“If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”  – Vincent Van Gogh

We are all beset with doubts sometimes. Even the most self-assured and successful people can be unsure of themselves. Some people are clearly more confident than others, though. To what extent this is ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ is unclear, though I suspect that ‘nurture’ has a lot to do with it. I’ve seen my own confidence wax and wane over the years, and external factors have certainly played a part. Some signs that you might be lacking somewhat in confidence are:

  • Thinking that other people are better than you
  • Expecting the worst outcome
  • Engaging in negative self-talk
  • Feeling the need to justify your behavior to others
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Not having many friends or avoiding social situations
  • Body language that is defensive and closed.

If you have some of these traits, perhaps you need to consider building more confidence. Can this be done? I think it’s clear is that confidence, like most other traits, can be developed. Like a muscle, with training and in time, it can become strong and powerful. To put it another way: confidence is a habit – confidence begets confidence. Here are some training ideas to develop this most important of habits.

Make friends with your failings and limitations

This is a key area. Obviously, you are not perfect – far from it. So long as you are challenging yourself, stepping out of your comfort zone and seeking to develop, you will be making mistakes. The mistakes are signs of growth and nothing to be ashamed of.. Confident people are comfortable in their own skin, happy with themselves in all their imperfection. They have nothing to prove.

Don’t be pushy or aggressive

Confidence can manifest itself in many different ways, and sometimes there is a visibly assertive quality to it, but there is also a quieter and more restrained confidence. When you meet a confident person, you tend to pick up that the person is happy with himself and feels comfortable in her own skin. Confidence does not mean aggressive, pushy, loud or superior, which is often a sign of over-compensation for some kind of inferiority complex.

Don’t be defensive

Listening to and acting on criticism is an important part of being confident. It is often very hard for us to be objective about ourselves, and other people can give us great insights into our strengths and weaknesses. Of course, we have to be critical about the things that people tell us, not falling into credulity and taking everything they say at face value. But the insights afforded by others can be very valuable. If people laugh at you or attack you, this probably says more about them than about you. Insecure people often try to cover up their feelings of inadequacy by falling into such behaviors.

Do what you believe to be right

Confident people tend to rely on an internal guidance system to keep them going along the right track, whereas those with less confidence can be buffeted around by other people’s opinions and agendas. Having an inner compass is an essential part of living assertively and confidently, and following the compass can sometimes mean having to take risks. But without risk, there is no growth.

Set challenging goals

Confident people tend to live in a more conscious and deliberate way, setting goals for themselves. They are secure enough to tolerate failure, and are comfortable with not getting things right first time. If we are not growing, then we are falling back – there is always movement. As we challenge ourselves, our comfort zone grows, and this growth often involves the pain of failure. This pain is too much for insecure people to bear. But to confident people, failure is only a stepping-stone, not the destination. Success, for confident people, is inevitable. It’s only a matter of time.

Keep a record of your achievements

It is common for people with limited self-confidence to compare themselves unfavorably with others. Such people may assume that others are ‘better’ and have achieved more, so it can be very helpful to make a list of achievements. If you do this, you may find that the list is longer than you thought. Imagine what you would think if this were a list of someone else’s achievements. Would you be impressed? Would you think highly of that person?

Learn to be optimistic

People who lack self-confidence are often pessimistic about the future and tend to think the worst. It’s important to replace negative, self-defeating mental chatter with upbeat, positive self-talk. All day long, thoughts are swirling around inside our head and we need to be conscious about this. Such self awareness isn’t easy, but with some gentle persistence you can become more aware of your thoughts and, when you catch yourself thinking in a negative way, replace the thought with something more positive. Examples of negative thinking are: exaggerating the negative aspects of things, taking things personally, feeling you are being blamed for things or feeling like a victim, to name just a few. Simply being aware of negative thinking modalities can be a great help in overcoming them. When you catch yourself thinking in such negative ways, try to replace the thought with something more self-affirming.

Take a balanced approach

The benefits of confidence are clear but, as with most things, too much of it can be unhealthy. Over-confidence, which can lead to errors of judgment and under-performance, is dangerous and should be guarded against. Confidence is about getting the balance right.


Confident people are more relaxed, happier and enjoy situations, however challenging, a lot more than those with low self-esteem, trusting that they can deal with whatever problems and challenges might arise. If you fail, if you get it all wrong, it won’t be the end of the world. If you’re tense and worried about how you’re being perceived, your energy is being wasted – it’s not going into the matter at hand. So let go, take the focus of attention off yourself, relax and enjoy the ride.

“Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”  ~ Norman Vincent Peale

The benefits of being confident are clear: you’ll be happier, more relaxed and probably healthier. You’ll use time more effectively because you won’t be worrying endlessly about other people’s opinions, and you’ll have a clearer sense of purpose, so you’ll be a lot more effective. Confidence, in a sense, is the key to happiness and fulfillment.

“What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty!  I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” – John Bunyan

Photo by Andy C

Mark Harrison

This blog post was written by Mark Harrison.