How to Build Confidence In Yourself
How to be more confident? If you have (like so many others) ever struggled with feelings of self-doubt or compared yourself to others, you know that feeling confident can seem elusive. While wanting to be “better” can feel like motivation for personal growth or self-improvement, sometimes this self-criticism can actually impede your personal development.
Consider the paradox of wanting to be more confident: When we don’t feel as confident as we think we should, it then becomes just another thing to beat ourselves up about. “I'm not as confident as other people!” Or, “I should feel more confident than I do!” Oh, the irony! But learning how to build confidence becomes much easier and more attainable when we stop seeking to “feel” confident and feeling bad about ourselves when we don't and, instead, start focusing on our relationship with ourselves.
Self Confidence … Through Self Compassion
Does your relationship with yourself feel healthy and supportive? Do you know how to love yourself, and compassionately coach yourself through challenging life experiences? Or do you beat yourself up, judge yourself, or inwardly criticize or condemn yourself as you go throughout your daily life?
The path to learning how to be more confident means learning how to have a healthier relationship with yourself.
Stop Beating Yourself Up
For people who struggle with confidence or have low self-esteem, their harsh inner critic can feel like the part of yourself that “really knows the truth.” It can feel like it’s trying to help you be better, by pointing out your flaws or shortcomings. But what we know is that growth requires emotional safety and support. If your inner critic is always tearing you down and making you feel bad, it becomes paralyzing. If you’re constantly making mistakes and doing the wrong thing, it feels like you can’t do anything: Not even the things that would help you grow and heal.
Then you’re stuck!
How to Build Confidence In Yourself — Compassionately
The key to creating self-confidence is learning how to have an emotionally safe relationship with yourself. This is a personal growth process that can be a journey to cultivate, for sure. But the rewards are enormous. Not only will you feel more confident, but this type of deep personal development work can also help you feel more optimistic, better able to meet challenges competently, and — perhaps even most importantly — improve your relationships with others too.
But how? How to build confidence through developing a relationship with yourself? On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m pleased to do a deep dive into this topic with my guest, Dr. Aziz Gazapura. Dr. Aziz is a psychologist specializing in social anxiety and self confidence, and he’s sharing his insights with us today.
I hope you join us for this episode, which is essentially a “masterclass” in how to be more confident. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or right here. If you’re more of a reader than a listener, scroll down to find shownotes and a transcript below.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
How To Be More Confident
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How To Be More Confident: Podcast Show Notes
- Why Is Confidence Important?
- Confidence is essential to having emotional freedom to take risks, successfully manage challenges, and create authentic and meaningful relationships.
- One of the primary reasons that people struggle with confidence and low self-esteem is that they have a harsh inner critic that’s making them feel terrible about themselves.
- How to Be More Confident By Being Kind to Yourself
- Confidence is an inside job.
- The art of building confidence in yourself is akin to developing a positive, healthy relationship with yourself.
- This allows you to feel secure from the inside out: You can take risks, try new things, and allow yourself to be authentically vulnerable.
- Building Confidence By Being On Your Own Side
- As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where you become more “on your own side.”
- This endeavor does not need to be a one-man job. If it feels difficult to “talk back” to your inner critic, that can be a sign that you could benefit from the support of a therapist or coach.
- Breaking Free from False Self-Protection
- Often, it feels like the inner critic inside our heads is trying to protect us from harm or danger.
- However, they’re an outdated protective strategy that feeds us information that is not necessarily true. It holds you back.
- Social Anxiety vs. Lack of Self Confidence
- Signs of Social Anxiety
- Social anxiety is typically a fear of being judged, disliked, and rejected. Underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy and unlovable.
- The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance. However, the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront them.
- Social Anxiety is a Verb, Not a Noun
- Rather than having social anxiety, think of it as doing social anxiety.
- It is reversible as long as you put in the effort to break free of your patterns.
- Signs of Social Anxiety
- How to Build Confidence in Yourself
- Self Confidence: Be Willing to Fail Forward
- The more you are willing to make mistakes, the quicker you’ll develop the skills that help you feel confident and competent.
- Forge Verified Faith
- Once you’ve practiced your social skills a number of times, you’ll be willing to take more risks.
- You then get faith in yourself that you can do it.
- Be Authentic, Not Nice
- When you’re more focused on being nice, you approach people from a place of fear, not genuine love and connection.
- Doing this can build up resentment since you are unable to express your own needs and emotions.
- Consider Therapy for Low Self-Esteem
- Therapy is a good place to start. Your therapist can guide you through a systematic approach to build your confidence.
- Self Confidence: Be Willing to Fail Forward
- Making Assumptions
- We Attract What We Project
- We're in an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us.
- So when we have self-critical thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us.
- Negative Assumptions Are a Sign of Low Self Esteem
- Most of us assume that people are against us because we are against ourselves.
- Initiate a dialogue with your inner voice so you can combat this chronic assumption.
- We Attract What We Project
- Building Confidence From The Inside Out
- Cultivating a growth mindset that allows you to experiment and practice (with a minimum of self-judgment) is key to building
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. You're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.
Dr. Lisa: My guest today on this episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is Dr. Aziz Gazipura. Dr. Aziz has a background in clinical psychology but he's a real expert in confidence. He's here to talk with us today about why self-confidence is important and really kind of unpacking that term with us because we hear all the time from every direction that we should be more self-confident; we should have higher self-esteem. For people that struggle with this, that quickly turns into just one more thing that makes them feel badly about themselves, like, “Oh, god, no, I'm not confident enough.” So we really want to dive into this topic to explore what the impact of confidence is in one direction or another, on life, on relationships, on a career. Dr. Aziz, as a real expert on this subject, I'm so pleased you can join us today to share his wisdom with you. Thank you, Dr. Aziz.
Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Bobby. I do think that's ironic, right? Someone's feeling maybe a little bit low about themselves or anxious, and then they have this idea, “I should be more confident… urghh I'm not”, and then made worse. So that's, I mean, I'm so glad we're having this conversation. I did start by clearing that one up. So people are free.
Dr. Lisa: Let's just start there. Because it's true. I mean, I think people that struggle with self-confidence, which is, okay, hi, everyone, right? But doubts themselves from time to time. Like, there's always this giant list of things that we all need to be we all need to do. And now we have 75, self-anointed life coaches, and our Instagram feed every day jumping up and down, telling us that we should like ourselves more, be more confident. And it's just like, “Oh, okay, great. Why, why is that even important?”
Dr. Aziz: Sure. Well, I mean, from subjectively our own experience, I like to think of it as a relationship. If you imagine having a relationship with a friend or family member or a spouse, and what is the quality of that relationship? Is it are you connected? Are you distant? Are you loving and kind and patient? Are you impatient and frustrated and critical? And there's really no difference with the relationship with ourselves.
We are either distant and disconnected and kind of zoned out and not really present with ourselves or we can be harsh, critical, impatient, judging, angry. When we live that way, whether it's a relationship with someone in your life or relationship with yourself, when you're living that way, it's painful. It can be limiting. It feeling bad aside, it also can be very restricting and limiting to your life because when you're feeling low about yourself, you're feeling like you are unworthy or unlovable, you're not going to take risks. You're not going to put yourself out there. You're not going to really live up to what you want to do and what you want to create in life. So I think it has a kind of a one-two punch effect on us when our confidence and self-esteem is low.
Dr. Lisa: I am so glad we're talking about this, this way and in this language because I think you said something just so insightful, which is really like that self-confidence, right? To be self-confident to be in this almost mood state of self-confidence. It's like people think that that means that they need to feel a certain way; they need to project themselves differently to others. It's almost like how they should be out in the world is air quote, self-confident.
But I love the way that you're talking about this in terms that I think is much easier to understand, like more relatable, which is that let's just toss that self-confidence term out the window. Almost what we're really talking about, is the quality of the relationship that you have with yourself. Is it supportive? Is it patient? Is it kind? Or are you being mean to yourself harsh with yourself, beating yourself up, tearing yourself down? How does your relationship with yourself contribute to how you feel in relationships with others?
Dr. Aziz: It is the most important thing in a lot of ways because everyone can just use this as a little thought experiment. Imagine yourself spending a day with someone that you love, maybe it's a lover or a close friend or your spouse of 15 years. You guys got a little date time away from the kids and you're out in a beautiful park or near a waterfall or going to the movies or whatever you love to do with someone that you love. And I say, “Well, great, how are you feeling? What's that day like?”, and you say, “Well, inside my head, I'm judging myself, I don't think I look very good. I don't. My clothes don't fit well, and I'm boring. You know, I'm worried about what's going to happen next, because I'm not good enough.”
It doesn't matter what you're doing. It doesn't matter who you're with. It's pain, it's suffering. So if we don't get a handle on that, if we don't learn how to work with that, those voices in our head, critical side of us, our insecure parts, if they run the show, if it dominates us, then we're going to suffer and of course, our relationships are going to suffer too, right? Because we're not coming out as our best or most free self, we're going to be a lot more restricted, a lot more guarded, a lot more inhibited. So it makes all the difference.
I do think that thinking of it that way, as a relationship with yourself, I often say confidence is an inside job. Because if people confuse that persona, that bravado, that appearance of confidence, the people that like really puff that up, actually, and you probably know this from your work and everything. It's like the inverse inside, they're the most insecure; it's a compensation. So we want to step away from needing to look confident or be anxious inside and actually say, “Okay, how do we fundamentally approach ourselves and life so that we can truly feel more relaxed, more accepted, more acceptable, and then more courageous, to move forward and really connect with others in a deeper way?”
Dr. Lisa: I love that. Just to hear you talk like you speak about this. So insightfully and so compassionately, and I hope that this is okay to ask about, just in looking through your materials, you mentioned that at an earlier point in your own life, it sounds like you struggled to have a good relationship with yourself and I can only imagine the amount of empathy and just genuine understanding that must have come from that experience. Is it okay to ask you about that?
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, that is the source of not only my empathy for this and understanding but also my endless hunger to serve in this way. Because I experienced firsthand for many years, what it was like to live with pretty severe social anxiety and all of its cousins that people might not notice. But excessive niceness, people-pleasing, excessive guilt, worrying constantly of what other people think of me. So even after I got past some pretty strong inhibition and avoidance, and kind of broke through to the next level of at least appearing a little bit more confident, I was really tormented and suffered a lot with this relationship with myself. With that led to was this endless, obsessive hunger to say, “Well, how do I liberate myself from this? How do I? I was in therapy, and I go to workshops, I go to trainings, and I would always be listening specifically for that, “How do I like myself? How do I stop this critical beast in my head that seems like I don't, I'm not in control of it?”
Over time, fortunately, with enough growth and exploration, I was able to really discover how to shift that. We could talk more about that in this interview. But the beautiful thing is, I say, confidence is an inside job and we need other people. It's this beautiful synergy, right? I didn't really fully free myself. I mean, look, of course, we all have self-criticism, we all have some self-doubts. I'm not saying that that's gone forever. But I mean, it's night and day different the way I live my relationship with myself now, and it's not where it is today because I just did it all myself. It's truly other people. It's listening to shows like this. It's reading books. It's doing the work.
