What the heck is confidence, really?
Your confidence is made up of three areas:
This is our judgement of how valuable we are, and how comfortable we feel being our self. So you can imagine low self-esteem statements are things like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I don’t deserve this awesome thing’ and you can also see it when people reject compliments or self-sabotage.
Sometimes referred to as self efficacy, this is how capable we feel at performing tasks, solving problems and achieving goals. So low competence might exhibit itself as imposter syndrome – so not feeling capable of the task at hand, feeling like you need MORE training or MORE knowledge or MORE skills. It’s different from low self esteem in that with competence you’re focussing on the skills or knowledge required, which are of course learnable – whereas with self-esteem, the feeling is deeper – more to do with your inherent worth as a human being.
This relates to how well we feel accepted by others. This is more outward focussed, more to do with how others perceive us and how we ‘fit’ into society, our community or even a small group like you might find in a workshop or classroom.
It’s quite common that someone who is low in one of these areas tends to be low in the others, but it’s also possible to have low self-esteem but have high competence and/or a sense of belonging.
For example, as a ‘recovering perfectionist’ myself, and having spoken to many others this combination can pop up frequently. Perfectionists may be overly-critical and negative about their personal traits (low self-esteem) and yet see themselves as quite capable in certain areas (high competence).
A perfectionist architect might consider themselves competent at technical drawing, but feel unattractive and uncharismatic as a person. It’s easy for this to happen, because we might get encouraged in a measurable, outward-facing skill early in our lives, so we continue to excel at that because of the encouragement and validation we’re given.
But, we might not have been given or might not recognise all the positive reinforcement from the less-measurable, less-tangible qualities we have. Unconditional love is just love for the sake of love, not for performing at a certain task – is something we all need, and that’s what boosts self-esteem. The problem is, even if we have it, whether it’s from a parent, grandparent, lover or friend – it’s harder to spot.
Someone with high self-esteem can show up fully in projects and engage with people because they aren’t crippled with fear of failure or rejection. Of course they still get hurt and disappointed when things don’t go to plan, but their setbacks don’t diminish their sense of self. They are resilient, open to new experiences and relationships, have a higher tolerance to risk, and are accepting and forgiving of themselves and others.
If we hear encouraging words from those key care givers early on, whether it’s encouragement in certain tasks (competence) or in words of unconditional love (self esteem) then we can develop a strong sense of belonging. This is the only element in the triad of confidence that I can’t see being cultivated from within. This really is dependent on those around us.
Which is a bummer if you’re a highly independent introvert. On the upside, I’ve seen a STRONG correlation between raising competence and self esteem (even if that’s generated from within) and a rise in belonging. Why? How? Well, the more competent and sure of themselves a person is (er, to an extent) the more likely others are to approve of them. That’s how our monkey minds work.
It’s hilarious really, when you think of some of the ‘guru’ figures out there. Whether it’s a rock star or some spiritual leader, they tend to have an abundance of self-confidence, and that alone attracts people. Even if those guru characters are full of hot air in reality.
I’ve been trying to analyse what it is that draws me to certain thought leaders, and repels me to others. Regardless of their personality type or their talents, I have to admit they all have an air of confidence about them. However, this also comes with a limit. Someone who is overly confident and doesn’t back it up with skills (so high self-esteem without the competence in an area I can measure or observe) I’m repelled.
The thing is, this is all relative. My judgement of someone’s competence says more about my tastes and values than it does about that person. And naturally, someone could look at my work and deem me incompetent, and therefore see any self-esteem I show as unwarranted, and therefore they won’t approve of me. Therefore, I don’t get rewarded by that sense of belonging from them – they’re effectively saying: I don’t want you in my tribe, thank you very much.
For this reason, my theory is that consciously or unconsciously, many of us more thoughtful, introspective souls try to purposely lower our self esteem in order to match the lowest possible opinion someone might have about our work – our competence.
If I take my sporting ability – which is unquestionably my greatest weakness in terms of outwardly observable skills, it’s safe to say I have low competence in this area. But if I use this as a measuring stick to assess my self-esteem, I end up with low competence AND low self-esteem. So when someone from another tribe sees me, they’ll likely judge me as a bit lame and insecure, and probably won’t give me much approval and acceptance. So, I don’t get my sense of belonging either.
Let me elaborate: if you tie your competence with your self-esteem, you’re in for a lot of trouble. You could end up like a guru or a narcissist, full of hot air because they’ve overinflated their self-esteem, and it’s NOT backed up by their competence. OR you risk lowering yourself to one of the few things you’re not so good at – we all have them. Either way, you’re going to alienate others, and that sense of belonging goes unfulfilled.
