5 influences on self-confidence

January 4, 2022
5 influences on self-confidence


noun: the quality of being certain of your abilities

While most of us will agree with this definition of confidence, what interests me the most is how does one build confidence?

Growing up, and even today as adults, we are often told – Be confident, don’t be afraid, you can do this. While such statements help on some occasions and make us feel encouraged, on others, it feels like people are expecting you to do well, to succeed, and that in turn adds some performance pressure.

On an everyday basis, we encounter various tasks – some routine and some not-so-routine; some that we feel confident about and others that we don’t. We intrinsically know when we are confident and when we aren’t. But, how do we know this?

My experience of working with adults and kids makes me believe that the following contribute to our confidence going into any situation, whether at office or in a classroom:

1.     Familiarity with the situation or another similar situation

I am going to work with an example here. Let us say you ask me to make you a mushroom and cheese omelette. Sounds yum! But, how do I feel about this task?

To start with, my confidence in my ability to do this task successfully is directly linked with whether I have done such a thing before or have I at least made a regular omelette. If I have done none of the above, have I at least taught myself to make something in the past from a cook-book? Do I have a precedent to believe that I could self-train myself?

If the answer to all the above questions is negative, it’s very likely that I won’t be feeling too great about attempting the task. Or I might even suggest we eat out.

2.     Belief in one’s own knowledge and ability about the task at hand

Let us say I have in fact made a mushroom and cheese omelette in the past. Did I make it well? If not, did I learn something from that experience that makes me believe in my knowledge and ability would be better this time?

If the answer to both of these is a no, once again, I am not going to feel to confident about this task.

3.     Access to the right tools

So, let’s say you are in luck, and I have sufficient experience and confidence in my ability to do the task well. But you didn’t get me the right tools and ingredients – it’s a sticky pan and cheese looks spoilt. Hey! This wouldn’t turn out so well now, would it? I wouldn’t really want to attempt this and spoil my otherwise nice track record.

4.     Stake levels: How big are we playing?

I have the skills, and ingredients and confidence to whip up a mean omelette for you. But what happens when you tell me that it’s for your boss – or worse still, my boss – now the stakes are higher. I am good, but I am only kitchen-garden good. And you say she often eats at a Michelin star? I don’t feel so confident anymore.

5.     Social Costs: Impact of outcome on how others look at me

And what happens if I am a first-year student at my undergraduate studies (freshman, if you like) making this omelette for seniors?  I have done this same task quite a few times before so I know how it’s done, but what if they don’t like it? There could possibly be mean comments, ridicule, or even banishment from the cool circle. Oh my!

While we went along making an omelette for this instance, you could probably relate these factors to situations we encounter on an everyday basis. Like, when your boss asks you for the analysis of a key account. And then ask you to present it in front of the board. And the board will make a key business decision based on this analysis. High stakes, eh?

Or when the teacher calls out a student for not doing his math homework. And then asks him to come to the board and solve it. And then as he tries to solve it in front of the class, few groups giggle and comment on how long it’s taking him.

Many instances, big or small, cumulatively add up to what we eventually perceive and experience as self-confidence.

In which situations have you felt the most confident and the least confident?

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