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Confidence

“The most beautiful thing you can wear is confidence.” Blake Lively.

According to an article in Psychology Today, 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. A realistic sense of one’s capabilities and feeling secure in that knowledge are required to be confident.

Projecting confidence is the proverbial putting your best foot forward, and helps people gain credibility, make a strong first impression, deal with pressure, and tackle personal and professional challenges. It’s also a desirable trait, as confidence helps put others at ease.

In order to strike a healthy balance between too little and too much confidence, a realistic appraisal of your abilities will keep you grounded. Too little confidence can prevent people from taking risks and seizing opportunities in school, at work, or in their social life.

Too much confidence can come off as cockiness, arrogance, or narcissism. Overestimating one’s abilities might also lead to problems such as failing to complete projects on time.

Confidence is fluid rather than a fixed characteristic. It’s an ability that can be acquired and improved over time. It can also be shaken, or lost by experience.

Anxiety can take hold when people are plagued by self-doubt, so putting themselves into and getting accustomed to a situation they may fear can assure people that nothing truly bad will happen. And such interactions get easier with practice.

Outside of a social context, one can gain a sense of confidence from personal and professional accomplishments. Continuing to set and meet goals will foster the belief, and rightly so, that one is competent and capable.

Confidence is really just the degree to which you think and feel your actions will achieve positive results.  In sports, for example, no matter how bad a shot a player takes when they shoot the ball, they think it is going in. Why else would they take the shot?

Confidence and self-esteem are not the same. Self-esteem refers to general feelings about yourself; confidence refers to your belief in and feeling that you can perform a task successfully. Some people have good self-esteem but no confidence that they could perform a difficult, skilled task, or compete with a professional athlete. The better you feel about yourself, though, or the more self-esteem you have, the easier it becomes to build confidence for a specific task.

We all know that being confident gives you an edge in life and there are many articles and books written on how to “become confident.” Most of the recommendations are the same. 

Let’s instead start by looking at confidence through an evolutionary-clinical lens. After all, nobody invented confidence, it evolved because it gives you an evolutionary edge. Confidence helps you approach a task without apprehension. If you had to jump over a ledge, being confident would help you approach the task without distracting, anxious thoughts that might make you stumble.

The catalyst to bring the function of confidence to life is the realization that your thoughts and actions influence your results. In other words, “it’s up to you.” Said still another way and a way we have discussed before, if you think you can you are right and if you think you can’t you are right.

If you do not believe in this fully, you will not make efforts to do your best since under that way of thinking you believe the outcome is out of your control. Why study for a test if your studying makes no difference. Accepting that you can influence the outcome creates a sense of control and that initiates confidence.

When we look at the tons of research that identify “confident attributes” and use an “evolutionary-clinical lens,” we can make very accurate deductions about the type of experiences and behaviors that individuals who exhibit confidence must have experienced. 

The most common confident attributes follow. As we go over the list, think about the degree to which experiences have been prominent or lacking in your life.

Accurate Self-Assessment: Many parents tell their kids they are great in everything, that they are talented and beautiful. This can result in overconfidence and distorted self-perceptions that inevitably are exposed in experience and in fact, devastate the individual when the truth comes to be known. Many schools are relentless in praise and often blind the student to where he or she needs to improve. Not every kid is a great artist. Many take this approach because they think it will build confidence, but in fact it doesn’t. Confidence, or self-efficacy, is built by experiencing achievement, not through hollow praise.

Confident people grew up with a realistic appraisal of their abilities and as a result knew where they stood. This allowed them to develop a strategy and plan to strengthen themselves and to use improvements to create a positive feedback loop that strengthened their perception they can influence outcomes, a perception that reduces anxiety when you enter pressure moments.

Engaged in Positive Visuals: If you can’t imagine yourself being successful, confidence will be hard to come by. Confident people have a history of having playful positive visualizations of themselves in all sorts of moments. Perhaps not as grandiose as Walter Mitty, but you must hold it in your mind before you can hold it in your hand. Catching a touchdown pass, winning a spelling contest, discovering a cure for a disease, accepting an award of any kind, running the country, all had to be visualized before they could come to fruition. The length of these mini day dreams may only be a few seconds, but having them breeds confidence.

Took Criticism Productively: Most people view criticism as a threat, a put-down, an attack. When you view criticism in this manner, it prevents you from benefiting from the information that you are receiving, information that often helps you improve and do your task better. Confident people, in grade school, high school, and college handled criticism differently. They perceived it as beneficial information that helped them grow, and as a result, improved their task performance and boosted their confidence the next time they had to perform the task.

