Do You Make These 3 Common Mistakes When Trying to Improve Your Self Confidence?

by Henrik Edberg

Image: / CC BY 2.0

“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the face.”
Helen Keller

One of the most common wishes people have seems to be to improve their self confidence. This can be a tricky thing and it is easy to start fooling yourself and making mistakes that keeps you stuck in place of low self confidence.

So today I’d like to share 3 mistakes I have made in the past and what I have done to move past them and to actually increase my self confidence.

I hope you find something helpful here.

1. You sit around and hope that you can solve it in your mind somehow.

Yes, a helpful component of raising your self confidence can be to for example positively visualize future events or using affirmations or afformations. But the most important part is what Eleanor Roosevelt said a long time ago:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

There is no way of getting around that.

You have to be willing to take action, to move out of your comfort zone and to face fear to increase your self confidence in a way that stays with you (not like when you pump it up temporarily by using different exercises or music for example). You have to be willing to take the punch and risk some emotional pain for a while.

And I won’t lie to you. Sometimes it will suck. You will go to bed and feel sick to your stomach and just hope the day will end. But many times you will feel great as you just move over that invisible barrier and face your fear. You may not even get the result you wanted but still feel great about yourself because you just dared to face that fear or take some action.

But what about the times you felt sick to your stomach and went to bed feeling not so good at all? Well, the next day you will wake up. And you realize that you are still here. You are intact and the earth keeps spinning and you get up for a new day. Life continues. But now you know deep down that you can handle things at least a little bit better because you could handle what happened yesterday. You have raised your confidence in yourself and become stronger.

And another thing is this: when you do things you don’t just build confidence in your ability to handle different situations. You also experience progressive desensitization. What that means is that situations – like for example public speaking or maybe just showing your latest blogpost to an audience out there – that made you feel all shaky become more and more normal in your life. It is not longer something you psyche yourself up to do. It just becomes normal. Like tying your shoes, hanging out with your friends or taking a shower.

It may seem scary now. But after having done whatever you fear a few to a dozen times or so you may think: “Is that it?”. You almost feel disappointed about how anticlimactic it has become. You may even get a bit angry with yourself and wonder why you avoided doing it for so long.

2. You focus on the wrong things.

If you focus on the wrong things then it will be a lot more difficult to gain the experiences that I wrote about in the section above. You may never get started at all. Or you see the world through a lens that won’t help you that much even if you gain some experiences that could help you.

So what do you do?

You learn to change how you view things. Here are three common problems and how to reinterpret them or change your focus from them altogether to help yourself out.

Stuck in fear.

When you are stuck in fear then it will be hard to start moving. But if you on the other hand shift to being curious your perceptions go SWOOSH! and the world just opens up. Curiosity is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and enthusiastic then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear.

How do you become more curious? One way is to remember how life has become more fun in the past thanks to your curiosity and to remember all the cool things it helped you to discover and experience.

Negative expectations and disaster scenarios in your mind.

One way to move past this vague fear of very improbable scenarios or that the sky might fall is to ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?

When you really ask yourself what the worst thing that could happen is you get a clearer picture, a bit of fear vanishes and you discover that the potential consequences are seldom as frightening as you first thought. By doing this you define the potential consequences and also discover that whatever might happen you can manage and recover from it.

Fear of failure.

Fear of failure can hold you back. But failure isn’t all that bad really. It can be very helpful if you choose to see it that way.
The thing is to reframe failure from being something that makes your legs shake to something useful and important for the growth of your self confidence and your overall growth as a human being.

Here are four ways that failure can help you out:

  • You learn. Instead of seeing failure as something horrible you can start to view it more as a learning experience. When standing in the middle of a failure, you can ask yourself questions like: What’s awesome about this situation? What can I learn from this situation?
  • You gain experiences you could not get any other way. Ideally, you probably want to learn from other people’s mistakes and failures. That’s not always easy to do though. Sometimes you just have to fail on your own to learn a lesson and to gain an experience no one can relate to you in mere words.
  • You become stronger. Every time you fail you become more accustomed to it. You realize more and more that it’s not the end of the world. And, again, you get desensitized. You can handle things that would have been very hard to handle a few years back.
  • Your chances of succeeding increases. Every time you fail you can learn and increase your inner strength. So over time you become more and more likely to succeed.

3. You don’t prepare.

Preparing yourself and educating yourself can be a big help to gain confidence. By for example rehearsing and rewriting your speech over and over you can pretty much learn it by heart. By doing research you can find breathing techniques that can quickly make you calmer and present. Or simple visualization techniques that make you feel more confident and positive as you step out on the stage.

This is obviously more work than not doing anything about the speech at all before you start giving it. But it can make a big difference in your confidence levels if you take the time to prepare yourself. And of course, the speech and the delivery of it will most likely be a lot better too.

So prepare and you will feel more comfortable and confident. Just don’t make the mistake of getting stuck in the preparation phase and using it as a way to avoid taking action and to avoid the possible pain that it may result in.

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Greg Blencoe February 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm


It is very interesting to think about where self-confidence comes from. My experience has been very similar to many things you discussed in the post.

I completely agree about the importance of taking action and getting out of your comfort zone. In a way, life is like weightlifting in the sense that you have to push beyond your current limits in order to grow. And this can be VERY uncomfortable whether it is the intense physical discomfort of lifting weights or the more emotional discomfort of facing fear or trying new things.

In my experience, I have noticed that when I try new things, attempt to get out of my comfort zone, etc., I gain self-confidence regardless of WHETHER OR NOT I am successful at what I am trying to do.

I have learned to take a lot of pride in non-successes (I don’t like to think in terms of “failure” since I believe that you can only fail if you don’t try). Even if something didn’t work out exactly the way I wanted despite my best efforts, I always learn something by trying. And perhaps more importantly, I can look myself in the mirror and be very proud knowing that I did the absolute best I could.

