Nearly everyone seems to agree that self-confidence is a good thing. But few ever take the time to define it; or even ask what it is.
The idea ‘self-confidence’ implies confidence OF something or IN something. The obvious implication is confidence in oneself, or ‘the self.’
Actually, to be confident of something you have to be aware of its nature. To be confident of a self—your own, or anyone else’s—requires you first to know what the self is capable of.
This is why I sometimes say that confidence in yourself first requires a confidence in human nature; which in turn requires finding out what, in human nature, inspires confidence.
If you’re confident in your auto mechanic, you’re confident that the mechanic has the necessary skills to identify and correct, as reasonably and inexpensively as possible, actual or potential problems with your car. You don’t expect your auto mechanic to be a baker, a genetic scientist or a piano tuner. It doesn’t concern you in the least if he’s incapable of doing any of these things. You don’t care about his personal preferences, what television shows he likes to watch, or which football or baseball team he applauds (if any). You are counting on him to be honest, which means sticking to the facts of reality and conveying those facts to you as accurately and fully as possible.
If all these qualities exist, at least so far as you’re concerned, then you’ll be confident in your auto mechanic. The same applies to your computer technician; your physician; your lawn care technician; your roofer; the owner of your local grocery store chain; the restaurants you frequent; the list goes on.
Notice that with your auto mechanic, or your electrician or computer technician, you’re not counting on expertise in other areas, nor agreement (about sports, movies) in irrelevant areas. In order to expect him to be ‘good’ in your estimation, you only look for what’s reasonable and in the nature of an auto mechanic, or physician, to expect.
The same has to be done with yourself. Except you’re not evaluating yourself for a particular job or responsibility. You’re evaluating yourself for all of life.
In order to assess yourself as fit to handle life, you first have to determine what is your standard of fitness. This, I find, is what many people have not done. As a result, they’re subject to all kinds of false expectations. For example, ‘John is good at that. But I’m not. This makes me inferior, and therefore incapable.’
But how did John become good at what he’s good at? You might not have enough facts to know for sure, but you can be sure that along the way he used his reasoning, thinking mind to develop his talent in whatever area. This is true whether his skill is in cooking, driving a car, or mastering genetic research. He observed; he practiced; he fumbled a few times, or perhaps for years; he thought about his errors, he got feedback from other sources and/or he thought it out himself; all this, until he eventually mastered whatever the task is that he’s good at.
Confidence stems from the objective fact that we have reasoning minds, and from our subsequent and continuous willingness to use our minds. Therein lies the ‘secret’ of self-confidence, although it’s not a secret because upon reflection it’s apparent for all to see.
The key to self-confidence is your nature. You’re a human being. Human beings survive by means of thinking, along with taking action, then followed by more thinking. It’s called learning. You have the capacity to take on any challenge rationally open to human beings by thought, study, investigation, experimentation, lessons from others as appropriate, observation, what have you.
It’s a terrible mistake to think of self-confidence as something that somehow ‘bestows’ itself on you, in one fell swoop. Self-confidence is something that you accumulate over time, gradually and incrementally. It can also erode, if you let it, but you can later build it up again. You do so by continuously reminding yourself that you have the capacity to think and learn—that it’s your nature, as a human being—and that you can and will figure things out as you stick with it.
No, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever master everything, especially more complex things where your greater talents (or even motivation for learning) might not reside. But this doesn’t change your basic nature as a thinking and acting conceptual being, and this nature is what you can count on in order to survive and flourish to the best of your abilities.
I’m using self-confidence here in the same sense as people often use the phrase self-esteem. The same principle applies with either term. You esteem yourself because you are aware that you possess the capacity to think, and it’s in thinking that you survive and grow (both materially and intellectually/psychologically).
Notice that thinking is not necessarily the same as knowing. In many cases, thinking will lead to knowing something. In all cases, thinking leads to some heightened understanding of something—even if only to know where you’re still not sure, confused, or lacking information.
Developing self-confidence first requires a clear understanding about what merits confidence. Confidence and esteem in yourself come from two things. One, the capacity to think. (The mere fact of your reading this article proves you possess that.) Two, the willingness to utilize your capacity for thinking and gaining knowledge every day of your life.
If you lack self-confidence, you don’t need to wait for someone to give it to you, or ‘teach’ it to you. All you have to do is start using the capacity which is already there—and crediting yourself for where you already have.
A thoughtful, self-esteeming person does not always know the answers. But such a person is willing to think, and to know which questions to ask—and from whom to seek answers, in cases such as the auto mechanic, the physician or the computer technician.
Intelligence consists not just of mastering your own knowledge and skills, but also of knowing—in a complex, sophisticated world—how to gain the necessary specialized knowledge from others, when that’s necessary.
You might feel you’re lacking in self-esteem or self-confidence. You might think someone has to give it to you, or you must find a way to ‘get it.’ But in reality, you’ve already got much to be confident about; the task is simply to use it.
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