post written by: Angel Chernoff

20 Self-Confidence Traps Holding Smart People Back


25 Self-Confidence Traps Holding Smart People Back

by Barrie Davenport

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly,
you cease forever to be able to do it.”
―Peter Pan

Do you ever feel like a duck stuck in white water, paddling furiously and never getting any closer to where you want to go?  The goals and dreams you have just aren’t coming together, and you’re not sure where or why you’re missing the mark.

You think you’re doing your best and busting your butt at work, but that promotion never materializes.  You’re so excited about the date you had last week, and you thought it went well, but he never responds to follow-up calls.  You work really hard at a new business idea, put in significant time, effort, and energy, but for some reason it just never catches on.

So you catch yourself thinking, “What’s wrong with me?  Am I not good enough?  Am I not smart enough?”

Then at other times you know you’re not on your ‘A’ game, but you try to cover it up.  You put on a happy face and hope no one notices how fearful and full of doubt you’re feeling.  And while acting confidently like this, despite your doubt, may be a decent strategy for boosting self-confidence over the long-term, you’re still sending out lots of low confidence signals to the decision-makers and important people in your life.

Your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings translate to noticeable expressions that actually spotlight just how unsure you’re feeling.  And unfortunately, low self-confidence is an unattractive and off-putting quality to almost everyone, no matter how smart you are or how ingenious your ideas may be…  Which means it may be the very reason success in various walks of life has been so elusive.

In fact, did you know that 93% of the recognizable messages we send to others are through non-verbal communication?

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication.  He learned that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through specific vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.).  When we remove the 7% for vocal content, that leaves us with the 93% statistic.

If you are going to act confidently (whether you feel it or not), you must first understand what low confidence behavior looks like.  Here are 20 ways you might be trapping yourself by sending out signals of self-doubt:

  1. Using weak body language – Such as crossing your arms, not smiling, looking down, and not making eye contact
  2. Hesitating to speak up in groups – Whether in a meeting, social setting, or a public speaking situation
  3. Avoiding interaction with anyone new – Being unable to initiate new connections or approach someone you want to meet
  4. Weak verbal communication – Speaking with a low voice, ending sentences with questions, or sounding really nervous
  5. Fear of trying new things or taking on challenges – Difficulty taking actions that stretch your comfort zone or feel even slightly uncomfortable, even if you know they will improve your life
  6. Hesitating to ask for what you want or needInability to confidently express your desires because you don’t feel worthy
  7. Resistance to letting go of past failures and mistakes – Dwelling in negative thinking and embarrassment of what happened long ago
  8. Not trusting your own judgment – Feeling your ability to solve problems, make decisions, initiate ideas, or take assertive action is compromised or not as sound as your peers
  9. Indecisiveness – Not trusting your own judgment enough to even begin to know what you want
  10. Letting others make your decisions for youLetting the opinions of others dictate your reality
  11. Fantasizing about not being successful enough – Feeling intimidated around people perceived as being more successful or accomplished than you
  12. Feelings of jealously or resentment towards successful people – Projecting your insecurities and longings into negative feelings and behaviors towards others
  13. Expressing no motivation to take action – Feeling depressed or defeated and seeing action as useless or too difficult
  14. Purposeful self-sabotage – Creating a situation that makes it impossible to succeed so you’ll have an excuse for failing, or to justify why others should feel sorry for you
  15. Needing constant external validation – Not just in personal relationships, but from bosses, co-workers, teachers, clients, and peers
  16. Fear of rejection – Constantly worried that others will purposely shun you or hurt you
  17. Extreme self-consciousness about how other people perceive you – Feeling painfully shy and uncomfortable about your intelligence and your appearance
  18. Highly focused on physical appearance and physical flaws – Constant need to check your appearance, compare yourself to others, or obsess about parts of your face or body, at the detriment to everything else
  19. Establishing no personal boundaries with others – Allowing others to take advantage of you simply because you don’t have the confidence to say “no”
  20. Being overly accommodating or people pleasing – Completely ignoring your own values, needs, or desires to win affection and approval

Do you see yourself in any of these low self-confidence behaviors?  If so, sadly, you are sending signals to those around you that you aren’t deserving or capable of stepping up to take charge of whatever situation you’re facing.  And if you don’t appear confident to those around you, they won’t have much confidence in you.  Even worse, when these other people show a lack of confidence in you, it will make you feel even less sure of yourself.

