As habit dictates, she sits comfortably in her chair, sips her coffee, and opens her email to see what today will bring. She instantly regrets looking at her internal mail first. Glaring at the top of her screen is an email from her boss. She hesitantly opens it, unconsciously moving her chair a little away from the desk as though that would help soften the blow somehow.
She stares at her proposal, the one she had spent days carefully crafting, that is now littered with comments and changes he wants to be made. As she skims through his notes, she feels like it’s not just her proposal in question, but herself as a person and her ability to do the job she was hired for. She feels instantly ashamed, irritated, and wrongly accused.
Impulsively, she hits reply and without hesitation lets her boss know why she made the choices she did. She presses send and feels in some way vindicated.
However, as the rest of the day transpires, his words weigh heavier and heavier in her mind. Self-doubt and the harsh inner critic are hijacking her mind making it harder for her to perform at work. She’s constantly second-guessing her decisions and wondering at what point she’ll get pulled up again. At the end of the day, she leaves with tense shoulders and a headache, summoning whatever energy she has to face her other roles of being a mother, wife, and home carer. In her heart, she already knows it’s going to be a tough evening as she’s feeling exhausted and defeated before even stepping out of the office. She sighs sadly, knowing her family won’t get the best of her, again.
Sana came to me because she was exhausted from being in this cycle. She felt she was on an emotional rollercoaster, feeling confident and great one minute but then deflated and riddled with self-doubt the next. She felt she lacked balance and was spiritually compromised. She had little to no energy and was worn out by the mental marathons she would run in her head with the constant comparisons and second-guessing her decisions and performance.
She felt she was on an emotional rollercoaster, feeling confident and great one minute but then deflated and riddled with self-doubt the nextHafsah Adham
As we began our very first session, “Breathe” I said to her, “Take a few deep breaths and let’s slow down”.
As Sana and I worked together, she began to discover a new way of defining confidence allowing her to experience a new level of emotional stability, inner peace, and fulfillment in a more consistent way.
Why Confidence Matters?
In today’s world, there are many definitions of confidence and it’s become a highly sought-after attribute. After all, confidence has become the gold standard in the workplace because we’re told that’s what we need to get noticed, get ahead, and achieve all our life ambitions. Nowadays, the self-help world offers you a whole array of quick-fix strategies and formulas to help fill up your confidence tank.
The reality is that we do need confidence as it plays a critical role in how you see yourself and in how you behave. It can improve your relationship with family and friends, job performance, your involvement in the community, and your ability to achieve from your smallest to biggest ambitions in life.
One of the most cited sources about self-confidence in the modern context refers to it as simply believing in oneself. As believers, this notion of believing in oneself is important but it comes with a caveat. We need to be extremely careful about where our confidence is coming from in each moment and what it’s pulling us towards in terms of our beliefs, character, and behavior.
Attaching confidence to what we do as opposed to who we are, creates a need to chase and focus on the external and neglect what’s within.Hafsah Adham
It’s very tempting to build our confidence and construct our lives based on what we own and what we do. We can feel good about our physical appearance, how we performed at work, what the boss said, how much money is in the bank or even upon the degree by which we are socially accepted by others. These are all external forms of validation that are very temporary in nature. Attaching confidence to what we do as opposed to who we are, creates a need to chase and focus on the external and neglect what’s within. We become distracted from paying attention to what Allah sees.
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions.”(Sahih Muslim)
It is my hope that by the end of this article you will be able to distinguish the many different modalities of confidence ranging from healthy and spiritually enriching to others that are temporary in nature, toxic and serve only to inflate the ego, detracting from our spiritual wellbeing and our relationship with Allah.
How I came to understand Islamically rooted confidence
You would never have guessed I suffered from low confidence or a paralyzing fear of public speaking. Why? Because I was great at masking it. I was like a chameleon, adapting to everything around me, and somewhere along the line, I lost my identity. I was a people-pleaser, a giver, a high-achiever who raced to serve every person’s needs—often to my detriment. Doing this left me burnt out, unfulfilled and exhausted. I was tired of the emotional rollercoaster of needing others to validate me and boost my confidence.
