Our minds are amazing instruments. It is just as effective at creating negative perceptions of ourselves as it is at creating positive images. When our mind becomes very adept at building these images, a cumulative effect can develop. That is, our mind begins building more and more of these images like an out of control, growing mass of thought energy. When we build positive thought energy we feel good, and we infect those around us with the same feelings. Unfortunately, the same process works with negative thought energy as well and it can have harmful effects on the way we perceive things.
Nothing can weaken or derail us as effectively as the sting of negative self-evaluation. People typically use two mental processes to put themselves down: making internal pictures of failing or messing up, and hearing an internal voice that reminds them of what they’re doing wrong.
Have you ever thought about an upcoming presentation you had to give and found yourself making pictures of getting up in front of the group and looking nervous and making a fool of yourself? Have you ever said something to someone and had a voice fire off inside your head that said “You dummy – whatever possessed you to say that? Many of us have had similar experiences where we became our own worst enemy and give it a voice! These mental processes set us up to fail ahead of time.
In all of the examples below where there is a negative thought, there is stress and tension blocking the creativity required to get us out of that state. Positive thinking and self-confidence frees up our energy channels to give us easier access to our inner resources such as concentration, confidence and imagination.
Repeated phrases and words reflect our inner beliefs and they become self-fulfilling (show up in our behavior – what we do and say). If you keep saying how difficult something is, you are likely to make things difficult on your own. Here are some common examples and ways you can “restate” or “reframe” the thought energy from negative to positive:
|“I find ____ really difficult.”||“Imagine how I will feel when I’m finished with _____.”|
|“My life is so complex…”||“How could I make my life simpler?”|
|“No one understands me…”||“What can I do to help others understand me better?”|
|“My team doesn’t even try…”||“How can I get our team to remember what they did when we were successful and use it now?”|
|“But…it will never work…”||“What would help it to work?”|
Negative thoughts will influence your energy and behavior and will be picked up by others. When faced with “confidence deflating” moments or situations, find something good and positive to focus on with whoever or whatever you are dealing with. Use the simple but effective technique of reframing to help you change your state (internal feelings) to a more confident one. Here are a few questions to assist you in this task:
- Where would this be useful?
- What positive meaning could this have?
- What is good about ….?
Many exercises exist that can help you develop “self-confidence or mental strength”. Here are a few that can get you started:
- Evaluate Your Core Beliefs
We’ve all developed core beliefs about ourselves, our lives and the world in general. Core beliefs develop over time and largely depend upon our past experiences. Whether you’re aware of your core beliefs or not, they influence your thoughts, your behavior and emotions.
Sometimes, core beliefs are inaccurate and unproductive. For example, if you believe that you’ll never succeed in life, you may be less apt to apply for new jobs – and inadvertently, you may not present yourself well on job interviews. Therefore, your core beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Identify and evaluate your core beliefs. Look for beliefs that are black and white, and then find exceptions to the rule. Very few things in life are “always” or “never” true. Modifying core beliefs requires purposeful intention and hard work, but it can change the entire course of your life.
- Expend Your Mental Energy Wisely
Wasting brain power ruminating about things you can’t control drains mental energy quickly. The more you think about negative problems that you can’t solve, the less energy you’ll have leftover for creative endeavors. For example, sitting and worrying about the weather forecast isn’t helpful. If a major storm is headed your way, worrying about it won’t prevent it. You can, however, choose to prepare for it. Focus on what is only within your control. Save your mental energy for productive tasks, such as solving problems or setting goals. When your thoughts aren’t productive, make a conscious effort to shift your mental energy to more helpful topics. The more you practice expending your mental energy wisely, the more it will become a habit.
- Replace Negative Thoughts with Productive Thoughts
Although most of us don’t spend time thinking about our thoughts, increasing your awareness of your thinking habits proves useful in building resilience.
Exaggerated, negative thoughts, such as, “I can’t ever do anything right,” hold you back from reaching your full potential. Catch your negative thoughts before they spiral out of control and influence your behavior. Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive thoughts don’t need to be extremely positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought may be, “I have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths.” Changing your thoughts requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your best self.
- Practice Tolerating Discomfort
Being mentally strong doesn’t mean you don’t experience emotions. In fact, mental strength requires you to become acutely aware of your emotions so you can make the best choice about how to respond. Mental strength is about accepting your feelings without being controlled by them. Mental strength also involves an understanding of when it makes sense to behave contrary to your emotions.
For example, if you experience anxiety that prevents you from trying new things or accepting new opportunities, try stepping out of your comfort zone if you want to continue to challenge yourself. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as your confidence grows.
Practice behaving like the person you’d like to become. Instead of saying, “I wish I could be more outgoing”, choose to behave in a more outgoing manner, whether you feel like it or not. Some discomfort is often necessary for greater gain and tolerating that discomfort will help make your vision a reality, one small step at a time.
- Reflect on Your Progress Daily
Today’s busy world doesn’t lend itself to making much time available for quiet reflection. Create time to reflect upon your progress toward developing your self-confidence. At the end of each day, ask yourself what you’ve learned about your thoughts, emotions and behavior. Consider what you hope to improve upon or accomplish tomorrow.
Developing your self-confidence and mental strength is a work in progress. There is always room for improvement, and at times this will seem more difficult than at other times. Reflecting upon your progress can reinforce your ability to reach your definition of success while living according to your values.