top of page

Self-Confidence: Why some people have it (and some do not)

Previous She-Suites have dealt with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. We have even talked about the fear of actually achieving great success. Often these fears and difficulties are coupled with a lack of self-confidence. What is self-confidence? Two main factors contribute to self-confidence: self-efficacy and self-esteem.

We gain a sense of self-efficacy when we see ourselves (and others similar to ourselves) mastering skills and achieving goals that matter in those skill areas. This is the confidence that, if we learn and work hard in a particular area, we will succeed; and it is this type of confidence that leads people to accept difficult challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks when building or maintaining a business.

This factor of self-efficacy overlaps with the idea of self-esteem which is a more general sense that we can cope with what's going on in our lives, and that we have a right to be happy. Partly, this comes from a feeling that the people around us approve of us, which we may or may not be able to control. However, it also comes from the sense that we are behaving virtuously, that we're competent at what we do, and that we can compete successfully when we put our minds to it.

Some people believe that self-confidence can be built with affirmations and positive thinking. There is some truth in this, but it is just as important to build self-confidence by setting and achieving goals – thereby building competence. Without this underlying competence, you don't have self-confidence. You may have shallow over-confidence and this can appear to others as being inflated, being bombastic, and self-aggrandizing.

Origins of Confidence or Lack of Confidence

So, why are some people easily self-confident while others struggle to gain self-efficacy and self-esteem? British psychologist, John Bowlby, posited his evolutionary theory of attachment suggesting that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them to survive. Very generally speaking, attachment theory suggests that there are three types of attachment: Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant. Secure attachment is classified by children who show some distress when their caregiver leaves but are able to compose themselves knowing that their caregiver will return. Children with secure attachment feel protected by their caregivers, and they know that they can depend on them to return. Insecure attachment falls into two typology factors: anxious and avoidance. Individuals described as anxious are characterized by anxiety and fear of rejection, whereas individuals described as avoidant are characterized by discomfort with closeness. Both developmental patterning can wreak havoc on our self-confidence.

The attitudes we have towards ourselves, and towards the world in general, grow out of the way we are treated growing up. Some children are told that they are “no good,” sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes explicitly. They may be compared unfavorably to other children. They may be ignored or abused. Sometimes, paradoxically, that message is communicated by parents who are always telling their children they are great, even when they are messing up. As a result, the message that comes through is that it does not matter to the parents whether or not their child is doing well.

Having low self-confidence is not just a global sense of being worthless; it manifests itself in action—or in inaction--whenever the child--the grown child—attempts to do anything. That person feels inadequate in social situations---including professional settings---and feels incapable of accomplishing any demanding (and desirable) work. When these feelings are severe, that individual is in danger of failing in business and in other key relationships. Feeling profoundly pessimistic, he/she will not try to accomplish anything worthwhile. Anything challenging will seem to be too difficult. Expectations of failure become self-fulfilling. So, from attachment theory, we can see that lack of self-confidence can make it difficult to take the risk to start a business and to succeed in the long-term chaos that defines owning your own business.

From the quietly confident CFO whose advice we rely on, to the charismatic confidence of an inspiring speaker, self-confident people have qualities that everyone admires. Self-confidence is extremely important in almost every aspect of our lives, yet so many people struggle to find it. Sadly, this can be a vicious circle: people who lack self-confidence can find it difficult to become successful. After all, most people are reluctant to back a project that's being pitched by someone who was nervous, fumbling, and overly apologetic. On the other hand, you might be persuaded by someone who speaks clearly, who holds his or her head high, who answers questions assuredly, and who readily admits when he or she does not know something.

Just how confident are you? This is a quick and easy evaluation you may want to try:

Confident people inspire confidence in others: their audience, their peers, their bosses, their customers, and their friends. And gaining the confidence of others is one of the key ways in which a self-confident person finds success.The good news is that self-confidence really can be learned and built on. And, whether you’re working on your own confidence or building the confidence of people around you, it’s well-worth the effort!

Building Self-Confidence

Your level of self-confidence can show in many ways: your behavior, your body language, how you speak, and how you engage with others. Confident people are generally more positive – they believe in themselves and their abilities, and they also believe in living life to the fullest. In order to attain a healthy level of self-confidence, we must assess how confident we are and understand in what ways we lack confidence. So, how do you build this sense of balanced self-confidence, founded on a firm appreciation of reality? The bad news is that there’s no quick fix, or five-minute solution. The good news is that becoming more confident is readily achievable, just as long as you have the focus and determination to carry things through. And what’s even better is that the things you’ll do to build your self-confidence will also build success – after all, your confidence will come from real, solid achievement. No-one can take this away from you!

Here are some steps to self-confidence using the metaphor of a journey. As we move toward self-confidence, we must prepare for our journey; set out on the path; and then accelerate towards success.

Step 1: Preparing for Your Journey

The first step involves getting yourself ready for your journey to self-confidence. You need to take stock of where you are, think about where you want to go, get yourself in the right mindset for your journey, and commit yourself to starting it and staying with it. In preparing for your journey, do these five things:

1. Look at What You've Already Achieved - Think about your life so far, and list the ten best things you've achieved. Perhaps you won an award for design, you were the highest-achieving sales person on your team, you did something that made a key difference in someone else’s life, or delivered a project that meant a lot for your business.Put these into a smartly formatted document, which you can look at often. And then spend a few minutes each week enjoying the success you’ve already had!

