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Column: Building your self-confidence in college

by Alexandra Weaver- Lifestyles Editor
Tue, Sep 12th 2017 08:05 pm
Photo from pixabay.com
Stay positive and keep moving forward. the best thing you can do for yourself is to make goals, achieve them and keep striving.
Photo from pixabay.com Stay positive and keep moving forward. the best thing you can do for yourself is to make goals, achieve them and keep striving.

College can be very intimidating. The fact that just getting admitted requires you jump through hoop after hoop, and that only certain people get admitted can create an atmosphere of exclusivity, especially at prestigious universities. Combine that with the fact that people are naturally likely to fall victim to comparative thinking, and college can really lower your self-confidence if you’re not careful. 

There will always be people who are better at certain subjects or skills than you are. While there is no way to avoid that or comparative thinking, which is a tendency people have to measure their own value by comparing themselves to others, there is a way to change your perspective. 

Psychologist Karim Kassam of Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study on comparative thinking. His research found that there is no way to stop it altogether, but there is a way to alter the way you engage in comparative thinking. This makes sense considering that our brains are ever-changing and dynamic due to a psychological principle called neuroplasticity. 

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines this principle in simple terms: it’s the “capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behaviour in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage or dysfunction.” 

In other words: if we change the way that we think enough over time, it will eventually become second nature. 

While comparative thinking is generally considered to be negative, there are also instances where people engage in negative thinking that can make themselves feel better. This kind of thinking can also be unhealthy. Comparing someone to yourself and putting them in a negative light is not a healthy way to build yourself up. Instead, try to put your accomplishments into context, as well as putting others’ into their own contexts. 

Rather than telling yourself that you’re not as good at a subject as someone else is, remind yourself that the subject at hand may come more naturally to that person than it does to you, and that to make up for it, you’re likely better at another subject than they are. You have your own unique set of skills and so does everyone else, which makes us all unique and valuable. 

For example: I am terrible at sports. My hand-eye coordination is pitiful and I’m terrified of getting smacked in the face by the ball. Because of that, I was always picked last when we were forming teams in gym class. 

It used to really bother me that I was terrible at sports, but eventually I learned to accept the fact that I wasn’t good at everything. More importantly, I learned that nobody else was either. 

Learning to adopt a healthier way to gauge your place in the world is crucial in college. Getting an accurate assessment of your own skills can help you pick a major, and it can help you stay positive when you’re in an environment that is filled with other smart, skilled people. 

Another great way to build confidence in college is to get involved with groups and clubs. Having a group of people who share a common interest and that you enjoy being around can really help you feel confident. 

A study done by John D. Foubert and Lauren U. Grainger entitled, “Effects of Involvement in Clubs and Organizations on the Psychosocial Development of First-Year and Senior College Students” found that students who were in clubs were generally able to establish and clarify their purpose, were more involved in their education and career planning, and were better at managing their lives. Some of the studies they analyzed found that students in clubs were more confident. The traits that Foubert and Grainger listed in their conclusion do all contribute to an overall feeling of confidence in oneself. 

College is also a chance to surround yourself with new people. Pick people who make you feel better about yourself. Healthy friendships can be great for your self-confidence, but toxic friendships can really damage it. According to Ann Smith’s Psychology Today article, “7 Signs That You’re in a Toxic Friendship,” if they take more than they give, don’t support you, don’t keep your secrets, don’t bring out your best side, frequently disappoint you and/or disrespect your family, then they are probably toxic. 

College really serves as a period where people develop into more complete human beings. Your true interests, passions and talents will develop more clearly as college progresses. Use those interests, passions and talents to find the path that is right for you. Work towards a goal that is realistic and fulfilling, whether it is a short term or long term goal. Taking steps towards that goal and watching your dreams unfold in front of you is one of the most rewarding experiences possible. 

Remember to be fair to yourself. College is much harder than high school, and general education requirements mean that students must take classes in a variety of subjects, some of which may be very challenging for them. Get help when you need it and learn how to assess yourself honestly and fairly. Give yourself a pat on the back when you improve in something that is hard for you, even if that improvement is from a D to a C. Learn what you’re good at and do it as much as possible. Surround yourself with it, and watch yourself blossom. 

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