The Power of Believing in Yourself
It’s the stuff of motivational bumper stickers, but it also happens to be true: Believing in yourself is a prerequisite to reaching your goals and making positive changes in your life.
But if believing in yourself was as easy as making the choice to trust in your own goodness, resilience, and competence in the face of all life’s challenges, you wouldn’t be interested in this podcast episode, would you?
No. Fundamentally changing your self-concept is a little more complicated than thinking happy thoughts. It involves seeking out new experiences that help you connect with your own incredible power to make good things happen, and then using those experiences to propel yourself forward. This article will show you how.
I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is Elise R., M.Ed., NCC, CCC, LPCC. Elise is a therapist, a life coach, and an expert in holistic life design. She’s helped countless people develop their self-confidence and self-esteem, and then construct their pathway forward with optimism and intention. Now, Elise is sharing her wisdom with you. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.
The Power of Believing in Yourself
Admittedly, believing in yourself can be easier said than done. Our self-esteem, self-confidence, and feelings of personal empowerment are the result of deeply ingrained mental habits that start forming in early childhood. After decades of reinforcement, you can’t dramatically shift those habits in an instant simply by thinking positive thoughts.
But you can intentionally form new mental habits that help you believe in yourself, and that will support you in making positive, lasting change. Here’s how.
Where Is Your Locus of Control?
Everybody “believes in themselves” to some degree. In psychologist speak, this is called your level of “self-efficacy,” or your internal belief in your own power to create the outcomes you desire. Having a higher level of self-efficacy helps you set ambitious goals (because you believe you can accomplish them), approach challenges with optimism (because you expect you’ll be able to figure them out), and persevere through setbacks (because you believe success is waiting for you on the other side).
When your self-efficacy is low, you don’t set your goals high enough — in fact, you might not set goals at all. You expect tasks to be harder than they are, and you often don’t expect your efforts to pay off. When setbacks arise, you’re quick to give up.
Your self-efficacy will be shaped by where your personal “locus of control” lies. People with an internal locus of control believe they’re in control of their own lives, and that their actions will shape their outcomes. People with an external locus of control believe that outside factors have a greater impact on their lives than their own efforts do.
Shifting to an Internal Locus of Control
Luckily, having an internal locus of control is something you can practice. Taking responsibility is one powerful trick. When something doesn’t go your way, it’s human to look to outside factors to explain it — it’s easier on the ego, and it doesn’t require us to do the hard work of changing our behavior.
But it also strips you of all your power. If everything is happening to you because of other people or circumstances beyond your control, you have no ability to create positive change. But if you can find one or two things that you could do differently to create a better outcome? Now you have something to work with.
Taking responsibility is not about beating yourself up. It’s about taking advantage of the opportunities you have to create the life you want.
Raising Kids that Believe in Themselves
Our attitudes about ourselves usually stem from experiences in our family of origin. For parents, that means that, if your goal is to raise happy, resilient, confident adults, you need to help your children begin to experience a sense of their personal power now.
There are so many ways you can do this. Letting your kids make age-appropriate choices, and then experience the natural benefits (or consequences) of those choices, is one way to help them learn about responsibility and self-efficacy. You could also look for ways to let your kids have more influence in your family, which will teach them that their thoughts, feelings, and desires are important and that they can create real change.
When well-meaning parents raise their children in strict environments where being obedient is the most important value, kids learn that how they feel and what they want is irrelevant. They may become disconnected from their own feelings and desires, and develop a sense of helplessness that they’ll carry into adulthood.
Many of the people reading this article are here to unlearn that sense of helplessness. If you’re a parent who would like to save your child from that task in the future, you can do so by helping them become empowered now.
Mastery Experiences and Believing in Yourself
Think about someone who you don’t think highly of. Maybe it’s an incompetent coworker, who’s always making careless mistakes that set the whole team back. Or maybe it’s a former friend who proved to not be such a great friend after all.
