Whether you’re looking to populate the soft skills section in your resume or are trying to figure out which soft skills training to take to brighten your future, you may have thought about confidence. Having confidence in yourself can help you be successful in love, social life, and career. But is it a skill or a talent?
Self-confidence is a soft skill as it is transferable across many job functions, careers, and aspects of an individual’s life. According to Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn, self-confidence is desired in middle-management and senior leadership roles, making it one of the most in-demand soft skills.
In this article, you will discover how to ensure that your confidence stays and never goes away. But before that, you will discover where confidence comes from and how you can take predictable steps to be confident in any situation. But first, let’s discuss soft skills and why they are called soft skills to begin with.
Soft Skills: A Brief Overview
To understand confidence as a soft skill (and to even cultivate it as a learnable aspect of personality), you need to understand what a soft skill is. It is a transferable skill that is advantageous regardless of the position you are in. Some skills are relatively transferable, whereas others are universally transferable.
For example, you might be good at dancing, and that might help you land an acting gig in a musical or a background dancer role for a music video. In that context, dancing is transferable. But when you move further away and take a high-level view that goes beyond the entertainment and performing arts industry, you will see that dancing doesn’t help in areas like construction, public transport, and farming.
Comparatively, confidence helps in almost every position, and we’ll explore later why. For now, you must note that when a skill is transferable enough to have universal value, it is called a soft skill. Soft skills and hard skills are seen in a dichotomy though the softness of any given skill exists in a spectrum.
Public speaking is usually considered a soft skill. However, there are many industries where it is of no value. Whether you’re a zookeeper or a professional weight-lifter, you won’t be speaking at length, but you’ll need to be confident. Again, this shows how valuable self-confidence is. So, let’s get into how you can be your most confident self.
All Humans Are Born Confident
Most people think they have to learn to be confident. In reality, you don’t need to learn it as you are born with the ability to have confidence. We’re not all born equally brave, which is why I’ve written a post explaining why courage and confidence are different. Human babies may not be fearless but are quite confident in their parents. A child doesn’t wonder where her next meal will come from because she is confident that the provider of the household will provide.
But as the child begins to grow up, she becomes aware of the parental figure’s flaws. Now the child knows that her parents don’t have infinite income or power. She discovers that there are limits to what her father or mother can provide. She learns to doubt her parents’ abilities by discovering rational limits. The knowledge of limitations leads to doubts.
We have the ability to have confidence in those whose limitations we are not aware of. Self-confidence is harder to cultivate because we’re the most aware of our own flaws. Narcissists often overlook their vulnerabilities and are consequently more confident.
I’ve written an entire book on the subject because when decent people refuse to be confident, all that we’re left with are narcissists seizing every opportunity and rising up in the ranks. Consequently, some of us start equating self-confidence with narcissism and self-obsession, which turns us off from trying to be more confident. You can learn to be confident like a narcissist without being a narcissist.
Learning Confidence as a Skill
Now that you know that you’re able to have confidence naturally, you can see that learning how to be confident in yourself is a matter of overcoming the drawback of understanding your own vulnerabilities.
We all have flaws, yet we know of our own less-than-ideal traits more than those of others. Adding to that, some of us come from environments where we were told negative stories about ourselves and bought limiting beliefs that further hindered our self-belief.
To learn confidence as a skill, you need to manage your attention and divert it towards the virtues of your personality instead of its drawbacks. Lack of confidence comes from excessive attention to personal flaws driven by anxiety or the wrong peer group.
Take the following steps to cultivate the soft skill of self-confidence.
Identify the Cause of Low Self-Confidence
As mentioned earlier, you already have confidence, albeit in others. To cultivate confidence in yourself, you need to unlearn the negative self-view you have developed over the years. But to do that effectively, you must know what might have caused low self-confidence. Here are a few likely culprits.
If your mother or father were too critical early on in your childhood, you might have adopted a similar critical perspective to avoid being hurt by negative criticism. Children start seeing themselves negatively, so when they receive harsh feedback from parents, it isn’t unexpected and, therefore, not too painful.
