance. Similarly over critical and demanding parents may undermine a child's self confidence and cause them to continually doubt their abilities even in adult life.
What steps can be taken to improve self confidence?
Low self esteem and low self confidence are perpetuated by unhelpful and often destructive thought patterns. Self confidence may be improved by identifying the offending thinking habits and taking steps to correct them. For instance seeking acceptance and approval from everyone may be an unrealistic expectation. The fact is that in day to day life one will encounter people that will never approve of every aspect of your life. It is far more beneficial to set personal standards which are not dependent on the approval of others.
Under confident people are quite often their own worst critics. They are quick to brand themselves failures at the slightest obstacle. It is important to remember that even the most successful people encounter setbacks. What sets them apart is how they deal with that setback and venture into the future. A setback or failure in the past need not dictate the course of your entire future. However, if at the first sign of failure you label yourself a total failure, chances are that's exactly what you will be! Evaluate your expectations - Are they realistic? Don't be overly critical of yourself. Refuse to accept the criticisms of others where it is unrealistic.
Give yourself credit for what you do achieve rather than focussing solely on the negatives. Resist the temptation to magnify negative outcomes out of proportion while minimizing positives.
Persons with low self esteem avoid risks and may therefore never truly find out what they are capable of. Taking calculated risks can broaden one's horizons and help to gain greater self awareness and acceptance.
Evaluate your standards - substitute more reasonable expectations for perfectionist targets that are bound for failure. Build up to more challenging targets as your confidence grows.
Self consciousness is a major hurdle to self confidence especially in social situations. Diverting attention away from yourself can help to diffuse this situation. This can be achieved by keeping yourself occupied with other activities or focussing on the purpose of the social encounter and engaging your mind on furthering that social purpose. Not having enough to keep your mind occupied is guaranteed to produce feelings of self consciousness leading to feelings of anxiety, inadequacy and lack of confidence.
These are just a few steps that may be taken to improve levels of self confidence. Clearly it is just the tip of a very large iceberg and the most appropriate measures would of course need to be determined by individual circumstances.