Build or burn?

The anatomy of confidence

If you lack confidence, stay away from management jobs.  They will brutalise you.  You might think self-awareness would allow people to avoid management positions if they lack confidence but greed or a sense of entitlement overpowers them and they take the job anyway.

A lot of poor management behaviour – bullying, indecisiveness, ass-covering, poor communication, failure to develop others – stems from a lack of confidence in managers who would have been happier in a less demanding role and should never have applied for the job in the first place.

If you are selling life coaching courses, it is common to present confidence as a choice, something that is completely in your control.  It isn’t.  To an extent it can be developed, but a large part is innate.  I’d say it is 50% malleable, 50% natural (see anatomy table below).  Unfortunately, the plasticity of confidence isn’t the sort that can be changed just by deciding to be more confident.  It takes work, effort and develops slowly over time as achievements build on each other.

Anatomy of confidence table


How to increase your confidence

Bad news my friends.  Self-exhortation in the form of repeating mantras like ‘I am a tiger’ (courtesy of Steve Coogan) will do you no good.  Your subconscious will undermine your efforts.  You have the natural level of confidence you have, and you had better learn to live with it.  You can see from the table, however, there are plenty of elements you can control.  If it is more confidence in public speaking, then you can put a lot of time into preparation and practice, and repeated experience will help.  There are lots of tips and tricks in terms of eye contact and body language you can learn.  And at the very least you can make yourself look presentable.  You build faith in your abilities by accumulating small victories.  Seek out projects towards the edge of your comfort zone.

Attitude to failure

Confidence will give you the get up and go to try but only experience will tell you if you are any good; experience and feedback from others.

Experience will sometimes lead to failure.  It is to be expected.  When it happens, it is natural to feel down about it.  It is depressing, so it is ok to be depressed.  After the initial period of feeling hurt and sorry for yourself, there comes a period of reflection.  The end result should not be a reduction in confidence but an increase in self-awareness.

Depending on your motivation, you will either give up or apply the lessons learned and try again.  Resilience is the ability to absorb pain and suffer.  A weak person will allow failure to damage their motivation and confidence.  A resilient person sucks it up and carries on.

Management of Self-doubt

Self-doubts are not necessarily to be wished away.  They might be quite useful if you are about to jump off the edge of a cliff confident in your ability to fly.  But they do need to be managed or they can sabotage our plans before they even get underway.

‘Good’ self-doubts are where you draw on relevant experiences to judge whether you are likely to be successful at something.  For example, if you can play tennis to a high standard, how likely are you to be good at golf?  You don’t know the answer until you try but, before you invest the time, it’s legitimate to ask the question.

‘Bad’ self-doubts are where you draw parallels from different experiences that are not related.  For example, because I am not very good at tennis, how likely is it I will be good at starting my own business?

The way to manage self-doubt is to investigate.  If, like me, you are an optimistic person, you might like the idea of a project and, in your enthusiasm, overlook the potential negatives.  In this case, talk to someone who has done it already.  If you are a pessimistic person you are likely to focus too much on how you will feel in the event of failure.  Again, investigation will give you evidence rather than relying on feelings.

If all else fails, remember the theory that there is almost nothing you can’t do if you are motivated enough and have 10,000 hours (~7 years) to practice.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

This is the over-confidence of the ignorant: people who don’t know what they don’t know.  Dunning and Kruger are two academics who have studied the tendency of incompetent people to wildly exaggerate their abilities.  Every time I tune into reality TV I see this effect where people believe that to achieve their dreams all they need to do is wish for it hard enough.  Please.


Sometimes we fail because we were not sufficient skilled or circumstances conspired against us, but sometime we just make mistakes and should have known better.  People will go to some length to avoid admitting mistakes, but there’s really no need.  A confident person is not embarrassed to admit mistakes and apologise.  They know a mistake doesn’t make them a bad person.  Their sense of self-worth is not tied to specific actions, or even what other people think.

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