Improve Your Self-Confidence and Become a Better Student
July 19th, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
How do you feel about your progress in college now? Do you approach each day with a confident feeling that you know you’ll accomplish all of the required tasks, develop the academic skills needed, and know that you have the capacity to learn new skills and be involved in the learning process?
This is probably something you do not consciously think about because students rarely stop and consider what their attitude is on a daily basis. And there is one characteristic that can make or break your progress as a student: self-confidence, which consists of internalized self-beliefs about your talents and abilities. It is a quality that you are in direct control of and have an ability to improve.
Why Students Need Self-Confidence
Your self-confidence – or lack thereof, determines how you view each day and every task, and is directly related to your self-esteem. As noted in How to Build the Self-Confidence Needed to Earn Your Degree, “self-confident people are thought to be better at trying new things, rebounding from disappointment, and overcoming obstacles,” and more importantly, “they’re also more successful at handling stress, relating to others and achieving their goals.” A strong sense of self-confidence can help to improve your performance. It is a quality that athletes and public speakers rely on, something that can support your progress – especially when you are faced with challenges or obstacles, as it influences your overall disposition.
If you do not approach your work as a student with confidence, or you do not feel good about yourself, you may likely find that everything becomes much more of a challenge and a struggle. If you do not feel confident, your self-image will take a hit. Students often discover that low self-esteem can result in negative consequences, which includes decreased productivity and even self-destructive behavior. If you do not maintain your confidence, you can find yourself on a downward spiral that becomes difficult to change.
What are the Origins of Self-Confidence?
For many students the concept of self-confidence can seem abstract, something beyond their control, or they may view it as being an either/or quality. It’s important for your success as a student to know how self-confidence originates so you can identify when you’ve lost some or all of it. The simplest method of understanding how it is formed is from a perceptual perspective. As you interact with your external environment (your home, job, or classroom), you are receiving input. Often this takes the form of what is read or heard. As you process this information you are filtering it based upon your beliefs, and then you internalize the final result. If you believe that you are capable (or not capable) of completing a task, you’ll look for evidence to support that view.
In the Forbes article, Where Does Self-Confidence Come From?, it shared two perspectives. Christy Glass, Ph.D., a sociologist at Utah State University, believes that “much, if not most, self-confidence is influenced by the world around us,” and “this includes our crazy families, supportive friends and employers.” Suzanne Roff, Ph.D. believes “confidence is largely built through our dealings with the world;” however, “self-confidence doesn’t exist in a vacuum.” Because external circumstances are constantly changing, self-confidence is not static either and this means you can work to improve it. A well-developed sense of confidence and self-esteem are not qualities you must be born with as they are learned behaviors.
Why Self-Confidence Gets Lost
How do you know that your self-confidence has waned? The quickest method to identify this is by your feelings. How you feel is often an indicator because it is an emotional response to your internalized beliefs. Here’s an example. If you have an assignment that requires learning a new skill, or a project that requires using a new software program, or any other condition that takes you out of your comfort zone, how do you feel about that challenge? If you can approach it with a feeling of ease – that you have a capacity to learn something new, your level of confidence is strong. However, if you feel apprehension or dread, your confidence and self-esteem need a boost. This can become an ongoing cycle.
If you feel less than confident, any failed attempts, disappointments, or outcomes/grades that were less than what was expected will further a feeling of diminished self-confidence. As an instructor I’m careful about the words used when feedback is provided as negative feedback can negate feelings of progress. A natural response to feedback, especially if it is perceived as negative, is to feel defensive, emotional, and reactive. This is internalized and becomes a pattern of learned behavior. To break this cycle you need a technique to consciously address your thoughts and feelings. As noted in How Can You Improve Your Self Confidence Easily?, “it took time to break down your confidence and time will definitely be needed to build it back up.”
Rebuilding or Bolstering Your Self-Confidence
How do you begin to rebuild your feeling of confidence? A good starting point is to conduct a self-assessment. Write down a list of recent challenges, obstacles, or assignments that were not easy to complete. Consider how you approached each one and what your internal self-talk was at the time. You will then be able to identify your level of confidence. To make a change, many self-help resources will suggest that positive affirmations are the answer; however, you’ll find it more helpful to address the root cause first and then find techniques that bolster your attitude.
1. Address your fears.
Often students lose confidence in their abilities because of natural fears so a good place to start is with managing those fears proactively. The goal is not to try to eliminate all of your fears but address them from an objective perspective so you can determine if they are realistic assumptions that you can question and change.
2. Use your natural mind-body connection.
You can increase your natural sense of self-confidence by “adding regular exercise, meditation, healthy eating, positive thinking, personal growth classes, and consistent sleep patterns to your life.” The purpose is to take responsibility for how you feel and create your own change. You want to surround yourself with people, resources, and circumstances that create a sense of empowerment. The most important aspect of a mind-body connection is your internal dialogue. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.”
3. Identify and challenge distorted thought patterns.
If your thought patterns are not supportive you’ll feel less confident and as a result, have lower self-esteem. This is referred to as cognitive distortions, which are “ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true.” If your thoughts are not accurate or they are distorted, it creates a pattern of negative thinking and adverse emotional reactions. As an example, if you do not earn the maximum points possible for an assignment you may conclude that you are not capable of doing well. Then each subsequent grade that is not perfect will serve as internalized confirmation and sustain that pattern. Where students also get trapped with distorted thinking is with their “should” statements, such as “I should be getting good grades to be successful.”
To repair cognitive distortions you need to approach it from an objective rather than subjective perspective. To start, examine the evidence or basis for the self-beliefs you presently hold. Then itemize your positive experiences that resulted in feelings of success. As you learn to focus on the successes rather than failures, you’ll develop a positive mindset and avoid filtering out the positives when you process information from your external environment.
I have never met a student who did not want to feel good. And yet many students find themselves stuck in a pattern where they are less than confident and continue to doubt their abilities. Sometimes it’s a product of their external environment and the challenges they’ve faced but more often it is due to persistent distorted thinking. The good news is that you can flip the switch and improve your self-confidence by recognizing how you feel and what you believe about yourself. The only limits you have are those that are self-imposed. You can be confident right now, regardless of your external environment. It’s an internalized process that can have a positive impact on everything you do as a student.
You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.
Photo © lifewithgene.com