The way we feel about ourselves greatly influences how we live.
For instance, if you’re self-confident, you probably spend time with and connect with others. If you’re drowning in self-doubt, you might withdraw and isolate yourself.
You also might hyper-focus on your flaws and avoid going after a promotion. You convince yourself you’re simply not qualified or good enough.
If you’re self-confident, however, instead of dwelling on your supposed deficiencies, you might use that energy to pursue the higher-level position, prepare for it and possibly get it. If you don’t, you simply move on to the next opportunity.
Self-confidence “helps us engage fully with life,” said Mary Welford, DClinPsy, a clinical psychologist in the South West of England and author of the new book The Power of Self-Compassion: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy To End Self-Criticism and Build Self-Confidence.
It also helps us realize that “we will be OK regardless of the ups and downs we have in life.”
One powerful way to build confidence is by practicing self-compassion. “Self-compassion means we have our own best interests at heart,” Welford said. “We learn to support ourselves in the same way that we would support a friend or relative.”
But this might sound utterly impossible to you, especially if you’re more used to beating yourself up. Many of us treat ourselves like the enemy. We regularly judge, criticize and condemn ourselves.
Fortunately, self-compassion can be learned. Here’s how.
There are many exercises for practicing self-compassion. “We are all different and what is important is to find something that works for you,” Welford said. Here are several techniques to try.
1. Write a compassionate letter to yourself.
When doing this exercise, Welford shares several guidelines in her book, including: Validate your feelings and the reasons you’re struggling; remember that millions of people struggle with their self-confidence; remember that everyone struggles, in general (it simply means being human); and try to be understanding, accepting and nonjudgmental.
Write a supportive letter to yourself from the perspective of a compassionate person (someone who has your best interests and well-being at heart). You can start the letter with this sentence: “I am sorry that you are having a difficult time at the moment and are struggling to build your self-confidence.”
Another option is to “write a letter to yourself from an older, wiser, compassionate you. What would you say to yourself now, and what would a compassionate future look like?” Welford writes.
2. Focus on your well-being.
For Welford this exercise is most helpful. First, she engages in “soothing breathing,” an exercise that “aims to bring calmness and a sense of inner warmth and well-being to the mind and body.”
According to Welford, it involves: finding a place that’s distraction-free; sitting in a relaxed “yet alert posture;” and closing your eyes or lowering your gaze. “Rather than counting your inhalations and exhalations, let your body find a breathing rhythm that is soothing for it.” When your mind naturally wanders, gently bring it back to your practice.
Then Welford asks herself: “What can I do for myself today that will make tomorrow a better day?” For instance, instead of mindlessly watching TV, she might go for a walk or call a friend.
3. Take action.
As you build your self-confidence, what are your goals? What would you like to work on? Welford has worked with individuals who’ve set such goals as: meeting new people, speaking in public, asking for help, stopping needless apologizing, expressing their emotions to others and saying yes (or no).
Once you have your goals, break them down into small, specific steps in increasing difficulty. Next, brainstorm how you can prepare for the situation, such as practicing soothing breathing and writing a compassionate letter to yourself; the obstacles that might come up; and how you’ll navigate those obstacles.
Also, include things that might be helpful for you to keep in mind before, during and after the situation. For instance, Welford gives this example in the book: “This is going to help me learn about myself; whichever way it goes, it will help me develop my self-confidence because I will know more at the end of it.”
Remember to pick goals that are beneficial for you, not goals that you should or have to do, Welford writes.
Self-compassion “gives us the courage and strength to build our self-confidence,” she said. It also supports, encourages and empowers us to do what’s in our best interests. In her book Welford tells the story of Helen, a woman who’d been struggling with agoraphobia for over 10 years.
…Developing self-compassion did not involve her saying There, there, never mind to herself and then surfing the Net to buy lots of lovely things to compensate. Developing self-compassion in Helen’s case meant warmly acknowledging that, in her own best interest, things needed to change. Self-compassion then involved her taking courageous steps to build her self-confidence until, despite feeling intense fear, she eventually opened her front door and stepped out onto the street. Self-compassion for her meant that she reassured herself when things went wrong, recognized the difficult steps she was taking, and then courageously continued toward her goal.
Give yourself the opportunity to practice self-compassion. And when doubts arise, read this. What do you have to lose?