2 April 2022

What does confidence mean to young people? We help young people identify their ‘limiting beliefs’ –things they believe to be true about themselves which erode their confidence. 

By Deb Saunders and Koen Downie 

Deb Saunders is a Mind Family Engagement practitioner working specifically with young people.
Koen Downie is a Social work university student who recently completed a placement at the Mind Recovery College working with young people.

Albert Einstein once said: everyone is a genius - but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

It’s a sentiment that often appears in Mind Australia’s work with young people across the country as part of our award-winning Mind Recovery College®, particularly when we discuss the issue of confidence.

The Mind Recovery College helps people aged 16-64 develop the knowledge and skills needed in their mental health recovery journey, bridging the gap between mental health services and education programs. We both have unique insights into the minds of young people who have mental health and wellbeing concerns, as a Mind Family Engagement Practitioner (Deb) and social work student who has completed a placement at the Mind Recovery College working with young people (Koen). We both have seen first-hand the way in which this initiative helps young people identify their own learning needs and offers them a range of courses to help them in their unique recovery journey. 

We explore what true confidence really is and attempt to understand what stops us from feeling confident by challenging our limiting beliefs. We often hear that the things people discuss and learn in the Mind Recovery College should have been taught in schools “when they were younger”.

The Mind Recovery College is like a cross-between a mental health service and an education program that was co-designed by Mind clients. It’s a collaborative process. Our sessions are relational rather than instructional. This can be beneficial for a number of reasons but it certainly can appeals to some young people who may not thrive in traditional education. 

Importantly, we use our own lived experience of mental ill-health and recovery to inform our work

What does confidence look like?

We engage young people with the topic by asking them to define: what is confidence? Who are the people in their life that they consider to be confident and what are the traits or characteristics they have that make you think they are confident?

More often than not, we learn that there are no specific characteristics or behaviours required to be confident – everyone’s examples are different, which leads us to discuss the idea that we all have the power to identify and embrace our own confidence.

Some of the kids we work with in out-of-home care have stayed in a lot of different places and with numerous people in their short lives. They end up comparing themselves with other people in their worlds without realising. The impact on their self-confidence is considerable. 

It chips away at them. If you have a mental picture of what confidence looks like it becomes something that you measure yourselves against.

I would feel more confident if I were smarter like…
I wish I was more like…
I need to have a better body to be more confident…

These kinds of internal dialogues erode their self-confidence. 

Stop comparing yourself to others

In our experience, this is the most easily identifiable way young people damage their self-confidence, but it’s also one of the hardest habits to break.

You can’t measure your uniqueness against another person’s – for illustrative purposes, we talk about the ridiculousness of an avocado comparing itself to a pineapple. Both are unique. Both are great (unless you put them both on the same pizza). And of course, there’s that marvellous Einstein quote about the fish we mentioned earlier.

It will come as no surprise that social media makes it difficult to break the habit of comparing yourself to others. Young people are bombarded by an array of media channels telling them how to look, how to act and more. They absorb Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram and others and it influences their ideas of what confidence looks like, and creates an unattainable goal. 

They find themselves wishing they could be more like the people in the pictures they see, and when they compare themselves to the pictures, they find that they don’t measure up - a behaviour not limited to young people.

Even as young people become more tech-savvy, it’s surprising how many are still lured into the false premise that what you see on social media is real.

Authenticity is scarce on social media and a lot of them know it. They tell us about filters that make their face look slimmer, their eyes look bigger. Yet they find themselves comparing their own lives to the filtered social media world and the impact can be devastating on their mental health, particularly those under 18. They’re living vicariously through what other people are doing, but it’s not reality. It’s an illusion of community, which is actually significantly isolating.

Some of them have 2000 friends on social media but they don’t have anyone that they can call when they’re down or stressed, or if something significant happens in their life. 

This video about the power of Photoshop is a great learning tool and discussion prompt to help young people realise you don’t need to change your body or who you are to be confident.

We set a challenge for course participants to try and catch themselves comparing their life to what they see on their screens. They generally discover it happens more frequently throughout their day than they realise.

Challenging your limiting beliefs 

This brings us to an important step in building confidence: the ability to challenge the limitations you put on yourself. It’s not just the pictures we consume from the media that impact our confidence.

For young people, these kinds of limitations arise in settings like school change rooms, parties, job interviews or even seeing people who outgoing or seem to be getting along, which leads them to wonder: why can’t I be like that?

We’ve worked with young women who won’t even leave the house because of insecurities related to their appearance.

These situations can make people feel that they are not enough, but this isn’t true. We encourage young people to know themselves, embrace their strengths and values, and appreciate them. 

We help young people identify their ‘limiting beliefs’. These are things they believe to be true about who they are which negatively impact  their sense of self and eats away at their confidence. These beliefs aren’t true. They only feel true because they have been reinforced over and over again. Limiting beliefs control people’s thoughts and behaviours - until they are exposed for what they are. 

How you see yourself shapes your reality – if you have limited belief then that is your reality – that’s the filter you view the world through. You don’t have to look far for a comparable analogy for this. Take The Matrix; when Neo is shown the limitations of his beliefs he is able to go beyond them and realise his full potential. A life lesson from Keanu Reeves - brilliant!

Ultimately, confidence means different things to different people. We invite young people to become detectives in their own lives and hunt for the clues that led them to engage in negative self-talk. We encourage them to journal their findings, to help them discover which limiting beliefs are reinforcing their negative feelings.

Remember, you may be a fish, so stop judging yourself on your ability to climb.

Delivered both face-to-face and online, Mind Recovery College courses cover topics such as self-care, parenting with mental illness, understanding addictive behaviour, skills for life and work, and communication and relationships. Find out more here