The Confidence Game

To be completely honest with you, I’m afraid of confidence.

I am petrified of having either too much of it or too little, so I always err on the side of too little. I call this the state of being “miserably comfortable.”

Too much confidence has led me to make some fairly bad choices, like never proof-reading schoolwork. This would explain why at the end of most of papers were comments like: “Andrea, did you even read over this?! Please see me!

I don’t know how to walk that fine line between having too much confidence and having no confidence, both terrify me. So how the hell can you ever find balance between the two? The answer has little to do with you.


What is confidence and where does it come from?

Confidence is defined as the state of being certain, or having firm trust in someone or something. Having self-confidence is trusting in your own abilities and knowledge.

When it comes to expressing what you know in a confident manner you are pulling from two different kinds of memory:

Explicit: These memories are intentional and you are able to easily recall and explain them (something you learned in history class or a test you studied for).

Implicit: These are unintentional or unconscious knowledge & memories (like remembering how to ride a bike). It’s not something that you can easily explain, you just know it because you do.

Researchers believe confidence stems from your explicit knowledge or memory. The belief is that because you know exactly where explicit knowledge comes from, you have a higher degree of confidence when you are explaining it.

Too much confidence, however, leaves you vulnerable to making errors and wrong decisions. People who are overconfident trust too much in their own judgement and abilities. These are the people who believe they can predict the future, they think they have all the answers (think CEOs, CFOs). This causes them to not consider the full breadth of options or outcomes available.

The crappy part of it all is that being overconfident still gets results. Well, crappy for me as it means I have to find some way to gain confidence.

People love overconfidence. Confident individuals tend to be viewed as exciting to be around and they make everyone feel at ease and that’s a powerful social booster.

We know first impressions matter, but they also carry significant weight beyond that of the initial meeting. Those impressions continue to impact how others judge and perceive us. So overconfident people can expect a lasting social boost from that first impression.

If you believe you are better than others, chances are those around you will believe it as well, even if they have absolutely no evidence to support this claim. Your voice and how you present yourself matters.

“In organizations, people are very easily swayed by others’ confidence even when that confidence is unjustified (…) Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight.” — Jessica A. Kennedy

Does this mean you can stop trying and just act like a total narcissistic maniac? No, not unless of course you like making horrible mistakes. In an article published in Scientific American, they discuss the process by which people become overconfident. It can happen when we have too much information, when we become too comfortable, when a task is too hard, or simply through repetitive actions.

People tend to assume that more information leads to more accuracy, but this isn’t always the case. More information isn’t always good information, or the right kind of information. When we become overconfident in the amount of information we are receiving, we tend to overlook the flaws or inconsistencies that may be present.

The more comfortable we are with a task, the more we let confident we become, and this can lead us to make errors or decisions we may not normally make. For example, I make cakes. I love making cakes. Sometimes I think I can recall all the ingredients I need from the store by memory, which invariably leads me to forget something crucial, like flour. I was overconfindent.

There’s a time and a place for overconfidence. A 2011 study published in Nature, looked at the evolution of confidence, and self-delusion, indicated that being overconfident helped people face challenges. It encourages us to make that extra effort in the face of the unknown. Overconfidence can help us make more believable bluffs to others, and even to ourselves, which can lead to real-world gains.

So where does this leave us—too much confidence and we make mistakes, not enough and no one notices us? Where do we go from here?

Acquiring confidence

Focus on something other than yourself

Think about how much you already consider yourself in everyday situations. If you are anything like me, it’s already a whole damn lot. I think about what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, how I could have said it better…the list goes on. Apparently, we’d all be better off if we thought less about ourselves.

If you are only doing something to enhance your social status, confidence, or self-esteem—you’re in for a sad awakening. The more we chase those things, the more difficult they are to obtain. When we become too preoccupied with being perceived as the best we don’t take the neccessary steps to follow through on becoming the best.

Goals directed at being constructive, supportive and responsive to others lead to feelings of connectedness, closeness to others, social support and trust, as well as reduced feelings of conflict, loneliness, fear and confusion.—Scientific American

Consider this, instead of worrying about every little thing you do, instead of over analyzing every single action, you can take steps to actually improve your life and the lives of those around you. That sounds much better than being obsessed with what I’m doing and how I’m doing it every hour of every day.

Get some frakin’ perspective

Okay, so you messed up. You aren’t the only person in the entire universe to have messed up before. Yep, that’s hard for me to write because whenever I make a mistake I cringe so hard that my neck physically retracts into my body.

I show myself no-mercy when I mess-up. I obsess over it for days. If you’ve made a mistake, acknowledge it, but don’t become trapped in self-doubt hate spiral. That shame-spiral of doom can lead to lower confidence levels, which makes it more difficult for us to believe in our abilities and take risks in the future.

Individuals who have had a negative experience, like not getting a job you wanted, may have an easier time coping if they focus on something they enjoy or feel good about and how that contributes to a better society. So, instead of dwelling for 48 hours about how much you suck, think about something you feel good about and write about how what you do contributes to the greater good.


Conversely, when you are too confident you cannot see your flaws or where you can improve. Try asking yourself these questions to gain some perspective on your actions:

Where do you want to improve in your life and why? Do you want to do it because you wish to gain some sort of social status or do you want to do it because you believe it will actually improve your life and the life of those around you? For example, I want to improve my writing because I want to communicate more effectively.

What are some of your past successes? In order to know where you are going you have to understand where you’ve been. Listing your past successes helps you get some clarity on exactly what you have accomplished. You can use this as a reality check and a motivational tool.

These questions can help you gain a more realistic view of where you are now and perhaps see where you need to go.

Think competence, not confidence

Confidence can’t and won’t make up for a skill you lack.

So here’s what you do:

Sit down: This one should be self-evident, though if you feel more comfortable standing, that’s cool too.

Write down what you want to accomplish and how it will help others: Remember what I said above? It still applies. It seems weird to set personal goals with other people in mind, especially as your brain is designed to put you first all the time. However, if you can’t see how a goal you are setting will impact those around you, then you are likely not setting the right goal.

Make a plan: Break the goal up into several steps, that way you can celebrate success as you go which will give you motivation and confidence to continue. Set a schedule, be consistent, and hold yourself accountable.

Stop waiting for the right moment: Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to improve yourself. No one is going to be by your side telling “Okay, now is the perfect time to do this.” If you want for that moment, you’ll let everything pass you by. Go do it.


Getting confidence seems abstract to me, it always has which is probably why I’ve always had trouble with it. What isn’t abstract is helping others, improving over time, or thinking about where I want to go in life. These are things I already know the answer to, those are things that, dare I say, feel confident in? Act with good intentions, act with purpose, and confidence will follow.