Why is Self-Confidence Important for Students?
Contrary to popular belief, intelligence isn’t the number one predictor of academic achievement and success; it is self-confidence. Several science-backed studies have shown students with a higher sense of self-confidence are more willing to challenge themselves and learn. For students who have struggled with self-confidence, the good news is that confidence isn’t an inherent skill that we are born with; it is an art that can be perfected with enough dedication to personal growth. Anyone has what it takes to be the most confident person in any room – it is not a fixed characteristic – no matter how many people lead you to believe that it comes naturally.
Some people learn to exude confidence earlier or encounter fewer situations that ebb away self-confidence. Of course, early developmental years, proponents of how we were nurtured at a young age, and previous life experiences have a bearing on our self-confidence. However, no one is destined for a confidence-lacking life. Everyone can learn how to adopt confidence to make accepting challenges easier and take self-doubt out of the equation when seizing opportunities.
This article will explore how confidence affects the academic experience and success before moving on to practical ways students can garner self-confidence in any scenario.
The Relationship Between Academic Success and Self-Confidence
It is easy for students to underestimate the importance of self-confidence. It can build resilience and social skills, allow for a realistic view of abilities and help students to accept weaknesses. For students lacking in self-confidence, acknowledging weaknesses can lead to further self-doubt. However, students with a higher sense of self-esteem can take shortcomings in their stride before finding healthy ways to work on them and overcome them. Self-confidence is vital regardless of the field you are studying. However, this particularly rings true for students focusing on science, English, and maths. Under-confidence can get in the way of everything from flexibility with calculous procedures to self-belief limitations when exploring paradigms in a scientific field.
For under-confident students, it is harder to find trust in their ability to solve complex formulas, stand convicted by their approach to a scientific experiment or rely on critical thinking skills when writing literature reviews. Furthermore, self-confidence boosts attendance and participation in lectures, seminars, and group work. For confident students, it isn’t an admission of failure to ask for help when needed. However, when students have less confidence in their academic skills or intellect, asking for further clarification on something not initially understood is daunting as it confirms negative bias fuelled by a lack of confidence.
As another benefit, self-confident students can build a stronger sense of belonging with peers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, students struggling with imposter syndrome or feeling like they don’t have what it takes to finish their course are more likely to withdraw from their peers and feel self-conscious when asking for support. With all of this in mind, it is no surprise that under-confident students are less likely to thrive in their expert field or to continue attempting to achieve after their undergraduate or postgraduate studies.
Under-Confidence and Employability
Fear of failure is one of the biggest roadblocks to academic success students can put in front of themselves. It can lead students to lose interest in lectures and their course material when they are preoccupied with the sense that they need to be better to succeed. Conversely, self-confidence is a primary driver of motivation and focus when writing essays and taking exams.
Naturally, for graduates, confidence is a factor in employability in postgraduate roles. Confident students stand a better chance of leaving university with a higher degree; they also enter new work roles believing they can apply the knowledge and skills gained at university to situations in the workplace. Under-confidence is not a gendered issue. However, a recent survey showed that under-confidence is a more prevalent issue amongst female-identifying students, who are 50% less likely to believe they are highly employable. To confound everything above, a lack of self-confidence in students can lead to burnout, depression and stress – this applies to students of all ages and genders from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
Steps Towards Self-Confidence
Challenge and Control Negative Self-Talk
Negative self-talk or self-beliefs can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For students who routinely tell themselves that they will fail their next exam, are stupid, aren’t good enough, or aren’t as smart as their peers, it is only natural that the mind eventually accepts these statements as truths, and they carry through to actions.
Being mindful of your inner monologue and aware of your thought process is the first step to overcoming negative self-talk. The second step is to replace those narratives with more positive affirmations, which may feel uncomfortable at first. However, the more you use positive and confident mantras, the easier it will be to accept them – the adage fake it until you make it certainly applies here. When improving your self-talk, remind yourself of the times you have successfully overcome obstacles and refrain from comparing to others. It is easy to feel down on yourself when comparing yourself to impossible standards when idealising other people. Every successful and confident person has dealt with failure at some point. You will want to take note of how they overcame it and didn’t let it damage their self-worth.
Reach out for Support and Seek Constructive Criticism
If your self-confidence issues largely stem from your academic performance and anxiety, reach out for support from your lecturers. Sharing your concerns, rather than keeping them to yourself, will allow you to receive feedback. You may find that your self-confidence issues are not allowing you to view your full potential, whereas others can see it quite clearly. If there are areas that need improving, constructive criticism will give you a way to overcome your shortfalls. If any weaknesses get highlighted when you seek feedback, take them as an opportunity to grow. If your self-confidence issues affect other areas of your life, lean on your trusted support network, which has your best interests at heart. However, remember, while external validation can help boost self-esteem, unless you build from the compliments and work on your inner confidence, your self-esteem issues will continue to niggle away at you. No amount of external praise can replace self-confidence.
Practice Confidence-Building Activities in Privacy
Confidence-building exercises and activities are one of the best ways to construct a more positive attitude, develop better social skills and lower anxiety and stress surrounding performance. The activities could be as simple as reminding yourself to smile more; or as introspective as listing all the things you did well during the day or thinking about your skills and what you excel at best. Some students find that keeping a compliment diary helps to boost self-esteem and confidence. It is easy to forget the positive comments when our minds are so fixated on the negative.
Other ways to improve confidence include practising power stances, setting achievable goals regularly and dressing in a way that makes you feel confident. For some, this may be dressing smartly; for others, it will be dressing in a way that best represents identity. If self-doubt is cropping up before giving a presentation or attending a seminar, practice what you will say at home. Anxiety is a great motivator to study hard – without it, there would be no fear of the repercussions of failing. However, managing stress levels and anxiety is crucial to perform well under pressure.
Avoid Negative Criticism
While it is important to be open to constructive criticism, it is equally vital to be mindful of negative criticism. Everyone, at some point, will likely encounter someone who always focuses on the negative and uses insecurities as a motivator to damage other people’s self-worth. This could be from a parent who has never found pride in what you do, someone in your friendship circle who enjoys toying with people through passive-aggressive comments, or abusive ex-partners. While these kinds of people can do untold damage to self-esteem, remember that their comments say infinitely more about them than it does about you. No healthy person has the time or energy to spend on tearing other people down. While their words can hurt, accept them as hurtful, not truthful.
Take a Holistic View of your Mental Well-Being
No journey of self-improvement only goes down one road. For example, if you want to improve your self-confidence but are also depriving yourself of sleep, eating unhealthy food, not exercising and practising self-care, you will not get far. Your mental and physical health has a massive bearing on your self-confidence. Imagine turning up to an exam and not being able to concentrate because you haven’t slept the night before or writing an essay with only caffeine and sugar in your system. The mind is a muscle which requires adequate attention and nutrition to work optimally.