As we do that, and as we take the risk to be more real and more vulnerable, as we change the way we talk to ourselves, we treat ourselves, you can experience a fundamental shift in the way that, I encapsulate this with people that I work with now, as I call it being on my own side. And in fact, the people I work with, the groups that I run, it kind of had, they came up with its own acronym, OMOS, on my own side, OMOS. That's a common phrase people will talk about is how you know how to be more on my own side because when we're on our sides that's kind of another way of saying what we're talking about here. So yes, I made a shift in my life from being many years very not on my own side, very against myself, to fundamentally residing where my center of gravity now is on my own side.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I'm glad that you bring up the part about how hard it is to do on their own, because it's almost like you're lost in this forest almost with this person who's mean to you and like telling you all these terrible things about yourself. I think that when you are alone in that, it's very easy to get tricked into believing that that mean voice is true. I think it requires a connection with somebody else, at least in the beginning stages of this journey to say, “No, don't listen to them. That is not true. Let me show you how to think differently or what to do to talk back to that inner voice.” It's very difficult to do that without someone almost like coming in to get you, and I want to say that out loud. Because again, I think a lot of times people believe that they should be able to do these things on their own, or like read a blog article or listen to a podcast and be like, “Okay, I know what I should do, now.” I just want to say that it's very hard to do this. It's one thing to hear what you should do, or what helps, but the doing of it is a collective endeavor, I think.
Dr. Aziz: Yes. The whole purpose of this inner critic, that's something I became very fascinated by, like, what's going on? This seems so maladaptive. This seems so not healthy, like what's going on. What I've discovered over time is… I love this idea of being in the woods being in the forest, and you got this character next to you that's criticizing you.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: But it actually as sort of purposeless as it might seem, just mean or it actually has a very specific function. The way I guide clients to see this, I said, “Well, what if that voice were true? You know, and it's, you're ugly, and you're not smart enough, and you're not gonna succeed?”, and all these things, like, if we were just to say, “Okay, let’s take it at face value, it's all true. Where is it steering you towards in your life?” When people reflect on this, what they often find is it is guiding them to downsize their life. To avoid risk, avoid stepping into the unknown, avoid trying new things, avoid connecting, avoid being vulnerable, and really kind of keep life as contained, armored, and small as possible, and so dense.
Dr. Lisa: Protective
Dr. Aziz: It's a protective voice. Absolutely. It's an outdated, protective strategy to survive through basically armoring up and avoiding life. What's very helpful to see that, because once you start to notice it's actually the first step because all of a sudden, imagine you've had this character with you for years in the woods, and you think, maybe you think, “Oh, it's a jerk”, but you also think it's looking out for you. It's giving you real information. It's, maybe, it's even a friend or…
Dr. Lisa: It's truth.
Dr. Aziz: It's a truth. All of a sudden, people start to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute”, and often tell like that's, I call it the safety police. It's trying to keep you safe by corralling you. I'll say that your safety police is not the voice of truth. It's a propaganda campaign to keep you in the woods to keep you out of your life. This brings us to other people because the safety police will love to say, “First of all, you know, you're screwed. Sorry, you're over. It's your genes. It's your family. It's your history. It's your age, it's your appearances, whatever, don't even try. And by the way, don't tell anybody about this, because you're so messed up. If people knew how messed up you are, they certainly wouldn't love you. So you got to work this out on your own. Just go read a blog article, listen to a thing, don't tell anybody.” Honestly, that's doomed to fail. We can get a little bit of insight, we can get a little bit of growth.
I'm a big believer in education. That's why you have this podcast. I do my own. To really transform this in a fundamental way, we got to involve other people and it doesn't have to be so it could be paid help or counseling or groups. It could also just be like, “Okay, I'm going to read this book, but I'm going to talk about it with my friend, I'm going to talk about it to my spouse.” There so many people I come across who come into my world who want to do coaching or the things and they're like, “I can't tell my spouse” I'm like, “Okay”, I meet them where they're at. I make a note on like, “That's a problem.” because if you have so much shame, about the anxiety that you can't even tell the person extensively that you're closest with, that's a red flag that we want to make sure that we address so over time. You can because you're afraid right now, but that's going to be the biggest source of healing and liberation, to bring other people into your world and your safety police who's in the woods with you is going to yell ‘til it's blue in the face, saying, “Don't let anyone in. Don't let anyone. It's too dangerous.”
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to be able to have a corrective emotional experience where you are emotionally intimate and vulnerable with someone who does love you and who is able to receive that in a healing kind of way is so transformational. I just also want to say out loud for the benefit of people listening to this who might not be in that situation is that it does also require an emotionally safe relationship. But I see that not everyone and not every relationship is ready for that kind of authenticity as powerful as it is.
So as a couples counselor, one of the things we have to do sometimes, as people sort of grow together, like pacing themselves on each side because it can be very unhelpful, even damaging if people are like, “Okay, I'm ready to share and be vulnerable with you now” with a partner who is angry with them or not ready to receive them in that way. There can be I think, some couples work that needs to happen in order for it to be a good experience, and not another bad experience that supports that she is your safety police is then like, “I'm never doing that again.” I think that's what can be really confusing for people sometimes.
Signs of Social Anxiety
Dr. Lisa: Okay, so let's talk about this. One of the reasons that I wanted to speak with you is that in addition to your workaround like confidence in coaching. You have a background in clinical psychology and you've done a lot of researching and writing on the subject of social anxiety, which is, it's in the DSM, and it is sort of in that more disordered realm. I'm curious to know, how you would characterize serious for real social anxiety as being different from a confidence problem. How did you articulate that?
