Building self-confidence

Objectives :

  • To find out the reasons you lack or have lost self-confidence
  • To raise awareness about the consequences of your lack of self-confidence
  • To develop your self-confidence and self-esteem


Do you lack self-assurance at work? Do you feel uncomfortable when it’s your turn to speak?  Do you sometimes doubt about your own capability? Have you just been promoted but don’t  yet feel comfortable in your new role? Do you hold back when it comes to be assertive? Are  you afraid of rejection or worried about what others think of you? Do you constantly question  yourself about everything? Do you struggle to take initiative? Do you find it hard to trust others  and struggle to integrate? What if all this stems from a lack of self-confidence?

Truth be told this is a complex and wide-ranging subject that affects 85% of the population  (according to an article published in Forbes entitled “How Self Worth Affects Your Salary”).  However, are you aware that we are all born with an innate capacity for self-confidence? If this  is true, why do so many people lack it? The reality is that this process happens slowly over  time, at different stages in our lives: experiences we’ve had and labels we give ourselves or  are given by our parents, teachers and friends can all affect our self-confidence. But all is not  lost, we can re-build our self-confidence at any time by changing certain behaviours and  actions.

Before going into more detail, we must define what self-confidence and self-esteem are,  highlighting both their similarities and differences.

  • Self-confidence is a contributing factor to self-esteem. Yet, without self-esteem, it’s impossible to be fully self-confident. Self-confidence is the fuel that allows you to act, make decisions, value your rights and wishes, dare, assert yourself, believe in your abilities in order to confront the most difficult situations.
  • Self-esteem corresponds to self-appreciation and self-worth. This allows us to understand ourselves and value ourselves for who we are. So, self-esteem fluctuates. How we feel about what we do affects our self-worth, we can feel worthy if we consider something we have done is worthy, or on the contrary feel unworthy.

The 4 pillars of self-esteem

Source: Dynamique Creative


1. Why do we lack or lose self-confidence?

Good news : becoming aware of what limits us, our beliefs and hindrances is the first step for  any change and growth related to self-confidence.

1.1 Fear and negative thoughts : “saboteurs”

Fear: the greatest enemy of self-confidence. Developing self-confidence starts with exorcising  this demon that follows you wherever you go and is always whispering in your ear things like: • “You’ll never manage it - don’t try, you’ll only get it wrong”

  • “Don’t give your opinion, they’ll all judge you for it.”

Shirzad Shamine, author of the book and test “Positive Intelligence”, says: “Our mind may be  our friend but it is also our worst enemy”, and to better fight against our enemies we have to  identify them. He talks about gaining awareness by personifying these saboteurs. He names  this “demon”, the SABOTEURS.

There are different types of saboteurs and the ones mentioned above are: “Self-Judge  Saboteur”, that is to say the beliefs and fears that limit us in our self-confidence and cause us  disappointment, anger , regret, guilt, shame, stress, anxiety.

He also identifies two other “Judge Saboteurs” (judges others and judges circumstances), as  well as nine “Accomplice Saboteurs” who work in close collaboration with the “Judge  Saboteurs” (See Positive Intelligence toolsheet).

1.2 Confidence and fear are in opposition to each other:

  • When fear is heightened, it hinders confidence.
  • When confidence is raised and fear is reduced, individuals function better they can achieve a positive feeling of self-esteem.

In our social relationships, the 3 main fears are:

1- Being ignored: the fear of not being acknowledged by others, not taking part in  conversations, not being integrated as part of their group. The issue for this person:  being included

2- Being humiliated: the fear of not being up to the job, lacking competence, not knowing  what to do. The issue for this person: control

3- Being rejected: the fear of not being appreciated for who you are, not being liked; not  because of a lack of competence or importance but for who you are at the heart of your  being. The issue for this person: opening up to others

To rediscover confidence, you must accept your fears and train yourself to downplay the situation  and focus on success.

2. What are the consequences of low self-confidence?

As we have just seen, low self-confidence is linked to fear and our saboteurs who cause  anxiety, stress, unhappiness, an inability to achieve our goals, resentment and feeling like you  are never enough. If you ignore the alarm bells and don’t act, then you risk losing self-worth  and experiencing imposter syndrome, which can also lead to burnout.

2.1 Self-devaluation

The “Saboteur Judge Self” can have a significant impact on self-worth and as a result self esteem. And so a vicious circle takes root.

See diagram below:

The vicious circle of self-devaluation

Source: Danièle Simon


Personal monologues are deceitful. We don’t always notice them but they have a significant  impact on our mood, behaviours and beliefs.

2.2 Impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome was uncovered in 1978 by two psychologists, Pauline Clance and Susanne  Imes. This phenomenon manifests as feeling unworthy of the space we occupy. Its origins lie  in battered egos and in the necessity to compare ourselves to others. It creates unease in the  person concerned, a desire to be perfect that can provoke disproportionate reactions like  working to exhaustion (and a risk of burnout) which then reinforces this feeling of  incompetence after the effort used. Others become demotivated, under-estimate their abilities  and fall into procrastination.

Impostor syndrome is widespread. Psychologists estimate that 70% of people have  experienced it at least once in their lives. Impostor syndrome particularly appears during  transition periods: graduation, a first job, a new course or semester, an important promotion…

Impostor syndrome doesn’t only apply to the world of work, it also appears in family and social  life, for example in parents who under-estimate their ability to take care of their children, or for  couples when one partner reflects an image of us that we feel is too worthy compared to our  own.


