A gentleman needs self-confidence. Understanding what makes someone a gentleman, such as knowing what constitutes good manners, knowing a few things about etiquette…all fades into insignificance if you can’t carry it off with a positive flair. If we want to be successful in our endeavors, and in life in general, self-confidence is an important factor. But…

What is self-confidence?

Self-confidence is a general term that encompasses a number of different elements. By understanding these elements we can, hopefully, find ways to improve it. 

One thing to be aware of is that it’s not quite the same thing as self-esteem, which is more to do with how we feel about ourselves at a general level; how much positive regard and respect we have for ourselves. 

Confidence has more to do with what we’re capable of…or, more accurately, what we think we’re capable of. 

I may look at other elements in future posts, but in this one, I’m going to focus on something called ‘self-efficacy’.

Self-Efficacy 

This was a term introduced by a famous Psychologist called Albert Bandura (1925), and is the degree to which we feel that our skills, knowledge and actions can produce the effect that we want. 

Ask yourself: to what extent do you feel that the abilities that you have, enable you to meet and complete the challenges that you face and goals that you want to achieve in the future? 

How likely do you feel that you will succeed? In your career goals? In your personal life? Are you full of positivity?…Or are there nagging self-doubts? This is self-efficacy. 

People with higher levels of self-efficacy are more self-assured…basically, more confident, because they feel they have more control over their futures. They tend to be more motivated towards their goals, see obstacles, and even failures, as challenges, and are less likely to give up when things get tough. 

Something to remember is that self-efficacy is very much task and achievement-focused, so an important part of this is to know what you want to achieve

A low level of self-efficacy can lead to something called Learned Helplessness (Seligman, 2006). A person may hit an obstacle that they feel they can’t overcome, or fail at a particular task. They then generalise this feeling, believing all attempts will lead to failure and, ultimately, give up trying.

They are more likely to avoid challenges in the future, which may, in turn, limit their opportunities and feed their low confidence level. It’s no surprise then that your level of self-efficacy can affect all aspects of your life, from whether you start an exercise regime, apply for certain jobs or not, or choose a particular career path.

So…how can having an understanding of this help us if we want to improve our confidence level?

If it’s all about perspective, change your mindset

One thing that stands out when looking at this theory is that it focuses on our perception of ourselves. So one way to increase our confidence is to change this perception. It might be easier said than done, but by understanding some of the different ways of looking at ourselves, we can start to spot limiting beliefs.

In her book ‘Mindset’ Carol Dweck (2017) talks about two different ways that people see themselves. 

People who have a fixed mindset tend to see their abilities as immovable/unchangeable; for example, that things such as IQ level, are fixed and that there is very little room for change. 

In contrast, and more realistically, people with a ‘growth mindset’ see that they can learn and improve in many aspects of their lives; that setbacks are challenges to be overcome. A growth mindset is important in terms of self-confidence as it is linked closely to resilience. 

The bottom line is…

Be aware that change is possible

Most people, no matter how scary it might seem to them, have the ability to adapt to new situations. We are constantly receiving new information, and moving forward.

An important idea is that self-efficacy, and confidence levels in general, are not fixed and have as much, if not more, to do with the situation that you find yourself in, and the knowledge that you have (or need to gain), than your disposition. 

It’s not something you necessarily are or are not, all of the time (as in “he’s a really confident person”), it’s more something you display in different situations (as in “he displayed real confidence when talking to those people”). The more you become familiar with a certain process, or environment, the more you’re your confidence is likely to grow. 

You might have a high level of self-efficacy when driving a car, for example, because you’ve done it for years, but you’re more likely to be anxious when starting a new job as it’s a new situation – new people, new tasks, new environment. After a few months, weeks or even days in the role, your confidence is likely to increase as you overcome some of the challenges and things become more familiar…but if you have a low level of self-efficacy you might not even apply for the job in the first place!

Decide what you want to achieve and develop a strategy – goal setting:

As previously stated, self-efficacy is very much task and achievement-focused, so an important part of this is to identify what you want to achieve or weaknesses you want to improve upon, and develop a strategy to get you there with measurable results. You may need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to address this and, ultimately, put in a lot of effort and practice.

Bandura (1997, p80) called this ‘enactive mastery experiences’…basically, by putting ourselves to the test, overcoming obstacles and seeing the positive results at a personal level our self-efficacy, and confidence, should grow.

For example, if you wanted to improve your physical fitness, you might start by walking more, or developing and starting an exercise plan. You might join a gym or take an exercise class. You would build this up over time as your body adapts and becomes stronger. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) expect to go from couch potato to athlete in one day. You would see steady, measurable results.

It’s quite easy to consider a large goal and become overwhelmed, so breaking things into manageable chunks is important. Setting goals that are challenging enough is also important though, as these are often more motivating and rewarding.

The bottom line is, if you want to achieve something important to you, it’s better to set incremental, reachable, but challenging goals, chisel away a bit at a time, and see positive, measurable results. 

Vicarious Experience

Another strong determinant of self-efficacy is what Bandura (1925) called ‘vicarious experience’. Basically, we tend to judge ourselves based on the observations and achievements of other people, as this is often our only basis for comparison in what would otherwise be an ambiguous situation. 

So it’s important to choose our ‘models’ wisely. If we observe others trying and failing at a task, particularly if we see them as being similar to us and/or someone we admire, this can lower our self-efficacy as we may also feel that we too will fail.

Another thing that can knock our confidence is when others succeed and we fail. What’s important here is to be careful when comparing ourselves to others and make sure that your standards are realistic. 

In his book ’12 Rules or Life’, the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson (2018) offers great advice on this. That it’s often better to: ‘compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today’.

‘Verbal persuasion’ from others is another important element of self-efficacy
Bandura (1997, p99) – so, ultimately, its good to have people around you who support you, encourage you, and give you positive, constructive feedback.

But remember: you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

People tend to be more deeply affected by negative evaluations than positive ones.

If ten people told you how well you had done on a specific task and one person criticised you, how would you feel? It’s likely that one person’s negative comments might hurt more than all of the positive comments could heal, but this is just how we’re wired. Sometimes you have to realise that you can’t please everyone or succeed all of the time. This is a hard fact of life, but it shouldn’t stop us from trying.

As important as success is, a good thing to also remember is that obstacles, and even failures, provides us with an opportunity – the opportunity to learn, adapt, develop and overcome them. This can, ultimately, build our self-confidence and make us stronger.

Bandura, A. (1925; 1997) Self-Efficacy – The Exercise of ControlW.H.Freeman and Company

Dweck, C.S. (2017) Mindset – Changing the Way You Think to Fulfil Your Potential. Robinson

Peterson, J.B (2018) 12 Rules for Life – an antidote to chaos Penguin Random House UK

Seligman, M.E.P (2006) Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage Books, Random House Inc, New York


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