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's really a matter of degree when it comes to social anxiety. I think everyone experiences social anxiety. All that means is we feel fear of other humans. That's really what it means. And typically, it's a fear of being judged, disliked, rejected, and that underneath that is the belief that we are unworthy, unlovable. So that rejection means something damning about us because if someone is like, “Oh, yeah, someone might not like me, but I know that I'm okay.” or “I know that I'm worthwhile.” or “I know that I'm, even if I'm not good at this thing, I'm still a worthy human”, then the person's probably not gonna experience my social anxiety.
They might feel a bit of nervousness or something but it's a different ballgame. So there, we need those. Those are the sort of the fundamental agreements, and not agreements, ingredients for social anxiety. Again, we all know that experience, maybe it's at a party, maybe it's with someone you find attractive, maybe it's with a boss or a supervisor in authority, maybe it's in front of a group of people. I mean, people don't call public speaking social anxiety, when they're afraid to speak in front of a group. But that's what it is that some are afraid of this group of people. The more people, the more there's the potential judgment. Now, I'm more scared. So I think it's pretty prevalent. It's very common. Everyone's got it. It's just a matter of where and how often and how much does it come up for you.
Now, most people, it comes up in certain areas, and then they feel more relaxed when they're not in that environment. When it starts to get into the more chronic or severe social anxiety, it follows you everywhere you go. You're nervous in a group of people. You're nervous on a date, or if it's severe enough, you might not even engage in these activities, you might not date, which is what I did, I didn't date for many years. I didn't speak up in groups. I wouldn't raise my hand. I wouldn't do all these things. Because the primary way that we deal with it when we're a lot of social anxiety is avoidance. Scary, it feels bad, so I want to avoid it. The problem with that is, the way avoidance works is the more we avoid something, the harder it becomes to confront it. Because we don't have experiences, we don't have evidence that we can handle it, all we see is it's dangerous. I avoided it. Glad I got out of that danger, better avoid it again next time.
To make things worse, the story is if I did speak up, if I did share, if I did ask that person that whatever it is, I would go terribly wrong. By never testing it, we solidify these stories of lack or not enough or unlovability. When people someone's got a long pattern of social anxiety, which the average person with social anxiety, more severe case of it will not seek any help for 10 years. That's unfortunate. That was my case, too. But what I love about social anxiety is though it is such a… people think of it as like a solid thing or “this is who I am, this is my genes” and it is so different than that is so much a pattern. It is a specific pattern that we run. I like to think of it more as a verb than a noun. So it's, I am doing social anxiety and as long as I do these certain patterns, I will have social anxiety and someone who just has more severe diagnosable social anxieties, “Oh, you've just done the patterns for longer and more environments and it's completely changeable. It's completely resolvable” And that doesn't matter.
I've worked with people that had social anxiety for 40 years, and I've worked with people where it just kind of started to get out of control, maybe in the last year or two. Regardless, it can be changed, as long as someone is willing to make a change in their patterns, and be willing to step by step in a supportive, I love that you brought that up, in a supported way. Confront some of the things that are afraid of be open to things possibly being different, and to bring it back to earlier, to start with transforming their relationship with themselves. Because I know there's a one-to-one correlation, if someone has a high level of social anxiety, they have a high level of inner criticism, very toxic level of inner criticism that I've never seen. Anything other than that. So that's one of the first places we start.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It's so important too and I'm glad that you brought up the thing that can happen with social anxiety, or any kind of anxiety really, is that anxiety always leads us to avoid. Well, usually, anxiety can lead to other things, but many times it leads to avoidance. I mean, at a fundamental level, the antidote to anxiety is to move into it and do reality testing and try to do things differently. If you're not giving yourself the opportunity to have different experiences, both inside of yourself or with other people, what happens is that it enshrines anxiety. That anxiety almost gets more and more powerful and more and more true, because it's never, and I say true with my little air quotes here, because it is never questioned, it's never tested.
It really requires a lot of courage and support, to begin to examine it. To think maybe the story in my head is not the whole truth. Maybe if I do start having a different kind of relationship with myself – treating myself differently – I can feel differently and have different experiences with other people. But it can be scary to start that process because as you brought up so astutely, it feels like an existential threat to do so that something terrible will happen. But I'm glad you're talking about it in this way.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. People think of it as like it's a brick wall, or it's a solid thing, or maybe a cliff is a better metaphor, right? It's real. I like to say instead of it being a brick wall, it's actually more like a curtain or a cloud of vapor, you can walk right through it, and yet, you don't tell someone… Yeah. Right. I love that. Yeah, you could tell someone that they're like, “I don't know, it looks like a wall to me.” That's why I love, love, love the power of groups. For years, I've been doing group work primarily, because it's so inspiring for people to see other people just like them, “Wait a minute, that person took a step in the, you know, towards their fear. Maybe I can, too.” One of my favorite things is, we would do them in person.
I'm in Portland, Oregon. For this last year, I've been doing them all virtually. But we gather a big group of people, I have a workshop coming up, it's probably maybe 150 of us there. We will, I teach things and help people experience a shift in the room or the virtual room as it were. But then there's always an action step. So we will go out for a 30-minute break, and we're going to go do something. We're going to go test that edge right now. So even if people are alone in their city or whatever, during a virtual event, they come back together, and then we talk about it and we explore it. So what people have is they have an immediate experience. It's no longer theoretical, like, “Oh, I heard that in a book. Maybe I'll try it.” It's like I just did it and here's what happened.
