Tuesday, 14 December 2021
Think back to a time when you were confident in your life. How did you feel? Strong? Capable? Happy? Dynamic? All of the above? Confidence is the secret sauce that makes everything easier.
Coming from the Latin word 'fidere', meaning ‘to trust’, confidence — as defined by Psychology Today — is ‘a belief or trust in oneself, the conviction that one has the ability to meet life's challenges and to succeed — and the willingness to act accordingly’. Benefits of confidence include increased openness, a willingness to try new things, improved performance at work and greater resilience. In contrast, lacking confidence can mean feeling unable to trust your own opinion or always thinking someone else’s opinions are better, being afraid to put your ideas forward or take on challenges, and being hard on yourself while being lenient with others for the same issues.
No wonder we all want to feel confident — and all the time. Yet, confidence is more a rolling wave than a straight line to a destination; and can wax and wane in response to so many factors. And for women, understanding the nuances of confidence is particularly important to be able to exercise it effectively at work; according to research, 79 percent of women regularly lack confidence in the workplace, something that can have powerful impacts on career growth, remuneration and leadership opportunities. The ability to be confident is important in myriad ways: leaders need to be able to bring their team with them, guide and empower them. It is also vital in being able to connect with people and build relationships, handle conflict effectively and reach for new opportunities that will drive careers and personal growth forward.
Even if you broadly resemble the archetypal ‘confident person’ (the feeling that you will be able to cope and succeed, whatever life throws at you), you will also inevitably encounter individual moments where your confidence dips — perhaps in the face of a new experience or unexpected curveball. At this point, employing the right mindset and tactics to get through the wobble — and understanding that your feelings and confidence levels are dynamic — can help you to have that broader sense of confidence in your own resilience.
Understanding specific areas in which you have confidence — and those that you don’t — can also be a great pathfinder to things you need to address to move forward. For example, you may feel confident about presenting ideas one-on-one, but lack confidence when presenting to a larger group. Or perhaps you feel confident in your work output, but not in asking for a pay rise or promotion. Pushing yourself regularly to step outside your comfort zone can lead to a reduction in stress or insecurity, while adding in vital feedback and knowledge about the best way to proceed.
Ultimately, the good news is that confidence is not innate; rather it is a volitional skill,
— one that you can choose and build in yourself. The beliefs you hold about yourself have a powerful effect on your actions, and recent research into neural plasticity has increasingly shown that you can ‘rewire’ your brain in ways that affect your thoughts and behaviours at any point. With consistent effort and a bit of courage you can grow, maintain and repair your confidence in any area of life.
Confidence is not something you are born with: it is the outcome of the thoughts you think and the actions you take, and therefore can be grown and developed. Importantly, it is not based on your actual ability to succeed at a task; rather your perception of and belief in your ability to succeed. Confidence can be temporarily affected by external factors such as how tired or run down you feel, and, of course, that number one confidence killer — stress. However, at its core, confidence is a muscle that can be built and maintained with sustained effort.
While external accolades can make you feel good, it is your own internal perceptions that have the greatest lasting impact on your confidence levels. To that end, experience and efforts to expand your comfort zone are essential for building internal confidence in your abilities. Understanding that confidence doesn’t grow in a linear fashion is crucial — depending on the experiences you have, the challenges you face and how you overcome them, it can be more akin to the tide coming in; with waves of increasing confidence and feedback moving back and forward up the sand, as overall confidence levels increase.
Yes, and no. While self-confidence is how confident you are in your ability or skills, self-esteem relates to how you feel about yourself, the value you place on and how accepting you are of yourself. It is possible to have confidence in areas of your life, yet still have low self-esteem. However, there is a correlation between feeling that you can trust yourself to succeed and increased self-esteem.
Untrue. There will always be challenges and insecurities are a natural part of everyday life if you are growing and pushing forward. However, having self-doubt or feeling unsure does not mean that you do not trust the larger sense of your ability to cope and succeed — and approaching the situation with a growth mindset, using learning and feedback, will steadily grow your contextual confidence as well.
Emerging research around the gender ‘confidence gap’ indicates that the lack of it in women is less likely to be driven by ability, and more likely to be guided by the perception that they will be penalised for being perceived as strident, confident and assertive — or even arrogant. As writer Stéphanie Thompson recently summarised in an article in the Atlantic: ‘The problem isn’t that women aren’t confident but that confidence in women is not rewarded in the work world.’ In its broadest sense, though, confidence is a feeling of self-assurance that comes from an appreciation of your abilities or qualities. Arrogance, in opposition is characterised by having an exaggerated sense of your importance or abilities and comes from a position of needing to convince yourself and others of your abilities.