Losing your confidence is horrible…you just want to hide away until it comes back
But, finding your confidence is not like trying to find your keys. You didn’t put it down somewhere and forget where you left it. Something else happened. So, what was it that made you lose your confidence?
I’ll come back to the reasons why in a minute, but let’s first look at what confidence is. Because, it’s a bit of a strange thing. Some writers talk about confidence being like self-esteem, which is your belief in yourself. For example, how lovable, likeable, acceptable, able and useful you see yourself. They’re the “I am…” statements about who you are.
I think confidence is a bit more like this. It’s not quite an emotion and yet it does seem to be this felt state – “I feel confident”. But what gives you confidence?
What gives you confidence?
Experience gives you confidence. The more experience you have in doing something like meeting people, doing a job or driving a car, the more confidence you gain.
So, you could say that confidence is merely the product of practice. You get confident when you’ve done something enough. But what about when you’re already familiar with something? What about when you’ve been doing something for years and now you’re not able to do it anymore? What is that about?
Why is it that you get on fine for a long time and then you can’t?
When you start to lose confidence, you start to second guess yourself. You’re full of doubt and unable to make decisions. You’re out of your flow. You’re out of your rhythm. You’re full of fear and you can’t do it on your own any more.
Sometimes, there are clear contributing factors. Maybe things got difficult at home or in a big relationship. Maybe something happened at work, which meant you didn’t feel safe or comfortable anymore. Sometimes, there are obvious things that have happened, which help you understand why.
And, yet, in other circumstances, it remains a mystery. There is no reason. There is nothing to explain it. It just happened. Any the only conclusion you can come up with is that there must be something wrong with you. You can’t hack it. You had it and then you lost it. Harsh right?
When the mind gets all judgemental and critical
The trouble is that the human mind often gets judgemental like this. When it can’t find a reason, it blames you. You and your personality are to blame. It’s similar to when you worry. Worrying is often unhelpful and yet is a natural response to connecting with something that seem outside of your control. You worry because you can’t control it. Your mind judges you for losing your confidence, because there is no one else to blame.
A loss of confidence can come more gradually. Your mind throws up a doubt “am I right about this?” You feel uncertain. So, you start to check. You start checking out stuff you learned about a long-time ago just to be sure. You start checking out stuff you used to know like the back of your hand.
When you lose confidence, you start to hold back. You become more insular as you get stuck in your head trying to figure it out. You notice you’re worrying more, feeling more anxious and unsure of yourself. So, you hold back even more. You avoid tasks, meetings, projects and new opportunities.
Staying inside your comfort zone
Whilst this feels like the sensible and safer thing to do, you end up shrinking your comfort zone. The space where you feel comfortable gets smaller. Your loss of confidence might spill over into other areas of your life. The fear grows and before you know it, you feel like a very different person indeed.
So, what is the solution? Well recently, I spoke to Aisling Curtin from ACT Purposeful Living in Dublin. In the interview, which will be broadcast on 5th March, she spoke about how she is helping people to breakout of their comfort zone. She’s named this intervention 5 Minute Breakouts.
The idea is that they’re helping people to build their confidence and connect with what they want from life at the same time. Instead of just doing scary stuff for the sake of it, they are helping people to get clear about where they want to go in life.
And that is the core of the problem. When you lose your confidence, you stop living your life to the full. Your mind starts telling you, I need to get my confidence back before I can start living again. The problem is that when you live by this assumption, you put the cart before the horse. Confidence comes after, not before.
Stepping outside your comfort zone
Stepping outside your comfort zone isn’t easy. It can be intimidating. So, you may need some support from a work colleague, boss, close friend or professional. The key is to set yourself small goals like breaking outside your comfort zone for just 5 minutes a day. Your confidence grows when you do small things every day.
By just doing 5 minutes it can seem far less scary. Your confidence grows in the background. And by doing it every day, you are being persistent. Not much changes when you do something challenging once a month. Or it just takes much longer for your confidence to grow. And I think there is risk that you’ve give up on it, because the steps are too far apart.
One thing that helps you keep going is to check in and make sure that you are taking good care of yourself. This might mean delaying something nice for yourself until you’ve done your 5 minutes’ breakout. Or, it might mean doing it with someone. Habits tend to be formed more successfully when you do it with someone else rather than on your own. Connecting with people helps to soothe you and reduce your fear.
Recent research into forming health-related habits shows that it takes on average 66 days to embed a new habit in your psyche. It can take longer of course. And you still need to maintain a commitment to it every day.
If you’re ready, then setting yourself daily goals can move you forwards. It can move you forwards steadily and consistently. Try to remain open to what shows up in your mind and in your emotions. You might not want the fears, doubts and frustrations. But, try to make space for them. Let them be and don’t pay them too much attention. They’ll change soon enough if you let them.
Thoughts and feelings are a lot like the weather in that way. They change often – especially in the UK. The skill is in letting them change rather than trying to hold on to feelings you like and getting rid of feelings you don’t like. Let them be and take care of yourself like you do the people you love.
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