What is Confidence?

Two hours away from the office, I was mentally rehearsing the setup process one more time before arriving - I was responsible for setting up and operating an outdoor movie theater setup for a field full of college students.

Park, find the coordinator, unpack, lay out the screen, plug it into the generator . . .

The generator.

I don’t have the generator.



I was arriving in 30 minutes and I certainly didn’t have time to drive all the way back across the state to retrieve the generator.

Ok, what do I do? Maybe it will rain and we will move inside where I can just plug into an outlet.

I checked the weather app on my phone. Nope, clear skies all night.

Alright, maybe my co-worker has the generator.

No, definitely not. The last day she worked I was with her and she didn’t have it then.

This is bad. I just started this job, and what if we can’t move the event inside and salvage it? I don’t think I can figure out how to play a movie without power. At the very least my boss is going to be pissed . . .

I think a lot of people misunderstand confidence. Confidence is often portrayed as being disconnected from reality. Confidence is equated with overconfidence - irrational belief. The high school bully is confident. The handsy womanizer is confident. Confidence is portrayed as a lack of doubt and humility, as if confidence and humility cannot coexist (see this article for an explanation of how they can).

Or, it is the hero who becomes confident after struggling through doubt. However, the progression from uncertain to confident is often portrayed as a near instant switch - the result of some deep realization. After a victory and seeing their potential, the protagonist is suddenly self-assured and headstrong - just the traits they need to claim ultimate victory.

Both of these descriptions carry within them a small slice of the truth, but are largely incorrect.

Here’s the short version of how to gain confidence.

Confidence in yourself, like confidence in others, is earned through a continuous pattern of action.

I think that most people actually have a fairly realistic self-image. We assess ourselves much like we assess others - by observing patterns of behavior and using those to build an expected model of behavior.

Partially as a result of this, people generally have a realistic self-image, even if they misrepresent that image in how they outwardly describe themselves. People with low self-esteem usually have a good reason, and people with great confidence generally also have a reason.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that everyone who has confidence in themselves is worthy of your confidence, and that everyone with low self-esteem is worthless. People assess themselves in relation to their own goals and standards of behavior. The neighborhood asshole has confidence because his behavior is consistently aligned with his (distorted) goals and values, and not with yours, thus you don’t see him as worthy of confidence.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for someone to think little of themselves mostly because they hold themselves to an extremely high standard. When assessed against a more reasonable standard, these individuals often measure up quite well.

Another reason people often have accurate self-images is because the relationship between belief and behavior isn’t one-way. Behavior shapes belief, but belief also shapes behavior. He who acts reliably is more likely to believe he is reliable, and he who believes he is reliable is more likely to act reliably.

This means that whatever a person believes about themselves, they tend to then manifest in some way. (Again, the way they manifest the belief is reliant upon their goals and values, so the manifestation can appear distorted from the outside.)

So if you accept what I have put forward thus far, then you can likely infer the next part.

If you are lacking confidence, why do you believe you are not worthy of confidence? Or, why do you not act in a way that earns you confidence?

Because belief and behavior feed off each other so closely, they can create a cycle that is difficult to break. Finding the weak point to change the cycle can be an arduous challenge of trial and error.

If you do not believe yourself to be reliable and competent, how do you act against that belief to earn confidence in yourself? If you cannot act reliably and competently, how can you begin to believe that you are worthy of confidence?

The answer to these questions is different for each person. What I can tell you is that the change requires discipline, curiosity, and a genuine love for yourself (thus a desire to better yourself and your life).

I can also show you where the change leads, so you have something to aim at. Confidence isn’t bombastic and obvious. Confidence, when properly integrated, is calm, subtle, and ever-present. When fully realized, it will guide your thoughts and actions quietly and effortlessly, but firmly, toward a better outcome.

Ok, I guess I’ll just have to be honest with the coordinator and tell her that we have to move inside so we have power. I won’t be able to cover up my mistake, but at least the show will go on. Then maybe I won’t lose the respect of my boss.

Wait, why am I even trying to dodge this? It’s not like I’m going to get fired, I’m too valuable. Plus, even if I did lose this job, I could have another job lined up in a week, no problem. The worst thing that can happen is that I’m mildly humiliated.

I have nothing to worry about.

So what do I need to do?

Well, I should start by calling my boss — maybe he has an idea that I haven’t thought of.

It turns out, I didn’t forget the generator, because I didn’t need it in the first place — we would have access to power on site!

And so, my confidence grows, preparing me for the next time I need to be reminded that there is nothing I cannot overcome.