September 3

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What Is Confidence & Why You Need To Understand It

By Alison

September 3, 2020


What is confidence and why you need to understand it is an exploration into the journey of definition and the significance it has on your happiness.

She strode into the room and took her seat at the top of the table.  She grabbed her laptop and notebook out of her designer bag and placed them in front of her.  Sitting up straight, and with a big smile, she looked around the room and said 'good morning'.  Confidence oozed from every pore.  I took in everything from the high heels to her brightly coloured nails.  My first introduction to my new boss and I wanted to be just like her.

What Is Confidence?  A Definition

Having confidence means different things to different people.  I'm sure you have your view of what it is, and what it looks like, which is different to mine.

But, let's go with the definition by Psychology Today, which defines it as follows:

'Confidence is a belief in oneself, the conviction that one has the ability to meet life's challenges and to succeed—and the willingness to act accordingly. Being confident requires a realistic sense of one's capabilities and feeling secure in that knowledge'.

    If we break it down, there are six elements

  1. Belief in yourself
  2. Ability to face life's challenges
  3. Belief in success
  4. Willingness to take action
  5. Realistic understanding of abilities
  6. Secure in the knowledge of who you are

This definition gives an excellent summary, but when considering what confidence is, I wanted to dig deeper to provide an overview of the different aspects I believe are important. But first let's start with an interesting debate.

What is confidence?  Something you're born with?

Is confidence something you're born with?

Is Confidence Something You Are Born With?

There's a lot of evidence to support that confidence is something we're born with.

In their fascinating book 'The Confidence Code: The Science And Art Of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know' Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explored this idea. They interviewed, amongst others, Robert Plomin, a renowned behavioural geneticist at Kings College in London. He discovered through his experiments with twins that there was a strong link between genes and confidence.

Does this mean that those of us not born with confidence should give up now?

No!

There is hope for us all.

We're also heavily influenced by our environment. Lynn Matti, in her book '5 Weeks To Self-Confidence' states how confidence lives in the brain. As a result, we can train our minds to be confident. There's a lot of talk about neurons and plasticity, which I will leave for another day.

Are you the same person you were when you were 6? I know I'm not. In the same way, I'm not the same person I was in my 30's either. Life's experiences have shaped me as I'm sure they have you too.

Another reason I believe life experiences have an impact on our confidence is because I have three sisters. We grew up in the same house with the same parents, but we have different levels of confidence. I don't think the same, behave the same or believe the same things they do on a large number of issues. All of us are individuals, and the better for it.

Confidence Changes Dependent On Circumstances

In considering what is confidence, we have to understand that our levels of confidence can fluctuate.  One day we feel confident and the next day be a mound of quivering jelly.

A friend of mine is super confident when we're out. She'll speak to anyone. Happy to chat away to total strangers. Yet, when at work, she'll not speak up in meetings with work colleagues. Meetings are her worst nightmare. She worries that she will be asked something and not be able to give a coherent answer.

Looking at what is confidence, can be confusing. There are many factors involved, and it can depend on the situation.

I think it's hard to label someone as confident or not. We're all on a spectrum of confidence. Some things we're comfortable doing and other things fill us with fear. These fears and doubts holds us back.

What is confidence and why is it important

Why Understanding Confidence Is Important

It's essential to understand what confidence is because there is a direct link between being confident and having success as well as being happy and fulfilled in life. Whether that success is in work, at home, or in your relationships.

If you're confident you are:

  • Free from self-doubt
  • More resilient
  • Less stressed (and anxious!)
  • Accepting of yourself and therefore more authentic
  • Unworried by other people's opinions about you
  • Assertive
  • Able to ask for what you want
  • More productive
  • Able to say no and set appropriate boundaries
  • Not hung up on past mistakes or failures.

The Confidence Circle

I believe there are six main areas to look at when you are looking to build your confidence.  Think of it as a journey, it's understanding where you are now and where you want to end up. Confidence is not a loud shout in your face, but a quiet self-assurance and a strong belief in yourself. It has nothing to do with whether you're an extrovert or introvert.

To my mind, we are a mixture of both those things.

My program of confidence is below.  It's the same process I used to rebuild my confidence.

The Circle of Confidence on what is confidence

Step 1  Where Confidence Begins

There are going to be areas you feel confident in, even just a little bit.

And, there are going to be areas where you don't feel confident at all. The first step is to raise awareness of the level of confidence you have.

1.1  How Our Mindset Plays A Part

'The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.'

Carol Dweck Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential

And the view is determined by the beliefs we have about ourselves. If you believe you can learn to become confident, then you possess what Dr Carol Dweck calls a Growth Mindset.

