Everyone has moments when self-confidence seems to vanish quicker than a shiny election promise.
It’s frustrating, especially given how far you’ve come and everything you’ve done. As soon as you seem to be on top of things, something happens and you realise that, once again, you’re out of your depth and shaking in your metaphorical boots.
Happens to me too, and here’s what I think is happening.
You’re somewhere new
It’s easy to feel confident when everything around you is familiar. It takes zero effort, and that confidence isn’t really confidence at all. It’s safety, perhaps even complacency.
But life is full of new places. Your first day at school or college. A new job or a new relationship. A fresh challenge or a new town. And new is, of course, wholly unpredictable.
Your natural response to the unpredictable and unknowable is fear. And where there’s fear, there’s a voice in your head designed to make you turn back toward safety. A voice that will tell stories designed to undermine you. A voice that knows how to make you feel small.
Your expectations call the shots
Your brain is a real piece of work. It really is. It has a billion expectations about how the world needs to work. Expectations about what you’ll do (you’ll get up a certain time, do a certain job, see certain people, take a certain route, etc). Expectations about what others will do (help you out, get in your way, hear what you’re saying, be home on time, etc). And expectations about what you expect others expect of you (they expect me to play ball, they expect me to speak up, they expect me to be compliant, they expect me to show affection, etc).
Expectations will fuck you up faster than you can spell spleen. Not only are these three levels of expectations rolling around in your head all the time, but they’re often in conflict and drive your behaviour.
These expectations are only stories designed to help you make the world a little more predictable and a little less scary. But any time that they’re violated, denied or countered, all you’re left with is uncertainty and your own inability to make sense of the world.
You want perfection
You have high standards. I like that about you, and it’s good to want to do things to the best of your ability. Land a new job, and it feels like you need to make a fabulous impression and do faultless work that everyone notices. Start a new relationship and you want to fit together perfectly and hide all your weaknesses. Start a new creative project, and you want it all to flow naturally and for what you create to come together at the first attempt.
Perfection, I’m thrilled to say, is bullshit.
The second you fall short of it, your brain kicks in and tells you that you were never really good enough. Who are you trying to kid?
Chasing perfection is one of the surest ways to short-circuit your self-confidence that exists.
How to stop losing confidence in yourself
Your confidence vanishes because you’re not paying attention to how you’re thinking.
It’s really just that simple.
Natural confidence is still there, but it’s smothered by thinking that’s layered on top like a old, damp carpet. Thinking that can be tough to shift, but can always be interrupted.
Good news though. You can train yourself to notice when thoughts of not-being-confident are rolling through your head.
You get to point at them and say, “Oh hey, it’s you again”, without any judgement or self-flagellation. That might not stop you from shaking in those boots of yours, but it affords you the space to reconnect.
And that’s the important thing. To realise that not feeling confident doesn’t mean that you don’t have confidence*.
You can reconnect with what matters to you most. You can reconnect with everything you’ve become. You can reconnect with what it feels like to be at your best.
Those are the things that are hardwired into you.
They’re not going anywhere, and even when you loose confidence in yourself, you can still place your confidence in them.
* Feel free to read this sentence again. It’s a tricky one.