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1. Do you struggle to find ways to say ‘no’ comfortably?


What are healthy boundaries?

Healthy boundaries are limits and guidelines that individuals establish to protect their physical, emotional, and mental well-being, as well as their values and beliefs. They allow individuals to communicate their needs and expectations clearly and assertively, while also respecting the needs and boundaries of others. Being able to recognise your limits on any given day and communicate those limits to others is vital for your mental wellbeing, energy, productivity, happiness and of course, confidence. 

How does boundary setting impact everyday life?

Each time you put someone else’s needs before your own, you reinforce the belief that you are less important than they are and slip deeper into a negative confidence spiral. Often people with chronic low confidence struggle to even know what their needs and limits actually are as they have sacrificed themselves so much over the years. This makes it even harder to communicate and reinforce these ‘boundaries’, and the cycle continues.

Small acts of self-prioritisation however, send the message to your mind that you are worth prioritising and, over time, will slowly build your self-worth. 


People who struggle with boundary setting may have experienced a childhood where boundaries were not respected or modelled by those around them. There could also be trauma that meant for their own survival it was required that their own needs were suppressed. As an adult we can learn how to set healthy boundaries and change these learned patterns of behaviour.

Consider these questions and jot down answers for each:

In a parallel universe, where you are living your full, unapologetic life with no fear or limitations, what are you doing that makes you:

  • Happy
  • Proud
  • Energised
  • Strong
  • Loved
  • Empowered
  • Confident

Using these answers, make a list of creative ways you could create these things right now. This exercise is about reconnecting with what is important to you, and to start you on the journey to reclaiming yourself.

Research ways to say ‘no’ that feel comfortable to you. Start with phrases that buy you some time if that feels easier. E.g. “That sounds really interesting. I want to think about it properly, so can you give me a day to come back to you on it?”

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2. Are you prone to catastrophizing and getting stuck in negative thought loops?


What is catastrophizing?

Catastrophizing is the tendency to focus on the negative consequences of a situation rather than the positive, often magnifying the potential or observed negative outcomes. This leads to a heightened sense of fear and anxiety and a focus on the things that can go wrong, rather than visualising success.

How does catastrophizing impact every day life?

Your mind is pre-programmed to prioritise your safety over your happiness. It is what has kept humans alive for so long, and is a very smart evolutionary tool. However, some of us are more prone to these negative thought loops than others. A lack of confidence in your ability to cope with the worst case scenario means that you constantly play it out in your mind to make sure that you are deeply prepared and rehearsed. Unfortunately, this means that you might always be drawn towards worst case scenario thinking and need to proactively develop the skills to recognise these thoughts and manage them effectively. Left unchecked, our catastrophizing mind can increase our stress and fear, impact our health, and keep us playing small; each deeply contributing to a downward confidence cycle.


Although there is no single cause for catastrophizing, past experiences and trauma can often lead us to learn to look for the danger in situations in order to try and keep us safe. Similarly, significant people in our lives can impact the way we view the world and can fail to model a positive outlook that we can take forward in our lives. We can make small changes over time to help us learn a more positive and healthy way to view situations.

When your brain starts going to the worst case scenario, try to find the gift or opportunity in that situation. An example might be, “I won’t know anyone when I get there and I’m just going to stand by myself all evening looking stupid”. Consider what the gifts or opportunities of that situation might be.

  • I will be so proud of myself for showing up
  • I will know where the venue is and where to park for next time
  • I can take the time to observe and learn about the event
  • I can spot other people who don’t know anyone and say hi
  • I get to enjoy a nice meal

Do this for every worst case scenario your mind throws at you! You will be surprised how much better you feel.

Catastrophizing is a form of emotional dysregulation, so create a regulation toolkit that you can pull out when you feel yourself spiralling. What things regulate you? Walking? Listening to music? Reading? Exercise? Mindfulness? Create a list of your top 3 things and use them when your mind starts to panic.

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3. Do you take criticism and negative feedback deeply personally?