What would it take to change your mind about that person? Could your coworker tell you “I’m going to do better from now on, so you can put me in charge of that big, important project?” Could the “friend” simply promise not to put you down anymore?
No. Your opinion would only change if you could actually experience the other person behaving differently over a period of time. Your coworker would need to consistently deliver good work, probably for quite awhile, before your views started to shift. You would need to see your friend reliably follow through on their promise to treat you better.
Changing your narratives about yourself works in exactly the same way. You need to have experiences that show you that you are capable of doing hard things and creating successful outcomes in order to form positive beliefs about yourself and your abilities.
These are called “mastery experiences,” and they’re a powerful tool for building self-efficacy. The concept is simple: To become a confident baker, you need to make a few cakes. To become a confident public speaker, you need to do some public speaking.
When you take action, see the results, and feel the results, you can no longer tell yourself the same story about not being capable. Instead, the story might become about the steps you could take to do even better next time. Your “locus of control” moves a little bit closer to your center.
Building an Empowered Career
Your level of self-efficacy has a big impact on every corner of your life, but it has a huge influence over your career in particular.
When career coaching or counseling clients tell the “story of their careers,” and explain where they are now mostly by pointing to external factors (like messages they received from their parents, or the state of the economy, or the actions of a particularly bad manager), that’s a tip-off that they’re not in touch with their true power to build the career they want.
It’s not that your family, or the economy, or the people you work for have zero influence over the way your career unfolds. But if you believe that your entire working life can be explained by external factors, there isn’t much that even the world’s best career coach can do for you — until you shake that disempowered belief system loose and replace it with something more useful, and more realistic.
If you’ve had some disempowering experiences in the past, a good career coach can help you reconnect with your ability to strategically forge your career path and design the life you want, regardless of outside obstacles.
Habits and Self-Efficacy
Habits are one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox for self-development, and having a higher level of self-efficacy can help you tap into them. These little choices don’t amount to much on their own — like brushing your teeth, or putting aside a hundred bucks in your savings account — but when you make these choices a keystone habit, you can exert a major positive influence over your life.
Without a healthy level of self-efficacy, keeping up your positive habits is a challenge. It’s hard to cultivate the grit or “stick-to-it-iveness” that good habits require if you don’t believe on a deep level that you have the power to shape your outcomes through your actions.
But even if your self-efficacy is low, you can “fake it until you make it” with your habits. Once you form a healthy habit, the benefits that begin to flow to you make it easier to maintain. You begin to see yourself as the kind of person who’s capable of creating a healthy habit and sticking to it. Your self-efficacy rises, creating a positive feedback loop that makes you more likely to hold onto your healthy habit, and more confident in your power to form new ones.
Believing in Yourself When You Don’t Feel Like It
We all cycle through moods on a daily basis, and some mood states are more conducive to believing in yourself than others. Being just a little bit tired, or hungry, or stressed out can majorly affect how optimistic and confident you feel about yourself and your ability to make good things happen in your life.
All this mood variation can feel like a barrier to building self-efficacy. But, since your confidence fluctuates so much depending on your mood, obviously your self-doubt-y or pessimistic feelings are not an objective source of information about your true abilities. You are no less capable and competent a person when you’re a bit sleepy than you are when you’re feeling great.
And you don’t have to wait until a better mood comes along to begin taking positive action toward your goals. Just taking a small step in the right direction can reconnect you with your feelings of personal empowerment, and a better emotional state will often follow.
How to Believe in Yourself: It’s Not About Perfection
You don’t have to believe that you’re perfect to believe in yourself. You are a resourceful, effective person who is well-equipped to respond to a wide range of challenges as they arise, and if you look at your life history I’m sure you can think of countless instances when you did just that.
Believing in yourself is about trusting yourself to figure things out as you go, make mistakes and learn from them, and course correct until you reach your destination.
I believe you can do that. Do you?
Music in this episode is by Kutandara with their song “Nyungwe.” You can support them and their work by visiting kutandara.org. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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