Confidence is a hot topic in the social media world, and in my opinion, there is a rather large misconception about its source and the various types. There is superficial confidence, which is based on, you guessed it, superficial measures. And there is true confidence, which is meaningful, deep, and unshakeable. Superficial confidence is the most widely touted form, and it seems to be the most widely sought after too. True confidence, on the other hand, may not present in such a grandiose or obvious manner as the former, therefore causing few people to pursue it. We live in a world heavily focused on external validation, and we’re conditioned to define ourselves by such measures, so it’s no wonder most of us are lost when it comes to developing an unwavering sense of self.
When I was studying at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, one of the most powerful lightbulb moments for me was when we were discussing deeper, underlying goals of clients. Many women are in pursuit of a better body in order to gain more confidence, and this makes sense given the world we live in. A leaner body means being noticed by others, perhaps being approved of or validated by them, therefore leading to increased levels of confidence. But what if Joe Schmo or the girl you’re trying to impress doesn’t notice? Or doesn’t care? Or another girl walks in with a better body? Or worse, they still have something negative to say about your appearance? Confidence is then completely shattered. This sense of confidence was superficial and was never real to begin with, so it inevitably comes crashing down.
What if, instead of working towards a goal of “I’ll be confident when…”, we can focus on being confident right now? This requires confidence being based off of something other than our appearance, which can be very challenging in the beginning. As women, we’re taught from a young age that our value is derived from our appearance, and for men, it’s often based on financial/career success. But the only way to build true and lasting confidence is to define yourself by who you are as a person, not anything outside of yourself.
For many of us, due to our focus on our appearance (or another superficial metric), we have neglected putting in the work on ourselves as human beings. And this person is fairly easy to identify, although they can present in various forms. A typical case is one who is always insecure about her body, is always focused on improving her appearance, is never content with the way she looks, judges and criticizes others based on their appearance or another superficial metric, and is either lacking in boundaries (i.e. the pushover) or is unkind, judgmental, and gossipy towards others. Sure, her body might look good, but she’s either an asshole or let’s others treat her like an asshole due to not having spent time developing a strong sense of self or values.
Those who are focused on pursuing superficial confidence often judge others by the same metrics they’re striving for. They like to be around the attention-seeking and often loud types (there’s nothing wrong with being loud as long as it’s authentic!), because they perceive that as a marker of confidence. They like to be around physically attractive people, as this is what they find valuable in themselves. They’re often confused by those who are physically attractive but present with a lack of confidence, as they can’t understand someone not basing their worth off of their appearance. I know this, because I used to be one of these people.
It wasn’t until I started working on myself as a person and really focusing on who I wanted to be that I began to develop a true sense of confidence. One that isn’t dependent on the way I look or the opinions of others. Sure, I’m certainly human and my feelings are hurt by mean comments, but I don’t strive for the approval of others anymore. Rather, I ensure I am acting in alignment with the values I hold dear and then let the chips fall where they may. If others don’t resonate with me as a result, then it’s no loss to me, as I’m not pursuing their approval. I’m pursuing my own.
When determining the qualities and values I want to embody in my life, I took a page from Joe Rogan and wrote down all of those I want to subscribe to and all of those I won’t tolerate within myself. I was then forced to acknowledge where I had some work to do and put my money where my mouth is.
While I have added some qualities, actions, and values to this list since its inception and will likely continue to do so as I evolve, those that compose the foundation are honesty, authenticity, kindness, trustworthiness, and boundaries. That last one might seem unusual, but it’s something I struggled with for a really long time, so it’s a non-negotiable for me. I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to living by these values, but it’s something I work towards every day. When I do fall short, I’m able to easily identify these instances and course-correct quickly. It’s difficult to ignore something that you’ve clearly established as a personal value.
By peeling back the layers of the ego (negativity, victimhood, jealousy, laziness, gossip, etc.) and focusing on becoming a better human being, our focus on our bodies naturally reduces. Rather than breaking down over “cheating” on our diet when we eat a donut, we feel gross when we act in a way that isn’t in alignment with our values and spend our energy there instead. Instead of focusing on cellulite and the size of our jeans, let’s focus on reducing gossip, spending more quality time with people who matter to us, speaking kindly and honestly, or acting in alignment with whatever values we hold dear.
This isn’t meant to invalidate the pressure we feel to look a certain way, because it’s very real, but we have the choice to spend our time and energy elsewhere. And how we begin to define ourselves will follow suit. By becoming clear on what we value and ensuring our actions are in alignment, we can then experience a solid and unwavering sense of self that isn’t deterred by the perceptions of others. This is the confidence we’re all seeking, yet so many of us have been living according to the misguided notion that our bodies are the vehicle to this outcome.
Let’s spend our time on our internal landscape; discovering what values and qualities we find meaningful and important in ourselves and others. We can then adjust our actions to ensure we’re living in alignment and, most importantly, detach from the reactions of others. By doing so, we develop true confidence that is based on a solid, unwavering foundation as opposed to superficial and transient metrics. And the best part is that we can do this TODAY, not when our bodies change. That sense of true confidence is available to us at this very moment regardless of our appearance.