The Secret Power of Confidence and How to Build It
Confidence is one of the most important traits in life. It is imperative for everything from dating and relationships, to startups and business. Most of the conventional wisdom around confidence and self-esteem is trying to find a short cut. But the reality is that you can’t create real confidence by reading a WikiHow article about how to be confident. You can’t create confidence by simply telling yourself that you are special, smart, interesting, or appealing to others, as some confidence “experts” will tell you. All of that is simply addressing the symptoms not the underlying issue.
The only way to create real confidence is to succeed in something challenging. Everything else is as empty as a participation trophy in elementary school. Real confidence is built upon a solid foundation of achievement, that you can look back on and know is real when things get tough. True confidence is so humble it’s arrogant, and so arrogant it’s humble.
The Confidence Cycle
Confidence creates a virtuous cycle. It raises ambition, which in turn means you seek out higher goals, which also motivates you to achieve them, which brings you success, which then gives you more confidence that fuels the cycle.
Building Confidence – Seek out challenges
Since the only way to build true confidence is to succeed in something challenging, you need to seek out challenges, and be motivated enough to complete them. This process can start with small goals, to help build the cycle. The challenges do not have to be related to a core strength or long term goal, and are often more challenging and rewarding when they’re outside your core competency. For instance, if you’re an English-major, all-star athlete, learn to build a website. Conversely, if you’re a techy non-athlete, run a marathon. If you’ve already run a marathon, run an ultra-marathon. If you’re a social butterfly, read the longest book you’ve ever read. It’s not about over-optimizing for the specific challenge, just find one, get started, and continue until you succeed.
The risk of a single source of confidence
Too often a person’s confidence is tied to a specific source, whether it’s their job, their marriage, their alma matter, or their prowess in a particular skill. There are two risks with this single source. First off, it may not imply ability or confidence in other areas. And secondly, if that single source disappears (getting fired from a job, divorce, etc.), you lose all of your confidence and go into a downward spiral. This is one of the biggest challenges of chronic unemployment. People’s confidence is tied to their job, so when they lose it, they are left exposed.
The Confidence Portfolio
Real, robust confidence is only attained with a diversified and well balanced confidence portfolio. In order to create that, you need to continue pushing yourself with a diverse set of challenges. Make them diverse, then build on successes and let that fuel your rising ambition. The more diverse your sources of confidence, the more stable it is, because you’re creating balance through excellence in multiple things. Psychological research has shown that increased self-complexity, i.e. the different ways of perceiving oneself and one’s strengths, leads to lower levels of depression, stress, and illnesses:
“Subjects higher in self-complexity were less prone to depression, perceived stress, physical symptoms, and occurrence of the flu and other illnesses following high levels of stressful events. These results suggest that vulnerability to stress-related depression and illness is due, in part, to differences in cognitive representations of the self.”“Self-complexity as a cognitive buffer against stress-related illness and depression.”Patricia Linville, Yale Psychology Professor, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3572732
Get out there and challenge yourself. In a follow up post I’ll share some examples of my own diverse set of confidence.