There is a lot of commotion these days about confidence. We have to be self-assured, we are told, otherwise we may as well forget about success and reaching our goals. Insecurity is a shameful disease in our 21st century — a weakness and a character flaw, which prevents us from becoming our true selves.

Self-esteem has been extensively studied by many of the great minds of psychology, because of its believed connection to many of the things we deem of importance in our lives — as mental health, physical well being, fulfillment, happiness, self-acceptance. That is, wise men tell us — having positive self-evaluations is a highly influential force to many of our outcomes and has far-reaching consequences.

In search of better self-esteem, I’ve read a fair bit of the prominent research on the subject. Included below are some of the “wisdoms,” which I hope will help others in their own journey to self-discovery and confidence-enhancement.

  1. Confidence often feels as an elusive aspiration — much like the mysterious phantom kingdom of Shambhala. It’s a wonderland we all want to reach, but no one is absolutely certain of the exact road which leads to it.
  2. According to psychologists, self-esteem and confidence are different. Prof. Richard Petty from Ohio State University, in his interesting TED talk distinguishes them as: Self-esteem is our opinion about ourselves — how much we like ourselves. Confidence is how sure we are of this judgement.
  3. However, they are very close. While self-esteem is an internal feeling, confidence is its outer manifestation. They are really the two sides of the same coin.
  4. Confidence (or lack of it) is usually quite fluid and can change daily, even hourly.
  5. It may come from a variety of sources — our backgrounds, measuring up to peers, a bad hair day, getting a poor grade on an important test, not speaking up when we should. The point is that there is a set of things that matter to us — our family, our careers, our appearances, etc. Events which affect these also impact our self-esteem.
  6. Our unfavorable affair with failure is one of the most dominant impediments to having healthy self-opinions.
  7. Being an introvert is not the cause of one’s low self-esteem. Many introverts have healthy confidence. However, people who lack self-assurance are, more often than not, introverted, due to sought social aversion.
  8. “Fake it till you make it” is harder to follow than it sounds. It’s challenging to maintain confident behavior for straight 8 hours at work, every day, unless we hold at least partial belief that the man in the mirror is worth it.
  9. True confidence follows a model which can be described as ABC: it needs to be based on our actual Abilities; we need to Believe in these skills, talents or mojos that we have; and confidence is often Contingent on various things and may differ in each domain — one can be confident that they are a good worker, but not so certain in their parenting skills.
  10. Self-esteem is shaped by our self-perceptions, which, in turn, contain 3 main ingredients — what we think about ourselves, what others think of us, and what we think others think of us.
  11. There are 4 main things which further affect our levels of self-esteem — the 4 Ps — Perspiration (our attitude toward fear and anxiety), Peers (comparisons to others), Parents (the support we were given by our families), and Performance (academic or career-wise).
  12. We shouldn’t grant appearances too much power over our confidence — while a desire to look good is not a futile aspiration, physical flawlessness is not a sustainable source of self-esteem. (Think all the celebrities who profess self-esteem struggles, despite “having it all.”)
  13. The way we form our self-image is via a complex mix of perceptions, beliefs and observations. Even though it’s predisposed to skewness, it is an integral part of our characters—in fact, to us, it defines who we believe we are.
  14. The myth of the romance literature that we can find our Christian Grey— by being highly unaware of or uncertain of our looks and smarts, appears to be rather appealing to many, despite its apparent irrationality. We want to believe in the “life-can-imitate-fiction” idea so much, that we tend to dismiss this starry-eyed fantasy as a source of perennial dissatisfaction with our lives.
  15. The idea that a charming prince will fall madly for us — just the way we are — also implies the notion that we don’t have to strive for a change or to improve — we just have to be “lucky” enough. Another flawed notion, and quite the anti-embodiment of personal growth.
  16. Fear is a powerful paralyzer to self-improvement and self-assertiveness. It takes plenty of courage and grit to face our monsters and to challenge the status quo.
  17. And it’s not as easy as the self-help gurus prescribe — to do one thing that scares us every day, and we will be fear-free and more confident. It may generally work, but we must be prepared to lose and lose again; to be criticized; to be unsatisfied with how we handled things. In other words, we must firstly be open to accept failure over and over, before we start feeling in control over our fears.
  18. Shutting off our emotions is not necessarily going to make us more self-assured. It’s true that confidence is inversely linked to anxiety, to shyness, to sensitivity, but to be respected and accepted, we should not only approach others from a position of authority, but also—by building trust, care, compassion.
  19. An Ivy League education and wealth may have some uplifting effect on one’s confidence, but they are not the originators of our self-esteem, nor can they be a sustainable source. Such external outcomes and achievements are generally the product of our character strengths and traits, and not the other way around.
  20. The social media effects on our self-esteem are not devoid of controversy. One scientific camp claims that comparisons to others’ selectively-crafted “reality” can lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction with our bodies and lives. However, social media has also been found to promote social acceptance and tends to make us feel less alone. Approach with caution and don’t believe everything you see, may be the best strategies here.
  21. Gestures and posture are more than mere reflections of our self-assurance. They can be purposely used by us to project confidence on the outside, which will, in turn, make us feel more powerful and in control. (Refer to Prof. Amy Cuddy’s great Ted Talk on power posing)
  22. They also tell the story of our characters, of our brand to the world. Use them wisely.
  23. Words are “living organisms” — they not only have a profound effect on others, but are also shapers of our confidence image. What we say does matter, of course, but how we say it is of no less importance.
  24. Color Psychology“, or the sub-conscious effect colors have on people, is a real phenomenon, which can influence how others perceive us. For instance, shades of blue, black and red are linked to confidence.
  25. Mindfulness meditation, apart from its apparent benefits for our mental health, is also a great way to boost our self-awareness and esteem. It helps to reign in our anxieties and fears, makes us more open to new experiences, and brings us the much-coveted self-acceptance. It also quiets our minds and self-doubts—thus, removes our self-inflicted impediments to progress and improvement.
  26. Regular self-assessments and taking stock of our progress are essential tools for feeling more in control and confident we are advancing, improving, developing, and becoming better drafts of ourselves.
  27. Emotional intelligence, or ability to recognize and manage our own emotions, as well as those of other people, has been proven to have a powerful link to self-esteem (in the neighborhood of 45%). Enhancing this aptitude is an effortful but barely peripheral undertaking to our future. (Reference: Daniel Coleman is the “father” of emotional intelligence, and his research provides great insight into how everyone can acquire it).  
  28. The art of “showing off” — when done properly and skillfully — provides a great opportunity to put ourselves in others’ orbits, to be noticed, valued and respected. Simply put, we should learn to emphasize our strengths whenever and wherever possible. Others are neither as perceptive nor care as much as we assume — the only way to get noticed is to make yourself get noticed.
  29. Loving and helping others is important, true, but we should also remember that the only constant in our universe is ourselves. No one can and will love us more than we can cherish ourselves, no matter what the movies tell us. Our confidence originates within us not from others.
  30. Finally, we should remember that the outcome of boosting one’s self-esteem is not to learn how to feel superior. The whole process is merely a journey toward the affirmation of where we stand in life, what we stand for, and where we want to go. It’s that simple. We should not let our own voice be overcast by the noise of the world.