Yesterday I attended a workshop entitled ‘How to be Confident’ – something I have needed to know how to be for a very long time now, but, until recently, had given up all hope or care of ever being. The truth is that my issues with confidence had been so prolonged that that the words “you need to be more confident” from mentors, teachers, friends, instructors, tutors, examiners, colleagues and family members had come to sound almost boring, as I heard them at almost every encounter where constructive criticism was due.
Knowing from a young age that this was an area I needed to develop, I tried not to let it hold me back from doing things I wanted to do, for example, going to university, travelling and living abroad, and becoming a teacher. Until recently, although it may have held me back slightly in not achieving my full potential, I had still managed to be successful enough that I didn’t worry about it. I accepted a lack of confidence (or outward display of confidence) as part of my personality, and wished that others (and society) would too. I thought that just because I “lacked” a certain quality that others have, it would continue not to be a huge be-all-and-end-all problem in my life. However, I have come to learn that an outward display of confidence is highly valued in society, and almost certainly in the workplace. “Getting by” with a lack of confidence had served me well enough, until recent events made me really want to change things. What finally pushed me into seeking help was a feeling that had I been more able to outwardly display confidence, I could have avoided being heavily criticised in my last two workplaces, and that my colleagues would have formed a more favourable and more realistic impression of me personally and of my abilities as a teacher.
So I booked a place on the ‘How to be Confident’ workshop, hoping it would give me practical advice on how to look and sound more confident on the surface. However, the class was a lot more theoretical than I was expecting. The class was about two and a half hours long, and attended by about 12 people, mostly young women like myself, and there was a presentation accompanied by lots of opportunities for discussion. As an opening we had been asked, “What does confidence mean for you?” and this is a question I have often thought about in my life. I have sometimes wondered just what exactly “confidence” is. There is a general assumption that we should all have it, so we should all know what it means. How couldn’t you?
Anyway, to solve my problems, we were presented with a useful equation.
Confidence = self-efficacy + optimism
Of course, this equation is only useful if you also know what self-efficacy is, a term I had (somewhat unsurprisingly) never heard of before.
According to leading psychologist in this field, Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is “an individual’s belief that he/she has the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve a particular goal or could acquire them in the future”, or in other words, believing that you have the skills to succeed in a particular situation (or if you don’t have the skills yet, you will be able to learn them). The class then went on to break down Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy and his suggestions on how to increase it.
I was initially surprised to see optimism as part of the equation, but it makes sense that to be confident, you have to have faith in yourself, and faith requires hope and a positive perspective. We were then presented with theories of how to increase optimism.
Although the theoretical nature of the confidence workshop wasn’t exactly what I had been looking for, looking at confidence as a mathematical or scientific formulas is actually really helpful. For too long, confidence has seemed to be an abstract term that I couldn’t grasp. Now I can see it as being made up of parts: self-belief, positivity, skills, faith, hope.
So, after sharing my story with you, what does confidence mean for you in your life? Or what would it mean for you if you had it? For me going forward, it would mean being able to take up a new project or goal without becoming filled with self-doubt. I hope you will share some of your ideas or stories with me too.