Climbing the Steps to Confidence
An Anvil T&D opinion article by Daniel Hunt & Charlotte Officer
Confidence exists within every person, ranging on a spectrum from meek to arrogant. Confidence is commonly attributed to an individual’s personality, especially when first meeting someone - but has a role in the many different facets that make up an individual’s identity. There are many aspects of confidence - confidence in the self, confidence in others and confidence in your own abilities - which I would argue differs from self-confidence, as the former relates more to the individual’s understanding of themselves, as opposed to their skill set. Within a reasonable degree, confidence plays a role in building a sense of self, allowing for the development of relationships with others, and building skills that contribute to our work or activities about which we are passionate. Lacking confidence in any of these areas can lead to some kind of challenges in life, whether internal or external to the individual. Having ‘too much’ confidence can bleed into arrogance and unrealistic perceptions of the self, whereas having ‘too little’ can lead to an individual doubting themselves and failing to seize opportunities they may otherwise wish to take.
Being able to identify less-than-desired assurance in any of these aspects of confidence is admirable - as I believe that anyone willing to self-reflect is already leaps and bounds ahead of the version of themself that they wish to change. In saying that, the hardest part of personal development isn’t just identifying faults, it’s actively making change.There’s no shortage of ‘motivational speakers’ or online influencers who will tell you nice words about being happy and confident within yourself - even on your most difficult days. Personally, I’ve found that many of these speakers and influencers rarely tell anyone how to practically achieve change, instead saying things like “Choose to be happy/confident” - or similarly vapid, throwaway lines. The only choice I consider important on this topic is the active choice to make change - however, the challenge of implementing personal improvement is difficult to navigate, as the ‘how’ is conveniently neglected to be shared.
How to Build Confidence
Put simply - building confidence can be achieved through ‘repeatable success’. I understand that this revelation hasn’t brought anyone closer to understanding ‘how’ to practically build confidence, so let’s go slightly deeper than a two word answer.
When hearing speakers or influencers talk about their individual pathway to where they are, many will use the word “journey”, Whilst I personally feel that this word is overused to the point it becomes almost meaningless, I recognise that it can certainly be used to conceptualise the process of success and confidence-building. A journey is made up of multiple steps - you can think of that literally if you like, as a physical journey made up of thousands of footsteps towards the destination.
Figuratively, the steps involved may be:
Step 1 - Get out of bed.
Step 2 - Shower.
Step 3 - Get dressed.
The idea is that you’re moving forward by working towards smaller, achievable goals. In my own life, I’ve been at a point in life where my daily goal was to just get out of bed - and by doing that, I was taking my first little step in a more positive direction. Over the course of months, my goals increased in both quantity and quality - from getting out of bed to walking to my local coffee shop, and in more recent times, to ensuring I contribute to the running of our start-up business to ensure it runs smoothly (like writing an article on time!). Whilst this is a personal example - the point is that I treated my “journey” as a step-by-step process, which led to cumulative feelings of success and increased my confidence. A key point to make is that steps you take towards your own success need to be realistic and achievable, which is standard goal setting practice. For example, if you wanted to lose weight for the sake of your health - I would never recommend an immediate cold-turkey approach. Cold-turkey is the ‘journey’ equivalent of being shot out of a cannon and hoping you land in water, as opposed to just walking. In the weight-loss example, a realistic and achievable approach may be to implement some slight diet adjustments to start, and adding a little bit more exercise. Whilst “the only constant is change”, radical change is rarely well-received. To make your goal more tangible, it may help to write each of your steps down - creating a list of achievable tasks helping you towards the final desired outcome.
This small step process applies to all facets of life, whether learning a skill or trying to improve a personal attribute. It is also a skill to appreciate each step you take as a success, no matter how mundane - this takes time to build. As you continue to work towards your goals, you’ll find yourself much more confident in things that you once considered daunting.
Self-confidence is defined as “a feeling of trust in one's abilities, qualities, and judgement.”
The above definition is according to the dictionary, and while self-confidence may have some subjective meaning to some - I’ll be using the objective definition provided for the rest of the article. The reason for this is that I believe confidence related to abilities, qualities and judgement gives a good overall coverage of confidence at an individual level.