2. Think About Your Strengths - Take a look at who and where you are. Reflecting on your recent life, think about what your friends and trusted business advisors would consider to be your strengths and weaknesses. From these, think about the opportunities and threats you face. Make sure that you enjoy a few minutes reflecting on your strengths!

3. Think About What's Important to You, and Where You Want to Go - Setting and achieving goals is a key part of this, and real confidence comes from this. Goal-setting is the process you use to set targets, and measure your successful hitting of those targets. This is one of my favorite concepts of moving into one’s true success: Set goals that exploit your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, realize your opportunities, and be cognizant of the threats you face.

4. Start Managing Your Mind - Learn to pick up and defeat the negative self-talk which can destroy your confidence. Imagery teaches us how to use and create strong mental images of what you'll feel and experience as you achieve your major goals. There’s something about doing this that makes even major goals seem achievable! Try this easy meditative exercise once you’ve found a quiet space in your home or office:

A. Close your eyes if you are comfortable doing so. Breathe in to 6, hold, and breathe out to 8. Repeat three times in order to relax and ground yourself.

B. Imagine a professional disappointment, failure, or big challenge that you have encountered in the past. Note how you felt in that timeframe or in the moment you discovered the disappointing news. What is the feeling or feelings? Can you paint a picture in your mind’s eye. What do you see?

C. Does this feeling connect back to a familiar, yet painful, experience from childhood? Do you hear a negative, demeaning voice that tells you that you are a failure or that you are no good, or this must all be your fault? Is that your authentic true voice or is it the internalized voice of your mother, father, teacher, or caretaker?

D. Now, recognize that this negative voice may not even be your own. What is your authentic voice? What does that voice tell you? Can you express love, acceptance, and even joy about what you have accomplished and celebrate the skills you have gained?

E. Lastly, envision the successful confident you that can feel the distress of a set-back, but can also move through and past the distress into a place of self-love, gratitude, and appreciation. What does this woman look like? Where is she going with her life and career? Is she strong, resilient, and self-confident? Carry this image with you as you encounter set-back’s that we will for sure encounter as we continue on our career and life path.

F. Now take a deep breath in and out. Then slowly open your eyes.

5. ​And Then Commit Yourself to Success! - The final part of preparing for the journey is to make a clear and unequivocal promise to yourself that you are absolutely committed to your journey, and that you will do all in your power to achieve it. If as you’re doing it, you find doubts starting to surface, write them down and challenge them calmly and rationally. If they dissolve under scrutiny, that’s great. However if they are based on genuine risks, make sure you set additional goals to manage these appropriately.

Tip: Self-confidence is about balance. At one extreme, we have people with low self-confidence. At the other end, we have people who may be over-confident.

If you are under-confident, you’ll avoid taking risks and stretching yourself; and you might not try at all. And if you’re over-confident, you may take on too much risk, stretch yourself beyond your capabilities, and crash badly. You may also find that you’re so optimistic that you don’t try hard enough to truly succeed.

Getting this right is a matter of having the right amount of confidence, founded in reality and on your true ability. With the right amount of self-confidence, you will take informed risks, stretch yourself (but not beyond your abilities) and try hard.

Step 2: Setting Out

This is where you start, ever so slowly, moving towards your goal. By doing the right things, and starting with small, easy wins, you’ll put yourself on the path to success – and start building the self-confidence that comes with this. Begin to build the skills you need to succeed. Looking at your goals, identify the skills you’ll need to achieve them. And then look at how you can acquire these skills confidently and well. Don’t just accept a sketchy, just-good-enough solution – look for a solution, a program or a course that fully equips you to achieve what you want to achieve and, ideally, gives you a certificate or qualification you can be proud of.

Focus on the basics. When you’re starting, don’t try to do anything clever or elaborate. And don’t reach for perfection – just enjoy doing simple things successfully and well. Set small goals and begin to achieve them. Starting with the very small goals you identified in step 1, get in the habit of setting them, achieving them, and celebrating that achievement. Don’t make goals particularly challenging at this stage. Just get into the habit of achieving them and celebrating them. And, little by little, start piling up the successes!

Lastly, continue to manage your mind by recognizing, celebrating and enjoying success. Keep the mental images strong. In addition, learn to handle failure. Accept that mistakes happen when you’re trying something new. In fact, if you get into the habit of treating mistakes as learning experiences, you can (almost) start to see them in a positive light.

Step 3: Accelerating Towards Success

By this stage, you’ll feel your self-confidence building. You’ll have completed some of the goals you started in step 2, and you’ll have plenty of success to celebrate! This is the time to start stretching yourself. Make the goals a bit bigger, and the challenges a bit tougher. Increase the size of your commitment. And extend the skills you’ve proven into new, but closely related arenas. As long as you keep on stretching yourself enough, but not too much, you'll find your self-confidence building apace. What's more, you'll have earned your self-confidence – because you’ll have put in the hard graft necessary to be successful!


Keep yourself grounded – this is where people tend to get over-confident and over-stretch themselves. And make sure you don’t start enjoying cleverness for its own sake…

Key Point:

Self-confidence is extremely important in almost every aspect of our lives, and people who lack it can find it difficult to become successful.

bottom of page