Let’s Talk About… Self Belief

By Jeremy Godwin

How much do you believe in yourself? How do you improve your sense of self belief and self confidence? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of practical advice for better mental health.

So, get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

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This podcast episode was originally released on 3 April, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 125, and thanks so much for joining me!

If you’re new here, hi! I’m Jeremy Godwin and each week I look at one specific topic (like anxiety, motivation, heartbreak etc), and I share practical advice you can apply immediately to improve your mental health. 

Back in 2011 I had a major breakdown which led me into a period of severe anxiety and depression, and I couldn’t find many resources for dealing with my condition that were straightforward and practical. That took me on a journey of learning more about mental health and I went back to university to study psychology and sociology, and now I focus on delivering what I couldn’t find — simple advice on how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges.

So in this week’s episode I’m talking about self belief and I’ll be covering what self belief is, why self belief matters and how to improve your self belief. So, let’s talk!

Introduction

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or believe you can’t, you are right” — which are pretty wise words for a dude who pretty-much single-handedly killed the electric car for nearly 100 years because he didn’t think it was a viable option. 

The way you think about yourself and how much you believe in yourself matters, because it’s about your confidence, self esteem and self worth… and so today we’ll be taking a trip down self belief lane and I’ll be exploring what it means to truly believe in yourself — because if you don’t believe in yourself, who will?!

So let’s start with some definitions and let’s talk about…

What is self belief?

The term ‘self-belief’ means, funnily enough, that you believe in yourself; more specifically, it means that you trust in your own abilities. 

Self-belief doesn’t mean that you think you’re perfect, because you’re not; it means that you know you can change and grow, because we are all capable of being whatever we want to be with enough time, effort and perseverance. Self-belief is what helps you to find the strength to deal with all of the difficulties and challenges that inevitably come our way in life, and it serves to remind you that you are capable and in control of what you do with your life.

Is it a magic cure? No. Does believing in yourself make all of your wildest dreams come true? No. But what it does do is that it helps you to confront your doubts and overcome them, because where there is doubt there is struggle. When you believe in yourself, you know that you have the potential to climb any mountain and conquer any challenge by making steady progress over a prolonged period of time.

Now, at this point regular listeners might be thinking, “But didn’t you already do an episode about self esteem?” and you’re right, I did (it was Episode 43, in fact), however while self esteem and self belief are related, they’re not the same. To explain what I mean, let me quote from an article by the University of Queensland (here in Australia) which I think sums it up nicely; the quote is:

“Self-esteem and [self-belief or] self-confidence overlap, but they are different. Self-esteem refers to whether you appreciate and value yourself. Your self-esteem develops and changes as a result of your life experiences and interactions with other people. [Self-belief or] self-confidence is your belief in yourself and your abilities. This can change depending on the situation. It’s normal to feel quite confident in some circumstances and less confident in others. A healthy amount of self-esteem is necessary to have the self-confidence to meet life’s challenges and participate in things you find enjoyable and rewarding.”

Source: https://my.uq.edu.au/information-and-services/student-support/health-and-wellbeing/self-help-resources/self-esteem-and-self-confidence 

And you’ll find the link for that article in the transcript at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes

The main thing I want to highlight here about self belief, and specifically healthy self belief, is that believing in yourself means finding the balance between overestimating your abilities and underestimating them… just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you want to find the middle ground where it’s just right (although please don’t go breaking into a bear family’s house and then wonder why they get all pissed off — that’s trespassing). 

Balance is a huge foundation of the stuff I talk about in this show and I’ve explored it twice before: in Episode 14 I introduced the idea of balance and in Episode 49 I dug a bit deeper and explored finding balance (so I’d suggest checking those out, mainly because I think I say ‘balance in all things’ at least 842 times a week!). My point here is that self belief means you are able to identify your strengths and make use of them, and you are also able to identify your development areas so you can grow. That sense of balance is important because knowing that you are capable, while also accepting that we all have some growing to do in some areas (and then choosing to actually do something about it by focusing on your development) helps to keep you grounded by finding a happy medium between self doubt and overconfidence or delusion — you’re not perfect, but you’re also not a total lost cause!