As abilities are a ‘hands on’ application when aiming to improve personal confidence, I’ll be using a practical example - training within a gym. It is common for beginner-level athletes to see more experienced gym goers performing very impressive feats of strength (or cardio, if that’s your thing), and letting that influence their own expectations and goals. While shooting for the stars is great in many contexts, as I mentioned earlier - the expectation and goals need to be realistic and achievable. Say the beginner wishes to learn to bench press, but hasn’t ever really done it before - it wouldn’t be realistic to load up a barbell with the equivalent of their body weight and expect them to do anything but hurt themselves. The ability to actually perform the movement is less relevant to this article than the confidence in one’s own ability to perform the movement - any reasonable person would be honest about their inexperience. Going back to the step-by-step process of building confidence, a trainer or individual would benefit from setting small, short term goals - defined within a larger overarching plan. In addition to this, there’s the fact that most abilities require many hours of physical practice to become better at them - so, even time can be used as a metric for goal setting. Achieving an hour a day of practice in your chosen skill is a great way to meet short-term goals while improving. As discussed above, creating a concrete, written plan can be a helpful way to outline the end goal, and the achievable steps you can take to get there. So, for something like bench pressing, setting the first step as committing to one bench press session within the gym a week sets you on a path towards becoming proficient at that movement. After each session, self-reflection can help build your ability and confidence with that specific activity - and lead to an increase in the skill itself.
The qualities of an individual are what you could say ‘make them who they are’ - including both their personality and ethos. I would argue that identifying an area for improvement within the qualities that define you is one of the first, and often the hardest, steps in building self-confidence - as you are looking within yourself and recognising that certain aspects need work. Many people go through life staying as they are or have been conditioned to be, whilst others are aware of qualities they wish to change, but never act upon it. Both ability and qualities relate in the sense that they are within your control - you may be as you are right at this moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be another way in future. They both require accountability and active steps towards change. Once again, self-recognition and accountability in making proactive change are skills that require time and effort - and are refined with practice over time.
When looking to build confidence in yourself, finding a balance between acknowledging personal qualities you admire, and areas you want to improve, is crucial. When looking to make positive change, the ability to recognise ‘weak spots’ - those being areas you wish were different - is key to personal growth. If someone is prone to anger, but they don’t see an issue with their overreactions - why would they ever work on improving their moods? All emotions are part of the human experience and play their own role within reason, but emotions exist on spectrums - and everyone has their own individual experience. If someone leans towards being reactive & angry when it is counterproductive to the situation - recognising this imbalance can lead to self-work and finding a more appropriate balance. The same goes for all qualities - a quality of yours may not be objectively bad, but if it leans too far one way to become harmful to yourself or others, it may be an area you wish to improve.
“Qualities” seems quite broad, and it is - especially when there are so many that make up who someone is. These unique combinations create snapshots of who people are - introverted, extroverted, chatty, shy, expressive, stoic, rude, polite, and so many more. More importantly, these combinations may change in different scenarios - so, it is important to recognise that there is room for change and growth, and you are not defined by a singular attribute. With all that considered, I would still advocate for implementing small goals to provide feelings of success. If you are shy and wish to be more outspoken, set the small goal of saying hello to someone new tomorrow. If you find yourself becoming angry in certain situations - write up some strategies for how you can give yourself pause before reacting (mentally counting to ten or taking three deep breaths before you speak). These are some examples of very small steps that can put you on the path to becoming a more confident speaker in front of others, or minimising interpersonal conflicts - but they are steps, nonetheless.
Given the diversity of personal qualities that we all have - I can’t map out a route for every possible quality, and I wouldn’t want to rob someone else of the chance to build their own strategies to assist their own personal growth. What works for one person may not work for another, but I hope that these small examples give you an idea of how a person can create concrete plans to help themselves.
When looking at building your confidence in your own judgement - the focus here is self-belief in your ability to consider, make, and commit to decisions. To make judgement more relative to the individual, let’s consider accurately judging your own abilities, qualities and decision-making ability. It’s hard to apply the step-by-step process I’ve mentioned to judging others, but it can be done when judging yourself. What is important here is building the ability to evaluate both the positive and the negative with an open mind - something that is done through reinforcement and practice. As I talked about in the previous two sections, you should be setting small, achievable goals that test the areas in which you aren’t confident. By doing so, you may find the limits of those lacking areas, and can then begin adding more steps to see further improvement.
