How to Build Confidence as an Academic

Confidence as a verb

You might not feel confident as an academic researcher and writer. Many of us–both graduate students and post-PhD researchers alike–worry if we are intelligent enough, skilled enough, and disciplined enough. Frankly, we worry if we are imposters. 

Confidence is defined as a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities. Because confidence is a noun, we tend to think of it as something we either have or don’t have, based on how we feel. But what if we imagine practicing confidence rather than feeling confident? What if we think about confidence more like an action word: a verb? For example, we can all make a choice to act in a way that is aligned with our values and goals even when we don’t feel confident. In this context, confidence becomes an act of courage or boldness in the face of doubt, fear, resistance, or imposter syndrome.

Here are some suggested ways to build your confidence: 

PRACTICE MICRO-CONFIDENCE

We tend to think of confidence in ways that are too global. You might recognize a thought like, “I need to be confident in myself, my writing, and my research.” This way of approaching confidence is probably unattainable. Instead, notice the micro tasks you know you can do right now. These tasks are going to be actions (think verbs!) that someone could actually observe you doing. For example, “I am confident I can edit a sentence,” or read a paragraph, or code one page of data.

REMEMBER AND APPRECIATE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

The definition of confidence above highlights appreciation of one’s abilities and qualities. This tells us that confidence can be cultivated with self-appreciation. You have already done many hard things and made all kinds of progress. That was you who did all of that. You already have skills, abilities, and an inner commitment to progress. Connect with and actively appreciate your previous accomplishments to recognize the skills and abilities you already have. 

CONNECT WITH WHAT MATTERS TO YOU

It is easy to lose sight of what we care about and why we chose an academic path. Taking time to connect with yourself, what matters to you about your research, your career, the impact you want to have, and the difference you want to make can help restore a sense of confidence.

STAND UP TO YOUR INNER CRITIC

Many of us received critical feedback earlier in life from authority figures like parents, teachers, or community leaders. This feedback becomes internalized, and we adopt past criticisms as our own beliefs. But there comes a point when this feedback no longer serves you. Standing up to those old criticisms can unlock a new level of confidence. The voice in your head that says you are not good enough is not your authentic voice. It is just an aggregate of voices that criticized you in the past. Many writers find it helpful to name this inner critic. Then, when the inner critic shows up and gets in the way of your work, you can say, “Okay, Marge, I see you’re back again, with lots to say. I’ve got this. You can sit quietly in the corner if you want, but I’m going to keep working.” Over time, talking back to the inner critic can restore lost confidence.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Are you basing your self-confidence on things you can’t control? In other words, have you pegged “feeling confident” to things like the exact outcome of your research or other people’s opinions and reactions? To build self-confidence, release attachment to unknown outcomes and start basing your confidence on what you can influence.

BUILD CONFIDENCE OVER TIME

Confidence is something we can all cultivate over time with practice. It takes patience and commitment, and it is possible for us all. Let us know what helps you build confidence and what you learn from these suggested practices.