Confidence is a Belief – Not an Innate Trait

By the end of this post, the hope is that you will believe that everyone has unique abilities that contribute value to their job and work organization. That value should be embraced and provide a well-founded belief in yourself and your confidence. But I’ve jumped to the punchline here, so let me back up.

Confidence is a funny thing. It can seem to vanish when we need it most. And many of us believe we are either born with it or not, but that’s actually not the case. Confidence is not innate but rather a mindset that emerges from four different individual but highly interrelated traits. So, confidence is a skill that can be developed and strengthened. Confidence also doesn’t remain constant. It is not something we arrive at and then maintain. Our environment, experiences, and situations contribute to our current confidence mindset. But through deeper self-knowledge, we recognize when our confidence is waning a bit and can learn to take charge of our thoughts and traits to recall or boost our confidence when needed.

The four traits that contribute to self-confidence are neuroticism, self-efficacy, locus of control, and self-esteem.

Neuroticism is our most ingrained trait and can be less adaptable than the others. But with this recognition, we can learn to self-regulate our neuroticism if needed. Neuroticism refers to our emotional state or disposition to experience negative reactions to situations, like anger, anxiety, self-consciousness, irritability, emotional instability, or depression. It is reflected in how we react to our environment and changing situations. If we become overwhelmed or angry at simple, unexpected situations, like a slight detour due to road work when we are not running late, we display neuroticism. We need to recognize where we fall on the neuroticism spectrum to self-regulate our behaviors when needed. Some degree of neuroticism is beneficial at work because it leads to more honest self-reflection of our abilities.

The other three traits are more adaptable and easier to control and influence change. The first is self-efficacy, which is the belief that we can succeed or achieve the goals we set for ourselves. We believe we can take the necessary actions to achieve the desired outcome with strong self-efficacy. This belief drives or determines the type of goals we set for ourselves, how we go about achieving them, and how we reflect on our performance afterward so we can continue to grow and develop. Individuals with high self-efficacy set more challenging goals because they believe they can figure out how to achieve them even if they are attempting something they have not done before. They also self-evaluate afterward to understand what they did well and how they can improve going forward without being overly critical. They focus on what they can learn and improve through this self-evaluation, not dwelling on any potential mistakes.

The next element of self-confidence is the locus of control. Locus of control is also a belief in our abilities; in this case, it is a belief that we can change what’s happening around us. Individuals with a strong locus of control feel they control their fate versus external factors. Feeling in control starts with our attitudes and taking situations as they are and finding the best in them to lead to better situations in the future. Because of this sense of control, individuals with a high locus of control tend to be happier, less stressed and have higher job satisfaction.

And the final trait is self-esteem, also known as self-respect or self-worth. This trait is an evaluation of our own worth or value. More simply, it is how much we like ourselves regardless of our circumstances. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we humans need to accomplish things and have our efforts recognized to determine this value. When we set goals and achieve them and contribute to some greater purpose, we feel a sense of pride. Our contributions make us feel valued and valuable, leading to positive, higher self-esteem.

It is from the interrelationship of these four components that our self-confidence emerges. And when we have a more positive, higher opinion of one, it typically improves how we view the others. For example, if we have high self-efficacy, we accomplish goals, increasing our self-worth or self-esteem. Our higher self-belief and value strengthen our belief that we can handle the curveball situations that life might present. We have a heightened locus of control because we believe we can control our outcomes. As you most likely also recognized, these traits are grounded in our attitudes or mindsets. Taking control of our thoughts and guiding them towards optimistic views drives a self-fulling belief in our abilities and higher self-confidence.

Okay, now that we better understand self-confidence, why does it appear to vanish when we need it most? Because of change, change in our environment or situation. Change can conjure up fear or anxiety because of the unknown. Although highly self-confident people believe they can accomplish or tackle new responsibilities, it doesn’t mean they don’t have moments of doubt. This self-doubt is known as imposter syndrome, and you can recognize when you are experiencing it when your inner voice says things like You don’t deserve to be here. You’re a fraud, and everyone knows it!

Research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science found that over 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point. So, we are not alone in experiencing self-doubting moments.

It is how we handle these self-doubts that determine if our self-confidence reemerges. If we languish in negative self-evaluation, our minds are clouded by these thoughts, and we are not free to focus on how to move forward. We can even go so far as to subconsciously put-up barriers to our ability to take positive actions. We can behave in ways that are self-handicapping, self-sabotaging, or self-limiting.

So, as you can see, self-confidence and maintaining it can be tricky. Self-knowledge is the critical element to managing our positive self-confidence successfully.