Why Courage is better than Confidence

Confidence is overrated. Courage > Confidence.

Quite frankly confidence is boring. It’s cheap to glide on the wings of confidence. Confidence thrives in the absence of resistance, challenge, and growth. Confidence is inculcated when conditions are easy and externalities are comforting. Confidence may feel great but it’s rarely a long term part of your identity. Rather than searching for confidence, we ought to be flexing our muscle of courage.

Courage is defined as the ability to act, think, and feel your way through treacherous fears. Courage is internal and is entirely up to us; it’s the ability to react to unsavory conditions, not shirk from them. We must thus idolize those with courage, not those with confidence. Courage to operate despite because of our fears is a useful tool in navigating a life of success.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.” — Mark Twain

Lets nail down a few distinctions between these two paradigms:

  1. Internal vs. External

A key differentiator between Courage and confidence is which direction it travels. Confidence depends on the external. In order to be confident, you must know the conditions at hand and feel that you can accomplish your goal. Essentially, you measure up the challenge, compare it to your perceptions of your own talent, and if you outweigh it, confident ensues.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Courage does not ensue — but precludes — all outside events. Courage is within your internal fortress that we each carry within us everywhere we go: the heart.

2. Long-Lasting vs. Short Lived

Because confidence is easy dependent, it is flimsy and transient. The moment the outside conditions indicate that you are outmatched it pulls you to a place where it can survive. Somewhere of certainty where you know you can win. It’s easy-come-easy-go.

Courage on the other hand is flexible. It adjusts to conditions and seeks the greatest challenge. Because Courage is malleable, it tends to stick around for the next challenge.

3. Fulfillment vs. “Playing to your strengths”

In her momentous book “Mindset” Carol Dweck draws a stark contrast between two psychologies: Fixed and Growth. There is much too say on this book (and I look forward to writing about it soon) but essentially, the growth mindsets believes competencies are static and must be protected. Growth Mindset views intelligence, skills, and character as dynamic and malleable.

One who seeks confidence, will likely play only to their strengths. “Why risk being confident by doing something that may fail?” This is the embodiment of the fixed mindset.

On the other hand, one who is courageous will seek out those challenges to change. He views obstacles as opportunities, criticism as learning, and feel an overall sense of autonomy over his life.

4. Failure

Question for you — what constitutes failure?

To the “egoic mind” (as Eckhart Tolle is fond of saying) failure is a signal to the world that I am incapable. To the courageous person it is just a result and says little about what matters: the process.

Often times, we obsess over success, results, outcomes because it proves our worthiness to others. “Then we can be confident!” we think. This is not the way of courage.

Courage is investing in the process, not the result. It’s about controlling what you can (thoughts, actions, emotions). A courageous person takes pride in the development, the growth — the good stuff. He takes pride in his activity for its own sake. The courageous person has a free mind, as he can navigate challenges as they come and not be tied down by artificial results.

With courage as your anchor, outcomes have much less impact on who you are. Now of course outcomes are important — they provide utility — but it’s important to keep in mind that depending on outcomes for a sense of confidence is short lived .

5. The consequence-reward paradox

Who is more confident in winning the war: a warrior on the battlefield or a teenager in his basement playing video games?

Clearly, without a fear of consequence to one’s actions, there can be no true depth. There must, by definition, be risk in one’s actions of failure for there to be courage. While taking the easy route may be playing the game statistically safer, if we shift the goal of life to be expansive, explorative, and growth-oriented, the risky bet is actually playing it safe. The game of life is nerve-racking sometimes, but it’s also provides the most reward. Play it.

Practical tips to replace confidence with courage:

i. Larger purpose

Courage is harder to come by when you think the world revolves around you. If your egoic mind takes grip of your identity, then it will do everything in its power to stay safe. The instinct for self-preservation can cause neurosis and force you to play it safe, retreat to the “confident zone”. Establish and remind yourself constantly of you ‘why’. The larger picture of where your actions are leading towards can replace egoism with dedication, and the fickle need for confidence with courage.

ii. How to identify recklessness

Do not confuse recklessness with courage. Recklessness is taking unnecessary risks towards an unworthy goal. Always keep your courage in check: do a simple risk-reward analysis. If you see recklessness creeping into your life, you must adjust your sites. Find a more worthy goal.

iii.Use fear as the compass

Flip the sensation of fear on its head. Typically, we use it as signal to run in the opposite direction. I propose using the feeling as a signal that we are facing the right direction. Follow the fear. Use it. On a practical level, every time you feel fear today: run at it. The fear is the way.