There are two mindsets:  Fixed and Growth.  The characteristics of both are as follows:

Topic

Fixed Mindset

intelligence is static

Growth mindset

intelligence can be developed

Challenges

Avoided due to fear of being perceived as less intelligent.  Protection from potential failure so will stick to easy things

Embraces them, seeing these as opportunities to learn.  It's less about being perfect and more about making progress

Obstacles

Faced with obstacles, there's a strong desire to give up.  Tend to be defensive about capability

Persistence in the face of adversity.  It may take time, but a way round will be found

Effort

Things need to be easy to be successful.  Exerting effort is fruitless or even a waste of time

Putting effort into achieving something is a way to obtain mastery.  Effort is an accepted way to gain reward

Criticism

Feedback whether it's positive or negative tends to be ignored

Feedback provides learning, even negative feedback can be used for positive gain

Success of others

a threat to their security.  it feeds into the fear of not being as good as others.  Will compare to others perceived not as successful to maintain their belief in themselves

other's success is a learning opportunity.  an inspiration to strive further.  likely to take genuine pleasure in the success of others

Resulting Outcome

tendency to plateau early and achieve less than their potential

Reach ever-higher levels of achievement and success

Do you recognise which mindset you have?  It's not as simple as just one mindset.  Like confidence, you're likely to have a mixture of the two.  I know I do.

We may like to think that we have a growth mindset, after all, it does seem more attractive as a personality trait, but it's sadly not that straightforward.

1.2  Get To Know Yourself

In the definition above, there was a mention of how confident people have a realistic understanding of their abilities.  Part of that is being aware of their strengths and weaknesses.  Even the most confident person has weaknesses.  We're all humans after all.  But they build on their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses.

You can obtain a useful Guide on 5 Powerful Reasons For Knowing Your Strengths and 5 Simple Ways to Find Them by signing up to my Weekly newsletter.

Step 2 Have Courage

Building confidence can be scary.  As you've seen it does need a growth mindset and knowledge of your abilities.  Courage needs to be shown and I've identified three areas.

2.1  Fears

Our fears can take many forms.  When we're scared, we become anxious.  But fear holds you back even when you're not aware it's fear causing it.

Perhaps you can relate to one or more of the following as identified by Ruth Soukup in her book Do It Scared identified 7 fear archetypes.  For a summary of Ruth's book, have a look at my article here.  The Archetypes are as follows:

  • Procrastinator
  • Rule Follower
  • People Pleaser
  • Outcast
  • Self-Doubter
  • Excuse Maker
  • Pessimist

 I'm a reformed procrastinator with a good dollop of perfectionism thrown in for good measure.  Well, to be honest I'm still working on it.  You won't believe how long it takes me to complete some tasks.  I worry that my work will not be good enough.  Because I'm aware of this, I take action using different techniques.  A particular favourite is the Pomodoro Technique to help me move forward.  I'm also learning that good is good enough by concentrating on getting my work to a point where I'm 80% happy with it.

2.2  Ownership

Taking responsibility for your actions takes courage. There is a temptation to blame others or even circumstances. As humans, we're not perfect and we are capable of making mistakes.

You need to face the fear of error and how it might make you look and be prepared to acknowledge that you may not get things right all the time. The most important thing is to learn from your mistakes so you don't repeat them in the future. If you take ownership, then your instinct is to explore the issue and come to a better conclusion next time.

2.3  Risk Taking

When you look at what confidence is, risk-taking is part of it.

Confident people take risks.

I'm not talking about anything dangerous – although if you're into extreme sports, then good for you. But they are prepared to push themselves to achieve success. They go beyond the comfort zone where it's safe, and nothing can hurt them. The trouble with sitting safely within your comfort zone is that you won't grow. Sometimes it's necessary to take a risk – it might not always work out, but at least you are moving in a forward direction.  Confident people see risk as an opportunity to learn more about themselves and how they can handle difficult situations.  And you can too.

Step 3 Personal Communication

Have you noticed how confident people tend to get what they want? The secret is in their ability to be direct about what they want, and they're not afraid to ask for it. Good communication, both verbal and non-verbal is essential.

3.1  Active Listening

The greatest gift you can give someone is to listen to them. Listening is a skill. To do it well, it has to be active. There's no point just listening to someone whilst in your head; you're preparing your next question or comment. Being present in both body and mind is required.

3.2  Decision Making

Confident people are decisive.  

It doesn't mean they don't weigh things up and ponder on them. Decisions are based on the gathering of information, or what is available at the time and then deciding based on the information before you.

From there, it's a straightforward course of action.  If you're decisive action is taken quickly without any ambiguity.  Imagine the freedom from over-thinking it will give you.  Making decisions is difficult.  To learn how to make them easier, read my article on Decision Making Techniques.  

It doesn't mean confident people get decisions right all the time. But, the confident person is capable of changing direction or admitting that the decision they've made is wrong.

3.3  Assertiveness

Nobody feels comfortable around domineering or controlling individuals. And nobody likes to feel bullied into submission. Overconfidence can be detrimental – the proverbial bull in a china shop. Being assertive relies on communicating with others effectively and being respectful of other people's views and wishes.

Learning to be assertive is a positive form of collaboration. It gives you the power to express your ideas and opinions. If necessary, to defend them. To stand firm in the face of criticism.  As a result you will feel less stress and anxiety.

Step 4 Being Productive

Confident people get things done. Not only are they able to ask for help when they need it. They appreciate others have different strengths to them that they can use. Another good reason for knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

4.1  Goals and Plans

If you speak to a confident person, they'll have goals and plans created to help them achieve what they want.  They have a clear vision of the future that they envisage for themselves.