7 Steps to Increasing Your Self-confidence

So what can you do to turn these low self-confidence behaviors around – to start acting and feeling more like yourself again?  Plenty.  And the good news is, confidence is a skill that can be learned and nurtured.  Like any other skill, it involves understanding specific actionable steps and practicing them until you gain mastery.

Here are seven important steps to get you started:

  1. Awaken your awareness. – We cannot change what we refuse to confront.  Which is why the first key to any change is self-awareness.  You must acknowledge what the problem is and how it’s manifesting in your life.  What low confidence thoughts, actions, and choices are you making in your life right now?  In what areas of your life might others perceive you as weak or insecure?  Be honest with yourself and acknowledge where you need a confidence boost.
  2. Find the origin and present trigger of self-doubt. – Once you’ve identified where you lack confidence, dig deeper and try to discern why.  Was there a triggering event in your childhood or in the recent past that undermined your confidence?  Is this situation still a reality in your life?  Most of the time it’s just the memory of past pain that keeps us stuck in a rut of low self-confidence.  There’s no longer any truth to the event at all.  Knowing this puts you back in control.
  3. Redefine the present truth of your life. – If the past event that triggered your pain is no longer real, find evidence that contradicts the event.  Look for authentic, positive situations present in your life right now that reflect confidence and strength.  There are likely plenty if you mindfully look around.  In other words, train your mind to see the good in everything.  Talk about your blessings more than you talk about your problems.  What could you smile about right now if you wanted to?  (Read The Happiness Project.)
  4. Build a realistic schedule of positive actions. – If you discern that you need to do something to improve yourself, your skills, or your comfort level with a situation, then determine exactly what needs to be done and create a list of suitable actions.  Maybe you need to switch careers.  Maybe you need to meet with a counselor to help overcome deeper past wounds or insecurities.  Whatever needs improvement, research it, figure out the first step, and schedule it into your routine.  Then let the first step lead to the second step, and schedule that in as well.  And so on and so forth.
  5. Exercise your confidence. – If you feed your confidence you’ll starve your fear.  So in small and manageable situations, practice acting confidently – even if you don’t feel confident.  Speak up in a meeting.  Introduce yourself to someone new.  Challenge yourself to do something a bit beyond your comfort zone.  As you take action and see some success in these smaller situations, you’ll feel more and more confident.  Your increased confidence will allow you to tackle riskier actions that have a higher payoff in the long run.
  6. Study the upside of failure. – Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”  Know this to be true.  Just because you have faced many defeats in your life, does not mean you have been defeated.  Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.  Every wrong turn you take is a necessary part of your journey towards growth and eventual success.  What you learn from failure can be carried to the next effort to ensure a greater chance of success going forward.  (Read 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
  7. Concentrate on contribution. – Sometimes we get caught up in ourselves.  We focus too much on our own perceptions and not enough on the needs of other people.  This causes us to feel like the world revolves around us; and among other side effects, it makes us more self-conscious about everything.  So break free of your thinking and concentrate more on the contribution you’re making to others.  Doing so will help you worry less about your own flaws, because everything will be less about YOU.  This will increase your self-confidence and allow you to contribute happiness to the world around you.  And when you witness the positive effects of your contributions, you’ll be rewarded with amplified feelings of self-worth.

By paying attention to low confidence behaviors, you not only awaken to areas where you need to improve and strengthen yourself, but also you begin the process of redefining how you are perceived by others.  Confidence is the most attractive quality you can possess.  Don’t allow low self-confidence to hold you down and keep you from your best self.

And remember, it’s not about how smart you are, or how much you know, it’s about taking action and using what you know to change how you live.  Do something today to become the self-assured, successful, and happy person hiding inside you.  By reading this post you’re already halfway there.