A key component in all of this that I have found is to stop caring about what other people think. I know I took a lot fewer risks in the past, because I probably cared too much about what other people might think if things didn’t work out.

But if you forget about what other people think and take action anyway, your self-confidence ought to really increase.

Camille February 25, 2010 at 3:03 am

Greg said: I don’t like to think in terms of “failure” since I believe that you can only fail if you don’t try.

So true, Greg! If you try something and it doesn’t work, and you take the time to figure out why it didn’t work, you may be able to try again, or try something else, based on what you learned from that so-called “failure.”
I also love your point about not caring what other people think. Getting older has helped me in that aspect and it’s one of the great things about aging. If you know who you are, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Sean February 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I figured out lesson from #1 myself just this morning. Whether or not I can bring myself to do it is another question.

But problem #3 can very easily lead you into problem #1. Just a thought to keep in mind.

Colbycheeze February 23, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Hey Henrick, great article! You are so right about taking action. I have some stupid fear about calling and taking care of things, and I’ll always make myself feel better by saying, “Oh it’s okay I can take care it. It won’t be a big deal.” But I never do! The thing is, it always feels SO much better when I just do what is necessary. It never ends up being that difficult either!

And along with your 2nd point, it really does make taking care of future problems even easier because each success builds on the other.

I’ve also found that breathing techniques are extremely useful in almost every situation. I think everybody should practice them several times daily.

Mars Dorian February 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Hey Henrik,

I have to agree with this one.

Creating the right mindset was the hardest part for me – it took me years to shape it according to my standards. Once you have “found” your inner strength, planning and jumping into action is “almost” a cakewalk :)

Michelle @ Following Your Joy February 23, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Hi Henrik and thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us! What a gift for your readers to take the wisdom of what you have learned and apply it in their own lives!

The first thing I think of when reading this post is the Law of Attraction and how what we focus on…expands. So if a negative thought comes up for me, I quickly (if I can catch myself, that is!) turn it around into an affirmative or positive statement.

But it certainly takes being aware and conscious each day, doesn’t it? I just finished a coaching session with a client and much of the call focused on the idea of retraining her brain to send positive messages, rather than negative ones.

Thank you for the insightful post.

James February 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Thank you for the article! I have your blog as my homepage and I just came back with my group from school because I have a presentation coming up. I already had ideas in my head about how I’m going to do when it’s my turn to speak. Once I read your article I felt much better and why should I be worried if I’m going to prepare in advanced? So thanks a lot! I’ll definitely keep this in mind.

Oscar - freestyle mind February 24, 2010 at 8:01 am

For me is more about fighting fear. Not only when I have to do something intellectual, but also when i do sport or other things I realize that it’s fear that it’s often holding me back.

Suzanne February 24, 2010 at 8:35 am

great post and great tips!

Rich @ Haiku-It! February 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I think fear immobilises, but the fear is almost always worse than the doing… (At least this is the case with me. Too much worrying and not enough doing.)

Confidence comes from doing, and then seeing/knowing you can do it. Simple as that I think.

Nacho Jordi February 24, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Hail curiosity! It is not true that it killed the cat. In fact it granted it a longer and more varied life. This post comes at the right moment for me: I am very introspective and very bound to suffer from perfection paralysis… Thank you.

mamy_69 February 24, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Thank you for the insightful post.

A.Dalcourt February 24, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Sadly I think people tend to hold themselves back not due to a fear of failure, but due to a fear of succeeding. Suceeding has been my biggest hurdle, I’d move one step forward and instictively want to run back to my comfort zone. I think this is partially because I know that the next challenge will be that much harder. Rest assured, I’m quite good at recognizing when I’m retreating for the wrong reason, and have enough will power to stay the course that I’ve chosen, unless harmful to me in some way, which so far has not been.

Henrik Edberg February 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Thank you for adding that great point, it really made me think!

Dan @ Anxiety Support Network February 25, 2010 at 6:07 am

For someone who struggles with social anxiety, I have extensive experience with this issue, and I can concur that this post is right on in just about everything it says.

I think the most interesting point was the point about reframing fear to something that is part of a learning and growth process; this is difficult for me to do.

I do, however, like the use of visualizations and other relaxation techniques because I believe that they do increase your confidence to some degree, but I think that they do need to be used in addition to exposure to the feared event.

Good post!

Henrik Edberg February 26, 2010 at 1:46 pm

As always, thank you for all the comments and thoughts on this important topic! :)

Elevic Pernis March 2, 2010 at 4:50 am

I think self-confidence can be attained by taking action, and not just any action but the right action.

Thanks for the tips; these are helpful.

Kevin Incorvia March 6, 2010 at 9:51 pm

The trick is finding a balance between your first point and your last point.: being well prepared yet not getting stuck in planning so that you boldly take action.

Steve Errey - The Confidence Guy March 21, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Insightful post Henrik, and I also agree with the commenter who pointed out how important fear of success is in holding back self-confidence.

I see this time and time again with clients – they know they want to play a bigger game or build something that matters, but they’re scared that they might lose it. They might get close and see it slip away, they might succeed and then have to maintain that “success” somehow, or they might get there and realise it wasn’t what they wanted. There are myriad reasons for fearing success, but like the other points you mention – it isn’t *real*.

Confidence is trust – if you trust yourself to deal with whatever life throws at you, then there’s really nothing that can stop you.

Dle Tema May 17, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Thank you for the insightful post.

musar May 23, 2010 at 11:28 pm

thnks wery wery post…

Herb June 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

really interestin subject and nice community

Warez Script August 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

thnks post..!
nice a very very beatiful page

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