It’s High Time We Understand That Confidence Isn’t a Personality Trait

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Confidence is often regarded as a positive personality trait, as in “Wow, they’re so confident” or “I admire their confidence.” But here’s the thing: A personality trait is often something that’s binary—something you have or something you don't. Through that lens, the notion of "not having confidence" can feel incredibly defeating. The good news is that lens is out of focus because in actuality, confidence is a fluid, ever-changing state of being impacted by internal and external factors. Put simply, confidence is not something you either have or don’t, and it's important we stop understanding—and glorifying—its existence as a constant. Instead, learning how to feel confident rather than be confident is what's really important.

Understanding confidence as something that ebbs and flows allows us to cut ourselves a break when we aren’t feeling confident, because we know it doesn’t reflect upon us negatively as human beings. This mindset also allows us to appreciate the moments we do feel confident, knowing that it will not feel that way all the time.

How to prioritize feeling confident rather than being confident

So, how do we aim to feel confident, as opposed to strive to be confident? First, it's key acknowledge and embrace the reality that we simply won't feel confident all the time. Only from there is it possible to learn what we need in order to feel more confident. Often, confidence is built from our thoughts and actions. It’s not about an ability but about a belief in said ability.

Furthermore, only you can figure out what builds your confidence. Depending on who you are, regular exercise, sleep, a healthy diet, positive self-talk, affirmations, and journaling can each be effective strategies for learning how to feel more confident. However, one thing in particular that universally helps build confidence is abandoning the desire to compare. The comparison trap extends to both other people and past versions of yourself.

That said, making comparisons is a natural part of being a human. There’s even a psychological theory called the social comparison theory. Researchers have found that there are two main types of social comparison: upward social comparison and downward social comparison. Upward social comparison is when we look at someone we think is better than we are or better off than we are in an attempt to feel inspired and hopeful about our own lives. Alternatively, downward social comparison is when we look on someone we think has it worse than us to try to feel better about ourselves or a situation we’re in. Both of these are natural feelings, but they're also thieves of joy and confidence. (Science says so.) The more aware we are of ourselves, the more we can focus on ourselves and what we need versus looking to other people to figure that out.

When we face our fears directly, we build a muscle that supports us in accessing our confidence when we want.

Two other confidence-building strategies that typically help people include self-compassion and facing your fears head-on. When we face our fears directly, we build a muscle that supports us in accessing our confidence when we want. Insecurity stops us from doing this, telling us we’re going to mess up, we’re not confident enough, or we’re not ready. The irony here is that we gain confidence from doing the thing. It is okay to feel nervous, a lack of confidence, and still do the thing because you'll learn as a result that you're capable of doing things even when you’re not feeling confident. This can, in turn, actually translate to confidence later on. And, if you don’t do as well as you want, don’t feel how you wanted to feel, or make a mistake, be compassionate with yourself.

Practicing self-compassion can be as simple as saying, “This isn’t how I wanted this to go. This isn’t how I wanted to feel, and that’s okay. I’m going to be okay.” It’s about being warm, kind, and understanding to ourselves rather than self-flagellating. In fact, a 2015 study connected self-compassion with self-confidence when it comes to interpersonal problem-solving.

And remember, feeling confident is just that—a feeling, which can come and go. When we look at this state as a temporary, changeable emotion versus a personality trait, we can move through it more easily. So, rather than striving for confidence, challenge yourself to cultivate self-awareness, self-acceptance, and grace. Let’s all learn the language of how to speak to ourselves, how to love ourselves, and how to give space for all of our feelings. Then, the confidence will follow.

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