I have noticed that at times I am super ready to take on the world while at other times I want to hide from the world under the safety of a thick comforter. Since my clients look to me to help them grow in confidence, I decided to explore whether confidence is an emotion, a feeling, a trait or something else entirely.
So is confidence an emotion? Confidence is not an emotion. Confidence is a way of being or an action associated with optimism, hope, and an expectation of being able to handle any resulting outcome (positive or negative). This applies to both:
But why does it seem that for some situations, I feel confident and in others, I don’t?
It feels like an emotion right? Most likely in these scenarios, you and I are collapsing the meaning of confidence with optimism.
When we dig a bit deeper, core confidence is the faith we have in ourselves to handle situations thrown at us. Core confidence is based on genetics and understanding. (This is what I found out about the role genetics play). This is good news because it means that if you feel like you are lacking in this area, there is something you can do about it. (and -Ladies, here is an article I wrote about being the most confident woman in the room.
Here is an example. If you were a pilot who had years of experience flying a commercial plane, you would have an understanding of most everything related to air travel. You would know that you could handle virtually any situation that was to show up while you were flying. You would also know that there could be circumstances that arise over which you would have no control.
But you would have enough confidence in your skill set and your experience in dealing with problems that you would be prepared for most issues. Further, if you suspected there might be a situation that you couldn’t handle you could do something about it by increasing your knowledge base and skill.
If confidence isn’t an emotion, what is it?
Researchers such as Paul Ekman and Robert Plutchik have isolated 8 ranges of emotion that we experience. Emotions work a bit like the volume on a stereo. That is why there are so many in between feelings that aren’t like the day before, which explain the good days vs. bad days experience that we have all had.
Here are the emotional ranges
Looking back to a time when you were feeling super confident (or lacking) you might notice that you were actually experiencing high levels of joy and trust, or you were angry about something so you took an action that you might not normally take.
Likewise, maybe you abstained from taking action that you knew you should have, but you were afraid.
So what we see is that confidence can arise out of an emotional experience rather than itself be the emotion.
When do we actually experience confidence?
First off, I think it is important to mention again that confidence is closely related to action. Often, someone taking a confident action isn’t aware of the confidence on display.
For instance, look at ordinary individuals who take an action that makes them a modern day hero. Often when interviewed about the action they took, they didn’t do much thinking about it.
So what gave them the confidence? They chose to rise to the occasion because they had faith that their taking action would result in a better outcome than no action.
Core confidence sits at the core of four other manifestations:Alexander Stajkovic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Stajkovic)
Hope, Efficacy, Optimism, and Resilience
If we consider that hope, efficacy, optimism and resilience point to a term that many of know as faith, it gives us another area to look when trying to figure out whether we have confidence and how we can acquire more if we are lacking.
Let’s talk about confidence as, you guessed it, faith.
There are two types of faith:
willy-nilly faith, a faith based on arrogance/ego and a lack of understanding and confidence: a faith rooted in understanding.
When people take action even into the unknown, they will display one or the other. Even though both can have a positive or negative outcome, on the outside both situations demonstrate a degree of faith.
So confidence is really faith, and it is different than an emotional experience. You may just have more faith in a given moment because you are in a better mood.
Is a High-Level of Confidence Good or Bad?
We need to take the morality out of the conversation about confidence. Our conditioning (and society) tells us to be confident. We say confidence is a “good” thing and the lack of it “bad.” Heroes are bold and confident. We strive to be confident leaders, but like in economics, there is a point of diminishing returns to scale.
There is a point at which we need to be OK with a lack of confidence. In fact, it may take more confidence to say that you lack confidence.
As a nurse, I’ve been in thousands of surgical procedures, and I know precisely what the doctor is going to do before he does it. I might even be tempted to say I could do the procedure myself, but it would NOT be good to communicate confidence in this area.
Saying that we lack confidence could be a great first step in your journey to healthy self-esteem that is natural. Let’s let it be OK to say we aren’t skilled in an area.
I think we would all agree that pseudo-confidence is a dead-end. Once someone is discovered pretending to have confidence in an area they don’t, it discredits them socially. But is confidence overrated? See if you agree with me on this. Read this article.
When it comes to learning a new skill, you need just the right amount of confidence. Too much and you don’t think you need to learn it and too little you might think you can’t learn.
How can you increase your self-esteem?
Since we have determined that confidence is rooted in action and said another way could be seen as faith based on understanding in action, we are left with the question about self-esteem. I’d like to define self-esteem as self-respect or better yet… self-love.
In the book Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruis, the author mentions that you will never let anyone abuse you to a higher extent than you will abuse yourself. I think this is a good place to start when we evaluate our own self-esteem.
Pay attention to how you talk to yourself when something goes wrong, you might notice the internal dialogue contains words that you quite possibly would never say to anyone else.
What do you say? I’ll tell you what I say as embarrassing as it is.
When I mess up, I say things to myself like,
- “You should have known better!”
- “You stupid thing.”
- If I lose out or miss out on something, I say “You don’t deserve that anyway.”
Really…What do you say?
Now I understand that you might rationalize it (like I do) by saying, “I’m just talking to me.” No one but me knows about this.
That is exactly my point. If you don’t start treating yourself better, why should anyone else?
I remember consciously choosing to buy more expensive things at the grocery store, saying to myself that I deserve it. That felt foreign the first time I did it. I thought I should buy cheap because that’s smart.
Again here you see the “Smart / Stupid” judgemental self-talk at play. It’s the opposite side of the same coin.
Ask yourself, what are you trying to prove to everyone? It may be the opposite to what you might suspect. Someone who wants to be seen as smart may need to go get lots of degrees. If that’s the reason they are doing it, it shows that deep down inside, they feel like they aren’t smart and they have to compensate.
Is confidence a skill?
Confidence isn’t a skill in itself as much as a result of being skillful. Confidence shows up when you are; or appear to be optimistic in your ability to handle any situation that arises, positive or negative.
Confidence usually shows up and is witnessed by someone external to you. On the outside, you come off confident because you have skills to deal with a given set of circumstances.
However, for the individual dealing with the circumstances, they are rarely aware of their confidence in that moment. They are simply reacting to circumstance drawing on the knowledge and experience they have acquired in the past.
Moreover, they act in faith, based on knowing they can manage with any type of outcome they experience at that moment. An outsider calls this confidence.
Is confidence a feeling?
I think we are used to saying that we feel confident, so it’s easy to see why it can get confusing. If we describe (self) confidence as a baseline level of aptitude to take on a challenge, I think we would discover that we would describe it more as a trait rather than a feeling. Feeling confident is most likely better described as feeling optimistic, capable or hopeful. Ever wondered if confidence is an biological? Check out the answer here.
If I’m afraid, does that mean I’m not confident?
A sign of confidence is your willingness to face your fears and take on life situations that indeed scare you. Feeling afraid is an emotion. Emotions are experiences we have when we encounter specific external stimuli. As stimulus could be something like “rejection.” (Here’s how to deal with rejection powerfully). Emotions are not good or bad from a moral perspective, they are simply a response hard-wired in our subconscious.
Now what we do in response to the stimulus is a choice. This is the area that confidence is first called on. We get choose at that moment how we will react. We choose to act in faith or shrink back in fear.