The way I see it is it's all positive. Either a lot of times people say, “Wow, I did this thing. And I mean, it was so much easier than I thought when I actually did it.” And sometimes people like “I did it, and it was really uncomfortable.” And then I'm still giving them a thumbs up. I'm like, “Great.” And then sometimes people will say, “I went out there and I try and I just, I was so in my head and I was judging myself, and it felt awful. And I failed.” And I still give that a thumbs up because I say, “You know, if you've been avoiding something for years, and you walk around, or you know, I'm gonna pick up the phone, or I'm not and you really wrestle with that edge of action. That already is a win.” Well, I think of it. Yeah, we think of it as like the action it's only a win. If I've leaped over, it's like no, even just getting ready is a huge win.
We want to reinforce that. If it is really painful and you're beating yourself up, great, let's like let's study that. Let's get really curious. Because that's that's a piece of the social anxiety that you've been running. That's a piece of the pattern piece of the recipe that's been going for 10,20, 30, 50 years. If you discover it right now and you see it, you can start to change it, and that's liberating.
Dr. Lisa: It's so liberating, and I'm glad you are talking about that. So like, verbally with your group, because I think, to what can be very normal and expected, I think, from my perspective and your perspective, but maybe not sometimes for the perspective of our clients, is that if you have been struggling with social anxiety or low self-esteem and avoiding people because of that, that they're called social skills for a reason like there are actually skills involved with talking to people and making conversation and making eye contact. If somebody does this, I say that, and I think that people that have really been holding themselves apart from others, that they get rusty in some of those skills. Then when they do attempt to interact with other humans they may be awash in judgment when they're doing it, but also because they're sort of rusty, and they're like, “Oh, what do I do with my hands right now”, like that whole thing.
How to Build Confidence in Yourself
Dr. Lisa: But sometimes they do come across as being rusty, and they have experiences with other people that make them think, “Oh, they hated me, I was terrible. That was horrible.”, really kind of needing to reframe that is, “No, this is why we practice is to test it out. And how did it go? And what were you telling yourself in that moment? And how did you feel? And how do they react?”, and really kind of like, using it all as learning opportunities to kind of like really learn how to be with people. I'm glad that you're offering people the opportunity to do that because that can be very hard.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. That's what comes back to the we need other people, right? Because I'll highlight this in anything I'm teaching where imagine someone picked up the guitar, and they never played the guitar before – they played it maybe a handful times, five, six times in their whole life – then they pick it up. They're like, “I'm gonna play this song.” They can't play the song very well. Do you say… Well, I guess we're the kind of person… Right, it's like, “Well, I guess you're the kind of person who will never, never be good at the guitar. I mean, it's just not that hard for you.” Everyone kind of laughs because they see how absurd that is. But I'll point out that's exactly what we do when we have a couple of conversations.
What we need to do, and I use the guitar metaphor is if someone wants to get better at the guitar, or my son, he's seven years old right now, he wants to learn how to play chess better, and yet, he doesn't. He hates losing. He hates losing so much even hates losing a piece. Like he was playing this morning with his brother and he lost his queen. He was in tears. He's like, “This is terrible. I'm no good, I lost.” What I'm trying to help him see is like, “Okay, you like to win?” He’s like, “Yeah, I like to win.” I was like, “Okay, you know, how do you think you win?” He's like, “Well, I guess had to play a lot.” “Yeah, that's right, you need to practice a lot.” And so if you practice, like what does that mean to practice a lot, though? I'm unpacking that with him.
We can see it means making moves when you're not sure if they're good or not, getting feedback, and I lose my piece, and being willing to be messy, being willing to make mistakes, being willing to lose the pieces, being willing to lose games. I'm trying to help him see is that if he if he's willing to fail forward fast, like, the more he's willing to lose the faster and the better he'll become.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: That's not just for chess. That's not just for the guitar. That's for social skills. That's for public speaking. That's for being engaging and funny with a group. That's for dating. I mean, that's for every way that we can interact with people.
Dr. Lisa: That's so incredibly powerful. Such an important reminder that that kind of growth mindset, and how do you stay in the ring when it is hard? How do you identify with this idea of practicing is failing, is being uncomfortable, but that incrementally over time, we get stronger, and our skills build, and we feel better?
I don't know if this is true for you, but in my experience, the core of self-confidence. Yes, part of it is inner dialogue and your core self-belief. But it's like, I think people who have had the experience of observing themselves, doing hard things and like developing competence and not giving up, that turns into this confidence that just is this like, very deeply felt. “Yes, I can.” It's because they have that it's rooted in this experience. To my ear, that is what you're describing.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if we think about confidence, the word actually comes from Latin — confidere means with faith. How do we get, how do we have faith? It makes me think. There's a book by Sharon Salzberg about faith. She talks about bright faith versus verified faith, and how we need both in our lives. Bright faith is that it's never been done before. We've never done it before. We just, we feel it’s possible. We're called to it. We hope, we wish. It's a dream and we have to have that because we gotta step into the total unknown sometimes in our lives. We got to do things we've never done before, or at least, hopefully we are for growing and exploring.
Ideally, bright faith gets turned into verified faith, which is exactly what I hear you talking about is like, “I think it's possible for me to connect, you know, more freely with others and be comfortable in my own skin and laugh and be more focused in the moment and the conversation than on myself. I mean, I think it's possible.” That's the bright faith. But then once we've done it a number of times, once we've done we have to be willing to take those risks. All of a sudden, yeah, you've done it 5, 10, 20, 30 times, and someone's like, “Hey, you want to come to me to this dinner party? You want to come to this thing, this mixer?” Like, “Yeah, okay.” Because I know that you put me in a room full of people and I can interact, I can do that. That's that verified faith that only comes. We earn it, we forge it, we build it.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. important takeaway. Thank you so much for describing all of that, that's wonderful. I love the chess metaphor, too, with what your son is going through. It's so funny like we try, I'm a mom, to like trying to teach our children this idea of grit. It's really so instrumental in so many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to personal growth. I'm really glad that you're talking about it in that way. Another thing that I wanted to ask you about, too.