Taking it personally

Why do we take things personally?

When we rely on external things (people, situations, accolades, money etc) to make us feel good about ourselves, it makes sense that it totally floors us when someone gives us criticism or negative feedback. These things are like the black hole of confidence for us and it means that our confidence is fragile and often feels like we are clinging to a rollercoaster.

How does it impact everyday life?

Often when we are at a confidence low, we become hungry for that next high and are prone to overworking, people pleasing, perfectionism, over-controlling or even crawling under the duvet until the shame and hopelessness subsides. Sound familiar? Having our ‘confidence’ linked to external things means that we are perpetually at the mercy of other people. This isn’t confidence. This is faux confidence. This is a sticky plaster that never really sticks for long. The sooner we can develop confidence from the inside, that isn’t dependent on anyone or anything else, the sooner we can stop spinning in circles and start making progress.


As social beings, we have an inclination to connect with others and so external validation is a way of building much needed social bonds. However when too much value is put on others it may be detrimental to our mental health and happiness. Society and families where success is highly valued may lead people to over-emphasise the importance of others opinions in order to feel a sense of achievement. It is also common for people who struggle with their own self esteem to doubt their own ideas and actions, seeking validation from others for reassurance.

Remember that other people are allowed to have opinions. You can’t control this and their opinions are in fact nothing to do with you. Often they are actually more of a reflection of them than they are of you. In reality your suffering comes from what you make their opinions mean. The stories you tell yourself. The next time you take something personally, grab a pen and write down the thoughts you are having that are creating the negative emotions. When you have calmed down, revisit these thoughts and ask yourself how true they really were. Sometimes we need to see our mind in the cold light of day to get some perspective.

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4. Are you surrounded by people who are cautious, controlling or jealous and would rather you play it safe?

Support network

What is a support network?

They say that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Whether or not you agree with that statement, it is true that the people we spend time with directly influence us. They can be energy givers or energy drains. They can inspire us or be a walking warning. They can open doors or they can block them.

How do our support networks impact us in every day life?

As humans we have a finite amount of energy to expend, and we have a mind that has the tendency to self-sabotage. Utilising energy reserves to stay positive, focused and motivated in the face of perpetual negativity is like watching your favourite wine slowly disappear down the drain. Creating and maintaining deep self-confidence takes work, but it can be tricky for some people to see you grow in confidence because of the way it makes them feel about themselves. They see you wanting to take risks which make them feel cowardly. They see you wanting to do your own thing against their advice and beliefs which makes them feel unimportant. They see you growing and becoming happier and it makes them feel resentful of their choices. This is because these people don’t have inner self-confidence themselves and they experience faux confidence from external validation. It is easy to go with the flow and bend to their will, leading you to not fulfilling your potential and fuelling a negative confidence cycle.

Why do we attract and maintain negative support networks?

Situations are important in the networks we build – the family we were born into, the places we live or work are to an extent outside of our control. However we often see the maintenance of these relationships in people who have a negative self view, experience of negative relationships in their past or have experienced trauma. People who struggle to set healthy boundaries often maintain more toxic relationships as they feel unable to communicate their own needs, instead prioritising others needs and wants over their own.

Notice how the people you spend the most time with make you feel about yourself and try to manage your interaction with them accordingly. It’s not always possible to remove negative people from your life completely, but you can choose how much time and energy to give to them.

Be proactive with the people that fill you up. People that drain us are prone to demanding way more time than those people who energise and inspire us. We need to be proactive in creating opportunities to spend time with the people that lift us up. Dinner? Drinks? Coffee? Prioritise precious time with these people where you are able to..

Consider ways to get out and meet new, positive people. Gatherings of people with similar interests and passions as you. Try clubs, courses, networking events, social events, tag along with friends to things they are doing etc.

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5. Are you quick to justify, to yourself and others, why you should stay within your comfort zone?

Playing small

What is Playing it Small?