Had a Supportive Background: Confident people grew up with strong support systems starting with parents who were encouraging and offered “unconditional love.” The confident child felt secure and thus fear of failure became minimized and learning easier when approaching a new task. This allowed them to approach their pressure moments like, trying out for a play, competing in a spelling bee, delivering a current event presentation, as examples, with a positive attitude.

Experienced a Confident Building Event: At one time or another confident people experienced an event that allowed them to believe “I can do it.”  An “A” on a test, a big little league hit, getting a part in the school play, a date with a pretty girl or handsome guy; all seem like minuscule events but in truth, all are powerful events because they create feelings of confidence.

Individuals with low confidence can recall few of these events. This does not mean they did not have successful experiences when growing up. More likely, it means that they did not pay attention to their successes. 

Confident people developed themselves by noting and often celebrating their micro successes and used them, probably subconsciously, to create positive expectations for more successful experiences. This experience is the root of the confidence building statement, I did it once before, I can do it again.

Sometimes it seems like there is a magic potion that separates highly confident individuals who act in the face of fear and everyone else who feel like they’re often going around in circles.

What psychologists will tell you is that there isn’t anything special behind these individuals, they’ve simply accumulated a series of habits and beliefs over time, either intentionally or by good fortune. 

Aristotle has been attributed with saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Like excellence, confidence can become a habit. (By the way, it was a fellow by the name of Will Durant who first wrote this phrase in a small book titled ‘The Story of Philosophy” in 1926.

But before looking closer at these habits and beliefs, we need to go back and ask the question again; what is confidence?

Confidence is simply the degree to which you believe that your actions will result in a positive outcome.

Clarifying again, this is not the same as self-esteem.

Self-esteem is a more general feeling you have about yourself, whereas confidence is the belief you have in your skills in a given task or situation. When most people say they want to be more confident, what they mean is that they want more self-esteem.

Unsurprisingly however, the more areas you become confident in, the more you are likely to naturally develop self-esteem.

But why do we even want confidence?

Confidence is an evolutionary advantage that can help you approach whatever task is in front of you without hesitation or anxiety. It can allow us to do what we really want to do with our lives.

The problem is that most of the time the advice we get about how to be more confident can be a little weak and even cliché.

“Fake it till you make it,” “Put your best foot forward,” “Talk louder,” or “Dress the part.”

To be fair, this isn’t terrible advice, it can actually have a positive impact on how you feel, but it doesn’t really arm you with the kind of deep confidence that results in real change.

Here are 5 hidden qualities of confident people.

They manage their outcome dependence. Confident people don’t worry about the outcome of a situation. Their attention is focused on the action or activity as opposed to the external result. This is a yin, or feminine energy- process instead of goal oriented.

In the event that they fail, they see it as a learning experience as opposed to a reflection of who they are as a person or what they’re worth.

They assess themselves accurately. This might seem counter-intuitive, but to develop true confidence you need to have a little bit of brutal self-honesty. Keep it real, baby!

If you have unrealistic expectations about your capabilities, you’re likely to get shocked and disheartened when things don’t go as you expected. On the other hand if you have an objective assessment of your skills, this is less likely to be the case.

Another important thing to consider here is that they are able to accept constructive criticism from others without getting defensive. The attention of confident people isn’t focused on whether others perceive them as competent but on how they can improve for the future.

They practice Positive Visualization. Ours brains have a difficult time distinguishing real memories and constructed ones. Self-assured people use this to their advantage by visualizing their competence in a certain area until their neural networks have been rewired for success.

One study revealed that weightlifters that practiced positive visualization found the practice almost as effective as the physical practice itself for performance enhancement.

They choose their activities carefully. You can’t be the best at everything and self-assured people know this. Instead they stick to what they know is going to make them confident.

Sometimes it’s simple enough to realize that if you want to feel confident, you should spend time just doing things you’re confident in.

This might not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. If you want to develop self-esteem, you need to push your comfort zone in a number of areas, but it is slow growth over time that will lead to deeper, long lasting confidence.

They develop their skills. To feel more confident you need to better yourself in the area you want to feel confident in, and the only way to do so is practice.

Again, this is pretty obvious, but it means being able to focus on one area for a sustained period of time until you’re competent, instead of letting your attention drift all over the place and getting what is known as ‘shiny objective syndrome.’

Confident people are action oriented.

As Dale Carnegie said:

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

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