We've been talking about the importance of confidence, and we've been talking about the social anxiety piece. But you also wrote another book called “Not Nice”, which is about the overlap, the intersection of struggling with self-confidence or being worried about other people and a tendency to like, people-please, over-give, feel guilty. I'm curious if you could talk a little bit more about how those things are related.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. I believe in a lot of ways that nice, and I called it Not Nice, it's a bit of a controversial title, people might hear that and think I'm suggesting people be jerks or cruel. What I very quickly address literally, unlike, aside from the copyright page and stuff, the first page of the book is a chart that says nice versus not nice, and it's got two columns, and it just really shows the distinction between what I mean by nice and niceness, for the most part, when people are behaving nice.
They're not actually focused on kindness and generosity. They're focused on being polite. They're focused on not upsetting others, they're focusing on following the rules. They're focusing on getting approval. It's really often coming from a place of fear, rather than love and connection. That's how I'm using the word nice. I say the opposite of nice is not to be a jerk. The opposite of nice is authenticity. It's to be real. It’s to be boldly yourself. You say what's true rather than what's quote, “nice”. Yes, there's so much nuance to it. That's why that book is like 550 pages. There's still more nuance that I couldn't get to about, but I've tried to give a lot of examples of how do we really communicate in a way that's quite, “not nice”, that isn't just kicking down the door and telling everyone they're stupid. There's a way to persevere too, with kindness or with tenacity, keep bringing up a subject, or have the conversation you've been avoiding.
Like anything else, there's a skill to that, and if we don't do it, we're not going to be good at it right away, we're going to be messy, but we got to lean in. Because what I discovered along the way is that this niceness that I'm talking about is just another form of social anxiety. It's like a more adaptive form. Instead of someone being really avoidant and I'm not going to talk to anybody, I'm just going to live in my apartment and never go out, the nice manifestation of social anxiety is more functional. You have friends, you have family, you have relationships, you have work, you're much more engaged in life, but you're living a persona of the nice person.
The person or the nice person, it's just a different cage. But you got to say, yes, most of the time, because if you say no, that's mean, that hurts people's feelings, that's selfish, you got to be giving almost all the time. Because, same thing you want to be mean or selfish, you don't want to hurt people's feelings by saying anything too direct or too real. So even if you feel away, or even if you have a perspective, you don't want to share that because that could upset them. What ends up happening is people are engaging with others, but they're not taking these risks. They're not talking about what they really want. They're not saying what they really want. They're not being who they really are. It starts to dead in their experience of life and relationships. It starts to build up frustration, starts to build up chronic health problems It starts to build up resentment inside because we're not able to take care of our needs really effectively.
The other person is walking all over me or taking advantage of me because we're lacking the boundaries and the assertiveness to be for people to really feel where we're at. We were actually being deceptive. We're hiding where we really are. I say I mean that because, like the social anxiety side, then I live with this excessive niceness for many years. It was really detrimental to my relationships, particularly intimate relationships. You can't be excessively nice and truly intimate at the same time. They're not the same thing. Yeah, that became such a common occurrence for myself. Then all the clients I saw this invite, I realized I had to write another book about that.
That book is guiding people on that journey from discovering niceness. Discovering maybe its toxic effect in their life, and then a willingness to step courageously into being more boldly authentic in their lives.
Dr. Lisa: That word that you just used, that courageous word is something that I often think about and talk about with clients. I hear what you're saying that the book is really about reconceptualizing, being nice as really being almost afraid, in some ways of relationships, and again, just sort of another manifestation of not wanting to rock the boat. But in doing so, it really hollows out that emotional intimacy at the core of a relationship. I think it's so, not just easy, but predictable for people who don't talk about how they're feeling and prioritize what they imagined to be the needs of others. Through that niceness, that they can become so resentful, or feel like they're getting walked all over.
But I tell you what, as a couples counselor, the person on the other side of that often has no idea that they are being experienced, as you know, pushing boundaries or being insensitive or not loving, because their partner isn't talking about it. It's very interesting, like the meaning that people on both sides of that equation can make because somebody is becoming increasingly hostile and withdrawn and resentful, and their partner's like, “What is going on?” Because it isn't getting discussed.
It takes an enormous amount of courage to have those real, authentic conversations, and it feels scary, but boy without it, I think again, people feel like they're protecting their relationships by being nice, but it is exactly the opposite. They are like that mental image that's coming up is like the air being released from a balloon, right? That over time, there's just nothing there. So I'm really glad that you're talking about that.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great metaphor about the balloon, just the shell. That's all that's left is all you're left with is the structure of the relationship. No life, no vitality, no energy or passion to it. You're actually…
Dr. Lisa: Writing a real estate. Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, exactly. We're bound by our sales by our stability. That's in a way, that's really what the nice approach is, it's prioritizing too much stability, too much certainty, and not willing to step into the unknown and the uncertainty. That's what people do often in relationships. There's a lot of uncertainty.
In the beginning, “Is this person gonna like me? Are they gonna call me back? “I'm so excited.” Then what we want to do is we want to capture that and make it certain and make it predictable and make it controlled. That leads to structures that try to control it. But that also leads to a lot of our own behavioral patterns. I'm going to say this, but not that I'm, and that's what I see often, especially if you do a lot of couples work, I'm sure you see this, that people have been afraid to be real with each other for the last five years because now they feel like there's quote, “too much at stake.”, and yet, it's kind of like a slow bleed, where maybe you don't have any blowups, but you're losing in the long game. People not knowing that I really have seen that.