Our minds are pre-programmed for safety, which means that we tend to automatically settle into the rhythm of something called the motivation triad; seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and exerting as little effort as possible to survive. Without conscious management, most of us would stay within the comfort zone that sits smack bang in the middle of these three motivators, and we do this for several reasons;

We are not confident enough to face potential failure. We fear shame, judgement and rejection so come up with lots of excuses why we can’t do the thing.

We believe that we are not worthy or deserving of more. Who the hell do you think you are, right? Best to play the game in the small court your mind tells you you belong in.

We are not confident enough in our abilities to face the scary unknown. We tell ourselves the story that we don’t have the right skills, experience or capacity to make a success of it, so we choose to stay where we are.

How does playing it safe impact our lives?

When we stay in our comfort zone, we don’t grow. We don’t push our limits and find out that we are more capable than we give ourselves credit for. We sit and wait to feel confident before we do the thing, but confidence doesn’t work like this. We need to exercise courage before we gain confidence, and courage means pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones. By playing it small, we reinforce the message that we are not capable and further fuel the downward confidence cycle.

Origins of playing it small

People who have an overly cautious childhood where risks were disproportionately highlighted, either in their family or their culture, can influence adults to be cautious and avoid perceived risks. This can also manifest in values prioritising stability over creativity and risk-taking.

Similarly, past experiences may make people more cautious against risk taking and mean they play it small for their perceived safety.

Start small and pick something that pushes your comfort zone a little. Maybe it is picking up the phone rather than sending a message or email, or it’s saying yes to something you would have automatically said no to. Notice the mental pull to play it safe, acknowledge it and then playfully push back and see what happens. If it feels too big, then start with something smaller. Each time you survive something just outside your comfort zone, you are reinforcing the message to your brain that it is safe and your comfort zone will expand, (and so will your confidence).

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6. Do you have good intentions for positive growth habits and routines but they often get sidelined for the same old habits and patterns?

Daily habits and routines

We’ve all been there. Inspiration strikes. You’ve watched that program, read that book, spoken to that person and you suddenly have vivid clarity of thought and renewed focus. “I am going to do this!” You might invest in something to help you and start a new daily practice with gusto. But then, you miss a day here and there, you don’t see the results as quickly as you had hoped, you start to doubt your decision or the process, and the event that inspired you in the first place starts to fade into the distant past. New habits are slowly taken back over by old habits that sit more within your comfort zone. Gah! It is so frustrating!

How does this play out in everyday life?

Over time, this cycle starts to erode your self-confidence. You start to doubt your judgement and your impulsivity becomes a stick you beat yourself with. You start to tell yourself the story that you ‘never stick to anything’ because you are ‘lazy, unfocused, lack discipline, are not as good as other people, will never change’, and basically that you are worth-less. This self-talk does little to fuel the motivation and positivity tank, so it further fuels the negative confidence cycle.


People struggle to introduce new practices and activities into their daily routines for a number of reasons. Feeling too busy, breaking old habits and a lack of support from people around us may all make introducing habits feel like an insurmountable challenge. Often the fear that we will fail can also hold us back or make us give up quickly. However, resistance to change is normal and failure is a natural part of this. With time and effort and an acceptance that it may not be perfect at first, daily practice can become a part of your life going forward.

Spend some time reflecting on why you want to implement these new habits and routines. What will they give you? How will you feel about yourself? Who will you be when you achieve this? What is the cost of not sticking to it? What will life look like? What new opportunities will open up? Using our imagination to visualise ourselves succeeding actually creates neural pathways in our brain that make achieving that thing more likely!