So what’s the solution? What’s the right balance? How do you boost confidence using this funky little triad of opinions and beliefs?
Well, for starters know that your self esteem is NOT dependent on your competence. I repeat: it doesn’t matter a dam how good you are at drawing ponies or how crap you are at maths. Each and every one of us is 110% deserving of unconditional love. And you can tell from that percentage how bad I am at maths.
The good news is you DON’T have to depend on others for this esteem. The bad news is: it sure does help. Of course it helps to have someone tell you they love you unconditionally. However, if you go through life depending on others for that, you’re likely to run into some real obstacles along the way.
Finally, your sense of belonging is not set either. It isn’t dependent on how much your parents loved you or how many or how few friends you had at school. The bad news for us introverts is that to find a sense of belonging, we need to put ourselves out there a bit. We need to give others a chance to see who we are, what we’re about and form their opinions of us.
And that is fucking scary. Of course it’s scary to risk disapproval. It’s the same fear that our ancestors faced when they were trying to please other tribe members, or risk being kicked out and thrown to the wilderness.
But unlike what our ancestors faced, this is not a life or death thing. Twitter can make it feel that way, but really really: it just doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t ‘get’ you. Or that someone doesn’t see your competence, or that they’re jealous of your competence and want to tear you down to build their own fragile self-esteem (this doesn’t work by the way, not in the long run.)
Now I think we’re clear on what confidence is made up of – self esteem, competence and belonging, and we’re clear on what the elements of this triad are dependent on and what they’re not dependent on – I’m going to round this up with some things you might want to try that will give you a little boost in all these areas, without faking anything or using the dark arts to boost your confidence. Your confidence will be built on strong, stable and sincere foundations. From there, over time, your confidence will grow up big and strong and carry you through just about anything you do.
I know it’s not the most original recommendation in history, but my LAWD is it powerful. The truth is, we can’t change something if we don’t recognise what we can change. By simply becoming aware of our negative self-talk, we begin to distance ourselves from the feelings it brings up. The practise of mindfulness lets us recognise these thoughts and feelings, but more importantly, lets us DISTANCE ourselves from them.
Without this awareness, we can easily fall into the trap of believing our self-limiting talk, and our self esteem stays down in the dumps.
“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that — thoughts.”
~ Allan Lokos
I really recommend the Waking Up app, from Sam Harris. I find it non-cheesy, non-preachy, and suitable for the secular-minded. There are some really powerful though experiments there too, so be prepared to have your brain changed (for the better.)
I told you sport is not my forté, but even I can’t deny the benefits of moving the old body. I’ve managed to find ways of exercising I do, for the most part enjoy, like yoga, walking and… well, that’s it. But even if these were a pain in the arse (and some days they are) I can’t deny how much better I feel about myself when I exercise.
I’ve left the days of using exercise to change how I look on the outside, and use it as a tool to feel better on the inside. And I don’t think it’s a placebo – many studies show a correlation between exercise and higher self-esteem, as well as improved overall mental health. It’s empowering to know you’ve done something good for yourself, and over time those little wins add up. Plus, the physical benefits like lower heart rate, higher happy hormones and better sleep, all help the self-esteem journey. You can’t simultaneously feel like crap when your body is telling you otherwise.
3. Share the love
David Simonsen, Ph.D., LMFT, says:
“What I find is that the more someone does something in their life that they can be proud of, the easier it is for them to recognise their worth. Doing things that one can respect about themselves is the one key that I have found that works to raise one’s worth. It is something tangible. Helping at a homeless shelter, animal shelter, giving of time at a big brother or sister organisation. These are things that mean something and give value to not only oneself, but to someone else as well.”
And it doesn’t mean your contribution has to be time consuming or expensive. Something i love to do is send random emails to people – authors, artists, podcasters – who have made some impact in my life, even if it’s mini, and I thank them. Weirdly, by boosting someone else’s self-esteem, mine seems to receive an equal or maybe even greater boost.
1. Assess yourself
As I mentioned earlier, you can’t change anything if you don’t know what you can change. Taking a kind of competence inventory is the first step towards this self-knowledge. This means making a list of the skills you have, as well as the skills you want to develop.
It’s worth noting that for each skill you want to improve on, note why you want that skill. There might be some skills you don’t have but have no real reason to improve them. So don’t! I have no ambitions to become the worlds first record-breaking 5’3” ginger powerlifter, so I’ll let that one go. I go through a process for spotting your Superpowers in the Masterclass for this month, Create with Confidence.