Decision-making can be daunting - whether it’s a decision about a life change, a particular commitment, or even a smaller day-to-day decision. Everyone is different, so an important note is to consider this in the context of your own life - not in comparison to others. If an individual has confidence in their own judgement, decision-making can come more easily, or they can feel reassured when considering choices that they believe are important to them. In comparison, if an individual lacks confidence in their own judgement - they may doubt themselves, fail to make an active decision, defer to others, or feel overwhelmed and procrastinate making a decision at all. It is entirely normal to worry about the consequences of a decision (big or small), and to take time to consider all the alternatives before committing to a final choice. Self-expectations play a key role in decision-making (and confidence in your own judgement) - if an individual has unrealistic or unattainable expectations, no matter the choice - people can wind up disappointed & their confidence takes a hit. At this point, I want to reinforce the point that when it comes to placing judgement - your confidence should be invested in the ability to make a decision at all. Even if the outcome isn’t exactly what you had hoped - you made the decision and committed to a choice, and this in itself is a step in the journey. They say that hindsight is 20/20, and every decisive moment you’ve ever had could be picked apart if you were willing to give the time. Decisions are made with the information you have at the moment you make it, and if an unexpected outcome occurs - you can build your confidence for the next decision by reflecting on the process, and creating a realistic plan for the next choice. Your mental and emotional effort should be placed in what’s next, not what has passed - and spending time ruminating on all the things that went wrong can reinforce negative self-belief and decrease your confidence.
Although it is not the focus of this article - when it comes to our own judgement, there is an associated element of perceived beliefs about others. Beliefs about our own judgement can be heavily based on the actions or perceived opinions of others. When it comes to interacting with other people - the only thing within your control is how you respond. Some people just suck, that’s a fact of life whether you wish to believe so or not - and others just aren’t compatible with your personality and/or values. The ‘appropriate’ response isn’t always obvious, especially in the heat of the moment - this is yet another thing that takes time to learn through experience. If someone you know has shown consistent negative behaviour, there’s a good chance they’ll do it again. So, if you’re someone who asks themselves “why do I keep meeting people like this” or “why do I attract these people” - you need to identify the consistent qualities of the people you choose to surround yourself with and let into your life. This extends to all manner of people - while you may not like to generalise, there’s an enormous benefit to having personal boundaries. You can’t control the behaviour of others, but you can control the boundaries you set - when you say yes, when you say no, or whether you spend time with these people at all. Objectively considering and making decisions about what is best for you is another way to build confidence in your own judgement - making the decision to create an honest and supportive network of people around you isn’t selfish, it’s taking steps towards personal growth and a productive social environment.
It is important to remember that beliefs about your own judgement aren’t defined by other people - it is about belief in yourself. Whilst I do recommend attempting to understand the perspective of others when we interact with them, there is only so much within our control. Think of something that you believe in strongly, and now imagine they feel the same way about what they believe - you don’t have to agree with them, but placing yourself in the shoes of others can give you valuable perspective. You don’t need to depend on others to work on your own personal growth, and building confidence in your judgement & decision-making isn’t limited to interpersonal relationships. Taking the time to make decisions that are important to you is a key skill that contributes to building confidence in the other areas I’ve discussed above.
Confidence is built and nurtured, not magically summoned. Taking small, realistic and achievable steps can provide you with success - and you’ll be able to avoid tripping up on the path to self-improvement. Making mistakes is all part of learning - so, if something doesn’t work the first time, reflect on how you could do it differently and try again. Jumping head first into the deep end will only serve to hinder your confidence building, and create the feeling that your long term goal is unattainable. Be confident in the abilities and qualities that you do have, and be open-minded to areas of improvement that aren’t yet where you want them to be. Growth is never-ending, despite what those who haven’t changed since their 20’s may tell you. Never be afraid to reach out for guidance, and take the opportunity to learn from those with more experience or knowledge whenever it arises. When it comes to being a better version of yourself, take action.
Train Smart. Train Hard.
Anvil Training and Development is a group of Australian veterans who care about the physical and mental health of veterans and emergency service workers. We’re passionate about ongoing education and working with others to implement positive change.
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(Article Edited, Proof Read, and Fact-Checked by Charlotte Officer)
VES Mental Health Resources: https://anviltd.com/pages/ves-australian-mental-health-resources
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