Early Failure Taken Personally
When we start any journey, it is with a lot of optimism. Taking the initiative is impossible without confidence. However, when we fail, we end up taking the setback personally. This is because we do not know that failure is normal and should be welcome as it is a necessary step in success.
When you take initial failure personally and don’t dare to try to be successful again, you lose confidence. The lack of confidence ensures more failure making pessimistic thought a self-manifesting negative reality that you cannot overcome.
This is a medical disorder that opens you up to a higher degree of negative emotion per unit of stress. Intrusive thoughts and negative emotions can impact how you see yourself and make you less confident. It is crucial not to blame yourself, especially if you suffer from clinical anxiety, because this contributes to more stress and hurts your self-image even more.
Reverse the Cause of Confidence Limitation
By now, you should be able to classify your lack of self-confidence (or low confidence) as a result of one of the three obstacles: early external criticism, personal failure taken too seriously, and medical anxiety. Once you know what is behind your lack of self-confidence, you can start working on reversing the respective cause. Here is how you can be more confident by overcoming each of the self-confidence obstacles.
Absorb Positive External Stories
Self-image is made up of feedback we absorb regarding ourselves. Humans have evolved to value community feedback since the hunter-gatherer days. Community feedback was the closest thing we had to science, and we survived by taking others’ opinions (especially collective opinions) as a reflection of reality.
A very reductionist (yet equally simple to understand) example would be the hypothetical example of the bad hunter. If the whole tribe called someone a bad hunter, the woman who ignored this feedback and chose to mate with the said hunter would produce offspring with a low survival rate because the father wouldn’t be able to bring food. The survivors among our species listened to “the tribe.”
As a result, we evolved to give too much credit to external criticism and appreciation even though it doesn’t matter as much anymore. Even if one thousand employers think you’re not the right fit for their companies, you have at least one million more potential employers who might want you. There are way too many decision-makers making choices across a lot more factors for any individual’s criticism to matter.
But we still take others’ words too seriously. Every single thing you think about yourself was put in your head by someone else knowingly or unknowingly. It is unclear whether we can overcome our biology and learn to craft our self-image that contradicts what we hear about ourselves most of the time. However, we can choose what we hear about ourselves.
By picking an online group that is supportive and builds you up like the Tony Robbins community, you ensure that your focus is shifting from negative aspects of your personality to your virtues.
You can start fading the relationships you have with those who are too critical of you and start forming bonds with those willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Replacing your social circle with a more positive company, whether physically or digitally, can do wonders for your self-confidence.
Rewrite Stories Regarding Personal Failures
You may recall that one key reason for low self-confidence is taking your failures personally. This happens because of the predominant cultural belief that we’re not supposed to fail. Such beliefs are toxic and are perpetuated further by people hiding their failures and pretending to be more successful than they are.
The result is a weird game of chicken where each person is hiding their flaws and presenting as more successful than they are, while simultaneously feeling bad about their “hidden” failures while marveling at others presented, false successes.
If your confidence used to be fine before a significant failure, then you need to rewrite the story you tell yourself about this setback. From job loss to unexpected divorce, we can end up positioning painful setbacks as failures. In reality, life is supposed to be a series of highs and lows where both the highs and the lows are normal.
Failure, in fact, is a positive as it indicates that you took a risk. Risks are the precursor to rewards, and provided that you learn from a failure, you can improve and be better positioned to be successful in your next attempt. If this makes logical sense yet, you can’t come to detach yourself from the negative narrative around a past failure, and the following exercise can help.
Take a pen and paper, and write down at least three personal victories. The size of these victories doesn’t matter; what matters is that you see them as accomplishments. Under each “win,” write the key lesson that helped you achieve said victory. We can rarely get lucky three times in a row, so there must be a lesson, strategy, or tactic that you must be able to credit to at least one of these three accomplishments.
Find the failure from which these lessons emerged. You can never learn from being right. All new information is a result of acknowledging what doesn’t work. You might rarely get lucky and have your first guesswork. Otherwise, you either learn from your own failure or the stories of others. Pen the three failures that brought you the insights responsible for these victories.
