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How to teach yourself to be more confident

If you frequently experience those pangs of regret over the actions you didn’t take, you very well might be under-confident.

[Source photo: Malte Mueller/Getty Images]

Fundamentally, confidence is a belief that your knowledge is accurate, that your skills are up to the task, and that you can grow into whatever particular challenge is in front of you. There is a lot of value in having an appropriate level of confidence in situations you face. Being under-confident may lead you to shy away from taking on challenges that fall well within your expertise.

This article is aimed at people who are under-confident, either in general or in a particular area. If your level of confidence is appropriate for situations in general—or worse yet, if you tend to be overly confident—I don’t recommend trying to make yourself even more confident. Being over-confident is dangerous, because you may put yourself at social, physical, or financial risk when you take on something that your knowledge and skills cannot handle.

But there’s also a risk to being under-confident, which you may well be if you consistently pass on opportunities in the moment and later find that someone with less developed skills took on what you did not. When you frequently experience those pangs of regret over the actions you didn’t take, you are consistently being under-confident.

Here are three things you can do to help yourself accept more opportunities in the future. Agreeing to do something isn’t quite the same as feeling more confident about it, but once you take on a challenge and succeed at it, that will boost your confidence in the future.


When you are chronically under-confident, your immediate reaction to any opportunity is to turn it down. When you hear about or read about some new possibility, you often either avoid thinking about it much at all, because it makes you anxious, or you start to list all the reasons why you aren’t the right person for the job in your head.

Don’t just accept this response. Pay attention to it. Take the time to actually contemplate a new opportunity. Doing so might make you nervous, but that’s not a good reason not to think it through. That is the first step toward actually saying yes to something that might be right up your alley.

Of course, this might lead you to find all kinds of reasons to decline. Instead of just reciting those in your head and moving on, take the time to write them down, and put the list aside for a few hours. After that, return to the list and read it over again.

Are the reasons you gave really good ones?

The best way to answer that is to pretend a friend of yours was offered the opportunity you were given and they told you they were going to turn it down for the reasons you gave yourself. What advice would you give your friend? You will often find that you would be more encouraging to someone else than to yourself. If so, you should say yes instead.


Many times, when you decline to take something on, you do so because you are focused on your own limitations and perceptions of your ability. You assume in an abstract way that someone else could take this task on and do it better.

Instead, focus specifically on who that person might be. The task needs to get done, and someone is going to end up doing it. If you don’t do it, who will? Will that person really be more qualified than you? Chances are, when you think about it carefully, you will realize they will not be.

Many opportunities that are put in your path are there because they do fit within your skill set (or close enough that you will succeed with effort). When you say yes more often, you provide yourself with opportunities to succeed at things that fall inside your capabilities but outside your comfort zone.


If you are legitimately worried that something is beyond your capabilities, that doesn’t mean that you should not be involved at all. Instead, consider asking a trusted colleague or mentor to work on something with you so that you get some experience working at a level beyond what you have done in the past.

This is equivalent to the way you learned to ride a bicycle. You didn’t watch other people ride and know how to do it yourself. You were given a cycle with training wheels and you learned to ride in a situation where you couldn’t do much harm to yourself and others, but you could develop your skills.

Similarly, a great way to gain confidence is to try new things in an environment in which you have help from others who can shore up any weaknesses you have. You’ll probably surprise yourself in how much you can accomplish.


Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs, and, most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work. More

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