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20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem--page 18
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Step 18. Act with Confidence.

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Many people view confidence from the wrong direction. They believe “When I have self-esteem, I will act with confidence.” Yet, confidence is a behavior more than a feeling. And behaviors can be produced even when you don't experience the emotion. For instance, have you ever been in an argument with someone, you're feeling intense anger, you receive a phone call, and with a smile and brightness in your voice, you answer, “Hi! It's great to hear from you!” This is a common example of how we can compartmentalize emotions and almost instantaneously switch our behaviors—in this instance, tone of voice, facial expression, word choice. In fact, I would bet that if you pay attention in such an instance, you would even notice a relaxation of the angry tension you were experiencing.

The axiom often used by recovering alcoholics in AA, “Fake it til you make it,” is based on a concept proposed by psychologist George Kelly in the 1950s (The Psychology of Personal Constructs) and incorporated into “fixed-role therapy.” Kelly believed that we act based upon the roles that we have constructed for ourselves from past experiences. However, we can construct new roles and concepts of ourselves and base our behaviors upon those new roles. For instance, he described a man acting based upon a written description of the person he would like to be. By doing so, his belief about his ability became “I CAN change” because “I HAVE changed.” By acting differently, he was able to prove that he has the ability to be different. Therefore, this therapy circumvents one of the common core beliefs that prevents change: “But that's the way I am!”

This concept of “act with confidence” builds on the other skills you have been developing by following these steps to better self-esteem. It combines the non-verbals such as holding your head up and making eye contact with the internal self-talk of seeing yourself as successful and mentally rehearsing achieving your goals. By expecting success you can act with more confidence. When you act with confidence, whether or not you truly feel confident, people will respond accordingly. They only see what you show them, not what is inside. So if they see confidence, that is how they will respond to you. And when you experience others treating you as a confident person, you are likely to develop more confidence. You may notice that this creates a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, I have had some clients, especially perfectionists, who are already acting with confidence but still have low self-esteem. How can this be if acting with confidence should help improve self-esteem? It is due to an irrational belief they hold that negates their capability even when they are successful and others treat them accordingly. They often view themselves as a “fake” and if others only truly knew them they wouldn't be so impressed. What makes this belief irrational is the same thing that makes “act with confidence” effective: it is impossible to fake success! You can fake failure by not trying or giving up, but you can't fake success. If you succeed at something it means you are capable. Period. You can't fake that! In this case, the individual also needs to change the irrational belief about success so as to experience the boost to self-esteem.

Therefore, acting with confidence is more likely to lead to feeling confident and being successful. One final caveat: do not mistake acting with confidence to mean the same as being arrogant. Some people use these assertive methods to bully others so they can get their way. However, a truly confident person is not arrogant but shows respect and consideration for others. By doing so, you also improve your relationships with others.

At this point your goal is to practice acting with confidence. As you do so, you will become more skilled. The final step in these “20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem” will draw together everything you have learned from following these steps. So, keep in mind, practice takes time. Just because initially you might not be effective in your attempts to act with confidence, keep trying! By using all the skills you have learned and practiced up to this point, you will be able to appear more confident as you continue to try.

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