After years of spiritual and personal development training, I finally felt a sense of authenticity, acceptance, and connection to my true self. It was through this process that I realized a fundamental truth; the only way to experience unwavering self-confidence is to ground your identity, efforts, and focus on your faith in Allah.
I realized a fundamental truth; the only way to experience unwavering self-confidence is to ground your identity, efforts, and focus on your faith in Allah.Hafsah Adham
It was at this stage I qualified as a Life coach so that I could help prevent others from making the same mistakes I did. By the mercy of Allah, for the past 6 years, I’ve been researching, teaching, and coaching clients on a new framework of confidence, one that is rooted in faith and not in ego. I have delivered lectures, workshops and coached hundreds of people around the world helping them make the paradigm shift from ego-led confidence to real inner confidence that is deeply rooted in their trust and relationship with Allah (SWT).
This confidence paradigm shift entails a holistic process of deeper inner work that’s rooted in Islamic principles. It’s designed to help us reconnect back to our fitrah with spiritually fortified confidence and resilience that can be present in the face of any challenging situation.
From Ego-Centered Confidence to Spiritually Centered Confidence
It is from the Mercy of Allah, that He has given us the capability to feel deeply rooted confidence within ourselves no matter what our external circumstances are. This confidence is solidified on the foundations of unwavering love and trust in Allah.
When confidence is rooted in Tawakkul (trust in Allah), it allows us to face even the hardest tests with grace and poise as modeled by our beloved prophets (peace be upon them). They faced undeniable hardships and struggles, yet had absolute confidence and trust in Allah, believing and knowing that nothing can happen to them or hurt them unless it was by Allah’s Will. With this spiritual armor, they would leave their homes each day with purpose and intentionality that was undeterred by outside events or other people’s words and actions. They were comforted and fuelled by these words of Allah:
“Say: Only what Allah has decreed will happen to us. He is Our Master: let the believers put their trust in Allah.”(Qur’an 9:51)
Let’s examine a few distinctions to help us discern deeply rooted spiritual confidence from the superficial temporary platforms of confidence. We will specifically look at some of the consequences of adopting ego-led confidence compared to possible outcomes from developing spiritually led confidence, as detailed in the following infographic:
Self Reliance Based Confidence Vs Tawakkul Based Confidence
Probably one of the biggest concerns with following today’s formulas for confidence and success is that it puts us at risk of becoming forgetful of Allah. This can be a very subtle process and happen without us even realizing if we are not mindful.
The moment we align with the idea “it’s all on me”, we’re vulnerable to a whole host of problems. With this mindset, the burden of success is solely on us and it can create psychological issues such as anxiety, stress and make us very reactive to outcomes. For example, if a person delivers a presentation and receives negative feedback, it’s easy to take it very personally, giving way to self-loathing, negative self-talk and people pleasing behaviour. If the presentation received great reviews, without humility present and attributing the outcome back to Allah, any praise could feed directly to their ego, which in turn can create arrogance and an unhealthy disproportionate belief in oneself and their ability.
“Do not strut arrogantly about the Earth. You will certainly never split the earth apart nor will you ever rival the mountains in height.”(Qur’an 17:37)
Some of the pitfalls of arrogance to be aware of include:
- Inadvertently, we may fall into the trap of thinking the only factors at play is our own ability, effort and self-belief. This disconnects us from the reality that we are the slaves of Allah and rather than operating from a spiritual soulful place with purpose and humility, it sets up an identity based on ego with a penchant for external validation.
- The Prophet (SAW) said: He who has, in his heart, an ant’s weight of arrogance will not enter Paradise. (Sahih Muslim). Islamic tradition is about not inflating ego, this is called Jihad Un Nafs (struggle against the self) out of protection from becoming “full of oneself” and adopting a mindset independent of Allah.
