When it comes to building genuine, long-term confidence, the number one challenge is dealing with self-doubt – that voice inside your head that plagues you with self-deprecating thoughts and regularly criticises you for what you do, how you do it, or who you are even.
Now, now, you might be tutting, constructive criticism is rather helpful as it can help you break down all available options to then make an informed decision – and that can be true. The tricky part though, is differentiating between holding a bar for constructive criticism and confusing it plain, ol’ self-doubt.
To understand how to overcome self doubt, manage self criticism, and boost healthy confidence instead, we must bear in mind the ways of perfectionism.
There is an age-old debate regarding the psychology of perfectionism, and at the heart of it lies a disagreement over definitions – what exactly is meant by the words and meanings behind: "adaptive" and “perfectionist”?
Simply, studies have shown that self-oriented perfectionism is a risk factor, or vulnerability, for psychological disorders, however not a disorder in itself. Self-oriented perfectionists do fine in situations of low stress, but are more likely to become faced with mental health issues and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even self-harm when things go wrong. (1)
All over the world researchers are furthering their claims of the danger of self-oriented perfectionism. Hewitt, a practicing psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia says in a fascinating feature in American Psychological Association, "In the literature right now, this astounds me, people have said that self-oriented perfectionism is adaptive – people will make that claim, and they'll just ignore the fairly large literature that says that it's a vulnerability factor for unipolar depression, anorexia and suicide. [The desire to excel and the desire to be perfect are two very different things].” (1)
What’s the difference between self-doubt and constructive criticism?
Constructive feedback will have some useful insights that will help you improve whatever you’re working on… self-doubt won’t. Rather, self-doubt amplifies your weaknesses, over-complicates situations, and rarely leads to problem-solving, all the while strengthening your inner critic and continuing to be too critical with yourself all around.
You may have noticed that even when things seem to go swimmingly, self-doubt has a way of highjacking your thinking and as a result, your ability to take action. And yet, even the most confident people, or ‘successful' people, deal with self-doubt and insecurities.
However there’s no need to throw in the towel – there are practical and mindful ways to navigate self-doubt, recognise the difference between doubt and constructive thinking, and ultimately, dim the spotlight on your inner critic.
3 ways to overcome self-doubt and boost your confidence
1. Recognise your current limitations
Look, I get the premise of ‘fake it until you make it’ but there is something fundamentally wrong with that approach. Anything based on an illusion or on a flimsy structure, just like a house, is bound to collapse.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything worse for my confidence than pretending I am something I’m not. That’s the surest way to develop a (justified) impostor syndrome… but that’s for another article.
To be clear, identifying your limits is neither defeatist nor negative. It’s about knowing where your starting point is. That knowledge is key to finding the strategies needed to devise a solid plan of action to help you achieve your goals and aspirations.
2. Work on your competence
It’s tempting to believe that confidence is something innate to a lucky few, but the truth is that real confidence is more often than not a by-product of competence. Whether looking at a professional athlete, a political figure, an artist/performer, or someone who just oozes confidence at work, the one thing you will find they all have in common is that they are good at what they do.
You might think that talent, just like confidence, is something you are born with. And yet, there are countless scientific studies illustrating how talent has more to do with deliberate practice than genes. I highly recommend The Talent Code: Greatness isn't born. It's grown by Daniel Coyle if you want to learn more about this.
There is nothing more rewarding than practising something and seeing progress, however fast or slow it might be. So pick one thing and work on it!
3. Ditch negative self-talk
The good news is that even when you are engaging in negative self-talk, the criticism you dish out is most likely harsher than anything you will come across in the outside world. Think of the last time you beat yourself up for saying the wrong thing.
Nobody feels like they are on top of everything all the time. Nobody is perfect, and the tough love approach rarely works when it comes to insecurities. To the contrary, it tends to backfire. Try self-compassion instead – having compassion towards yourself will make you a more confident person.
Being self-compassionate will not make you complacent, but it will make you more likely to pick yourself up and try again. Let the language you use be one that empowers you to make the changes needed to become your most confident self.
Implementing these strategies will take time and practice, but the results will be oh-so-worth-it. You got this.