Set yourself up for success. Write a list of all the ways that you might get derailed or self-sabotage, and then, working through each item, design little strategies to maximise your chances of success. An example might be “I want to get up at 6am every day and go for a run. I am likely to not want to get up because I went to bed too late, it’s warm, I don’t have the energy to get all my stuff together and get dressed etc. So, I will be in bed by 9.30pm and set an alarm at 9pm to remind me with a motivational sentence on why this run is important. I will place my trainers, clothes, headphones and water beside my bed ready to throw on. I will set an alarm and place my phone in another room so I have to get out of bed to stop it. I will agree to meet a friend at 6.15am and we will run together etc”

When you have completed a new habit, consciously congratulate yourself and get the happy hormones flowing. Our brains are rewarded with hormones such as Dopamine, Oxytocin, Endorphins and Serotonin. Dance, give yourself a high five, practice gratitude, sing; whatever makes you feel good. 

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7. Do you feel that what happens to you on a day-to-day basis is outside of your control?

Empowerment vs disempowerment

Being in a state of disempowerment feels horrible. It makes us stressed, fearful, anxious, resentful, angry, overwhelmed and frustrated (to name a few). We feel these emotions because our minds are telling a story that we are out of control. That we are disempowered. The story on repeat is that this thing is happening to us and we have no power to change it.

How does this impact our everyday lives?

This story triggers a fight, flight or fawn response and we are then prone to reacting in a way that might not serve us. Those reactions might be to respond aggressively (controlling, arguing, impulsivity), to flee (give up and/or leave) or to take a passive stance and lose hope for a positive outcome. It is easy to see how each of these responses can negatively impact your confidence in the long run. However ‘real’ the story seems that we are telling ourselves, it is just a story, and that means we can change it!


Feelings of disempowerment are normally learned as a result of past trauma, a restrictive or oppressive environment or a prolonged period of perceived failures. These are also impacted by a lowered self esteem, whereby a lack of confidence makes someone less likely to believe they can succeed, which negatively impacts success on tasks, further fueling the feelings of disempowerment. Understanding the role that your mindset has in perceived success means that you can retrain your brain to feel more empowered and create a more positive outlook.

Have a go at noting down the thoughts you are having about a situation and reflect on whether those thoughts are empowering or disempowering. Remember, empowered means you feel you have some power to control parts or all of the situation (including yourself and your response). Disempowered means you are focused primarily on the things you have little to no control over. If your thoughts are mainly disempowering, have a go at shifting your thoughts to things that you do have control over. Consider your choices, time, resources, strengths and your ultimate ability to control yourself.

Every day, note down all the things you have succeeded at such as completing tasks on your to do list, tackling a tricky client or even seemingly small things such as making your bed if it can give you a sense of achievement. Read through this list and shift your focus onto the wins of the day and all the ways you have been taking control of your life in order to feel more empowered.

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8. Do you struggle to imagine a positive vision of the future that you feel is achievable?


Your brain has something called a ‘negativity bias’ which means that, without intervention, for every three negative thoughts, it will have one positive thought. This is why it is so easy to slip into negative thought loops.

How does this impact our everyday lives?

Given that our thoughts create our experience of the world, constantly viewing things through a negative lens means we can struggle to imagine that there is anything positive ahead of us. Or, if we do imagine a positive future, our negativity bias is quick to throw in a few ‘yeah, but..’ blocks in the path of our optimism. (You) “This time next year I will have a new job paying me more working for a company I believe in.” (Your mind) “Yeah, but why would they hire you when they have so many amazing people to pick from? You don’t have as much experience as them. None of these companies are really that amazing anyway. As soon as you start you will be disappointed and regret leaving this job etc”. This negativity fuels your downward confidence cycle and blocks you from strategizing how to get to where you want to be. This results in you not even looking for that job and staying exactly where you are.


Having an upbringing in a challenging or unsupportive home environment, or having overly pessimistic and critical care givers can create a disproportionately negative outlook in some people.

Spend a moment regulating yourself (walking, breathing, stretching, listening to calming music etc) and then sit down with a clear head and blank sheet of paper. Imagine a genie had asked you what you want your life to look like 12 months from now (and you could have anything), write down what you would wish for. Consider your health, wealth, career, relationships and anything else important to you. Describe these things in as much detail as you can. Then, taking each item on your wish list, come up with as many ideas as you can to make these things a reality, as quickly as possible. Challenge yourself to come up with as many silly ideas as you can. Maybe play this game with a friend or partner for extra inspiration. You might be surprised how many are actually good ideas!