The floor is yours…

What has helped you boost your confidence during times of insecurity?  What’s something positive you try to keep in mind when you’re struggling with self-doubt?  Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Barrie Davenport is a certified personal coach, published author, founder of two top-ranked personal development blogs, and creator of The Simple Self-Confidence Course.

Photo by: Felipe S. Morin

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40 Comments

  • “If you were able to maintain a level of self-confidence that no circumstance could shake, what would you be doing differently?”

    I read this question on one of Marc’s posts from last year, and I wrote it down on the white board in my den. It’s still there, and I reference it frequently when I feel like my insecurities are getting the best of me.

  • Thanks for a great post!

    Right off the bat, marcandangel.com and the amazing book that is “1,000 Little Things” has helped improve my self-confidence. Other self-improvement books like “Awaken the Giant Within” and “The Four Agreements” have been helpful as well.

    For me it hasn’t been about learning something I didn’t know, but about re-learning to use the emotional tools I already had. And the best way I’ve found to make this happen is constantly reminding myself that I am capable and in control – which I’ve done by reading a page or two of the aforementioned books and/or this blog.

  • I honestly can’t find enough words to thank Marc, Angel, guest authors, and everyone who comments on this site. Although this is my first comment, I’ve been lurking here for well over a year now. And I thank you all for everything you’ve said. Before I became a constant reader for this site I had a huge trouble finding the line between self-confidence (the ability to love myself) and arrogance, so I always dismissed everything as being arrogant and therefore I lacked confidence completely.

    The best tool I have found to boost my self-confidence when I’m struggling is to read the articles, stories and comments shared on this site and elsewhere online that remind me that I’m not alone in my struggles - that others are going through tough situations too.

  • I’ve already lost the two things that were most important to me, as far as following my passion goes, so it really doesn’t matter anymore. I wish I could say I simply failed. That would indicate I actually had a chance in the first place. I didn’t. Failure would have been a step up and something I could have worked, learned and improved from. As it is, I’m just in the middle of picking up the pieces, trying to forgive and let go, accept and move on.

    So every day I write something, with no plan or purpose, and I don’t even think about the future. The best I’m hoping for is to feel inspired again.

    And I started working at a horse stable last week. This has been really good. Caring for the horses and being around them not only boosted my confidence by facing and conquering a huge fear of them that I’ve always had, but the horses themselves and riding them on the nature trail every day has been therapeutic and is helping with the healing process.

    #13 I don’t function well at all without a goal and a purpose, or some kind of “dream.” So motivation has been hard to come by. But I’m forcing myself to write anyway.

    #15 & 20 I can honestly say I could not even remotely care less what anybody thinks of me anymore. I’ll give what I can when I can, but it will never be at my own expense again. So I guess that’s progress.

  • #14 self-sabotage resonated with me. All kinds of insidious ways a person could be setting themselves up for failure (and not the good kind where you learn something).

    A tip for boosting self-confidence: Put yourself in another person’s shoes (preferably someone more confident) and act the way they would. Hat-tip to Pam Slim for that idea. “What would Sam Jackson do?” can get you out of some tight spots!

  • I have realized that when I leave the past behind me I make progress; dwelling in it confuses me and makes me sleep a lot. We must believe that as far as we are alive anything is possible. A new day brings a new beginning. Peace to all.

  • I love your website. I’m going through a lot now and this helps me a lot. Thank you so much.

  • I’ve been seeking solutions to problems troubling my mind and how to get back on track, after series of failures and self- denial. Marc and Angel’s blog posts got my attention. After reading a series of updates from M&A I have been making progress. I subscribe, and I look forward to seeing any updates. Their words serve as a motivating factor to me, and has helped me tackle various issues. And this post too was also wonderful.

  • #2 on finding the origins of what triggers self-doubt has turned my beliefs around 180 degrees.

    There’s a little known powerful, rapid and lasting modality of healing that guides you to go back to the original scene of the old hurts and heal the memory at its source.

    Your highest self of today has the power to give the your young part all the love and reassurances it need that it never got and rewire your brain with these new memories. This permanently discards the negative core beliefs that you acquired at the time of the toxic experience.

