Dear Introverts of the World,
You may think your introverted personality is natural, especially if you were overweight or bullied in your youth. So now you just try to keep your head low, blend into the background, and decline the few social overtures you receive. For your whole life, you may have accepted your own belief that you’re just not a confident person. You keenly watch other people, who can expertly negotiate the difficult circumstances and people in their lives. Perhaps you think you could never be that way, as much as you envy their confidence.
But confidence is a muscle to be exercised. It may not feel very strong, especially if you haven’t used it much lately.
Is Confidence Innate?
Truthfully, multiple writers have shared the belief that we’re all born with confidence. We cry and demand our needs to be met. We don’t notice the negative judgments of our siblings, because we’re too focused on “me.” Didn’t you have an abundance of confidence, until the world began chipping away at it, telling you it’s not nice to grab someone else’s toys, or to hit someone simply because he’s annoying you? Despite your native allotment of confidence, perhaps too many of its corners were shaved off in the school yard or in the displeasure of a parent’s face. Were you betrayed by a close friend, or rejected and ridiculed by someone you loved?
You don’t need to live this way. You can re-generate a healthy supply of confidence. You no longer need to skulk in the shadows of your own life.
As in any self-improvement process, it’s hard, introspective work, but it’s immensely worthwhile and heartening. Whatever measure of confidence or the lack of it that you now have, you have the power to change that.
Where Did Your Confidence Go?
Introspection is the best place to start. Spend some quality time with yourself, trying to identify the incidents in your life that zapped your confidence. Aside from the normal “how to play nice with others” that all toddlers must learn, incidents in your past have told you introverts to suppress your natural exuberance, to keep your opinions to yourself in order to avoid embarrassment or ridicule; to be ashamed of the way you look, or talk, or run. Let’s fix that.
The negative valuations of others, however, was only the start. Those opinions became even more problematic once you told yourself they were true, galvanizing them as your internal limiting beliefs. It’s bad enough that anyone was bad-mouthing you, but to compound matters you’ve thrown in with them, and now condemn yourself unassisted by others’ dis-encouragement. Appearing confident in a social situation is doubly hard when you’re brow-beating or doubting yourself.
Closely related to internalizing old, negative opinions is the even more insidious habit of discounting the positive things that others say now. Taking a compliment is an art. When you don’t accept a compliment, you’re saying that the person giving it has bad taste. When others are cheering for your success, believe them when they say you are worthy.
When Your Insecurities Are Showing …
One common issue for many who lack confidence is that they fear the disapproval of others – they care too much. While on the surface you may heartily agree with the futility of seeking or needing the approval and/or encouragement of others, lurking behind the scenes, your subconscious mind still wants that endorsement. This can be an empowering insight.
So next, make an observation of when your lack of confidence is the most painful. Or when do you feel the most naked and challenged by the perceived opinions of others. What situations aggravate it? What common threads run through them?
Most people with confidence issues – when they really stop making sweeping generalizations about themselves – realize that there’s only one or two categories of situations causing the bulk of their trouble. Identify what’s happening in each, and what the common denominator is. When you first meet someone new? Trying to make small talk? Speaking up in a meeting? Feeling that you need to disagree with someone, but you don’t know how? Harvest all the insight that you can forage.
Aside from just the why, observe yourself to glean the “how” when your lack of confidence kicks in. Observe your posture and your tone of voice. Mumbling and hunching your shoulders don’t convey confidence. That body language is telling others you’re sorry to bother them, whether that’s the way you actually feel or not.
The Recipe for Rebuilding Your Lost Confidence
After you’ve identified the typical trouble spots and noted some patterns, you’re ready to work on recouping your confidence.
Practice affirmations. Leo from actualized.org recommends spending 5 minutes straight every day reciting each of these: “I love being confident” and “I am independent of the good or bad opinions of others.” Spend a total of ten minutes every day reciting these two without fail for at least two months.
It’s Okay to be a Little Uncomfortable
Look for and use more chances to move beyond your comfort zone. Start with small steps, and realize that the more you do it, the easier it gets. Accept an invitation now and then, before people stop asking. Or invite the least-threatening person you know to coffee. Don’t try to fly before you run, or you might create a crippling fear of ever trying to fly again. Baby-steps … baby steps. And while you’re inching forward, consider your body language. Pull those shoulders back and speak confidently – emulate what a confident person would do. Fake it on your way to making it.
Visualize yourself embodying the confidence you see in others, rather than freezing up or getting uncomfortable. What would your confident colleague do instead? Mentally rehearse that and other alternative actions in detail. Borrowing again from actualized.org., spend five more minutes each day, visualizing the worst situation you had previously summoned in your mind – only this time, rehearse as you handle it confidently just as your hero would. These affirmations, visualizations and rehearsals will enable you to greatly expand your comfort level in real life. Your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between mental rehearsal and real events. So your subconscious mind will believe that you’ve already succeeded.