Confidence is a very popular idea. So popular and desirable is the trait of confidence that I think it is worth taking a skeptical eye towards the concept.
Here is an all-too-common dialogue:
“I want to be hypnotized so that I have more confidence.”
“Can you be more specific? What would having more confidence do for you?”
“I need to make more money. I got into a lot of debt and I don’t have a very good income.”
“OK. So how would having more confidence help you make more money and get out of debt?”
“Um… I don’t know.”
The truth is, exceptional earners and achievers are often (but not always) driven by insecurity, fear, and a thirst for revenge — confidence has nothing to do with it. And people usually get into debt because they are confident and complacent about their economic future!
So what purpose would confidence serve?
Confidence used as a procrastination device.
This is the “IF-ONLY” pattern:
“I know I should do this/that/other thing… but I need to be confident about it first. IF-ONLY I were confident, then I could do it!”
This is totally backwards. No wonder people who think like this are stuck. It is irrational to expect that you can be genuinely confident about something before doing it. Genuine confidence comes AFTER achievement, not before.
The paradox of confidence is that once you are confident that you can do something, you forget about being confident or not. And anyway, internalized confidence can become a hinderance to real mastery, because it leads to complacency and carelessness.
Of course, there are many many people who are more than willing to sell you on the idea of “read my book” or “take my course” and learn how to be confident, with the promise that confidence is the “missing key” to success.
Isn’t it funny how “missing keys” and “secrets to success” always seem to be just out of reach, like bait on a fish-line?
Confidence as an irrelevant distraction.
“But I want to be like those people who seem totally confident and at ease”
Here’s the thing: do you think those people who appear that way are that way BECAUSE they put a lot of time and energy into trying to be more confident? They may have had to work hard to instill self-discipline, develop skills, and overcome fears and hesitation, but chances are, becoming “more confident” was not a high priority to them — in fact it would be considered an irrelevant distraction and a somewhat bizarre preoccupation.
When the wrong thing gets prioritized, then trying harder will not accomplish much.
The Virtues of Ben Franklin
Consider Ben Franklin, the epitome of a self-made man. Ran away from his Boston home at 17 with a few coins in his pocket, made his way to Philadelphia, and eventually became the guy on the $100 bill, with many rap lyrics paying tribute to his immortal name.
At a certain point in his life, Franklin realized “I better get myself together.” He recognized his own character flaws and determined to work on improving them, making himself better while recognizing that he’d never be perfect. He really is the O.G. — the Original Self Improvement Guru!
His approach was simple. It would take up hardly any shelf space in the Barnes and Noble self-improvement section. From the Wikipedia article about him:
Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:
“Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
“Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
“Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
“Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
“Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
“Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
“Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
“Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
“Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
“Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
“Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
“Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
“Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
Franklin did not try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week “leaving all others to their ordinary chance”. While Franklin did not live completely by his virtues and by his own admission, he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”
We can learn a lot from Ben Franklin. For one thing, I learned what “venery” meant by having to look it up.
You can also learn something by noticing what ISN’T on that list. Take a close look. Notice what isn’t on that list?
Partial credit if you noticed that “visualization of prosperity and abundance” also fails to make an appearance in the list of things that Franklin considered important.
I suspect that if you had asked Franklin, “Mr. Ambassador, how did you build up your confidence?”, he would have been kind of puzzled. In those days when giants walked the earth, I think that the self-indulgence of confidence would be seen to be a trifling thing.
Come to think of it, have the great philosophers and spiritual leaders ever emphasized “confidence” as being of any real importance? Only in the sense of having the confidence to do what is right, regardless of popularity. Certainly not in the ego-boosting “you can do it!” sense.
Of course, Franklin’s virtues are kind of unsexy these days. Working to instill self-discipline in the face of fear and uncertainty is quite less appealing than selling people on the idea that they just need to “visualize success” and “listen to these affirmations: you love yourself, you are worthy, people really like you…”
That idea is appealing not only to the recipient of such pleasing suggestions, but also appealing to people who play the role of “helpers”, because it doesn’t require much skill or effort, just a kind and caring desire to be supportive, regardless of whether or not that helps people achieve a goal.
Confidence as a red herring.
Working as a hypnotist, I help people become more confident, by helping them experience things differently. However, this kind of genuine confidence is a natural consequence of experience, practice and effort, along with a change in perspective and attitude that frees a person from the equally distracting pattern of worrying.
When people learn to stop worrying, then that has the effect of causing them to appear and act as a confident person would naturally, without being preoccupied about whether or not they are confident in the first place. Notice, that is very different than trying hard to become more confident.
Confidence that is primarily based on trying hard to believe an affirmation like “You will feel more confident” is a fake, artificial state.
This is why, when people have a stated goal of “I want to be more confident”, we must be careful to examine what they really mean by that. Such a non-goal may be a red herring, a distraction and a procrastination device that has kept them stuck. It helps people avoid having to decide how to take what action now.
The mindless pursuit of “confidence”, absent of clear, defined goals, may in truth be an unhappy pursuit that leads no-where. However, no-where may be exactly where most people are comfortable staying. For others, to whom actual achievement is important, it is worth considering whether or not confidence is all it’s cracked up to be.
So does confidence really matter?
So what is a person to do? We have been brainwashed into thinking that we “need” confidence in order to do what we want. People talk a lot about removing self-limiting beliefs, without realizing that being dependent on confidence is a very limiting belief!
Here’s an idea. Use a mantra. No, not the Stuart Smalley style “I love myself, people like me” kind of thing.
(By the way, did you know that researchers have found that those kinds of positive affirmations tend to have a negative effect on many people?)
Instead, look to Bill Murray in Meatballs, as he speaks to the wavering campers, on the eve of battle:
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