You probably know what it feels like to be confident (or at least what it’s like to not be!)
But have you ever asked yourself, “What is confidence?”
Take a moment to answer before reading on.
If you came up with a single definition that’s a good start! But if you go over to a dictionary you’ll find multiple definitions.
When we talk about confidence we could be talking about any one of those definitions… or something else entirely.
You might think of charismatic and assertive people as confident, but they might not be. Those two values get wrapped up in our idea of confidence, but they’re not necessarily part of it.
Take charisma for example. We tend to think of confident people as more likeable, but I’ve met ones I couldn’t stand to be around. Likewise, I’ve known some nervous, insecure people who are very likeable.
And assertive people may make snap decisions out of confidence, but they might also make those decisions because they feel stressed or afraid.
Let’s look back at those dictionary definitions. The first two stick out to me:
“A feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances” and “the quality or state of being certain.”
What both of those really come down to is this:
All confidence involves trust.
If it’s trust in ourselves, it’s self-confidence.
If it’s placing trust in something we’re good at, a good term for it is action-based confidence.
What is Confidence?
On one level, maybe the deepest level for self-confidence, it’s knowing everything’s ok. That you are ok, and everything’s going to be ok. Note I didn’t say you feel “good” about yourself or the situation.
When we put things into terms of good or bad, right or wrong, we’re getting away from what we’re after… and confidence has nothing to do with any of that: it’s acceptance.
For being confident in any kind of action, it’s trusting that everything is going to turn out ok.
It’s knowing we can put our best foot forward and give something our all – even if we’re afraid to do it.
Our brains naturally want us to survive, so they send up fear responses when outcomes are uncertain. But we don’t have to obey those signals if we don’t want to.
Self-Confidence is a trust in who we are. It’s not a lack of stress, fear, or negative thoughts – it’s knowing you’re ok with all of that and can move forward anyway.
Self-Confidence is unconditional. It doesn’t depend on results and outcomes.
What are you good at?
If you’re really good at something chances are you’re confident at it. You might not think of it as confidence, but you know when you set out to do a task, you can trust in what the result will be.
If I asked you, “Do you know what your name is?” You’ll probably say, “Of course I do! What kind of dumb question is that?”
Your name is something you’ve known for close to your entire life, so of course you trust you know what it is – but at one time, you didn’t know it and your brain had to learn it. The same thing happens if you play a song a hundred times, build computers over and over, or when you learn to sing the alphabet as kid.
We usually think of action-based confidence coming in the order of “First I practice the skill and get good at it, and then I’ll be confident at it.”
But does it have to?
Ever meet someone who was really confident they were good at something, but then it turned out they sucked?
What’s going on there, and is it a good thing?
It’s Better to be Confident and Suck than Insecure and Suck
In The Maverick Mindset, Dr. John Eliot talks about confidence coming before skill. It’s a radical way of looking at it, and I might disagree if I hadn’t seen it myself.
When I used to teach Salsa dancing there were two kinds of beginner students:
Students who didn’t know what they were doing and had no confidence.
Students who didn’t know what they were doing and were confident.
We often think of the second category of people as “over-confident,” but out of those two groups, who do you think learned faster?
If a student learning a new dance move for the first time went in with the attitude of “I got this!” before trying the new move, they rarely did it right the first time. Or the second. Or third… but they kept trying until the reality matched up with their level of confidence.
Or maybe they said something like, “I’ve got no idea if I can do that, but I’m sure going to do it anyway.” It’s like they were confident in how uncertain things were, and that pushed them toward success.
Teaching these students is awesome.
If a student was both bad and lacked confidence, it can be more difficult to teach them because they can hold back or hesitate. They often learn fine, but they basically have to learn two skills instead of one (and yes, confidence is a skill. You don’t have to be born with it!). They also need more encouragement.
It’s still fun to teach them, because when they do become confident the change in them is dramatic. I love seeing that transformation!
And sometimes you have a nightmare student.
One of the last students I had before I stopped teaching lacked so much confidence I almost asked him to leave the class, but he stopped coming before I did.
I admit that sounds horrible, but here was the thing: he never tried.
If you don’t try, you can’t learn. And your or teacher or coach can’t learn it for you. And if you’re paying to something and not doing it? You’re wasting your money and I don’t want to take it from you.
Salsa, compared to a lot of other dances, is easy. The basic, foundational step is just walking forward and backward with a pause in the middle.
Every step builds off of the basic step… so it’s just more walking. If you can walk, you can learn Salsa! But my student wouldn’t believe me, because he didn’t believe in himself. I would show him how to do something and instead of giving it a go, he would shake his head, shrug, and say, “I don’t know…”
He lacked so much trust in himself, he let his fear and uncertainty get in his way from giving it a shot in a safe environment. He was a nice guy, but in class it was such a struggle.
I explained to him how muscle memory worked and how his body would learn to do it if he just tried, but again he’d say, “I don’t know…” I had to convince to even attempt it, and as soon I stopped watching him he’d stop.
How often do we not even try something because we lack the confidence to do it? Because we don’t want to look foolish or are scared of stepping outside our comfort zone?
Now, I’m not saying you should be confident in your abilities to, say, keep a nuclear reactor from melting down if you’re not a nuclear engineer, or be confident you can outrun that train before it crosses the tracks.
Attempting something you have no skill in that could have terrible results is called something else: stupidity.
Self-Confidence + Action-Based Confidence
What I am saying is this: Use self-confidence as your foundation, and build skill-based confidence on top of it.
Sometimes when our confidence is solely built on a skill, there’s a nasty side-effect.
What happens when we hit a tough patch and start failing at it?
Meet someone who’s so much better than us at it we feel insignificant in comparison?
Or if that skill is a huge part of our identity and due to age, injury, or other constraints we can no longer take part in it?
If you have a strong self-confidence you’re more resilient. It doesn’t mean you’ll never have moments of doubt or fear, but it means you’ll bounce back faster and try again if you fail.
And when you run up against the edge of your comfort zone and feel all the stress and tension that come with it you can keep moving forward in the face of it.
It All Comes Down to Trust
Trust in yourself.
Trust in what you’re good at.
But trust that everything is ok.
As you’re reading this, you might have other worries on your mind like paying the bills, an argument with a friend, or even aches and pains throughout your body.
But right now, this moment is what it is. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong. It just is.
The deepest confidence – the deepest trust – is accepting the moment that’s happening right now. Because when we accept that moment and become aware of it, stress and tension and fear tend to go away.
Confidence isn’t then a thing to hold onto like an object (after all, objects can be lost or even stolen).
Confidence is something there for all of us. But sometimes it’s just sunk deep, waiting for us to trust enough to let it rise up like a hidden sun.
Thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Let me know below.