There are five main ways for developing self-belief and self-confidence.
Focus on Success
Remembering your past successes and achievements builds confidence by reminding you of how capable you are.
You naturally build confidence and self-belief whenever you overcome difficulty. Look back on your life and see all the times that you accomplished something difficult, whether big or small, in any area of life. Review the times when you faced big obstacles, unforeseen challenges, or an unexpected loss—and you persevered, survived, and moved forward.
Remember those moments and reinforce the positive feelings—such as “I can do it” and “eventually I figure things out”, and “I can make it”.
For best results, don’t just do this exercise in your head, but write it down. Keep a journal or a file of your accomplishments, so you can review them all whenever your self-confidence is low.
Self-doubt looks at your past mistakes and projects them onto the future, thinking, “I’ll probably fail there too”. Self-belief looks at your past successes and thinks, “I have accomplished difficult things in the past, learned new skills, and surpassed my limits when facing big challenges—so there is no reason for me to believe that I won’t be able to do that again.”
If you have trouble coming up with many examples, or if you want to expand your list, begin to take action! Choose something that makes you uncomfortable, then go do it. Tidy the house, make a difficult phone call, or start learning a new language, skill, or sport. Prove to yourself that you can do much more than you used to think!
Taking Baby Steps means breaking a big task into smaller tasks so the path forward is simpler. When a big project feels overwhelming, scary, or confusing, it’s easy to get stuck. Once you break that project into small steps, it’s easy to move forward. Then you taste success sooner, gain confidence, and build momentum.
Keep breaking down the big tasks into baby steps, until the next step is clear and easy enough, that you are confident that you can do it. Then go do it!
Shift Your Self-Talk
Your self-talk is the collection of thoughts you have about yourself, and about the world. Sometimes they are empowering and positive, sometimes disempowering or negative. The good news is that these thoughts are not truth—they are only habits. In fact, many of them are lies repeated a thousand times, and thus feel like truths.
Self-doubt is a common form of negative self-talk. It tells you, “Your past wins were just luck,” or, “Those wins weren’t that hard,” or, “It’s a lie to think you can achieve anything.” Those stories themselves are lies, and disempowering ones! Why not change them?
A key insight from meditation is that you are not your thoughts. The deeper your practice, the more clearly you see this. With this comes the power to shift the way you think. You can choose what you believe in, and the stories you tell yourself. These will shape your emotions, your character, your decisions and your destiny.
Shifting the way you think sometimes means correcting what is known as cognitive distortion, or “thinking error.” At other times it means telling yourself a better story. Look, both self-doubt and self-belief are only stories you are telling yourself. They are voices inside of you—and you can choose which one gets the mic.
In other words: You can believe in your limiting thoughts, or you can believe in your limitless potential—your choice.
Once you know which version of yourself you want to be, then it’s all about reinforcing it repeatedly through self-talk, affirmations, and visualizations.
Suppose you are attempting your first marathon, and naturally you feel some doubt. You catch your mind saying, “Will I even finish? Who am I to think I can do this…? I’m not an athlete. Six months ago I couldn’t even run a mile! I’m not ready… What if I cramp up? What am I thinking?! I’ve failed before on easier tasks … Maybe I should cancel it.”
This self-talk is not reality. It’s simply habit of self-doubt. Here are four tools to overcome it:
- Visualization. For three months before the marathon, spend five minutes each morning visualizing yourself going through the race, feeling tired at times, but persevering and finishing the race. Visualize it also right before the marathon.
- Affirmation. Create a short sentence encapsulating your commitment and self-belief, such as, “I can do this—I will finish!” Repeat it ten times every morning and evening.
- Reflection. Question the assumptions behind limiting self-talk. Poke holes in the stories—“doubt the doubter.” Find reasons to believe in your capacity.
- Shifting. Whenever self-doubt creeps in, replace it with a positive narrative. Use your meditation skills to redirect your attention, letting go of the negative thoughts to focus on your intention and self-belief.
Once you have shifted your mindset using any of the methods above, then take action. Act as if your new narrative, your more empowering beliefs, were already a reality. Action is the ultimate confirmation of belief and consolidates the whole process.
Act as who you want to be, not who you were conditioned to be. Act as a person of great self-confidence, and you will feel great self-confidence.
This method can be used for shifting any type of negative self-talk.
Getting Inspired by your role models, people who have achieved some of what you wish to achieve in life, can happen in two ways.
- Learn from their experience: Read their biographies, watch their interviews, and talk to them (if at all possible). Consider times where they too experienced self-doubt, fear, and failures; and learn how they overcame those difficulties. What made them keep going? What was their self-talk? What were their decisions and their commitment? See how you can tap into similar resources in your own life.
- Absorb their virtues: This special type of meditation allows you to include the qualities of that person into your own personality. Since this can be used to develop any quality or skill, it is discussed further in Absorb the Virtue.
Getting Support from a skilled mentor, a coach, or therapist can be crucial if we want to grow beyond our current state. To see our blind spots, especially self-sabotage, we need someone to be our mirror. To overcome limiting narratives and to replace them with self-belief, we need someone who can help us see our biases, question our assumptions, and hold space while we rearrange our thoughts and stories. Sometimes a wise and patient partner or friend can also fill this role, to some capacity.
Of these five methods, which one two might be most impactful for you? Focus on those to cultivate your self-belief.