This is one of the questions I'm most frequently asked as a coach and therapist. Self-confidence can be a difficult concept to pin down, yet we always know when we don't have enough of it. When we lose (or never develop) belief in ourselves, it can seem impossible to improve. But, as ever, it's wise to not believe everything you think!
You can improve your self-belief and confidence over time. Here are 3 ideas to help you get this process started...
Give yourself a second chance
Throughout our life, we form beliefs about ourselves: we create a concept of who we are, what we're capable of and what we should and shouldn't try to accomplish during our life. Sometimes however these beliefs are inaccurate and limiting, formed at unfortunate times or in relation to people who didn't understand the impact they were having. When we don't allow ourselves to update these beliefs, our confidence can be hugely affected because these beliefs stop us giving things a go and finding out what we really are capable of.
If you've believed over the years that you're not intelligent, capable or able, give yourself a second chance and allow yourself to update that information. In order to start doing this, be open to new experiences, give things a go and get comfortable with failing. Try to separate criticism of what you've done from criticism of who you are. It also helps to set goals based on what you truly want not what you've been told you should want. Over time, foster a sense that you will be able to cope no matter what and identify your strengths. As Einstein said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
Be your own source of approval
When we feel low in confidence and self-belief, it's understandable that we start looking to others for approval of who we are and what we're doing. Unfortunately, when your confidence is low, trying to substitute developing self-confidence with gaining approval from other people is a bit like having a snack when you need a 3 course meal. It will feel good temporarily but it'll never truly hit the spot - and after a while you might lose your appetite. Don't lose sight of the need to properly nourish yourself by learning to be your own source of approval.
Focus on making decisions and doing things that you approve of and that are in line with your values and goals. If you're not sure what your values and goals are, take time to identify and develop them (don't try to emulate the goals and values of others). If you start to make decisions and choices based on what feels most authentic for you, your confidence will grow naturally over time.
Writing things down takes the power and sting out of them, and things that seem overwhelming and huge when stuck in your head can lose their impact when reduced to words on paper. Identify some of your character flaws and some of the negative beliefs you have about yourself and your abilities. Write them down. Hopefully seeing them in black and white will give them a different, less powerful quality. When doing this exercise, it's important to remember that the beliefs you hold about yourself aren't facts! They are beliefs that have formed over time, and they can also be changed over time.