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SECRETS TO BEING MORE SELF-CONFIDENT by Leslie Sokol, PhD, and Marci G. Fox, PhD

Posted in Life Management, Secrets to Being More Self-Confident with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2011 by Robert Finkelstein

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SECRETS TO BEING MORE SELF-CONFIDENT by Leslie Sokol, PhD, and Marci G. Fox, PhD

Paula* received an e-mail from an old friend. Though the two had been close in high school, over the years they had lost touch. Now, her friend was reaching out. But Paula didn’t answer—because she had recently been laid off and was afraid that she would look like a failure.

Kate called her husband at work to tell him about an appointment with a doctor she’d had that morning. After a minute, he cut her off and said, “I’ll call you later.” Kate thought, “He doesn’t care about me. He probably wishes we weren’t married.”

Why did Paula worry so much about what an old friend might think? Why did her husband’s momentary distraction lead Kate to question her value as a wife? And what price did each woman pay by refusing or doubting relationships that could have brought them joy?

If you (like Paula and Kate) tend to be your own worst critic, learn to boost self-confidence with the following doubt-dispelling strategies…


Doubt rises up when you undervalue your own strengths and overemphasize weaknesses. This lets insecurities overwhelm intellect, control mood and dictate behavior—even when there’s no reason to doubt yourself.

Example: You’re going to give a presentation at a town hall meeting. You’ve prepared, practiced and successfully addressed audiences before—yet you are beset with worries about messing up.

Doubt is distinct from realistic concern, which focuses a reasonable amount of attention on a particular situation that warrants it.

For instance: That town hall meeting is in an hour, you were too busy to practice and you’ve lost your presentation notes. Now when you worry, it’s a realistic concern.

Before you can build confidence, you must ascertain whether worries stem from doubt or realistic concern.

Ask: “Do I have the skills or tools I need to handle this situation?” If not, you have a realistic concern that requires action. If so, doubt is unfounded—and you need to change your thinking.


Doubt triggers are situations that spark a crisis of confidence. An individual’s personal doubt triggers depend primarily on how she would like to be viewed by other people. For this reason, doubts can be activated by another person’s comments or actions—even when the person had no intention of eliciting such a reaction. The two main types of self-doubt…

Competency doubt. This occurs in people who want to be seen as capable, intelligent and accomplished.

A coworker asks a question about your approach to a project. Instead of seeing this as a potentially helpful opportunity, you perceive it as criticism. You think, “I’m not good enough, I’ve failed,” then feel unable to move forward…or you lash out at the questioner, creating a hostile atmosphere.

Your trigger is competency doubt if you feel relieved when you finish a task… place great importance on being well paid for your work… and choose your career or other commitments over your personal life when conflicts arise. (Paula displayed competency doubt when she didn’t respond to her old friend.)

Desirability doubt.
This occurs in people for whom relationships are of primary importance. They want to be regarded as good friends, parents or spouses—in short, as lovable.

Example: You overhear friends making plans to dine together, but they don’t invite you. Instead of assuming that they have something to discuss or simply didn’t think of asking you, you worry, “I’m unlikable” or “They don’t value me.” As a result, you may cling or complain—and drive others away.

Your trigger is desirability doubt if you would rather be called nice than smart… prefer to do a social activity instead of working on your planned goal for the day… or would rather win a good citizen’s award than first place in a competition. (Kate displayed desirability doubt after phoning her husband.)

Purpose: Being aware of your doubt triggers helps you identify situations in which you send yourself negative messages with no legitimate reason… and makes it easier to avoid falling prey to an unfounded self-confidence crisis.

Remember: What you imagine others are thinking about you may be inaccurate—so try not to assume the worst.


Confidence problems often begin in childhood—for instance, when your dad called you dumb or your mother seemed to like your brother best. Pinpointing the genesis of a specific doubt helps you refute its legitimacy.

Example: You catch yourself thinking, “I bounced a check, I really am dumb.” Now bring to mind some specific facts that disprove this criticism—”I’m an avid reader and a skilled bridge player.” Then move on—”I made a mistake. It’s no big deal.”

Sometimes self-doubt springs from an emotionally wrenching experience (divorce, job loss), then feelings of failure spread until it feels like you cannot do anything right.

Helpful: Identify an aspect of your life that is going well—”Okay, I’m temporarily unemployed. But thanks to the extra free time, I’m finally writing my novel.” Take satisfaction in that success.


Once you recognize the source of doubt and weed out negative thoughts, you can begin to fertilize confidence. This takes practice, but the more often you react confidently to situations, the more it becomes second nature. Try this…

* Keep a daily log in which you enumerate your accomplishments.

Example: “I finished making that quilt… I led a good meeting.”

* When doubts flare up, try to identify the self-imposed rule that’s driving your critical thoughts.

For instance: “I felt stupid because I got caught in traffic and was late for my appointment. It is important to always be on time.” Now consider whether your rule is too strict. Yes, punctuality is good—but sometimes delays are unavoidable. Perfectionism only sets you up for failure.

When you catch yourself imagining a worst-case scenario, think instead about what’s likely to happen. If you phone that long-lost friend, is she really going to be disgusted to learn that you never went to law school? Or will you simply have fun reminiscing? Putting a positive spin on your thoughts helps you approach the future with confidence.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

– Leslie Sokol, PhD, and Marci G. Fox, PhD, coauthors of “Think Confident, Be Confident: A Four-Step Program to Eliminate Doubt and Achieve Lifelong Self-Esteem”

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