The Meaning of Self-Confidence

Why confident people seem to have it all.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

There are three primary forms of confidence, hubris, shyness, and self-confidence. Each is based on similar characteristics, but have stark differences in presentation. Self-confidence is part of a person’s worldview, but can also apply to skills and abilities. This is due to its effects on behavior and applies to hubris and diffidence as well.

Hubristic individuals believe they are capable of accomplishing anything regardless of past accomplishments. They act entitled to accolades for their achievements and are defensive when criticized. It’s easy to perceive them as out of touch because they overestimate their competence. These assumptions often lead to risky behavior. After all, if you can do anything, why not try everything?

Reserved people are risk-averse, insecure, and easy to discourage. They are likely to experience impostor syndrome and act with a fixed mindset. Diffidence spreads to other facets of life. Individuals see failure as an inevitable outcome, and they second guess their ability. Not because they aren’t capable, but because they give up at the first sign of trouble. These failures are internalized and used to reason away the possibility of success in future endeavors.

The Impact of Hubris, Diffidence, and Self-Confidence

Individuals who lack confidence are slow to recover and attribute failures to chance. In reality, lack of ability is the real culprit. But, an insecure person won’t attempt to improve their skills. Instead, they assume they cannot succeed and remove themselves from the task altogether.

Life events that change your self-confidence tend to feed off of each other. Belief in ability is forward-looking but based on past events. Once you’ve lost faith in your knowledge, you’re less likely to try something new. If you do, you’re more willing to believe you can’t accomplish your goal.

If you push past failure and internalize success, you’ll be more willing to try new experiences. You can draw on the current event and reassure your ability to persist even through tough times. These systems are vicious and virtuous circles. Complex series of events feeding off prior outcomes and promoting similar future results.

These feedback loops are why we equate confidence with success and the lack of it with failure. So far, research hasn’t proven one way or another which comes first. Yet, we do know other social-emotional skills lead to gains in academic and life outcomes.

There is a real need to internalize the success we create and to take confidence in our work. When we fail to do so, we transition towards a fixed mindset.

To mitigate your fixed mindset, it is essential that you allow time for reflection. Self-reflection helps maintain mental equilibrium. The human mind is prone to storing positive over negative memories. Because of this, we look at our past through rose-colored lenses and focus on results rather than process. While this is beneficial for overall happiness, it can lead to overconfidence.

Self-reflection is also a useful technique for internalizing success. It’s easy for individuals to play off their contributions when they can attribute it to luck or due to other’s work. This mindset leads towards diffidence and is ineffective for maintaining confidence.

The Difference Between Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

Confidence and esteem are often used interchangeably. But, the way they affect behavior shows they don’t go hand-in-hand. There are endless examples of stars turning to drugs to overcome doubt and anxiety. Or famous authors falling prey to Impostor Syndrome. People don’t have to be self-confident to treat themselves well. They may just understand the benefit of good mental and physical health.

Studies link both to success, and they’re integral components of healthy individuals. They impact academic achievement, graduation rates, physical health, and economic prosperity. So, it’s easy to understand why we end up using both to represent similar experiences. But, their differences are critical and lie in where behavior and belief are directed.

Self-esteem is the belief in one’s self-worth and how we treat ourselves based on that belief. The higher our self-esteem, the better we treat ourselves. We act and behave as though we’re worthy of appreciation and proper care.

Self-confidence, the belief in one’s abilities, skills, and what we’re able to accomplish in the future. High confidence encourages people to act and reduces stress around new activities.

You’re likely to meet people whose confidence and self-esteem are relatively equal. Self-confidence stemming from achievement helps you view yourself in a positive light. In turn, leading you to elevate your self-worth. Then, that feeling of worth helps you reevaluate how you should treat yourself. It’s another example of the virtuous cycle that drives feelings towards self.

Considering the positive benefits of confidence and self-esteem, how can we help individuals in these areas. And, how can we make sure what we do is right?

Success and Self-Confidence — The Unproven Fact

Self-confidence is lauded as the key to success. In less than a second, Google returns 41 million responses about their relationship. But, national education trends show too much can lead to delusion and only mild success.

The American Freshman Survey acts as a pulse check for incoming college students. It measures self-perception and college readiness based on high school performance. Ultimately, the survey serves as a way for students to compare themselves against their peers.

It’s important to note that these are self-rated categories. So the resulting assumptions aren’t perfect, but they do provide a glance into the mind of today’s youth.

The following chart presents the percentage of freshman who believes they are above average or in the top 10% of students. It’s clear these students self-perception is wildly overestimated.

Self-confidence in a social setting is the only aspect to take a dip in the past few years. Coincidentally or not, the movement aligns perfectly with the rise of social media.

More students than ever before seeing themselves as unique or better than their peers. This trend aligns with the self-esteem movement started in the early 70s.

The self-esteem movement grew from the book “The Psychology of Self-esteem” written by Nathaniel Branden. The book detailed how important self-esteem was for success in life. A claim few could argue against. The problem, though, is how parents and educators decided to boost self-esteem. Gold stars, participation trophies, and limiting adversity are the primary tools. Anything to make children feel better.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how we gain self-esteem or confidence. It’s almost the exact opposite. People need a way to test their skills to prove competence and gain confidence. If you remove the test by guaranteeing a positive result, you remove the intrinsic reward. The whole activity becomes less motivating because the only thing to gain is what everyone else earns.

It’s this lack of motivation that some attribute to the average academic gains in America. During the same time, frame test scores in math and reading grew at a snail’s pace. But, confidence in academic ability has never been higher.

Its evident self-confidence is essential. But, we need to understand the drivers for confidence and how it leads to success.

How Self-Confidence Leads to Success

Insecurities and hubris are detrimental to happiness. They strip away your ability to focus and undermine your ability to assess risk. But, what is it about self-confidence that makes it such a key component of success?

  1. Self-confidence based in our ability is a core among individuals open to feedback. And, they are less likely to put up a defense when faced with criticism. It also removes implicit bias for your ability and entitlement for success. Instead, you can act as your own critic. Working on the skills that need the most development.
  2. It’s difficult to achieve personal goals. They need time, discipline, and a strong work ethic. Self-confidence, rather than hubris, allows you to see the distance between where you are now and your end goal. This gives you a better estimate of the time and effort needed to finish. It also allows you to internalize your progress and develop further confidence in your abilities.
  3. You’re less likely to be seen as arrogant. People will take you and your skills seriously. And, they’ll place confidence in you that you deserve and trust you to succeed. The less arrogant you are, the more likely you are to attribute group success to others. This promotes social trust and confidence in your ability to lead. Finally, you’ll mitigate the deluded self. It’s common for people to see themselves more favorably than others. And, to overestimate positive life outcomes for themselves compared to others.

Confidence that comes from self-measurement and respect is a real key to success. When we see ourselves clearly, we reap a multitude of benefits. All of which lead to better life outcomes, most importantly, happiness.