    This has permanently shifted how I feel about myself and I can’t even access the old yucky states anymore.

  • First question to answer: If I felt insecure, I would do anything I thought of: listen to music, talk to people I trust, and trying to move on from something I messed up on now.

    What do I do when I struggle with self doubt? I usually tell myself I will get over it like I always do. Sometimes I try to think of worst case scenarios too. I know it sounds bizarre, but if I do that, I’m reminded that I’m not going through other struggles. I’m not homeless, in jail, or battling some addiction. I mentioned in another blog post I’m trying to be more assertive and it’s been working. Right now, I’m crying while writing this because I ruined an appliance yesterday and I’m realizing I’m one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever meet.

  • Another few things I would like to say is that my well-being goals should be to act vulnerable even when I don’t want to, stay assertive, and that a lot of these things were true for me. I can’t keep using my Aspergers as a crutch. I have to be my own person.

  • This was my first time reading marcandangel’s site. Thanks for helping me remember some things in life that I had forgotten. Specifically the happy person that’s been hiding inside me since I was wrongfully terminated by my last employer. The negative aspects of and in my life have been overwhelming me to the point where I felt like giving up on life. What’s been helping me through this difficult time. Has been the power of prayer and faith and constantly telling myself to hang on. My favorite step on this site today was reading #6. Study the upside of failure. Just last night I was thinking about writing about all the failures in my life. After reading this site today. I feel that would not be good for my overall happiness. However, it’s best to learn from failures in order to move forward in life. This was some thing that I already knew. I just needed some one to remind me. And for that, I thank you very much…….

  • Thank you Marc and Angel for inviting me to share my post. Wow, what an amazing group of readers here. So willing to share and be vulnerable. There are so many books on self-confidence like those mentioned here that are inspiring and motivating. Having a passion or dream to inspire you is a great way to boost your confidence. And one of the best ways is doing what Melissa is doing — stretching yourself to do something you fear and moving past the fear. Also, brain science is proving when you act “as if” you feel confident, you begin to rewire your brain to believe it. So affirmations, visualization, and just pretending to be confident actually help boost your confidence.

  • Self-sabotage is my biggest issue. Just this past weekend, I made a huge mistake with my significant other. I have apologized and promised to make changes I need to make. Promises won’t do me a damn bit of good if I don’t actually DO something about my issues. SO today is MY day to make a change. This blog keeps me going on my worst days and makes me smile on the good ones.

    Thank you Marc & Angel.

  • Concentrating on contribution always helps me. I realize that ultimately what I want is for my writing to inspire others. No worries needed! Love the post, thank you.

  • Using weak body language – Such as crossing your arms, not smiling, looking down, and not making eye contact.

    So glad to see that you started with this point! In my Coaching I notice this often. It is almost amusing to see someone who is very confident in many areas suddenly “shrink” their posture in specific situations. It often correlates to #2, speaking in public.

    I work extensively with clients to create a powerful posture that turns on the appropriate strong state of being.

  • Positive action # 7 (”Concentrate on contribution”) has been a powerful tool for my own transformation. Your conscious mind can only truly focus on one topic at a time. I have grown further and faster when I have concentrated on contributing to a higher purpose rather than on myself.

    Thank you, Barrie, for writing this post!

  • Thank you! Arrived in my mailbox exactly when I needed to read it. Great tips.

  • I’m okay now. Just needed to let that out :-)

  • Thanks so much for this article, I really need to do everything on the list. I was trained by my parents not to be confident, it made me easily controlled as a child and a convenient scapegoat for their verbal and emotional abuse and anger at the people in their lives to whom they couldn’t direct it (employers, people who slighted them, etc.)

    They did a great job: nowadays I find myself with others who continue the cycle (abusive jobs, men, frenemies) and my usual response is to isolate myself from everyone and everything as a form of protection and safety.

    I’m trying to break through what seems like a glass ceiling of hurtfulness to get back to my preferred life of success with jobs, people, happiness and contentment. I say return because I’ve had a few experiences of the life I want…it’s just been a while since I’ve lived it. Thanks again for reminding me I can be happy once again and banish these extreme feelings of worthlessness.

