This series, curated by Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes, features big ideas from leading thinkers on a wide range of personal-development topics. Find his summary video of “Confidence 101” (free!) at below.
Since what we think about ourselves dictates much of what we do, building confidence is key to our personal development.
The word “confidence” comes from the Latin confidere, which means “to trust” — so being confident essentially means that we trust ourselves. And when we trust in our capabilities, we can meet any challenge that comes our way.
Science refers to confidence in terms of “self-efficacy,” or a belief that you can control your motivations, behaviors, and social environment in order to achieve your goals. It’s one of the most important aspects of human behavior. Stanford professor Albert Bandura, PhD, a pioneer in the field of self-efficacy, highlights four key ways in which we cultivate self-assurance:
- Personal mastery. If you have done something well in the past, you’re more likely to believe you can do it well again.
- Vicarious learning. If you get inspired by others or have seen them do something you want to do, you’re more likely to believe that you can do it, too.
- Social persuasion. If someone tells you he or she believes in you, it will raise your self-confidence.
- Physiology. Our moods and emotional states — and how we respond to them — greatly affect our confidence.
Let’s look at some big ideas that help us build confidence so we can overcome any obstacles on the path to becoming our best selves.
Master the Skills
As Bandura notes, personal mastery is at the core of confidence. Once you’ve demonstrated that you can do something, doing it again becomes less daunting.
When you’ve reached that point, you can start working to master your craft or whatever it is you want to achieve. But you’ve got to put in the effort to get good at your work. For example, Stephen King says that if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to read a lot and write a lot.
Identify, Act, Feel
Most people do these things in the reverse order. They focus first on their feelings, and if they feel terrible they don’t take action, and they wind up thinking of themselves as failures.
If you want to build confidence, you need to identify your ideal self and then make choices consistent with that self-vision so that you’ll feel fantastic about who you are and be inspired to keep going.
If that’s difficult, simply try to “act as if.” If you are new to trying something, instead of telling yourself you can’t do it, shift your mindset into acting as if you already know how.
Locate Your Target
Aristotle said that humans are teleological beings. Telos means “target.” If you want to have self-confidence, you’ve got to have a target or goal.
If you don’t have a goal, you’re living aimlessly. An archer without a target is just shooting arrows. Happy, confident people are those who have a purpose. Take time to identify your purpose and outline the steps you need to take to be true to it.
Play Poorly, Well
A legendary golfer once said that the secret to his success was that he played poorly well. No great performer, athlete, or CEO is always consistently great, but they’ve learned to have good bad days. You’re going to have off days, too, but the key is to not let them distract you from pursuing your goals or make you feel like a failure.
To make the most of your off days, you need to avoid the bad habits you tend to practice when you’re not at your best. Think about it: Do you trust people in your life who have strong addictions? Of course not; they tend to be unreliable and inconsistent. So don’t unravel when you have an off day, because doing so leads to diminished trust in yourself.
How you talk to yourself before, after, and while you’re doing something is critical to maintaining self-confidence. Over-thinking, ruminating, and comparing yourself with others are sure-fire ways to self-destruction.
If you do something great, feast on your win! If you were just OK in your performance, then acknowledge that. But if you totally miss the mark, don’t harangue yourself. Instead, tell yourself that this area of your life still needs work. Having a neutral, nonjudgmental awareness of the event allows you to quickly address how you’ll improve next time.
Vice Admiral James Stockdale epitomizes courage under fire. During the Vietnam War, he was captured and held at the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp for almost eight years.
Stockdale claims he survived by maintaining realistic expectations about how long he might be in captivity. Unlike his fellow prisoners, who believed they would be set free by each Thanksgiving or Christmas and who lost hope when they weren’t, Stockdale believed he would be imprisoned for at least five years.
The Stockdale Paradox teaches us a powerful lesson: We must have absolute belief that we’ll optimize our lives, but we must also understand that it won’t happen overnight.
Naive optimism leads to discouragement, burn-out, and, eventually, the death of our dreams. It’s absolutely imperative to believe in yourself, but also to have a long-term strategy for actualizing your life.
Ultimately, the meaning of life is to serve — to share your greatest gifts with the rest of the world. When you’re self-conscious, you’re unable to see that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Instead of worrying about yourself, stay connected to the larger world and you’ll serve yourself and others more profoundly than you could ever imagine.
Creating indestructible trust in yourself requires optimism, courage, and a lot of practice. Utilizing these tips will help you build that trust and achieve your goals.