In fact, I have a little metaphor I use in the book about boundaries to see to, and it's a little thought experiment to have the reader reflect on how expressive are you with your boundaries. So I say, imagine you're in your backyard, and your backyard is next to your neighbor's backyard. There's no fence in between just to cut the lawn goes across both. You're sitting in your back porch, and you see your neighbor gets out of his house, and he starts to walk over towards you. He walks into your yard and says, “Hey, how's it going?” As he walks, he walks towards you. He steps on some of the flowers you have in your garden. Then he goes over and there's you have your peach tree in the backyard and he walks over and he looks at your peaches like, “Oh my gosh, your peaches looks so great.” He grabs a peach juicy ripe one and bites into it and keeps walking towards you and says, “How you doing today?” I just say, “What do you do? What do you do in the situation? What's happening? Are you angry about the flowers? Are you upset about the peach? Do you say anything about the flowers? Do you say anything about the peach? Do you feel like, ‘oh, I don't know what to say so I can't say anything.’ Do you mention it?”
It's just a kind of silly thought experiment but it highlights exactly what you're talking about with couples with that person might be like, “What? I'm just being friendly. I'm coming over to say, ‘Hi.’”, and they have no idea they stepped on the flowers. They have no idea you have an issue about the peaches because you never say anything. If we really want to start to live with more freedom, we got to be able to say, “Hey, great to see you. And, you know, I've been saving those peaches, if you want to have some I can give you some but please don't pick on without talking about first though.: It's as simple as that, those little things.
Sometimes, if someone's been nice for too long, they don't even think it can be that simple. They think it's got to be this huge nuclear combustion of like what you've always been doing the last 10 years is “I hate this about you.” It's like, actually, it's better for it to be more of like a combustion engine than a nuclear bomb going on just little things that you say here and there throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month. That might not even seem super confrontational. They're just simple statements, simple questions, that can really get you back on track.
Dr. Lisa: Totally. But again, I mean, going back to your original points about confidence, I can really see how that's so closely related. Because if you doubt yourself, if you feel like you shouldn't say that, if you shouldn't upset. People are working very hard to kind of like maintain relationships because you're pretty sure that people don't like you, or whatever it is.
It's so hard to talk about how you really feel. There's that understandable, like tendency to withdraw. But that things build up to the point that when you finally do say something, it is World War Three, and you're like screaming at the neighbor for eating a peach, and he's like, “Okay”, back away slowly. It actually does mess up the relationship. So by stepping into that air quote, “conflict”, but that authenticity and talking about how you feel as you go, it's one of the most important things that any of us can do to maintain high-quality relationships. That's fantastic.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, absolutely. That's why just to bring it back to what I was mentioned, the workshops earlier, it's the same thing, and I run a group program that's all about helping people become more, that's called Total Social Freedom. It's about how do we really break out of that lifelong pattern of my avoidance and niceness and social anxiety and just be more free around others.
What we do is we systematically build a 12-week program. Each week, there's another layer that gets added. I'm a big believer in the gradual exposure. I think, I don't know where it's in there somewhere in the middle of week, six, seven, they have an assignment to say no three times that week. The goal is like instead of having a world war three, you just build the muscle by lifting us like look for something small that you can say no to it's something really small, and the same thing, a couple weeks later, we have them like what's one conversation you could go have? That would feel like it's leaning into that edge, but it's not the most intense conversation in your life. It's just, can you go talk to that person?
I find that if we give people that support to systematically do it, then they start to build that confidence of, “Oh, I can do this, it can go well.” Ultimately, the goal that I have for people is not just to increase their confidence, but as a change in their identity. So they start to say, “Oh, I am the kind of person who can have direct conversations, I am real, I am authentic, I am directed”, becomes who they are. Because then they're going to behave that way more and more and more. Eventually, it just becomes that's their new reality.
Dr. Lisa: Wow, that's really powerful stuff. That experiential component where people are really actively doing that reality testing, like, “Okay, the voice in my head tells me this is going to happen. But when I actually did it, that happened”, and that over time without support are really accumulating this new sort of like encyclopedia of experiences that help them reconceptualize what's real, but most importantly, who they are through that. That's really deeply transformational stuff. That's really great.
Hey, I know that I know that we don't have a ton of time left and wanting to wrap up. We have talked about the experiential aspect of building confidence, and also the identity pieces communication, circling back around though, so you and I both know, I think from our psychology background that the cognitions that people have around self-concept around how they think. Going back to that idea of how to have a better relationship with yourself. A lot of it is learning or relearning how to talk to yourself and sort of shifting from one kind of inner narrative to a new, more helpful one.
Dr. Lisa: Are there any things that you've seen over your years of practice that are some usual suspects that people who struggle with confidence usually have going on in terms of their inner narrative and some shifts that you find yourself routinely encouraging people to make like I'm thinking of jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about how other people feel? Or have you seen other things to be more, more impactful?
Dr. Aziz: Sure, absolutely. I mean, at some of the common ones are feeling a sense of certainty about knowing what someone's perception is typically about you like it's the might be called mind-reading and cognitive therapy, take it one step further, I call it projected dislike, where it's not just I know what they're thinking about me, I know, they don't like me. I just feel it when I walk into the room, and it feels very true. I'm certain of it. I'll even look for evidence and I'll confirm that and look for it, or make it happen in some way.
We often bring about those reactions to us. Because of that, I think there's a lot going on nonverbally, energetically, emotionally. I think the more they study thought, it's really fascinating how much thought can be measured. So thought can be measured as waves if they put device, EG, on your, on your scalp, for example. But there's also it's a squid, have you heard of that one, the super quantum interference device, where they can have…
Dr. Lisa: Are you talking about particles behaving differently when people observe the experiment or not?