  • Today I feel… like all 20 statements directly fit me. I have felt huge stress at work lately.

    Thanks for the suggestions on how to manage self-confidence. I’m working with this issue, and have been for awhile. But now I feel that I can get on the right track more often and one of the inspirations is this blog post. :)

  • Great post! I really loved “Awaken your awareness“ this really resonated within me.

  • This hit home with me. I am an artist and teacher with international recognition. I recently relocated and I’m having a hard time fitting in. I’m shy but most people don’t see that. I want to fit in and be liked. It’s hard to try and fill someone’s shoes even if you know you can do the job. This post couldn’t have come at a better time in my life and I know it will make a huge different in the way I approach my upcoming interviews. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Wow, what amazing comments. It seems self-confidence is an issue everyone struggles with from time to time. What I’ve learned about confidence is that it is a skill you can develop — just like any other skill. When you practice the habits of confidence in small and manageable ways, those habits become automatic and natural. You start to truly feel the way you are behaving. The brain science of neuroplasticity is showing us how our brains adapt and accept new thoughts and behaviors. So don’t give up on feeling confident. Just keep practicing it repetitively. So thrilled the post has helped all of you.

  • Remembering my source, which put me here to have a really cool adventure has sustained me through some rough times…and gave birth to some great ones. Fun post!

  • One of the simplest things you can do to show confidence is to smile. It’s deliciously contagious…and that’s a good thing. Try it.

  • Positive Affirmations are quiet simply short and powerful statements that you read aloud to your self on a daily basis, similar to positive thoughts, affirmations will slowly re-program the subconscious part of the mind and relay a new positive can do attitude to the conscious part of the mind.

  • I generally consider myself fairly self-confident, but as I read your article Barrie, I was struck with the realization that I’ve been holding back - and it’s because of lack of confidence.

    A few years ago when I started my blog, Powerful Thinking on Purpose, I had read that guest posting was a great way to get my message out. So, I wrote a post and sent it to one of the big personal development blogs. Lo and behold, they published it!

    There were almost 40 responses and it was a lot of fun interacting.

    BUT…I haven’t done it since.

    Those pesky nagging negative thoughts and lack of confidence that reminds me, “That was a fluke. It will never happen again,” have prevented me from guest blogging since.

    The darn thing is, until now, I thought it was because I didn’t have time.

    Oh, the irony of being awesome at helping others overcome their limiting beliefs while some of mine still have power over me.

  • This really wows me. You guys really shed a light on my life that I’m living by far, I really needed to stumble on to this blog, it always help motivate me in many ways . Thanks so much.

  • Dear friends!
    Thank you so much! Your article was just in time in my life. I am now trying to change my working activity completely and training in a company so i have to work with children and teach them something new and interesting. I have never done this before and I always feel like I really shut myself from the best I can be on purpose. I can’t open up with these children and let go of my emotions. I feel I could do my best but something prevents me fro doing it. In fact I have around 15 points out of your test of low confidence. So I have to read more of your articles to get over this.
    Thank you once again!

  • “Study the upside of failure” is a great way to put it, because I really hate the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Your article points to fact that strength is something you may have to search for; but, it’s worth finding. I like the steps you outline to getting your mojo back. Thanks for the tips!

  • Love these the seven points. They really help pull you up when you are feeling down.

  • Smiling and affirmations are great ways to give yourself a confidence boost. And I think Wendy shared something important. Sometimes we blow off a lack of confidence with excuses to ourselves. We say we don’t have time or we’re not interested, when really we’re just plain scared. Doing the thing you fear is what makes us more confident. Taking action and giving something a try in spite of our insecurities. It’s good to know that everyone suffers from these same fears. But confident people act even when they feel uncomfortable. You can practice this in small doses.

  • Thanks for this timely help. I’m sensing my confidence has taken a couple of hits lately. After having retired, our plans were to live overseas to enjoy the climate and low cost of living, however things didn’t quite work out. We’re back and trying to find a new direction and purpose in life. These helpful guidelines are a great place to start. Thanks!

