Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | December 11, 2008

Enhancing Self Confidence

There is an interesting exercise we did when we were traveling around the world.  We were a bunch of students from all over the world all gathered to study intercultural communications and management.  And so on one of our first lessons, the professor passed us a sheet with twenty lines all starting with the words “I am” followed by a blank space.  In fact if, as you read, you’d like to know yourself a little better, you can try it out as I talk about this.  Take a piece of paper, write down “I am _______________” twenty times and then stop reading this for a moment and fill in that paper.  Done?  Ok now we were asked to chose the top 5 we felt would describe us most if we were back at home.  Then the top 5 that would describe us most if we were talking to a colleague on the boat (from another country).  (try doing this with describing yourself first to your family, then to a stranger in your city, such as a colleague at work or at university).

What followed was interesting: the things you had picked were things that you felt set you appart from others.  When picking things to describe yourself at home, you would pick home as a reference frame and describe things that make you different than the majority.  One thing we had notticed for instance, was that no boys wrote “I am a boy/man/guy” but most girls, in minority, had writen “I am a girl/woman”.   Similarly, no one had circled their nationality as one of the important five “I am” characteristics when talking to people of their country – because everyone in their country was from there – but they had circled it when considering talking to someone else on the boat. (and even more interestingly — it turns out most third culture kids, meaning the children that had grown up in three or four different countries, had included any kind of ethnic or country affiliation — we had all used adjectives to describe ourselves).

This all introduces the concept of in-group and out-group.  Whatever you mention about yourself when trying to describe yourself is things that you would consider not to be obvious or common in the population – that is you are marking yourself as an outgroup.

I don’t know what you circled on that sheet or what you wrote down.  But chances are that with giftedness there’s a whole lot on that sheet that we define ourselves by and which are out-group characteristics that we have to feel and notice in our everyday life.  And it starts in childhood.  And that impacts self confidence to a certain extent – because part of our image is built on the reflection and feedback we get from others, as is explained by the Johari Box, which I will explain in another post.

But so what is Self-Confidence, and how can you boost it up?

Self confidence is really made of three parts:

  • Self Esteem
  • Confidence in your capacities
  • Ability to affirm oneself in the context of others

So let’s examine these one by one.

Self Esteem
Self esteem gives interior peace — it is when we know our own value.  When we know what we are worth, then we don’t look at our failures or successes to indicate whether we have some worth or not.  That is a bit of a vicious circle, you see, because if your self-esteem does not depend on external circomstances, then you can take risks and try on new things even when things are going well (you’re not faced to wait for a crisis in order to undertake something new) and therefore you can accomplish more and later be proud of what you did.  When you are extremely scared about the outcome of your endeavours and you label your success as a low self worth, then you are unable to improve and become better and you are stuck in something of a rut.

Strategies for boosting self-esteem: watch out for detractor friends, and chose instead to be surrounded by positive relationships — they will often bring forth in your qualities you had not suspected and by being loved even with your defects (which everyone has) you learn to put the weight better where it belongs.  Next, focus on your qualities and build on them;  if you have no talent in a certain area, it may take you a lot of effort and time to change that — why not put yourself in situations where you can utilize and enhance the skills that you do have?  Also, don’t compare yourself to some ideal — because ideals are unreachable most of the time.  Try to be realistic in your expectations of yourself and try to accept your limits.

Confidence in your Aptitudes
This becomes particularly strong in an environment where errors are allowed, in childhood and later life alike.  Once again focus on all that you do know, while you improve what you don’t, because often thinking only of what we don’t know or lack may put us in a bad light.  Your surrounding should tolerate mistakes so that you may learn, too, and that you may feel like you have a possibility to outgrow your current limits.

Strategies for having confidence in your aptitudes: If you do find your confidence in your aptitudes is wobbly, try setting smaller objectives at one time so that you can reach them and feel good about each aptitude newly proven or discovered.

Ability to affirm oneself in a group
If you are comfortable with this, you’ll notice that the talent of someone else on a team for instance motivates you, instead of making you jealous or self-conscious or wanting to prove him wrong.  I very often feel energized by my contact with people who exhibit outstanding skills and dedication to what they do – instead of feeling scared.  But that takes a lot of self confidence, and it may happen to you if you do have outstanding skills to be ill-received by people who have low self-confidence.

Strategies for increasing your ability to affirm yourself in groups: So keep an eye out and if you feel you are being rejected or mistreated don’t let that affect your self-image — ask yourself first if the person you are dealing with has a high self-confidence and whether you are really the problem.  At the other extreme if you do suffer from low ability to affirm yourself you are highly likely to be micro-managing in teams, always checking that everyone does everything under your control, which can be very very annoying with others.  Even though it may feel uncomfortable, work to break this habit.  This does not benefit you because others won’t appreciate working with you as much, and this hurts others because it created resentment and other feelings that can interfere with work.
Last few words of advice:

  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Finish whatever project you undertook — you will feel better about yourself than if you never get anything done
  • Take risks, start by small ones if you are not used to it
  • Train or practice before you act; in a rowing challenge, a sportsman once said: “Experience helps tremendously, because every difficulty I meet, I have already lived them less violently when practicing”.  Confidence comes from repeating/practicing/rehearsing and from projecting ourselves in the situation
  • Don’t fix your objectives too high — we only have human abilities; be careful with the North American culture that states “you can do it” – we all have limits and it’s important to be realistic about what we have the ability to do and what is unreachable to us
  • Get rid of negative thoughts.  Replace them by questions.  Instead of telling yourself you can’t do something, for example, ask yourself whether it is the task at hand that is too difficult?  What points do you think you’ll have a hard time with?  What would be the solution to avoid those hard points?  Could you not obtain some help?  Try to get rid of all prejudices – ask questions, don’t make negative statements about yourself
  • Other exercise : try telling your day to a friend or to yourself in a positive way only, stressing the good things that happened – you’ll see there probably are a lot of great things that you can take pride or joy in
  • Detach yourself completely from the outlook of others onto you, and if that’s hard for you, try this:
    (a)  first, to help you do that, tell others when you don’t know something or when you aren’t feeling comfortable, without fearing their judgment – this by the way makes you more credible not less to their eyes
    (b)  second, if someone or something shakes your self-confidence then don’t take any important decision on that day – get some sleep, and the next morning, when everything is worn off, make the decisions with the confidence you usually have.
  • If you do feel you have low confidence, specially following an incident with someone else, start by basic things; take care of yourself by sleeping well, eating well, having a good hygiene, doing some sport.  Respecting yourself is the first step to getting some self confidence
  • Try to look at the things that happen to you with humor, instead of being self-conscious and judgemental towards yourself
  • For every small victory, congratulate yourself or treat yourself to something special.  Don’t let the good steps – as small as they are – go unnoticed
  • When unsure of your abilities, think back on an episode where you had a similar situation, just slightly different, or where you felt the same, and how you solved that then — it will help remind you that you are in fact capable of attaining what you want
  • Take a look at the blog entry “What about those ten thousand promises?
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