Dr. Aziz: This one is actually it's a, if we could find it, it's if you look it up online, that seven liter like squid, reading thoughts or something. It's like a device that's measuring something in the quantum realm. I'm not going to really understand the physics of it, but they can basically measure your thoughts from outside of your head. So the idea is if we have enough refined instrumentation, that probably are already discovering and probably going to continue to discover that your thoughts are emanating out of you beyond the boundary of your skin beyond your own head.
It's the same thing with like the energetic field of the human heart has been measured out, like 10 feet or more than the roots 30 feet, I don't know. So this idea that we're like all self-contained is a sort of a outdated reality. What's much more true is we're an interactive field with the space around us and the people around us. So when we have these very like self-judgmental, self-critical unmet enough thoughts, we're actually bringing about more of that reaction to us.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: Then it gets real murky because really it’s “Aha! I knew it, you see?” So we really want to intervene on that one that jumping to the conclusion that people don't like me. What I always help people with that one on is, you think it's about them, it's about you, and you not liking you, or maybe more specifically, a part of you inside judges you. So what are you judging yourself? That's one of the first things that we start with people like, what's your list? What's your, I like to probably talk my books out of things, I like to take stuff that's maybe more complex, or I don't like to use a lot of psychological jargon with people, because I like to keep it very simple so people can just pick it up and run with it and tell say, “Let's make a why I suck list.” You have that, right? What is that for you? Because we have to start looking at what this grudge list that people have been holding against themselves for decades, ostensibly to make themselves better, or to pressure themselves into growing or whatever weak story is there. But we got to face that we got to start looking at that. We need to bring in a lot of that on my own side work. That's self-compassion work.
One of the ways I'll have them do that is to start to dialogue with that critical voice too, and have a book called, On My Own Side, which guides people how to do this, where they can dialogue with that voice. Start to find the fear and vulnerability underneath that part and start to really get to the core of it, which is usually some sort of pain that's underneath that hypercritical voice and really meet themselves with a lot more love, a lot more patience, a lot more compassion, a lot more humanity. Then as they do that, it starts to melt away this chronic assumption that people are against me because you no longer are against you. You can start to see a lot more clearly.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Wow, powerful stuff, man. Just I feel like we could talk for two more hours about just all of these things that you brought up at the end about how we can really, through our thoughts and expectations, almost create the experiences with other people that support our preconceived ideas, which are based on how we feel about ourselves, not actually how others feel that it is a projection. That by really understanding that wounded part of yourself and having a dialogue with it and getting to know it compassionately. That's a very powerful path of healing.
Dr. Aziz: Yes, well said absolutely.
Dr. Lisa: Yes. Good stuff. Gosh, well, thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and perspectives on this important topic with us. Again, I feel like there's a lot more to talk about so if you would ever like to come back and continue this conversation, the door is open.
Dr. Aziz: I would love that! A part two.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, a part two. But in the meantime, I'm sure my listeners are very interested in everything that you had to say. If any of you would like the opportunity to learn more about Dr. Aziz or his books, or his courses, or his groups, or all other fun stuff he has going on out. There's also a podcast called Shrink for the Shy Guy podcast. You can find them all at DrAziz.com. Is there anywhere else that they should follow you? Are you on social media or anything like that?
Dr. Aziz: Yeah, I mean the website will link to all those things. But I'd say I'm probably most active on YouTube, we have usually one to two videos that come out each week where I'm teaching stuff for free, a lot of insights. Usually, what I'll do is I'll take run a lot of groups. So I'll take some of the key insights and teachings from the groups and then record videos that I think are gonna help everyone based on what we're doing in those.
So that's a great way to get active to get support. So yeah, the website is a great place to start. You can look it up on look me up on YouTube, as well, more than the podcast, but any place that you want to get plugged in. I mean, that's why I'm doing this is to reach people who think, “Oh, this is who I am. I'm just I've been this way for x years. And I guess that's it.” I guess the final message I would have is like you don't have to settle.
The past doesn't equal the future. In many ways, it's irrelevant how long you've struggled with something. If you're willing, you can make shifts really fast and not just manage it, but truly transform your experience of being around others. To really start to experience a level of intimacy and connection with yourself with others that gives life depth and meaning and fulfillment. That's absolutely possible. It's absolutely your birthright if you're willing to claim it.
Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. What a beautiful note to land on. Thank you again, so much for spending this time with me today. It's really been a pleasure.
Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. Thank you.
- How to be Kind to Yourself
- You need to learn to work with the voice inside your head describing how you treat yourself and think of yourself.
- As you take the risk to become more real and vulnerable, you can experience a fundamental shift where “you are on your own side.”
- To transform in a fundamental way, you need to involve other people such as counseling, groups, a friend, or your life partner.
- Signs of Social Anxiety
- The primary way we deal with social anxiety is avoidance. And the more we avoid problems, the harder it becomes to confront it.
- The way to deal with social anxiety is to test it. You need to be able to confirm that you are not unworthy and not unlovable.
- How to Build Confidence in Yourself
- You would need someone to give you feedback. Someone who you can be messy with, make mistakes and be vulnerable to.
- The more you are willing to lose, the faster and the better you'll become.
- You would need bright and verified faith. Bright faith is the feeling that an action is possible without having done it before. It then turns into verified faith when you have accomplished the task several times.
- Therapy for Low Self-esteem
- An example is a 12-week program where gradual exposure is used.
- The participants are encouraged to find small things that they can say ‘no’ to. This would result in being able to have authentic and better conversations with other people.