Our level of confidence – or our lack of it – lurks at the heart of every business decision we make and action we take. It stifles us or encourages us to move forward, and is something most of us want more of, yet rarely understand exactly how to achieve it.
Thanks to Eric Barker, the author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong, we have his research to provide us with a candid assessment of the value of self-confidence and a path to improving our levels of it.
Adjust for your natural level of self-confidence
Are you normally pretty confident? Then enjoy the benefits, but keep an eye out for delusion and stay empathetic. Seek situations that challenge you to keep yourself humble. Strive to keep an open mind instead of assuming you already know the answer.
Do you lack confidence? No problem. You’ll naturally learn faster than those know-it-alls and you’ll make more friends. Focus your efforts in quantifiable areas where competence can actually be measured so you don’t have to worry about issues of perception. Become great at what you do and your confidence will increase.
If you want more confidence, earn it
Confidence is a result of success, not a cause. Surrounding yourself with those who believe in you can lead to “transferred expectations” and a self-fulfilling prophesy, which increases confidence. You can become more confident over time with hard work, and the surest path to confidence is to become really good at what you do. When you have a competitive mindset you always risk underperforming and feeling like a loser. To avoid this, when challenged, focus on improving your skills – not doing well or looking good. Studies show “get-better goals” increase motivation, make tasks more interesting, and replenishes energy. This effect carries over to subsequent tasks, so the impact is compounding.
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Self-compassion beats self-esteem
We don’t need to see ourselves as larger-than-life and it’s often better if we don’t. You don’t want to fall into denial or be a jerk – you want to keep learning but not feel bad about yourself. Confidence operates at the level of feelings and appearances, so avoid self-worth that’s contingent on fantasy-based illusions or on constantly proving yourself. Instead, be self-compassionate… it has all the upsides of confidence without the downsides.
Don’t be a faker
Faking it is just too hard and the price of failure is too high. The short-term benefits of impressing others aren’t worth being labeled untrustworthy. Even if you’re successful in tricking others, this all too often leads to tricking yourself, which is the most dangerous scenario of all. Instead of pretending to be what you’re not, the best answer is to focus on presenting the best version of yourself. Try always to be you on your best day and people will see the real you.
Self-compassion is the secret sauce
In a study entitled “Self-Kindness When Facing Stress,” the researchers found that being compassionate with yourself was actually correlated with being wise. Not just IQ points or knowledge, but wisdom. Harshly judging yourself as good or bad, as immediately successful or unsuccessful, is very narrow-minded. To achieve wisdom, you need a little more flexibility, acceptance, and the learning that comes with growth. Think about the wisest person you’ve known – were they full of bluster and hubris, or utterly without confidence? Probably not – they were likely calm and understanding, forgiving and less judgmental. We’d all like to achieve that level of wisdom, and self-compassion is a great first step.