Most of us have personal career goals: things we want to accomplish that will make us more successful in a current position or help us transition to the job we really want. Often these goals require us to stretch, reaching into our reserves to bring about something new. Whether we want to get better at doing presentations, feel more confident about negotiating a salary increase or asking for a promotion, we all sometimes need a little shot of confidence in order to make these things happen.

This article will provide tools and techniques that you can use to help you reach your goals. These come from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Self-Affirmation Theory, research-based strategies used by therapists and coaches to help people deal with obstacles at work and in life in a way that preserves and builds your self-worth.

What is Holding Us Back?

We all have a voice within our minds that feeds us self-doubt. Most commonly referred to as the inner critic, this voice can keep us from even starting on things that seem hard, telling us we aren’t up for the challenge. It’s important to know how to ignore this voice in the moment (such as just before the big presentation), and quiet it over time so that it becomes less of an influence. Managing that inner critic can be a vehicle to gaining the self-confidence that we need. 

The Good News

Research in the areas of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and affirmations has shown that working with the tools these methods provide not only can help in the short term, reducing stress, anxiety and other things that undermine our self-confidence, but also can have long term effects when practiced regularly. 

Reactive Emotional Behavioral Therapy (REBT)

Reactive Emotional Behavioral Therapy was one of the original forms of CBT, introduced by Dr. Albert Ellis in the 1950s. This method of psychotherapy is based on the premise that the beliefs we hold are at the root of many of our troubles. Ellis theorized that when something happens to us (A), we have a belief (B) about the situation and then we respond with an emotional reaction (C). That emotional reaction can be stress, anger, anxiety, etc. In order to change C, we must begin by changing B: our beliefs.

What Are the Beliefs that Limit Us?

REBT says that many of us hold beliefs that are contributing to our unhappiness, and therefore they are affecting our ability to cope more effectively with difficult situations. One strategy that REBT recommends for dealing with these irrational beliefs is challenging or disputing them.  The beliefs that are holding us back, according to REBT, are the ideas that we must:

  • always do well (no room for mistakes)
  • gain the approval of others 
  • be treated a certain way
  • get what we want

By challenging and disputing these beliefs that ultimately hold us back, we can change our reactions to many situations. The limiting beliefs above can be reconsidered as follows:

  • It is natural to make mistakes
  • Not everyone is going to like us
  • Life doesn’t always go as we would like it to
  • Things might not be pleasant, but we can usually bear it.

Putting New Thinking Into Practice

Let’s look at an example. Say a co-worker criticized something you did in a meeting (A). If your belief (B) is, “other people must treat me kindly and fairly” you will easily find yourself experiencing  anger or depression (C). If instead your belief is acceptance that not everything goes the way you want, you can say to yourself, “This kind of thing happens. It’s pretty common to be treated unfairly at times and others are not less worthy for doing this. I am sure I have done this too.” You can calm yourself down so that you can address the issue with more grace and confidence. 

Should I Use Affirmations?

Affirmations or Positive Affirmations, as they are often called, involve identifying something that you want to create and nourish within yourself and creating a positive statement or phrase that you repeatedly say to yourself. For example, “I am a very effective presenter” or “My co-workers hold me in high regard.” The theory is that if you repeat this positive phrase over and over to yourself, your subconscious mind will eventually believe it to be true and you will start feeling better, just like that! Sounds great, huh?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy.

The Truth About Positive Affirmations

There is some evidence that this approach does not work for some people, and it can actually have an opposite effect. The University of Waterloo published a study that concluded that repeating an affirmation like, “I am a lovable person” can have positive effects for people who already believe it. Unfortunately, people with low self-esteem did not seem to benefit, and in fact, often felt worse when they repeated phrases like this to themselves.

The psychologists discovered through further research that people with low self-esteem do not respond well to these positive affirmations. It appears that saying something that doesn’t feel true or authentic creates inner turmoil for people with low self-esteem. The brain actually recoils from these positive statements, creating bad feelings instead of the desired positive ones. It’s important for people who have low self-esteem to be aware that these positive statements might backfire. 

Use Affirmations that Are More Neutral

However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to benefit from using affirmations. What does seem to work is acknowledging the negative thoughts and crafting a statement that feels more neutral. For example, when you’re honing a new skill at work, instead of repeating to yourself, “I am a great presenter” you could ease into a more positive mindset by affirming, “I am improving my presentation skills.”

Work Your Way into More Positive Statements

Once you have worked with the neutral statement for a while and really start to believe it, you can move into something more positive: “I am on my way to becoming a good presenter”. 

By making statements that are more aligned with our beliefs and feel more like reality, we are able to process statements of positive change without a backlash. Post these statements around your home to increase feelings of confidence.

If positive affirmations aren’t your thing, there is another technique you can try: self-affirmations.

What Are Self-Affirmations?

The self-affirmation theory is well-researched, and it postulates that people want to have a view of themselves that is good, competent, stable and capable of controlling outcomes in their lives.  

When we’re confronted with something that challenges our notion of our self as good, we become defensive. This can lower self-confidence. The goal with self-affirmation is to protect how we view ourselves and restore our self-worth in the midst of challenging situations.

A self-affirmation is something we do or say to ourselves to combat negative feelings and reaffirm positive ones. You can do this with an affirmative statement about your values that you can repeat as needed, and you can also engage in activities that reaffirm those values. 

Focusing On Your Values Helps Create Positive Feelings

One way to practice self-affirmation is to identify an important value that you hold. Let’s say you are about to go in for a performance review where you are anticipating some negative feedback for a project you worked on.

You can push back against defensive feelings by reminding yourself about something you have done that you feel good about and value. It doesn’t even need to be work-related, as long as it connects to your values. If you value friendship and can take a moment to affirm to yourself, “I’m a good friend” it can actually help you uphold your self-worth when you go in for your performance review. Self-affirmation about one area of your life that you value has a positive impact on processing the criticism in a different area of life.

Benefits of Doing Self-Affirmations

Self-affirmation can help:

  • Reduce anxiety and stress about our weaknesses, increasing confidence
  • Help us to feel better about ourselves while we are struggling
  • Keep us optimistic about our abilities

They have also been shown to:

  • Reduce defensiveness about threatening messages
  • Lead to positive academic achievements 
  • Help to stop ruminating over things.

Research shows that by using self-affirmations, we can actually do better on novel tasks, even ones that are unrelated to the quality we are affirming.

Engage In Activities That Make You Feel Good

Another way to affirm the self is by engaging in activities that reinforce your values. If you’re focusing on affirming that you are a good friend, you could spend time helping a friend after work, and that activity will help you to feel better and maintain a positive self-identity in the midst of your challenges at work. 

Actions help to fortify our thinking. Just as our thoughts can shape our actions, our actions can shape our thoughts.

Work On Imagining a New You

I am a big fan of Dr. Greg Popcak. He is a Psychologist, counselor and radio host for Catholic radio (with his wife, Lisa). In one of his books, Unworried, A Life Without Anxiety, he talks of the concept of being Whole, Healed, Godly and Grace-filled. He recommends spending time seeing yourself as God sees you. If you are not a person of faith, you can reinterpret this to see youself as Whole, Healed, Good and Forgiving. Take time to work this image of yourself into your meditation. Spend time daily seeing yourself in this manner.

I hope this has given you some tools that will help you in your challenges in work and in life. For more articles on career confidence, check out our article on How to Increase Self- Confidence and our Seven Career Confidence Boosters for Moms Returning to Work.

If you need a Career Coach to help you improve your Self-Confidence, contact us at Careerfulness.