2. Make a mastery plan
Next, you can start to create your plan to improve on the skills you identified. If you’re feeling a little low in your competence at photographing your work, so you can post really gorgeous product shots on your Etsy store or Instagram, then google “product photography course.” I just dod a google search on that – and there are plenty!
OK so once you have some resources, decide how much time you’ll dedicate to that skill. An hour a day or a couple of hours a week? Or just a workshop next month? These are all little commitments you can make that will not only boost your competence – they’ll boost your self-esteem too because sticking to the promises we make with ourselves, is like rocket fuel for self-esteem.
3. Track your progress
On that note, to really get your moneys worth from all this skill development, make sure you keep track of your progress. I keep a yoga journal, since being told to for the teacher training course I’ve been on. I’ve noticed that writing about the classes I attend, what I’m learning, how I’m growing in my practise, is all really encouraging for my competence.
I feel like I’m making improvements, when I’ve kept a record. It means that if I have a day where I can’t hold Tree pose for more than a second, I can leaf back through my journal and remind myself that I am capable, I am improving overall, and it’s OK to have an off-day. Track your progress!
1. Find your tribe
I spent far too long as a freelancer without even trying to find my tribe. Ultimately, I created my own. You might have heard of it, or even be a part of it – the League of Creative Introverts. When I moved to Brighton, I started a meet-up group to meet other creatives, and co-hosted an event for other female entrepreneurs.
But I’ve also joined in with existing tribes. If I find something piquing my curiosity, it’s never long before I start looking on Facebook for a group around that topic, or for a podcast that delves into it. I recently found Yoga tribes, Astrology tribes, Digital Nomad tribes – and in every case, I’ve found like-minds who want to connect with others, and who embrace me with open arms, whether it’s in real life or on the interwebs.
Also, note that you don’t have to be super active or vocal in these tribes, especially not at first. There’s nothing wrong with being a Facebook group lurker in my books. What might help boost your connection to the tribe, is by contacting a few individuals, to warm up.
This also fits in my self-esteem boosting practise of emailing people I admire – this is a great first step to becoming friends with someone, telling them you love their work! As long as you mean it, that is. Or maybe it’s asking a question. Either way, those private 1-1 connections are not just more introvert-friendly, they’re also more powerful for forming real bonds, rather than superficial comments on an Instagram feed.
2. Get sharing
This means sharing other people’s work and ideas, yes – that helps people notice you and see you as part of their tribe. But… yes, it also means sharing your OWN work.
Stop protesting! If you aren’t doing this already, I implore you to start somewhere. A work in progress. Something you made years ago that’s never seen the light of day.
And please, whatever you do: don’t get discouraged if no one comments, or likes or shares. This isn’t an overnight thing. This isn’t a popularity contest either.
This is about the practise of letting yourself be open enough to the opinions of others – that means both their acceptance and their rejection – and over time, attracting your tribe.
Which doesn’t happen if you’re invisible.
3. Ask for it
Ask for what? Ask for feedback. Ask for shares. Ask for help. Ask for support. Ask for ideas. Ask for opinions. All of this helps the other quiet onlookers who might be your tribe, but who are also acting invisible, to pipe up and connect with you.
We need invitations. Kind of like introvert vampires. Your tribe are likely a lot like you. And if you don’t pipe up without an invite, it’s likely they won’t either.
The truth is, introvert OR extrovert, we like to take the easy route. I’m unlikely to spontaneously think of my friend who just released their book, and ask them to come on my podcast unless they’re reminded me and ask me if they can come on the show. I need prompting as much as anyone else.
I’ve got another post all about the Art of Asking, inspired by Amanda Palmer’s most excellent book.
In short: if you want a sense of belonging, you need to ask for it. And chances are, your tribe will be grateful you did when they find out what a badass creative introvert you are.
Before I go, I just wanted to tell you about something new I’ve created. It is a foundation on what we’ve been talking about today: the foundation of self-knowledge. It’s a Masterclass, which is made up of four mini-classes, all online + ready for you to consume at your convenience.
Each mini-class has action steps to go along with it, to really help you delve into the material and really start to understand yourself; who you are, where you are and what you want. From there, like I said, you can take the first steps toward making improvements, in the areas you decide.
This podcast is made possible only by means of my generous supporters on Patreon. Thank you! Supporting the Creative Introvert podcast also gets you lots of goodies, from a Monthly Ask Me Anything to a copy of my soon-to-be-released BOOK, The Creative Introvert: How to Build a Business You Love on Your Terms. Hitting milestones also funds future projects, and ideas guided by you, my supporters.
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