Saturday, September 7, 2013

How Do I Increase My Confidence?

Dear Jocelyn, 
Can you help me with my low self-confidence? I find that my mood and confidence level varies depending on what others say to me. I am very sensitive and have a hard time hearing criticism without taking it personally and feeling negative about myself. When someone praises me or my life is going well, I feel very positive about myself. But, I would like to have more stable self-confidence that is internal and less dependent on external factors.
I am concerned about this because it is affecting my life negatively in two ways: 
1) I also become nervous when I have to speak publicly. When making a presentation, I am not confident, my heart races, I have trouble breathing, and it is hard to speak.
2) I feel pressured to make decisions based on the opinions of others. I would like to feel more confident making my own decisions from my own opinions.

Thank you for your help!
-Unconfident

Dear Unconfident,
Low self confidence is a problem that will take more than a simple advice column to address, but I will do my best to point you in the right direction. First, seek out a counselor in your area, preferably one who uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). These methods are evidence based and usually brief, so you will likely only be in therapy for a few months. If money is a problem, insurance usually covers counseling. If you don't have insurance, some counselors will charge a reduced rate for paying cash.

Some people take the opposite approach as you, and don't pay attention to what anyone says about them. While this might protect their ego, the opinion of those closest to us can provide valuable feedback, especially if we are off track. However, if you ONLY value what others think, you are bound to wind up very confused and on a roller coaster of emotions. This person will think you are too outgoing, another too private. Someone might see you as liberal, while
another sees you as conservative. It is important to remember others view you through their own unique lens, with a set of biases and presuppositions. No one person is entirely correct about you.

As a side note, you say it is hard to hear criticism and not take it. personally. In a sense, that is normal. I don't know of many people that love to hear what they are doing wrong. If it sends you into a
deep depression or funk, then that is not good. When you hear criticism in the future, take some time to evaluate it. How factual is the criticism? Is it purely opinion? Do others share this opinion? And more importantly, what do you think? If a coworker says a report was
terrible, is this someone whose work you respect? Do others think it was terrible? Do YOU think it was terrible? There is no one right answer to any situation, but taking the time to think critically about
this should keep your view of yourself from being tossed about. Here are two excellent websites for challenging criticism. They are meant for internal criticism, but the principles can also work for external criticism:

http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/0003196

http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/do-you-know-your-abc’s-how-to-control-negative-self-talk/

Take some time to think about how you view yourself. What are some core features that you like about yourself? Are you kind? Open minded? Smart? When someone offers criticism in the future, remind yourself of these core features. Then remind yourself that everyone - yourself included! - has flaws. If you decide to accept the criticism as true,
then try to see it as an opportunity for improvement. After all, no one is perfect, and we don't grow without some discomfort.

You said this affects your public speaking ability, and your ability to form your own opinions. Fear of public speaking is fairly common. A local Toastmasters club should help you improve this skill. Public speaking can typically be improved with practice and relaxation exercises. Taking some calming breaths before going up might help. In addition, remember that anytime you have been asked to speak publicly, it is because YOU hold information or an opinion others want to hear. Your thoughts are valuable. 

As for your ability to form opinions, this is something I can relate to. When people you know have differing opinions, who do you trust? Both can make sense at times. The only thing that can help is really doing your own research and thinking about it.  Talking to other people helps, but on issues of politics, religion, money, health, and so forth, do as much research as you can. 
Then you will be more equipped to make a confident decision.

This is just some advice to get you started. Like I said, a therapist will provide better, more in depth exercises for you. 
-Jocelyn