In my journey exploring confidence and working with people to increase confidence, I have come across a number of definitions to answer the question, ‘what is confidence’?
There are quite a few, which is understandable considering, first and foremost confidence is subjective. Whilst there are societal norms of what confidence ‘looks’ like (even though these can be grossly inaccurate), a confidence definition for one person can look remarkably different than confidence for another.
So, confidence definitions can vary:
The cambridge dictionary describes it as: Noun – “the quality of being certain of your abilities”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as: Noun – “a feeling or belief that you can do something well”
Wikipedia describes it as – “a state of being certain a particular prediction is correct”
I have a particular issue with some aspects of these definitions and it comes in 2 forms:
Confidence is described as a Noun, which can simply defined as a person, place or thing. Yet, we are human beings! Confidence isn’t a person and it is not a thing in the same way a table could be described as a thing, so it can’t possibly be a noun!
The definitions are too basic in the same way people who describe confidence as just competence. Part of confidence is about competence, but it is not the whole aspect of confidence.
Then there is the issue of how people create reality in their minds that influences the decisions they make. Over the last 20 years, a vast amount of research has been discovered about how the brain works and this has led me to my definition of confidence which is:
“How you frame your past experiences and the expectation that you can handle what life throws at you”
There are 3 Parts to this definition: Time, Framing & Expectation.
Time is a construct, but we relate everything to time; what we schedule in the day, what is day and night and how our body clock operates (circadian rhythm). There is no getting around time and that is why it forms the spine of my definition.
Confidence is a state you are experiencing in the moment (present time), how you frame your past experiences relates to the past and the expectation that you can handle what life throws at you relates to the future.
Framing relates to how you present information influencing how you interpret it. For example, take a McDonalds Cheese Burger, in Mcdonalds you could pay $2 for it, yet the exact same burger could sell for $15 in an upmarket restaurant. Charge $15 for it in McDonalds and no one will buy it, Charge it in a upmarket restaurant, suddenly it becomes an option – That’s framing!
In my definition, it relates to memory. Over the last decade we have discovered that memory is not 100% factual, but more a construct, pieced together and this construct reforms again each time we think about that memory.
So that painful memory of when you got rejected by your love interest at 18, you are not retrieving the memory exactly how it happened, rather you are actually retrieving the result of when the brain had to reconstruct the memory the LAST time you thought about it.
This is vitally important because, how people assess their confidence relates to how they have interpreted their past in their mind. The brain takes cues on how to respond to current situations by how we responded to identical or similar situations in the past.
So how you frame your past experiences is important in determining the likelihood you will engage in current situations in a confident way.
The second part of my definition relates to the future. Anticipatory anxiety is a large problem for people who lack confidence. The ability to create images in our mind of events that haven’t happened yet or are unlikely to happen but create anxiety anyway is something that can plague a low confident individual on a daily basis.
Now, I’m no painter. Unless you want a stickman drawing, i’m not your man if you want a painting to put on your wall. However, give me a year to practice with good tuition (even as basic as You tube!) and I fully expect to be able to produce a painting worthy of your wall. How do I know? Confidence!
That is why confidence doesn’t JUST relate to competence. I KNOW i suck at painting, yet Im confident in my abilities to learn how to paint.
Someone that lacks confidence will assume their abilities are fixed so instantly expect that, because they suck at painting now means they will definitely suck in a years time. Whereas a confident individual full expects to get better if they put their focus in anything.
In summary, confidence is more a verb than a noun, meaning that it is not some fixed entity rather an ever evolving state that feeds off your past experiences and how you look forward to the future.
If you have concluded that you lack confidence, a great place to start is defining what confidence is and the definition I have put forward here is a great starting place.