- “The shy person and the arrogant one will not learn the knowledge.” (Sahih Bukhari). As we can see from this hadith, allowing arrogance to enter the heart shuts the door to valuable learning and insights. There’s also a real danger of not being able to do honest self-reflection (Muhasabah) for personal growth and development.
- We must also consider the undesirable characteristics and social behaviour that arrogance can bring out in someone. Are they concerned with other people’s feelings or more worried about protecting their own image?
The reality is that Allah has blessed us with skills and abilities but ultimately, we ONLY achieve success by the mercy of Allah and because He willed it to happen. When we align that mindset with a deep sense of knowing that along with my ability, skills and efforts is the help and might of Allah, we can feel more assured going into any situation with high levels of self-confidence. If we have the help of Allah, what is there to fear?
“And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him. For Allah will surely accomplish his purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion.”(Quran 65:3)
Grounded with this inner confidence, we have the courage to listen to others, we can accept all outcomes and we have the capacity to entertain other people’s opinions.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
Essential Self Vs Constructed Self
SubhanAllah, we are the creation of Allah. Let’s just take a moment to think about the significance of that. He designed us in perfect proportion and placed within us unique qualities and traits so that we can use these gifts to spread goodness and rahma (mercy) in the world.
“We have indeed created humankind in the best of moulds.”(Quran 95:4)
Our essential self is the purest form of who we are (fitrah). This space is filled with compassion, goodwill and esteemed qualities that reflect our most authentic self. Our soul will feel most alive, spiritually engaged and thriving when we are living in integrity with our essential self.
But sometimes, in the process of trying to succeed in our environment, we can detach from our authentic self and become people that neither others nor even ourselves recognise. Here are some ways we can detach and fall into our constructed self:
- We try to follow formulas of other successful people and don’t honour who we really are at a soul level. We lose our authenticity, afraid to show up as our real self out of fear of loss, judgement or rejection.
- We believe negative things that have been said about us in the past and build an entire life as a reaction to this.
- We become chameleon-like to fit in with others and our environment, this creates a gap between how we feel on the inside and how we show up on the outside. The larger the gap, the greater the inner friction and disturbance at a soul level.
- Reactive behaviour tends to have a few common traits; sensitive, protective and defensive.
- Reactive ego-led behaviour can easily masquerade as confidence, when we quip back if pressed or “fight our corner” during every conflict, we convince ourselves that we’re coming from a place of strength, but in fact it could be the protective armour we’ve created in order not to feel any discomfort.
“… By the soul and (by) Him who made it perfect, and then inspired it to understand what is wrong and what is right for it. Truly is successful the one who purifies (his soul).”(Qur’an 91:7-9)
As we learn from this ayah, the soul knows right from wrong. If we learn to slow down and pay attention to that quiet inner voice we will see that real courage and confidence is in showing restraint, being kind, showing mercy and carefully crafting responses with an awareness and care of how our behaviour affects others.
Self Care Vs Self Neglect
Busy lifestyles and hustle culture can very quickly lead to self-neglect. This can have a cascading negative impact on multiple fronts (e.g. spiritual and emotional wellbeing, energy and confidence levels)
Sometimes in the rush of modern life, many people forgo a healthy diet. A poor diet not only affects our weight, but it can affect our mood and emotions. When our emotions are not healthy this can directly impact our confidence. For example, researchers are finding fascinating links between our food choices and mental health.
“Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.” (Harvard Medical School).
There are countless references in the Quran and sunnah with regards to how we should manage our eating habits as food not only nourishes our body but the soul too.
The correlation between lifestyle choices and our emotional state extends to almost every aspect of our life. Some of the impacts of self-neglect include:
- If we’re run down, overworked and feel under-valued, it won’t be long before we’re battered from exhaustion and begin to operate in a mental fog which makes it difficult to move forward with even our basic daily activities.
- Recharging is critical. If we don’t, we’ll be running on empty. We may still be able to serve others – but would they be getting the best of us? What’s the trade off? Poor choices around food, excess weight gain/loss, dark circles under the eyes, short fuse, health issues?
- How confident can we truly feel if our body is consistently getting insufficient sleep?
