The difference between success and failure often boils down one thing: confidence. If you take two men of equal abilities, with one having confidence and the other lacking, the confident man will be more successful nearly every time. Confidence can propel someone to achieve things that would not have been possible without it. It leads men to hit game-winning shots and home runs. It leads men to plan battles that change the course of history. It leads men to initiate relationships with beautiful women. In short, it allows men to maximize their God-given abilities. On top of that, it makes us happier. A confident man is not always happy, but a happy man is almost always confident.
Confidence can roughly be defined as a belief in your abilities, which makes it especially important for men. A man’s satisfaction in life is, at least partly, tied to his capabilities and his accomplishments. While those things are not the total of a man’s happiness, they are highly important. A man who does not achieve is not going to be happy. And confidence is critical to achievement. So the question most of us have is, “how do we get it?”
The Role of Competence
Confidence is tricky, because it’s partly a chicken-and-egg type of thing. In one sense, confidence is the result of demonstrated performance. We believe in our abilities because we have demonstrated them in the past. We’ve done it before, we know we can do it again. In that sense, confidence is experience-based. Stated another way: CONFIDENCE is connected to COMPETENCE. We gain confidence by showing ourselves to be competent.
The great thing is that we do not have to specific competence in every single thing to have confidence. If we have shown ourselves to be competent in many different areas, we begin to understand that “we’re pretty good at most things”. That belief creates a general confidence that we can handle most things that are thrown at us. I entered law school in 2000 brimming with confidence. Why? Because I had demonstrated my academic abilities time after time and have demonstrated an ability to overcome most challenges that I’d encountered. I’d never been to law school before, so my confidence wasn’t based on prior performance in the exact same situation. In other words, I didn’t have specific confidence in my ability to succeed in law school. Instead, I had general confidence based on my demonstrated performance in other challenging environments, including other academic settings.
So, we cannot overlook the fact that confidence is connected to what we’ve already demonstrated. This is why advice that tells you to “just believe in yourself” falls short. Without demonstrated performance in the past, it’s hard to just believe in ourselves. What, exactly, is such a person supposed to believe in? “I’ve fallen short in most things and haven’t really changed anything, but I’ll get the job done this time!” Yeah, that’s not really how the mind generally works. We can’t escape our own Bullshit Detectors quite that easily. So confidence escapes us.
Confidence = Perceived Competence
Still, there’s more to confidence than just demonstrated performance. Remember, confidence is our “belief” in our abilities. In other words, confidence is also connected to our PERCEPTIONS about our COMPETENCE. There are plenty of accomplished people who still lack confidence. Why? Because they don’t perceive themselves as having demonstrated competence. The guy who hit the home run to win the game decided he just got lucky; he just guessed the right pitch that was being thrown and was lucky to make good contact. The singer who had the hit album decided it was a fluke or that the heavy lifting was actually done by someone else who participated in the process. The man who took the beautiful woman on a date decided she just agreed to go out with him because she felt sorry for him or was lonely. And so on and so on.
There’s also a flip side. Bill Simmons used to write about “Irrational Confidence Guy”. He noted that certain basketball players had “irrational confidence”. These players really had no rational basis to believe they were as good as they did. They had not demonstrated such competence or skill. Most of the time, they were just average performers. Still, they could get on a roll and deliver amazing performances at times because, in their minds, they were the best player on the court. Once they hit a few shots, their self-belief was justified and even bolstered, and they could take the game over.
How Confidence Shapes Behavior
I was recently at a fundraising event that featured Tim Tebow as the keynote speaker (full disclosure: I’m not a big shot; I was given the tickets). He told a story of a high school student who was a very poor student. His grades were terrible. His parent and his teachers believed that he didn’t have what it took to go to college and, over time, he adopted that belief as well. Except one teacher believed in him. She met with him repeatedly for extra tutoring to get his grades up. At her urging, he took the SAT, despite his parents and others questioning why he’d even bother to do so. When his score came back, he scored a 1480 (under the old 1600 scoring system), which was high enough to qualify for an Ivy League college.
Encouraged, he upped his effort in school and continued his after school work to get his grades up enough to go to college. He ultimately was accepted to college. He started two business while in college, and became a successful entrepreneur after graduation. A decade later, he was informed by his school that his SAT had been improperly scored, and that he’d actually scored a 740, rather than a 1480. His belief in his score had not been based in reality. But his perception of his abilities gave him the confidence to succeed. His perception of the SAT score was not accurate, but that didn’t matter. It was the perception of his abilities that mattered. That false SAT score caused him to accurately perceive his abilities. It wasn’t a lack of ability that had hindered him all along; it was a faulty perception of his abilities.
The Confidence Matrix
Ultimately, most of us fall into one of these categories:
- Mid-High competence, proper perception = confident
- Low-Mid competence, inflated perception = confident
- Mid-High competence, deflated perception = lacking confidence
- Low-Mid competence, proper perception = lacking confidence.
As a result, if you’re lacking in confidence, it’s either because you recognize that you’re not competent at things or because you fail to recognize that you’re quite competent. The hard part is figuring out which one you are. I suggest the following system:
Building Confidence: The Long Version
Step One: Write down the skills you believe you have; in other words, list everything you’re good at. You can categorize them into higher level and lower level if you want. Include those skills that you think you might have, but aren’t sure about.
Step Two: write down your accomplishments.
Step Three: write down five skills that you wish you had but don’t.
Step Four: (This is the one that you won’t do and that will cause this exercise to fall flat) Take a good friend out for coffee and go over the list with him. Ask him to identify anything (1) on the list that he disagrees with and (2) that you’ve left off the list. The role of your friend is to help you identify if your perceptions are off base; to see if you’re downplaying your skills and/or accomplishments. Do this with multiple friends if possible.
This exercise emphasizes another key point for men: we often fail to see ourselves properly. We need connections with others to avoid blind spots. When you finish Step Four, you should have a pretty good sense of your abilities. For those that have been undervaluing themselves, this new understanding will create confidence. For others, it will cause you to realize that you simply need to get better. For most, it will do both; you’ll realize that you’re probably better than you give yourself credit for, and you’ll realize that you need to keep improving.
The solution for the person lacking competence is simply to commit to growing and learning. With some consistent training and study, there’s no reason that you cannot be significantly more competent in a few months. With that growth should come new-found confidence, as long as you are not deflating your perceptions of your growth. Your job is to enlist your friends to help you make sure you’re making accurate judgments about yourself.
Building Confidence: The Short Version
Here’s another way to build confidence. Make a list of all the things that intimidate you. I’m not necessarily talking about phobia, just things that seem intimidating. Approaching a woman that you don’t know, taking someone you want to get to know better out for coffee or an activity. Reaching out to a leader in your industry for advice. Going to a gun range. Joining a gym. Starting a combat sport. Setting boundaries with your spouse or in-laws. Whatever. Just make the list and commit to tackling the things on the list. When you’ve crossed a few things off your list, your confidence will undoubtedly grow, partly because you’ve reduced the number of intimidating things in your life and partly because you’ve shown that you have the competence to get things done, even things that are intimidating.
Having confidence will change your life. There’s little better than a man who can walk into a room with his head held high, his chest out, his shoulders back, and with a smile on his face because he knows there’s little that can overcome him. That is the man’s life. Godspeed.
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