The above exercise will help you see that failure, given positive attention, blossoms into victory-ushering insights. The next step would be to rewrite the story you have subconsciously told yourself regarding the failure you take most personally and rewrite it so it serves you instead of holding you back.
Making the story conscious goes a long way in this. Meditate on what you have been telling yourself that has led to the limiting beliefs you currently hold. You might have come to one of three major negative conclusions associated with failure. Reading below will help you figure out which one you might have subconsciously internalized and what you can do to rewrite it:
“My failure is exceptional. The average person would have succeeded in doing this.”
This belief stems from an ego-centered expectation of perfection within the first attempt. If you take up things like public speaking or even approaching the opposite sex, you don’t have a neutral barometer to judge what to expect of yourself.
In such instances, you might set an expectation driven entirely by your personal pessimism or optimism. When optimistic expectations are shattered by reality, we end up taking the failure personally because we had bet our success on nothing else but being who we are.
To reverse this, you must seek out stories of others who made the same choice as you and suffered the same fate. If you failed a class because of low attendance, learning that others who made the same choice suffered similar consequences helps you associate responsibility with your choice instead of your person. From here, you can easily reverse engineer the cause of the setback and avoid feeling like a failure is a personal attribute of yours.
“The world, fate, and life are against me.”
This conclusion is a result of focusing on how you did everything “right” but still failed. Whether you stayed up all night to study and couldn’t top the class or followed a strict diet but didn’t lose enough weight, you are bound to have a visceral, resentful reaction to putting in the work and not being able to reap the rewards.
Looking for something or someone to blame in such situations isn’t productive because the failure is likely to have occurred due to unpredictable and uncontrollable factors. As a result, the individual who has unfairly failed despite doing everything right ends up blaming the world and concludes that doing things right doesn’t work.
Reading stories of persistence can help reshape this opinion. From J.K. Rowling getting rejected over a dozen times to Colonel Sanders barely staying afloat until finally hitting it off with Kentucky Fried Chicken, there are countless stories that show that it isn’t over until it is over.
If you’re trying to lose weight and the first week of dieting didn’t bring results, don’t assume that this means you can’t lose weight. Hanging in there is the best way to combat accidental misfortunes. If you stay in business long enough, bad market conditions will go away. If you keep looking for a job long enough, the human resource demand will rise again.
“I have done everything I can.”
When you lowball yourself on the extent to which you can invest in your personal success, you might create a false upper limit to the effort you’re willing to put into your dreams. For instance, if you tell yourself you can make 100 cold calls in a day, you might feel like a bad salesperson for not closing a single deal in a hundred calls. Moreover, you will space your calls in a way that you end up making no more than 100 calls.
To reverse this, you must acknowledge that you can do more. It doesn’t matter what limit you set before embarking on your journey towards success; if the work you put in isn’t enough, you can conclude that you need to do more work as easily as you can conclude that you have done everything you can and won’t succeed. Deciding the latter means you don’t have to put in any work, whereas concluding the former makes you responsible for putting in more work.
You should incentivize yourself to do more by visualizing what life will be like when you get the fruits of doing more. Expand your goals and enlarge your vision until you cannot help but be excited about the results, excited enough to renegotiate the upper limits of your effort. When you put in more work, you will also appreciate yourself more and cultivate self-respect in the process.
The above three methods of reinterpreting narratives around failure will help you gain confidence despite failing. If you play your cards right and master your inner game of narrative management, you will be able to be more confident after each failure.
But sometimes, the problem isn’t one specific negative narrative but our tendency towards defaulting to a negative view. This issue occurs on a spectrum starting with mild pessimism and going all the way up to full-blown paranoia or clinical anxiety. It isn’t easy to fix such problems at home.
Seek Professional Help
If you suffer from clinical anxiety, the chances are you’re prone to negative self-talk and might take failures personally with no recourse to personally restore confidence without intrusive thoughts holding back your progress.
Getting professional help from apps like TalkSpace, Better Help, or Moodfit can help you reclaim your confidence. But before paying for professional help, you must know whether you actually suffer from clinical anxiety or just have a high openness to negative emotion because of surrounding social factors.