- Research shows that low energy gravitates us towards negative emotions such as resentment, frustration and even anger. If all our actions are judged by our intentions, we have to question how these negative emotions impact our intentions, even when we are serving our loved ones! Part of our duty as Muslims is to explore our intentions at deeper levels.
Your body has a right over you and we have to make choices accordingly. Allah blessed us with ONE body and gave it to us as an amaanah (trust) that we will look after it, with this intention self-care becomes an act of worship.
Ibn al-Qayyim (r) stated:
“Health is one of the most precious favours Allah has bestowed upon His servants, the most generous of gifts, the most plentiful of His bounties. Rather, even more, [good] health is the most precious of favours without exception; so it is fitting that whoever is granted a portion of this fortune, that he cherishes it, preserves it and guards it against harm.”
A defining characteristic of a Muslim is loving and following the Sunnah. The best of mankind has instructed us to be mindful of our mind and body. Part of striving to follow our prophet (saw) in order to please Allah is through loving and taking care of yourself.
He ate well, he slept early, he was active, he gave himself rest and fulfilled the rights of his body.
From this, we can see self-care is not just a luxury but a necessity.
From the above we see that true confidence is rooted in Islamic principles. It requires us to take care of ourselves, to identify the true self and ultimately to rely on Allah. It is only through our relationship and awareness of Allah that our hearts can find peace as Allah tells us:
“Only in remembrance of Allah (swt) will your heart find peace”(Qur’an 13:28)
If our confidence is independent of this reality, we may develop a scarcity mindset and seek abundance through wealth and status. We can lose a good night’s sleep worrying about our possessions and unfulfilled life ambitions. Everything becomes personal and we become very reactive to our circumstances. We may lose aspects of our character and become neglectful of our spiritual obligations, manners and empathy for others in the process.
It’s important to note that striving for the good of this world and having high ambitions is not inherently wrong, in fact we are advised to make duaa for it:
“Our Lord, give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire.”(Qur’an 2:201)
We ask for the good of this world, but we don’t attach our hearts to it. In hope of being included as those who are truly successful (Al-Muflihoon) we strive to make our efforts count for us in this world and the next InshaAllah.
Aligning with this intention, means that we can aim high fearlessly with full trust that Allah will give us what is best and what we don’t receive in this world will, InshaAllah, be waiting to greet us in the next world. This spiritually rooted confidence liberates us from the shackles of chasing dunya and striving to fulfil society’s demands.
It’s in renewing our intentions and aligning our thoughts, decisions and actions with our higher purpose and finding our way back to our essential self that we can experience that rich, unwavering belief, knowledge and understanding that Allah’s help is near.
Back to Sana’s case
Sana and I used the Belief model ™ to help raise her self-awareness and spiritually align her mind, body and soul with a more purposeful and intentional life.
She fully embraced the instruction in these comforting words from Allah:
“Allah never changes the condition of a people unless they strive to change themselves.”(Quran 13:11)
She recognised that if she wanted to see change in her life, the point of action had to begin with herself first along with full trust that Allah, Al- Fattah (The Opener) will open the way for everything else to change.
By working through the Belief model ™, here’s a few of the changes she experienced with the Mercy of Allah:
- She learned to slow down, re-evaluate her life goals and worked on getting to know her true self.
- She deepened her relationship with Allah and as a result felt less fear around other people and outcomes.
- She developed more courage to take personal accountability for her thoughts, choices, feelings and responses which enabled her to experience more spiritually rooted confidence both at work and at home. This made her less reactive to negative feedback or criticism.
- She discovered that through honest self-reflection, she could remove invisible barriers that had been holding her back and step closer towards living as her most authentic best self.
- With new lifestyle choices, she felt less physically drained but also without the comparisons and self-doubt occupying her mind, she had more energy to channel toward things that really mattered to her.
- Situations that would have previously been taken very personally and weigh heavy on her mind, now presented opportunities for growth and new learnings.
- The tension in her shoulders had eased and she is now working on living life with more presence, joy and intentionality Alhamdulilah.