We all struggle with a lack of confidence at some point in our lives. It’s a struggle that rises from a whole range of causes, from perfectionism and a fear of failure, to a deep sense of inadequacy instilled in us from childhood trauma, to specific negative experiences and relationships.
Often a lack of confidence takes the form of imposter syndrome, a term coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. Imposter syndrome, they said, refers to “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Their research found “that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.”
Ultimately, we want to balance confidence with humility. True humility doesn’t mean seeking out humiliation or letting the world walk all over you. It means having a rightly ordered understanding of yourself and your place in the world. Being a humble person means that we don’t think too much of ourselves, but it also means we don’t think too little of ourselves, either. God created each of us with unique gifts and talents, and having a grounded, confident sense of ourselves and what those unique gifts are will help us find purpose and clarity.
Here are some habits that can help you start to become more confident, so you can grow more fully into the person you were created to be.
Figure out your vocation
Being clear on your life’s purpose, and identifying what you feel called to do with your life can help you make decisions with greater confidence, and help you see the deeper meaning in your life. As Frederick Buechner wrote, “Your vocation in life comes from where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”
So, ask yourself: What brings me joy? What could I do that would help others? Where do the things I’m good at overlap with other people’s needs? When you feel rooted in your purpose, and have a clearly-defined vocation, you’ll be able to live out that purpose with more confidence.
Have perfectly imperfect role models
There is no finish line in life — everyone is constantly learning, and no one has it all figured out. Surround yourself (at least mentally or virtually, if not physically) with people who model confidence and humility — the kind of people who are not afraid to ask questions, admit that they were wrong or made a mistake, and are open and honest about their weaknesses.
These models could be public figures or people you know personally. Spend some time thinking of three or four people like this, and journal about each one. Why do they inspire you? How do they model confidence in imperfection and being a student of life? How do they handle critical feedback and difficult situations? With role models like these, you’ll find yourself adopting a similar attitude.
Be your own role model
While you’re journaling, try thinking about a few accomplishments that you feel particularly proud of. Think of the times you handled a hard situation well, or felt afraid to do something new, but tried it anyway. How did it feel, before, during, and after? Take notes.
Deepening your self-awareness about the areas you’d like to grow in confidence, and celebrating the times you acted with courage (big and small) will help you to keep growing in the right direction.
Make friends with fear
Fear is like poison. A truly confident and courageous person isn’t a fearless person — they are someone who has acknowledged and examined their fear or insecurity, made peace with it, and decided not to allow it to rule their life. Next time you feel a lack of confidence in a particular situation, allow yourself to feel the fear, then shift your focus on to the thing you’d like to achieve — the positive outcome you could achieve, in the best-case scenario.
Whenever I find myself spiralling into insecurity, the best antidote is always to take action. Not sure I know how to do something? Go read about it, watch a YouTube video tutorial, and then try it out. Lacking in confidence when playing a musical instrument or singing? Practice makes perfect. If you want to get more confident at public speaking, offer to make a short toast at a friend’s birthday party.
Over-thinking or intellectualizing insecurity won’t help — we can’t think our way to deeper confidence. Realizing the world doesn’t end when we fail or didn’t do something perfectly the first time will give us more confidence to try again.
Develop a healthy relationship with rejection and feedback
Any time you face rejection or negative feedback of any kind, try to reframe it as constructive criticism in your mind. Ask yourself, What can I learn from this? Keep notes. Seek constructive criticism from people you trust and respect, and stay curious about what they tell you.
I’ve heard of writers developing their confidence by making a game of collecting rejection letters. For every rejection you get, you could vow to send in at least two other applications, submissions, or pitches. Remember, the more rejections you get, the more resilient you’re becoming, and the more you’re learning.
Keep a positive affirmation swipe file
Our brains actually have a tendency to focus on the negative (it’s called our “negativity bias,” and it’s an instinct designed to protect us from danger), which means that we need to make a conscious effort to remember the positive.
I know it sounds a bit cheesy, and maybe even slightly self-indulgent, but I love encouraging people to keep a “personal positive affirmation swipe file.” Any time you get a piece of feedback that makes you glow, put it into your swipe file, so that you can come back to it when you need a confidence boost. Over time, you might start to see a pattern in the positive feedback, affirming your vocation. Whenever you’re struggling or feeling mired in self-doubt, affirmations can help you remember whom your work has touched and who appreciates what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it.
True confidence, after all, isn’t the same thing as arrogance or thinking that you know it all. It’s the ability to keep trying and growing — to face your fears and live in a way that honors the purpose and gifts you were uniquely created with.