This is how they ensure they're successful. Goals are the destination, and plans are the roadmap on how to get there. But having the right goal and setting the right plan can be challenging if you're not confident. With confidence, you achieve things; without it, there's the danger of floundering and going off course.

4.2  Routines and Habits

Sitting comfortably alongside goals and plans are routines and habits. These are like the turbo charge for getting things done. Confident people don't rely on memory or reinvent the wheel; they make life easier for themselves by having routines and habits in place.

Routines lead to quicker results and greater efficiency. If you're not convinced, have a look at 10 Amazing Ways Checklists Can Make You More Confident to see how the humble checklist plays a part in building confidence.

Step 5  Wellbeing

Within this broad topic I focus on three areas which I believe are essential when building confidence and fit into our definition of what confidence is.

5.1  Sets Boundaries

Confidence is being clear about what you want – hello assertiveness. It means you understand it's not possible to do everything. Boundaries need establishing. But, what sets a confident person apart is they can state what they will and won't do.

When saying no, they do so without apology or lengthy explanations. They stand firm in the face of potential conflict or resistance. Setting boundaries isn't comfortable, but by building your confidence, you can learn to do this more successfully.

5.2  Self-Care

Rest, relaxation and fun are all required to be effective and for you to perform at your best.

Confident people take time out to ensure they look after themselves. You can't run a car on fumes, and you can't expect your body to function if poorly treated. Our bodies need care and attention. Confidence is taking the necessary time to recharge batteries, knowing that your effectiveness will be greater as a result.

5.3  Self-Love

You remember when I mentioned at the beginning the importance of knowing yourself well, all your strengths and weaknesses. Confident people are aware of their abilities and their failings. But rather than fill themselves with loathing, they accept themselves for who they are. They nurture their growth and wellbeing. They treat their thoughts and feelings with kindness and love. Their inner dialogue is complimentary, and they're not battered by an inner critic or plagued with self-doubt.

If you're not confident, you find you beat yourself up, don't feel worthy or at the extreme - hate yourself because you feel inadequate and worthless.  Wouldn't it be so much better to give yourself a bit of self-love, to reassure yourself that you're okay and that you deserve to be happy.  Confidence can give you that.

Freedom and happiness is a goal worth pursuing

Freedom and happiness is a goal worth pursuing - confidence can help with that

Step 6  Fulfilment

Fulfilment is our goal. You want and deserve to be happy in life.  Statistics show that confident people tend to be just that. They live in the moment, are optimistic and don't need anyone else to tell them what to think about themselves. So why are these important?

6.1  Here And Now

Living in the moment means taking pleasure in what is happening around you now. Untainted, or haunted by your past experiences. Confident people accept that life is not always going to be easy. But there's no point dwelling on mistakes. There's no room for guilt. Being in the here and now ensures new opportunities are seen and explored.

Life is not passing you by. There's no waiting for the perfect moment because that doesn't exist. Seize the moment and engage in what is around you. You'll be happier for it.

6.2  Optimism

Is your glass half-full or half-empty? If it's the latter, then you're looking for all the problems and issues that might arise.

That's exhausting and holds you back. Confidence creates a sense of optimism. It's waking up each day and believing good things will happen to you. And you know what – they do happen. That leads to more confidence and a happier sense of wellbeing.  It's like a circle of goodness around you.

6.3  Internal Validation

Your fears are a complicated matrix of worrying about what other people will think, say, or believe about you. We are social animals, and you want to fit in. As a result, you might spend energy on people-pleasing, but that's not only exhausting it doesn't guarantee that you'll be thought of any differently.

Confident people don't need anyone else to tell them they're good enough; they believe it already. That's not to say they think they're superior to anyone else. Still, they're able to absorb criticism or feedback and filter it through a lens of how it will improve them. They know that pleasing themselves and being in line with their values and beliefs is all that matters. They're not going to lie awake at night worrying about what others think.

Bedtime is where you recharge your batteries and get good quality sleep ready to face the next day optimistically.

Summary

You deserve to be happy and fulfilled.  Begin the journey by exploring where you are now and take the time to work through the six phases I've identified.

Think how you would feel if you:

  • Believed in yourself
  • Had the strength to face life's challenges without getting stressed
  • Believed you could achieve success whether that be at work, home or in your relationships
  • Showed courage to take positive action
  • Understood your abilities and know how your strengths can build a better future for yourself
  • Felt content about who you are - warts and all.

You don't have to be born with confidence, you can develop it, in the same way you can adopt a growth rather than a fixed mindset.

The first step is to raise your awareness.  Are you brave enough to get to know yourself better?

If you are, sign up for my weekly newsletter so I can help you on your journey to fulfilment.

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About the author

For years, despite career success, I was plagued with inner doubt. I worried about what other people thought. I became anxious about doing things wrong, felt out of my depth, and struggled with imposter syndrome. Above all, I feared failing. So, I worked long hours to prove myself worthy. It was exhausting, and it took a toll. My relationships suffered - my husband and I were becoming virtual strangers - and I had no social life. When the ravages of my doubts began to affect my health, I knew something had to change. I know there is a better way to live. Let me show you how.

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