Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Wise words, and they work both ways. For example, if you underestimate your potential, or if you ignore your prior accomplishments, you’ll naturally view yourself in a less favorable light than others do. On the other hand, if you overestimate your potential, or feel that your potential has already been actualized when it hasn’t, then you’ll view yourself as more accomplished than others actually see you. That can lead to disappointment and embarrassment.
Distortions in self-image go both ways. And an individual’s self-image can vary from mood to mood and context to context. So how can we enhance our self-image, and still keep it in the realm of reality? Get into the habit of paying regular attention to what you’ve done well. This will make you less dependent on what others might tell you. And, if/when they do compliment you, you’ll believe them. Next, never sell yourself short! Never assume you’re incapable of an achievement if your motivation suggests that you could be successful. Better to try and try again than to give up for no reason.
Most importantly, place facts above feelings. Your sense that you can’t do something might be counter to the facts, so don’t allow feelings to paralyze you. An added side benefit of this is that a feeling that you “should” be able to achieve something won’t lead you to an unearned sense of confidence or entitlement.
Too many people define self-confidence as a feeling, and a feeling alone. This leads them to think, “If I feel good about myself, then I’m confident.” Not so! This line of thinking serves only to make you dependent on your feelings. If you allow them to take over, then an unfounded sense of inadequacy could lead you to aim lower than you might otherwise have. Conversely, overconfidence could lead you to expect applause for something of which you’re not capable – at least not yet.
Don’t get me wrong: Feelings are important. They are the way to experience life’s values. However, feelings do not, by themselves, tell you what’s true. If you tie confidence to feelings alone, you’re prone to distortion – in either direction. Confidence requires staying in touch with the facts about yourself. Like exercise, nutrition, or body building, it cannot be done in one fell swoop. You can’t say, “I’ll do this one mental exercise and then I’ll have confidence.” It doesn’t work that way. The growth and maintenance of self-confidence must be ongoing and cumulative.
So, like muscle building or weight gain/loss, try on a daily basis to accumulate and foster self-confidence. Remind yourself that the gradual is the real. Do daily mental workouts. Write down what you do well. Stroke and congratulate yourself for what you earn. Teach yourself to aim higher. Take on daily life with a firm and accurate understanding of who you already are, and who you might yet be, based on observable facts in the real world.
Demand the freedom to expand and become all you can become, and honor the same freedom for others. The key to happiness is moving forward and enjoying baby steps toward success.
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