Believe in yourself

Something I was taught at an early age that has stood me in good stead is the idea that, if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect other people to believe in you. But, there’s more to it than just believing in yourself, you also have to demonstrate your self-belief. And you also have to be prepared to question that belief from time to time. Let’s look at each of these issues.

Having self-belief means that your ‘default’ setting (that is, the stance you will automatically adopt unless something happens to change it) is one where you do not doubt yourself. You do not put yourself down; you do not tell yourself ‘I can’t do this’ (negative self-talk, to use the technical term); you do not place obstacles in the way of your own progress; and nor do you invite other people to adopt a low opinion of you (believe it or not, these are all very common behaviours, so we really do need to be tuned into them and steer well clear of them).

This is not the same as arrogance or where you see yourself as infallible and invulnerable. It is about having a positive attitude towards your own capabilities and a willingness to learn from failure. This is vitally important, as fear of failure is a major barrier to self-belief. If we see failure as something shameful, we will be discouraged from trying new things and testing out the limits of our abilities (thereby limiting our learning opportunities, as these arise precisely at the limits of our current capabilities). By contrast, if we see failure as a stepping stone to success and therefore nothing to be ashamed of, we are going to be more open to trying new things (and therefore open to new learning and new successes).

Having self-belief, though, does not mean that you will show that you do. Many competent and confident people will come across misleadingly as lacking in self-belief. This is partly a cultural matter, as many cultures involve unwritten rules about how we come across to other people. For example, it is quite common in the culture I was brought up in for people, on receiving praise or a compliment, to respond with comments like: ‘It was nothing’ or ‘No, not at all’. Such comments can give the impression that we lack confidence and thereby deny us the credibility we need to influence people and make a positive difference. A response like: ‘Thank you, that is good of you to say so’ is likely to be a wiser one to give. So, what we need to do, then is strike a balance between coming across as arrogant and hiding our light under a bushel, as the saying goes.

But, we also have to make sure that we are allowing our self-belief to get the better of us. However capable, competent and confident we may be, we all have our limitations. Consequently, we need to be careful not to overstretch ourselves, to put ourselves in situations where, in effect, we are setting ourselves up to fail. We still need to be cautious, but there is a major difference between being prudently cautious and writing yourself off before you have even tried to do something. In other words, we need to have confidence in ourselves, but we must not allow that confidence to cross the line and become complacency.

Self-belief is not about thinking you are better than other people – it is not about a sense of superiority; it is about a sense of what the textbooks tend to call ‘personal efficacy’, and much of that is about gaining other people’s trust by starting off by trusting yourself.

Something I was taught at an early age that has stood me in good stead is the idea that, if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect other people to believe in you. But, there’s more to it than just believing in yourself, you also have to demonstrate your self-belief. And you also have to be prepared to question that belief from time to time. Let’s look at each of these issues.

Having self-belief means that your ‘default’ setting (that is, the stance you will automatically adopt unless something happens to change it) is one where you do not doubt yourself. You do not put yourself down; you do not tell yourself ‘I can’t do this’ (negative self-talk, to use the technical term); you do not place obstacles in the way of your own progress; and nor do you invite other people to adopt a low opinion of you (believe it or not, these are all very common behaviours, so we really do need to be tuned into them and steer well clear of them).

This is not the same as arrogance or where you see yourself as infallible and invulnerable. It is about having a positive attitude towards your own capabilities and a willingness to learn from failure. This is vitally important, as fear of failure is a major barrier to self-belief. If we see failure as something shameful, we will be discouraged from trying new things and testing out the limits of our abilities (thereby limiting our learning opportunities, as these arise precisely at the limits of our current capabilities). By contrast, if we see failure as a stepping stone to success and therefore nothing to be ashamed of, we are going to be more open to trying new things (and therefore open to new learning and new successes).

Having self-belief, though, does not mean that you will show that you do. Many competent and confident people will come across misleadingly as lacking in self-belief. This is partly a cultural matter, as many cultures involve unwritten rules about how we come across to other people. For example, it is quite common in the culture I was brought up in for people, on receiving praise or a compliment, to respond with comments like: ‘It was nothing’ or ‘No, not at all’. Such comments can give the impression that we lack confidence and thereby deny us the credibility we need to influence people and make a positive difference. A response like: ‘Thank you, that is good of you to say so’ is likely to be a wiser one to give. So, what we need to do, then is strike a balance between coming across as arrogant and hiding our light under a bushel, as the saying goes.

But, we also have to make sure that we are allowing our self-belief to get the better of us. However capable, competent and confident we may be, we all have our limitations. Consequently, we need to be careful not to overstretch ourselves, to put ourselves in situations where, in effect, we are setting ourselves up to fail. We still need to be cautious, but there is a major difference between being prudently cautious and writing yourself off before you have even tried to do something. In other words, we need to have confidence in ourselves, but we must not allow that confidence to cross the line and become complacency.

Self-belief is not about thinking you are better than other people – it is not about a sense of superiority; it is about a sense of what the textbooks tend to call ‘personal efficacy’, and much of that is about gaining other people’s trust by starting off by trusting yourself.