Here are some signs According to the mental health literature on the subject, here are the key signs that you suffer from clinical anxiety:
- Having a sense of panic without any obvious signs of impending disaster. If you always feel like things are about to go wrong regardless of how good or bad things are, you might suffer from clinical anxiety.
- Perpetually increased heart rate. Anxiety is natural in certain situations, but if you are biologically alert at all times, this is reflected in an atypically high heart rate perpetually. This also contributes to sudden spells or rapid trembling, sweating, and hyperventilation when something even remotely close to an actual threat appears in one’s life.
- Inability to focus without wondering about worrying factors. Finally, your anxiety will always disturb your mental peace. To focus on any deep task, you need your mind to be at ease. But if in the past twenty attempts at trying to do something with focus, your mind has wandered to areas of worry without skipping a single instance, you might suffer from an anxiety disorder.
If you relate to the above, there’s good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that you cannot overcome these challenges as easily as someone who is socially nervous because of learned shyness. But the good news is that your confident self is waiting to appear, and once you learn to manage your anxiety, you will automatically become more confident.
Whether your lack of confidence is due to anxiety issues, the stories you tell yourself, or the opinions you have absorbed from your surroundings, the path to mastering your confidence is the same: you must identify what you need to do and then do it with enough frequency to make the current obstacles to your self-confidence irrelevant.
Identify Actionable Steps
Figuring out what you need to do is the first step in making an actual change in your confidence levels. Soft skills might be immeasurable compared to hard skills but cultivating a soft skill like self-confidence actually involves figuring out tangible action steps and measuring your progress as you execute them. Here are the key action steps in cultivating the soft skill of self-confidence.
Identify the Cause of Low Confidence
As covered in the causes section of this post, your lack of confidence comes from absorbing others’ negative feedback, taking failure too personally, or having an anxious personality. Knowing what is hindering your confidence in yourself allows you to figure out what to do next.
Replace the Cause With Its Reversal
If your low self-esteem comes from negative people around you, replace your company and get better friends, even if online. If your views regarding failure are toxic, get a healthy perspective about it. If you have an anxiety disorder, get therapy. When you place the cause of low self-confidence with an opposite action or factor, you flip the result and become more confident.
Turn Actionable Steps Into Habits
Identifying an actionable step is a great way to know your path to confidence. Firstly, you don’t have to risk trying to figure out the solution by throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. By experimenting with solutions, you risk encountering a lack of success, which can further drive down your self-esteem. Knowing how to fix the problem, on the other hand, inspires you to be more confident.
However, the cause that has nerfed your confidence is very likely to be a repetitive one. For instance, if you have negative friends, you likely hang out with them more than once a year. Repeatedly absorbing their negative feedback is what affects your self-esteem negatively. Trying to solve this by having a single session with a positive circle of people won’t fix the issue. You need to leverage repetition in reverse.
If repeated exposure to a factor has driven down your confidence, you need repeated exposure to its opposite to level up your self-esteem. That’s why you must figure out ways to integrate the action steps from the previous section into your routine so you can automate higher levels of confidence.
Inject Confidence Into Work, Relationships, and Your Social Life
If you follow the advice so far in this article, you will not wake up more confident all of a sudden; your confidence growth will be gradual. And that’s okay. What’s important is that you enable your confidence to be snowballed by injecting it into your work, relationships, and social life.
Remember how negative feedback can sap confidence? Positive feedback can help it grow. And when you start being slightly more confident with each passing day, people begin to notice. Soon, you’ll start receiving compliments. This feedback will rewrite the self-image you may currently have as someone lacking in self-confidence.
The more you start seeing yourself as a confident person internally, the more confidence you will radiate. This becomes a positive feedback loop that develops your confidence with each passing day.
Self-confidence is a soft skill of immense value as it enables you to be bolder, take more chances, and build relationships that can bring more success, which only makes you more confident. It’s sort of like the “rich get richer” trope; the confident get more confident. But you have to start somewhere, and the best place to start is by identifying what keeps you from being confident and flipping it. If you do this enough, you will become confident without trying too hard.