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How to Build the Self-Confidence Needed to Earn Your Degree

Self-confidence. It’s the stuff that helps people banish negativity and feel pretty good about their life and abilities. Self-confident people are thought to be better at trying new things, rebounding from disappointment, and overcoming obstacles. They’re also more successful at handling stress, relating to others and achieving their goals.

Self-confidence, or how you see yourself, affects every aspect of life, from physical fitness and mental health, to work and finances, to social interactions and education.

Although self-confidence is initially developed in childhood, building self-confidence on your own at any age is possible. And, believe it or not, finishing your college degree is the perfect example of how you can do it. In fact, research shows that through the college experience, “adults improve self-confidence and enhance their social capital while embracing a personal identity of ‘learner.’"

Here’s some going-back-to-college advice, activities and strategies to help you overcome self-defeating patterns and develop newfound self-confidence—the kind that paves the way for better career opportunities, improved financial success and greater job satisfaction.

Conduct a reality assessment.

Make a list of your best qualities. What things can you do? What are you really good at? What positive things do other people say about you? Read your list slowly and out loud. Take the time to appreciate and celebrate your unique strengths and achievements.

Face the challenge.

Trying something new is scary for most people. And going back to college is no exception. Facing your fear, however, is where the victory can be found. So instead of focusing on the fear, look at it as an opportunity. Imagine a successful outcome. Then take a small step of action; then another and another. A series of small successes, such as taking a class in a difficult subject, asking for help from your instructor or getting a good grade on a test, is a sure-fire confidence booster.  

Fake it ’til you make it.

Twelve-step programs made this a famous catchphrase. But don’t let the cliché nature of this advice stop you from trying it. Acting with self-confidence can actually produce self-confidence. Behaving as if something is true (even if it’s not) is a therapeutic technique that dates back to the 1960s. Known as a positive feedback loop, it is a profoundly effective tool that is proven to actually change behavior. Here’s an example: Let’s say you feel out of place in the classroom. You haven’t been a student in years. and you’re surrounded by people younger than you. Rather than focusing on your differences, simply act as if you belong. The fact is, because going back to school has no age restriction, you really do belong! Take it even further by engaging with other students, participating in class discussions, and taking a seat anywhere but the back of the room.

Collect the proof.

Look for success. Seek out proof of your abilities. One way to do this is to start an evidence file. You can create a physical file or an electronic file on your computer. Fill it up with things like good grades on papers and projects, achievement awards, notes from others that say positive things about you, thank you notes from fellow students or letters of recommendation from teachers.

Remember that you’re only human.

Self-confidence won’t necessarily come quickly or easily. You will make mistakes on occasion. You will feel defeated from time to time. And you often will encounter people who seem smarter or better than you somehow. Refrain from chastising yourself. Refuse to compare yourself to others. These behaviors are completely unproductive. Instead, go back to your reality assessment. Review your admirable traits and qualities, and then add some new ones to the list. While you’re at it, give yourself a pep talk, and then compliment or reward yourself on your ability to bounce back from negative self-talk.

More Resources for Reaching Your Potential:

Source: Zacharakis J, Steichen M, et al. Understanding the Experiences of Adult Learners: Content Analysis of Focus Group Data. Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 2011.

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