Carrie Pollard, MSW RSW
Self-Confidence with Self-Compassion
Updated: Apr 10, 2022
Often when we think of someone confident, we think of someone bold, brave, and maybe a bit brash. However, confident people have fears and experience failure. As basketball player, Michael Jordan stated, “I’ve failed over and over, and that is why I succeed.”
It is natural to feel afraid when we try something new or when we try to get better at something that doesn’t come naturally or easily. A couple of years ago, I decided to learn how to ride a dirt bike. I’m generally harm avoidant, so to get onto a machine that I could easily ‘whisky throttle’ was scary. (Whisky throttle is when you accidentally pull back on the throttle and don’t let go until you’re thrown off the bike.) To learn to ride my CRF125 dirt bike, I outfitted myself with all the appropriate protective gear and I rode on the ‘Tyke Track’. One day while riding, I was passed on the track by a three-year old with training wheels on his dirt bike!
Imagine if I had said:
“Carrie, what’s wrong with you? You’re 40 years old and being passed by a preschooler. You look foolish!”
I would’ve felt ashamed, embarrassed and had not likely persevered. Instead, I laughed about it, cheered for the young rider, stayed focused on my own riding, and told myself:
“You’re learning and it’s okay to take it slow”.
With practice, I’m now riding on the junior track and still having fun. To work on the new set of skills that came with dirt biking, I had to overcome my fears, trust what felt right for me, and most importantly, I had to be compassionate with myself as I struggled and fell off the bike (a lot).
Too often we think that we need to motivate ourselves by being critical or hard on ourselves. The belief might be that being too gentle will create complacency. However, criticism tends to trigger fear of failure, lowers confidence, and leads to avoidance and procrastination. Interestingly, did you know that being ‘too positive’ also might have detrimental effects as well? Research has found that if you struggle with low self-esteem ‘positive self-statements’ will make you feel worse and trigger negative self-talk (Wood, Perunovic, & Lee, 2009). Another problem with positive self-talk is that it doesn’t prepare you for failure. Telling myself that ‘I’m an awesome dirt bike rider’ would feel encouraging until I fell or was passed on the track.
The most reliable way to build your self-confidence is through the practice of self-compassion. By being kinder and more compassionate, our brains will release oxytocin and opiates to soothe and center us and activate the reward centers of the brain which increases motivation and allows us to persevere through setbacks and challenges (Neff & Germer, 2018). As psychotherapists, Elaine Beaumont and Chris Irons state in the Compassionate Mind Workbook: “[compassion] carries a motivation for all sentient beings (including humans) to experience happiness, find meaning and purpose, and flourish” (p. 150).
Self-compassionate self-talk acknowledges our difficulties, reminds us that we’re not in alone in our pain, and allows us to mindfully sit with it. It is not filled with harsh criticism that will discourage you or with false bravado that your mind will automatically discount. I’ve learned that to feel more confident, you need to accept where you are, recognize your potential and be compassionate towards yourself while you realize it!
(Postscript: It’s important to note that some of the barriers to becoming more self-confident and self-compassionate can be deeply rooted in trauma. Although the above strategies can work, other important healing might need to happen first. Therapy creates a safe space to do a lot of this work.)
Irons, C. & Beaumont, E. (2017). The Compassionate Mind Workbook. London, UK: Robinson.
Neff, K., & Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Wood, J.V., Perunovic, E., & Lee, J.W. (2009). Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others. Psychological Science, 20(7), 860-866.