Self-confidence is probably one of the most overused, yet misunderstood words in the English language. It has become associated with so many different ideas that we risk forgetting what it actually is. What is confidence then, really?
The origin of the word confidence is confidere (Latin), which means “full trust”. And today’s dictionary definition of self-confidence as “trust in one’s abilities and qualities” is a useful starting point.
Confidence is not about presenting ourselves well or having gravitas or being able to command the attention of a room. Some of the most confident people I have met have been surprisingly shy and softly spoken. Yet, they have been undeniably compelling as individuals and in many ways more naturally able to captivate people with their authentic style.
What is the source of their confidence then? I believe it arises from a deep belief in the unique paths they have each embraced in their lives.
Confidence is really about truly believing in what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Components of Confidence
There are things we can do to enable us to find this belief in ourselves. I would like to explore three such enabling components of confidence, which are fundamentally about how we relate to ourselves and our actions.
Where does the motivation for engaging in the area you want to be confident in come from? Is it something YOU want to do because YOU find it interesting/fun/uplifting /valuable/energising? Or is it something you think you SHOULD be doing because somebody said so, or because society expects it?
Public speaking and communication is an example of a common area that people seek to be more “confident” in. What strikes me here is how much easier it is to talk about something when you are really passionate about it. While surface solutions around voice projection, open posture etc. might help a bit around the edges, if the core belief in the subject matter does not exist, the message will never be as compelling as it could be.
When there is genuine belief in the topic, the speaker’s attention shifts from fear around “how well am I speaking” to “how best can I share this idea that I believe in”. That is the beginning of impactful communication.
Not results focused
Not worrying about results is another enabler of confidence that is closely related to motivation. This component is about engaging in something for its own sake, rather than for the results it might produce.
Such engagement can really only arise by having a genuine curiosity into what you are doing, which then removes anxiety about the outcome. When curiosity about the process replaces a focus on the end, somewhat paradoxically the desired results will flow!
Being results focused can also lead us down the slippery slope of worrying about what others think. Remembering that you do not need to prove or justify yourself to anybody is very important here. We can use the belief in what we are doing to reorientate ourselves away from worrying about what others might think and towards curiosity about our work.
Our minds can sometimes become our own enemies. We can even begin to doubt ourselves in areas that we are very confident. This can set-off a chain reaction inside our heads of doubt feeding doubt.
Often such doubts arise when we start comparing and measuring ourselves. Even the most accomplished and skilled experts can fall into this trap. This tells us something very important ― confidence is not necessarily born out of skill, though it may be supported by it.
Even those with enormous skill can become victims of overthinking and worrying. Having the self-awareness to recognise these overthinking thought patterns when they arise is then crucial to supporting ourselves to find confidence.
Contrary to some schools of thought, confidence is not about being impressive or even necessarily related to having significant skill. One may know that they have a lot to learn in a particular field, but still be confident in where they currently stand. What makes such confidence possible is a fundamental belief in the intrinsic worth of what you are doing and why you are doing it.