Which leads me to the next part of today’s conversation…

Why self belief matters 

And it matters because your ability to genuinely believe in yourself — to believe in your capabilities and your potential to grow — is what enables you to push past fear and take action… because that’s how you create positive change in your life. And as I say very, very often on this show: if nothing changes, then nothing changes. Life is about growing a little each day, because without growth we stagnate and that’s when we can find ourselves feeling less and less satisfied with our life. It isn’t about believing that you have some perfect destiny that you have to achieve and that when you get there you will be blissfully happy; what healthy self belief is really about is knowing what your strengths are, so that you can draw on them, and also knowing what your development opportunities are, so that you can improve a little each day. 

I have said many times on this show that I believe that the purpose of life is to be the best version of yourself possible (and I stand by that!) but that doesn’t mean that it’s some destination that you need to strive for and then you can get an award for being a perfect human being which can make you feel good about yourself for the rest of your days… sorry, but life doesn’t work like that! The whole point here is that self belief is the thing that helps you to embrace all of your imperfections and to turn your challenges into opportunities to grow… because it’s the people who refuse to grow and evolve who can very often find it hard to deal with the fact that life will not hand you everything you want and need on a silver platter. If you want something, you have to work for it… and healthy self belief is the secret sauce that tells you that you can. 

It’s like that train in the story The Little Engine That Could; self belief is the little voice in your head pushing you along by saying “I think I can! I think I can!” even when things feel daunting and challenging (and eventually you can sail down the hill like that talking train saying “I thought I could! I thought I could!” which then helps to motivate you to find the strength and perseverance necessary to tackle the next hill). And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a children’s story and you can go and watch it on YouTube (just don’t blame me if you have nightmares about talking trains afterwards; I’m fairly certain that the author was having some kind of acid trip when they wrote it but, hey, it’s a good little story about self belief and determination!). 

So, healthy self-belief enables you to see the bigger picture, especially in challenging times. For example, if you make a mistake at work then having healthy self-belief will help you to put that error into the broader context of your life (i.e. It’s just one mistake and so isn’t an indication of your general worth as a person).  

Low self-belief can lead to self-criticism, shyness and awkwardness around other people, and social anxiety (especially in unfamiliar situations). It can make it difficult to communicate your needs, which can lead to challenges (especially if your needs aren’t being met), and it can make it very difficult to be assertive in order to be able to stand up for yourself if and when you need to.

Low self-belief can also mean that you might be more likely to see difficulties and disappointments in your life as being indicators of your self worth; in other words, if you fail or are having a tough time of it, it can sometimes (or often) result in you descending into negative thinking about yourself and your capabilities. The thing about that type of thought pattern is that the more you think negatively about yourself, the more you will begin to believe those thoughts (even though your thoughts are not facts, which I discussed in Episode 123 about thoughts). That can create an ongoing internal narrative where your inner critic tells you that you’re a failure or completely useless, and it can be hard not to fall into the trap of believing that type of thought pattern. But they’re just thoughts and you are not completely useless; we each have our own challenges we need to overcome and learn from in life, and we each have our own unique strengths that can help us to do that. 

And the other bit to be aware of is that a lot of this stuff about self belief goes hand-in-hand with impostor syndrome, where you might feel like you’re not as competent as others think you are or as you expect yourself to be; in short, it’s a strong and persistent type of self doubt. The way to overcome doubts is to consistently challenge them and to push through irrational thoughts by balancing them with rational ones, which I’ll come back to shortly. 

So with all of that in mind, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode and let’s talk about…

How to improve your self belief

And before we go any further today I have to get something off my chest: the entire time I was writing and recording this I have had an overwhelming desire to try and work in some type of reference to Cher’s song ‘Believe’ because it’s been stuck in my head for days during the research process, however it doesn’t really fit with the topic (since the song is about getting over heartbreak) but I’m going to mention it anyway because (a) you should believe in yourself because I really do think you’re strong enough and (b) the song has been driving me nuts and it wasn’t going to get out of my head otherwise. So now I bless you with it and you can walk around singing it for the next week like I have been!