  • What scares me is that I don’t see myself in any of these traps but actually I see myself in all of them ! It’s really scary. Before reading the rest I thought one or couple of them might apply to me but All of them.

    I’ll stop negative thinking because this post is great, avoid the traps and heed the steps. Thanks guys, really glad that I read this post, thanks.

  • This is an amazing post and i can’t thank marc and angel and the guest writers enough. Since my best friend introduced me to marcandangel.com almost a year a go, i have improved my self confidence by a good percentage and felt good, made friends, let go of the past and alot.

    I still have some issues with confidence and thanks to angel’s post i have realised them. As part of my honest gratitude, can you guys let me display your link on my site?. Again, you people are doing a great service and God bless you.

  • Hi there! I’ve spent the day reading and thinking about your posts, and I am here thinking: how did you two get to be so wise so young? I’m about to retire and I feel I don’t have half of your knowingness. Keep up the great work! This is stuff we all need to consider.

  • Like others posting, it seems as though this has fallen in my lap at the perfect time. I’ve suffered with self confidence my whole life, always looking to others success and my self perception of failure compared to others. I spent years running and hiding from it until I ran towards it and focused on myself. This worked, I built up my confidence to the highest I’ve ever had in my early 20’s. For the last ten years I’ve seen this confidence slowly deplete for many different reasons. Aging, making others happy instead of myself, letting jealousy drive my success instead of focusing on what’s best for me. In doing all of this I’ve used the confidence I worked so hard to obtain to simply create crutches for others. I’ve been everyone else’s rock, the guy to turn to. And now life has hit me hard, currently a relationship struggle, a dependency on pain killers, took a risk on a new job opportunity and it failed, sold the business I was so passionate about and lost my older sister at the young age of 36 and have found myself avoiding the grieving process because I had to be strong for everyone else.

    All of this has felt like a house of cards over the last month. Everything I’ve worked towards and worked up to has imploded and I’m finding myself avoiding new things and hell life in general for that matter. This coming Friday will be 5 yrs since my girlfriend and I lost our one and only child. Again another situation that I still feel myself avoiding because I had to be strong for her. I’m lost right now in a world that I’ve created myself. I feel like an architect that got severe amnesia. I’m down and need someone but no one has thought that they would ever have to be there for me. “Not Jerry, he’s the most confident mentally strong person I know.” This site, comments and goals hit me in the face hard. Not quite a TKO but definitely an 8 second count. No one is here for me at my weakest but when I look back on when my confidence was the strongest I’m realizing that at that time I didn’t have a soul to help or a shoulder to lean on, I started building that on my very own. One man wolf pack… Haha.

    Thanks for the article and to everyone sharing their thoughts. Maybe it’s a springboard into something right away or maybe it’s just a wake up call, but this time I can’t hit snooze until I fall back asleep. I have to begin to do things for me and stop worrying about everyone else because they clearly are doing the same for themselves.

  • For big part of my life I was under impression that others are better than me. Like they had something more to bring to the table.

    Two biggest confidence boosters were:

    1. Mastery. It’s hard to be not confident when you really know your craft.

    2. Study of personality styles. It gave me a blueprint of all types of people and I finally got the concept of “you are unique”.

  • Interestingly, a number of these 20 traps align closely with signs and symptoms of mood disorders. Do a search for “bipolar depression” and “atypical depression” (the latter actually being pretty common).

    I don’t know if there’s any objective correlation between intelligence and mood disorders, but I do know that when the occur together, the result is intense. A common denominator between the two is heightened sensitivity. A highly sensitive person is dealing with “too much information” — excessive stimulation from without and within — and is liable to get stuck and overwhelmed. Even too much intelligence can be hard to handle; search for Grady Towers’ essay “The Outsiders”.

    There may be a similar correlation between intelligence and autism spectrum disorders. Autistic people commonly report excruciatingly high sensitivity to all kinds of stimuli.

    But sensitivity brings gifts as well as liabilities, and it’s important to leverage the former. And it’s good to know one isn’t alone, and that there are ways of coping. Thanks for this article.

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