The Science of Confidence

While confidence is a state of mind, we can't really say where in the mind it is located. Confidence is about self-like and a belief that one's abilities and capacity to manage adversity are superior to the demands of his or her environment. This is important, because it means that confidence can be built through improving one's coping skills and resiliency in the face of difficulty.

Check out my TODAY show segment on the topic.
There are certain specific psychic states that can diminish confidence. Social phobia (the fear of meeting or speaking in front of new people) causes a running inner dialogue of thoughts like, "I will embarrass myself," "This person thinks I am silly, unattractive, etc.," or "They won't like me." It's hard to have confidence when your mind tells you this, and it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you stay away from people and feel lonely and friendless.

Confidence.jpgDepression and rumination can similarly cause many negative self-thoughts. Depressed people see themselves in an unrealistic negative light. They often feel worthless and helpless, the opposite of confident. Anxiety disorders, in general, rob you of confidence because you feel afraid and avoidant of everything. Your world shrinks and you feel incapable. Personality disorders may also rob you of confidence because a rigid way of seeing yourself and the world makes it difficult to sustain healthy relationships and excel at work.  When you seem to be failing, you don't feel confident.

It can be a vicious circle with self-confidence: You need it to succeed, and success breeds confidence. To break the cycle you need to alter self-views. To alter those views, you must first be aware of the largely unconscious messages you tell yourself about yourself. Once you know what your negative messages are, you can battle them. Battle means questioning, testing reality, trying new thoughts on for size and learning new coping skills so that you will be emotionally stronger and able to have more triumphs, hence adding to your confidence.

Tips for improving self-confidence:

  1. An actual psychiatric diagnosis might be the cause of your low confidence.  You should get a professional opinion and, if necessary, get treatment.

  2. Ask yourself questions about what you feel really good at, and really bad at.

  3. Ask yourself what evidence you have for what you are really bad at.

  4. Devise some strategies for improving those things you lack confidence in.

  5. More practice at coping breeds more confidence.

More from Dr. Gail Saltz:

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