If you're battling insecurity in your professional and personal life, there's no shortage of advice out there. From confidence-boosting habits to interventions guaranteed to boost your self-esteem, experts are standing by with quick tricks or tips to help you feel better about yourself.
But do all these power poses and self-actualization visualizations even work? As Saturday Night Live creation Stuart Smalley suggests, on some level most of us suspect not. There's just something a little sad and grasping about these interventions. At the end of the day, trying so hard to be self-confident makes many wonder about the strength of any self-worth generated.
Standing like Wonder Woman might be just the short-term boost you need to get through that interview, but is there any more lasting, more substantive way to cultivate real, deep self-confidence? It's a huge question (and one that, in truth, probably requires years of consideration, not 500 or so words on the internet, to answer fully). But a recent post on Pick the Brain might kick off that journey of reflection.
Replacing competition with goodwill
"Standard advice is along the lines of the 'ra-ra' pump-up. You tell yourself that you are good enough. Maybe you even make a 'what's great about me' list," writes Mark McManus on the site. "Why does none of it really work? [It's because] you're merely 'masking' a problem, not actually dealing with the root cause.
"It's like attempting to combat an inferiority complex by developing a notion of superiority. However, in my opinion, a superiority complex and an inferiority complex are two sides of the same coin," he says.
It's a fascinating point. You feel lesser than others, so you try to push yourself up your mental ranking a bit by highlighting your strengths to yourself. But maybe the problem isn't your position on that list but the list itself. Maybe the key to real personal confidence is to stop comparing people to each other and passing judgment.
It's an approach McManus captures with the term "goodwill." Lack of confidence, according to his diagnosis, is really the flip side of judging people. "The only people who desire to be better than everyone else are those who feel inferior. The need to 'outshine' everyone is actually born of fear and weakness, not strength," he believes. If, instead of wanting to beat others, you want to be kind to them, to understand them, to feel goodwill towards them, your insecurity will melt away, McManus claims.
"When you live with a warm heart, your focus and interest is on other people. In any given situation, then, you naturally come across as secure and confident," he says, offering this quote from the Dalai Lama in support of his argument:
"Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life."
Our common humanity to the rescue
McManus has written a thought-provoking piece, but he's hardly the only one urging us to reconsider our constant striving and comparisons. A much shared post by writer Jamie Varon touched on many of the same themes recently. Forget bashing yourself when feel like you're falling behind others, she urges.
"You don't need more motivation or inspiration to create the life you want. You need less shame around the idea that you're not doing your best. You need to stop listening [when] people who are in vastly different life circumstances and life stages than you tell you that you're just not doing or being enough," she writes. Quit comparing and just be where you are, she advises.
Similarly, content strategist Sara Wachter-Boettcher picked up on the same connection between judgment (specifically the fear of others' judgment) and insecurity. Her prescription is similar to McManus's--more empathy for ourselves and others. Like researcher and TED sensation Brené Brown, Wachter-Boettcher notes that the root of shame (and hence insecurity) is a terrified refusal to be vulnerable to others' judgment.
In short, all of these pieces share one core belief. If we spend our days criticizing and ranking ourselves and others, no wonder we feel insecure. Rather than trying to boost our confidence by taking elaborate measures to convince ourselves we're doing better in this vicious status game, why not opt out of it entirely? You can start by offering others and yourself more goodwill and empathy, and less judgment.
What do you make of this prescription for greater self-confidence?