Contrary to what people who lack self-confidence might believe, the trait is not inborn. Nor is it a constant; even self-confident people suffer bouts of self-doubt. And if obstacles to self-confidence were constructed in you by clumsy or even malevolent parenting, these are surmountable.
Although, as the authors of The Self-Confidence Workbook concede, between 25 and 50 percent of personality traits may be inherited, even that does not doom anyone to life as a shrinking violet. Co-author Barbara Markway’s previous books were for people struggling with shyness and social anxiety, both of which can be can be alleviated, and which could be considered correlates of low self-confidence.
Self-confidence is, “the willingness to take steps toward valued goals, even if you’re anxious and the outcome is unknown,” the authors write. “True self-confidence is part courage, part competence, with a healthy dose of self-compassion mixed in.”
There is no hocus-pocus in this book, no groundbreaking thoughts or startling innovations. Instead, the authors assemble a toolkit of solid, empirically tested approaches: cognitive-behavioral therapy; acceptance and commitment therapy (learning to live with unpleasant thoughts without letting them control you); self-compassion training; mindfulness-based therapy; and exposure therapy.
Followers of pop psychology will recognize many of the experts drawn from here — Kristin Neff, who studies the power of self-compassion; Carol Dweck, who described the set versus growth mind-sets; Amy Cuddy and her power poses; Jon Kabat-Zinn, who popularized mindfulness. Markway and Ampel take all these powerful and proven approaches and tune them towards the kind of issues and situations people lacking self-confidence might struggle with — returning to school as an adult, going to a movie alone, taking a promotion at work.
The book is broken into short, easy-to-digest chunks, with spaces to fill in your own personal insights. Even the graphic design is soothing, with ample white space and calming colors like turquoise, lavender and yellow.
You’ll start your self-confidence project by identifying your values and setting goals, figuring out what it is you would do if you had the self-confidence you need. What would your relationships look like if they were in line with your personal values? How would you enjoy yourself more in life if you weren’t held back by a lack of self-confidence? What would your career be? Setting these goals and making them concrete is the underpinning of the book, the reason for working through the self-assessments and exercises that follow.
In the chapter “Practice Acceptance,” you identify your strengths and boldly list them (the authors explain why this is not boastful or arrogant), and list qualities in yourself you perceive as weaknesses, identify what makes you give up, and what keeps you from moving forward. And, fear not, you can be loved, accepted and successful despite these flaws. “Vulnerability is how you connect to others,” the authors writer. “When people see that you’re worried, scared, messy, or flawed, they tend to feel great relief and let you know that they are, too.”
In “Work With Your Thoughts,” you’ll identify the cognitive distortions that impede you — negative assumptions, unhelpful “should” thoughts, all-or-nothing thoughts and catastrophizing thoughts — and reframe them by looking for the evidence (or lack thereof) behind them.
“Work With Your Beliefs,” entails finding common themes in your automatic negative thoughts and following the path from the thought to the core belief it represents. And near the end of the book, you’ll “Face Your Fears” and start conditioning yourself, one small step at a time, to face that which frightens you — with self-compassion and patience.
Each chapter ends with concrete “Action Items” to try, from turning off social media for a week to watching enlightening TED talks and looking at old journals or letters to identify self-limiting beliefs you once held but have since proven to be untrue.
Will all this help? As with any such book, individual results will vary, of course. You’ll get out of this what you put in. But the clarity of writing, encouraging tone, specific and targeted exercises, and proven approaches make The Self-Confidence Workbook a good way to start identifying and overcoming the thoughts, actions and mind-sets that are holding you back from the things you want for your life.
The Self Confidence Workbook: A Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Improving Self-Esteem
Althea Press, October 2018
Paperback, 178 pages