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9. Do you rely on external validation or circumstances to feel confident, often using the phrase “I'll be more confident when/if…”?

“I’ll be confident when…”

A common misconception about confidence is that we gain it without effort, that it will happen when external circumstances align. By that we mean if you get that promotion, or manage to sort your finances, or qualify, or get thousands of social media likes, then you will feel more confident. What most people don’t realise is that it isn’t the circumstance that makes us feel more confident, it is the story we are telling ourselves about that circumstance. In effect, the thoughts we are having about it. Does this mean we can change our thoughts at any point and instantly feel more confident? Yes, it does. It’s simple, but not easy, and takes some practice, but yes, you can gain more confidence simply by changing your thoughts.

How does it impact our everyday lives?

Unfortunately, when we make our confidence conditional to something external, we are disempowering ourselves and climbing aboard a big, bumpy confidence rollercoaster that we have no control over. This means that we can find ourselves high on confidence some days, and down in the gutter on others. When we can’t trust the consistency of our confidence, we tend to believe that we aren’t confident at all and we cling to something external hoping it will bring us back up rosy again. It’s a bit like an addiction. Far better to invest in creating inner self-confidence that isn’t dependent on external factors.


Repeated rejection and impossibly high set standards can lead people to feel as though their worth is based upon other peoples opinions and views. In todays society this can be exacerbated by social media comparisons leading to an over dependence on other peoples opinions. Challenging your own negative thoughts and focussing on your own strengths can help shift this dependence onto a more internal validation.

Take a piece of paper and draw a spider chart with the word ‘Me’ in the middle. Then write down as many things as you can think of that you are proud of, that you have overcome, that you surprised yourself with, positive things people feel about you, skills and talents, people who love you unconditionally, positive words to describe you etc. Ask yourself how you would view this person if they were described to you like this. Do they deserve to feel confident, no matter what? Stick this somewhere visible to you and remind yourself often how amazing you are.

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10. Is your self-care often the first thing to be sacrificed when the going gets tough?


By overwriting our own self-care with the needs of others, we are sending ourselves a message that we are not as important as they are. We are also saying that we should be able to cope without self-care. Both of these messages reinforce the message in our minds that we are not enough which does little to nurture our confidence. For most people, self-care comes under the category of ‘Important, not Urgent’, whereas other people’s needs or the needs of a job are often subconsciously categorised as ‘Important, and Urgent’, automatically placing them higher in the priority list. We have been conditioned to believe that we are robots who can stay productive out of sheer bloody-mindedness and that self-care is a luxury for those in a different situation to ours. The cold hard truth is that we are hormonal, biological, social and emotional beings that, just like any other animal, need a certain balance to thrive. Without you, what happens? Do the rest of the things on the to-do list magically get done if you are taken out? Probably not, which means that self-care should probably replace most things in the ‘Important, and Urgent’ box.

What is the impact on every day life?

Your lack of investment and confidence in yourself means that you create stories in your mind about acceptance, love and safety only being possible if you over-achieve and make sure everyone else is happy with you. Failing to adequately care for ourselves leads to resentment, overwhelm and more chance of failing at tasks through exhaustion.


Societal pressures mean that all too often we can prioritize being busy over our own self care. This is especially true when we have role models who are haven’t modelled what self care looks like and its importance in a balanced life. Simple changes in mindset can help us to let go of the guilt surrounding self care and help us to realise the positive impact it can actually have on our lives.

Reflect on what self-care looks like for you. What recharges you? Sleep and rest? Exercise? Socialising? Pampering? Journaling or meditating? It doesn’t matter what it is, just take a moment to reconnect and then schedule space in your calendar for this to happen every day. Once you get into the habit of prioritising self-care, your brain will start to get the message that you are worth investing in and this will kick start a positive confidence cycle.