Source: Harvey et Katz (1985)

If you want to find out whether you have impostor syndrome, we invite you to take the test. (See the Toolsheet: Impostor Syndrome - Questionnaire).


We have looked at the reasons for and consequences of a lack or loss of self-confidence,  along with ways of developing self-confidence. Now let’s look at putting the theory into  practice. Over to you!

1. How can I develop my self-esteem?

Self-esteem is developed through constant awareness-raising techniques, self-knowledge,  being kind to oneself and taking action to face your fears.

1.1 Being kind to yourself

Accepting yourself for who you are is the key to eliminating negative emotions which cause  fear and a lack of self-esteem. The work of acceptance is based on concrete elements:  emotions, thoughts and adopted behaviours in situations that hinder our self-esteem.  There are nine steps to developing self-esteem (See the below diagram), and it starts with self love. Whether you are feeling fulfilled, setting goals for yourself, wanting to grow, this should  in no way condition the love you have for yourself. You are a unique being. You have to love  yourself no matter what. Love yourself for who you are.

Say to yourself from today: "... ... (your first name), I love you with your qualities and your  defaults, with your shortcomings, with your strengths, with your missing points: I LOVE YOU!  You will make great achievements and sometimes you will mess up. You will have good  behavior and sometimes you will be a notorious fool. Regardless, I love you ! It's important that  you know that I love you unconditionally."

The 9 keys to develop benevolence / kindness towards oneself


Source: The self-confidence toolbox Annie Leibovitz

1.2 Knowing yourself and celebrating successes

Developing self-esteem is about self-awareness and celebrating your successes.

1.2.1 Knowing yourself

Knowing yourself is being aware of your personal and professional skills but also your  values, meaning what’s important to you in your private life and at work. Values are the  beliefs that influence our attitudes and behaviours. They allow us to direct our choices and  adapt our behaviours in line with the social context. Make a note of your values and identify  the priorities that allow you to be coherent according to your true self. In other words make  decisions that fit with who you are, dare to be yourself, reinforce your self-esteem and as  a result your self-confidence. If we don’t respect our values we undermine them and each  time our behaviour is coherent with our values we reinforce our self-esteem. (See the  Values and Personal Development Plan Toolsheets).

1.2.2 Celebrating your successes and being proud of yourself

It is the second step in developing your self-esteem. The diagram below will help you visualise your level of self esteem. Here are the stages of analysis:

1. Analyse your self-esteem

2. Promote success and a feeling of being up to the task and trustworthy

3. Take initiative

4. Adapt to fit your environment

5. Congratulate yourself on your success and express your gratitude

6. Find the balance between yourself, action and others

7. Put an action plan into place to increase your self esteem

The 9 tiered keys for feeding self-esteem


Source: C. André (2004)

1.3 Practice Self-Acceptance

1- Be aware of times when you aren’t accepting of yourself.

2- Train yourself to say ‘yes’ in your mind and accept that certain things won’t go as  planned.

3- Stay in the moment to calm mental anguish and speak in the present (I am, I am  doing...)

4- Accept the worst-case scenario to calm yourself and avoid twisting other unlikely  scenarios around in your head. Ask yourself questions such as, ‘What are the risks  if...? What issue are we dreading?’

5- Accept the past and make peace with it

1.4 Positive planning

Do you need to understand the cause of a problem to find a solution? We are influenced by our  doubts and sometimes create our own obstacles by interpreting reality.

Solution Focussed Therapy (SFT), is the name of the approach created by Steve Shazer and  his team in the 1980s. The method rests on the idea that a solution is not linked to the problem  so we can save time by not analysing it. This approach is closely linked to self-talk, beliefs and  solutions. It allows us to reverse the process by repositioning the situation through a prism  that reverses our perspective of the situation. The more we talk about a problem, the more  important it becomes which leads to frustration, stress and a loss of self-confidence. On the  contrary, the more we talk about solutions the more these become a reality.

Here are the assumptions which will allow you to take a solution-based approach:

  • Each person has all the resources to resolve problems
  • Change is constant
  • You don’t need to understand the problem or its cause to resolve it
  • Everyone defines their goals
  • It’s important to focus on what is achievable and can be changed and not on what is inaccessible and cannot be changed.

2. How can I develop my self-confidence?

2.1 Confront your fears and negative thoughts

Think of a situation that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable’:

1. What type of fear is causing this? (Being rejected, ignored, humiliated) ......................................................................................................................

2. What do you want to change/improve? .........................................................................

3. Describe what you want to do in detail, how will you do it? What are your success  markers?……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Self awareness is key to any change: take a look at your day and commit to writing down  your negative thoughts every day in order to diminish them.

2.2 Power poses

Amy Cuddy’s study contrasts ‘low power poses’ where the subject closes themself off with  ‘high power poses’ where they take up space, asserting themself.

A clinical study has shown that those who adopt a ‘high power pose’ saw :

  • their level of testosterone - a key hormone for self-confidence - increase by 20% after  just two minutes
  • their cortisol levels - the hormone linked to stress - decrease by 25%.

On the contrary, those who adopted a ‘low power pose’ saw their level of testosterone  decrease by 10% whereas their cortisol levels increased by 15%.

We are not born feeling more comfortable in certain poses rather than others. We have learnt  to feel comfortable holding our bodies in certain ways. Anything that has been learnt can be  unlearnt.

Look at the images above, what are your go-to standing and sitting poses? How do you feel  doing the opposite?

In this sheet, we have seen the reasons and consequences of a lack or loss of confidence, as  well as ways to develop it. It is now up to you to experiment with this practice and to explore  the resources below.