Alright. So now let’s get on to the how-to advice for this week, starting with… 

Self awareness — and by this I mean to sit down and reflect on where you’re at today in terms of your level of self belief. Do you know what your strengths are and how to apply them to help you achieve your desired outcomes? Do you believe that you are capable of dealing with challenges that inevitably come your way? Do you believe in your ability to learn and grow? These can be really confronting questions to ask yourself (especially because it requires you to sit with yourself for a while and think about these things so that you can answer honestly, even if that feels uncomfortable) but the thing is that you need to know where you are today so that you can begin to do the work to improve your sense of self belief. I talked about self awareness back in Episode 62 so check that out for more on the topic. OK, next…

Confront self doubt — and I promise you that I don’t like to deliberately make you feel uncomfortable, but I can’t sugar-coat this: if you want to improve your self belief then you need to confront and tackle your doubts, because that’s the stuff that is holding you back from believing in yourself. Self doubt is a form of fear and insecurity that can eat away at your belief in yourself and your abilities; instead of believing your doubts, instead be proactive about finding ways to challenge them (and that could be something you do on your own, using the tips I’m giving today, or it could be something you get support for — or, even better, a combination of both). I covered self doubt in detail back in Episode 104 so you’ll find that helpful, and I also talked about fear in Episode 10 and insecurity in Episode 35. One very effective way to handle self doubt is with my next point…

Challenge your thoughts — because, as I said in Episode 123 (about thoughts), your thoughts are not facts. In fact, your brain will manifest some absolutely outrageous and even horrendous lies because it thinks it’s keeping you safe from harm when it’s actually causing you harm by preventing you from learning and growing. These kinds of thoughts are often completely irrational and so when that self doubt is creeping in and your brain is telling you that you’re useless or that you’ll never be able to achieve that thing or whatever, you need to stop, notice that your mind is coming from a place of fear and insecurity, breathe through it for at least 10 to 15 seconds (if not longer) and then consider the situation calmly and rationally. For example, it’s fairly common that we believe one setback spells the beginning of the end for us (because our brains really do love a good catastrophe — it’s no wonder that Hollywood has made billions on end-of-the-world movies over the years!) but the likelihood of one single event or situation causing your entire life to crash around you is so remote that you have more chance of winning the lottery! And yet we fixate on that worst-case scenario and believe that our fate is sealed… it’s not. You know, it’s funny (funny-strange not funny-ha-ha) because just this morning I was doing an interview and I mentioned that my breakdown back in late 2011, which at the time felt like the end of the world, actually turned out to be such an enormous catalyst for positive change in my life over the past decade… and, at the same time, my breakdown was caused by multiple factors, because in life it’s incredibly rare that just one single event or conversation or choice has that kind of massive impact; life is a combination of lots of little choices and actions. So my point is this: challenge your thoughts because they’re not facts and remind yourself that you can — and will — be able to handle any of the challenges life throws your way. I mean, hey, you’ve survived all of them up until this point so that’s proof that you can and will survive in the future! And that leads to my next point… 

Reflect on your accomplishments over the past five years (or more) — because it’s really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and just focus on what’s happened recently, but when you take some time to step back and look at everything you’ve managed to do and achieve over a longer period (like five or 10 years) you can see just how far you’ve come. Celebrate your past and your growth, because you really have come a long way. I talked about the past in Episode 94 and reflection in Episode 12 if you’d like some guidance on how to do that. And I mentioned growth which leads to my next point…

Choose to focus on growth — because here’s the thing (and brace yourself because I’m about to be blunt): nothing ever stays the same, and if you try to resist that fact then all you do is cause yourself misery and you destroy your sense of self belief because the fact is that even you cannot stop time from marching on. Instead of fighting change, choose to embrace it and use it to your advantage; when you’re proactive about growing and improving a little each day, and willing to surrender to the journey that life takes you on, you prove to yourself that you are capable of so much more than you ever imagined. I’ve covered a few topics that will be quite helpful: Episode 37 about growth, Episode 31 about mindset and Episode 65 about resistance. And let me say that I do know just how tough growth can be; the thing we don’t talk about often enough is that growth is incredibly uncomfortable, and it’s painful, so we try to protect ourselves by clinging on to things that no longer serve us or which are just not in our best interests, purely because it feels safe and familiar. I mean, we rarely ever talk about the fact that a caterpillar doesn’t just grow wings and become a butterfly; it goes through an entire metamorphosis where it basically turns into goo and is rebuilt into something entirely new (and I’ll leave a link to a great article in Scientific American which explains the process if you’re even remotely interested https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/caterpillar-butterfly-metamorphosis-explainer/). My point is that turning into goo is probably not the most comfortable process, but look at the result… so know that if you want to grow, you’re going to experience some discomfort and that’s OK (actually I’d go so far as to say that if it isn’t uncomfortable then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough!). Alright, next…  

Be proactive about improving your self esteem and self worth — remember how earlier I said that self esteem is about whether or not you appreciate and value yourself? Well hopefully this is self-explanatory but self esteem and self belief go together like crusty bread and a good cheese (sorry about that, I’m currently steering clear of gluten and dairy so you can tell what’s on my mind!). If you appreciate and value yourself then you’re more inclined to believe that you can and will achieve whatever you set your mind to, given enough time, effort and perseverance. I’ve covered self esteem before (in Episode 43) and I also looked at self worth in Episode 78, so I suggest referring to those for advice on how to improve those. One way to do that is with my next point…

Assess your strengths and abilities objectively — and this is an extension of the thing I said earlier where I encouraged you to look back at what you’ve achieved over the past few years; now, I want you to sit down and reflect on all of the abilities that you have… in other words, the stuff you’re either good at or okay at (because you don’t have to be a superstar at something to be able to do it). What this exercise does is that it reinforces the positives for you and it helps you to believe in the skills and capabilities that you already possess (and you might even find it helpful to ask a few close friends or relatives what they see as your strengths and abilities — you might be surprised by what others see that you take for granted about yourself). If doubts creep in about particular things or if you start thinking about stuff you’re not so good at, just write them down on a separate list which you can use later to help you identify what kind of skills and abilities you might want to focus on learning in order to tackle those doubts (because everything can be learned with enough time, effort and perseverance, even if you just take small steps to do so!). OK, next… 

Don’t compare yourself to others — because comparison really does rob you of your joy and life satisfaction. To believe in yourself you have to recognise that we are each completely unique individuals and so comparing yourself to others is utterly pointless, because you will never share their life experiences and circumstances. Forget about what other people are or are not doing and instead focus fully on being your truest self — someone who does no harm, is kind, and who gives more than they take, because that’s how you learn to believe in yourself! Another way to do that is with my next point… 

Turn self doubt into fuel — and this is about consciously turning all of those doubts and fears in your head into the very thing that pushes you forward; in other words, show yourself that your doubts are not true, because they’re not! I remember when I first started this podcast I was convinced nobody would want to listen to what I have to say… and I’m very happy to say that I pushed past that and I proved my doubts and fears to be wrong. I’ve had many times in my life where others have told me I couldn’t do things and that’s made me even more determined to do it so I could prove them wrong; why not apply that kind of drive to yourself and prove yourself wrong?! You might also find my episode about perseverance, Episode 51, to be helpful. And then my next point is…

Get support — and no real surprises here because it’s the standard one I finish with most episodes, and I do so because it’s very common for many of us to think we need to deal with these types of challenges on our own but we really don’t; the more you talk about it, the easier it gets. Work with someone like a coach, a counsellor, a therapist — whatever works for you and your needs — and get some support to tackle the things you find challenging while also finding ways to use your strengths to your advantage. Working with an objective third party can really help you to see all of the wonderful things that are unique to you, and that can make a massive difference to your overall sense of self belief.

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to self belief and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When you believe in yourself, you realise that you are capable of so much more than what your doubts and fears have led you to believe over the years. When you celebrate your strengths and believe in your capabilities, as well as seeing your potential to grow, that helps you to push beyond fear and doubt and insecurity and it leads you to a place where you realise you can shape your life into absolutely any shape you desire. It all begins with a single choice: will you believe in yourself? Will you believe in your ability to take small steps every single day to be the very best version of yourself possible?

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the late British poet and publisher Felix Dennis, and it is:

“Without self belief nothing can be accomplished. With it, nothing is impossible.”

Felix Dennis

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.

Next week I’ll be talking about self sabotage. I know, I know, we just had a lovely conversation about believing in yourself and now I’m going to turn the tables on you next week and talk about a difficult and confronting topic, which is the stuff we do to ourselves that can cause us harm… but we need to talk about the tough stuff in order to tackle it so we can grow! So next time I’ll be talking about what self sabotage is, why identifying and managing it matters, and how to manage self sabotage for the sake of your wellbeing.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 10th of April, 2022. 

And watch my latest YouTube video on Wednesday over on my Better Mental Health channel; it’s linked in the episode description or visit letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my mailing list for my free weekly newsletter (and you’ll find my website linked in the episode description as well).

And find me on Instagram at @ltamentalhealth where I post extra content throughout the week.

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!

Jeremy 🙂

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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.

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