Three Confidence-Limiting Beliefs
To attain genuine self-assurance, we need to understand the thoughts that may be holding us back.
The word “confidence” is an ambiguous term. It often acts as a catch-all for many types of “can-do” and positive emotions. While it may seem counter-intuitive to view any form of positive emotion as unconstructive, not all types of confidence deliver that genuine, deep-down sense of fulfillment. Indeed, some forms of so-called self-confidence actually undermine our longer-term sense of fulfillment.
We want a sense of ourselves that is authentic, purposeful, sustainable and determined, yet grounded and humble (what I call “24-karat confidence”) as opposed to a “fool’s gold” inflated sense of ourselves that fleeting, fickle and fake.
All forms of confidence are the product of beliefs. Beliefs can be thought of as psychological DNA. Whereas biological DNA programs our physical form, our beliefs program our interpretations of the world and how we feel and behave in relation to it. What follows are three beliefs that limit our attainment of that genuine, 24-karat confidence.
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The Nature of Our Abilities
Confidence-limiting belief #1: “My talents and abilities are more or less fixed and ultimately determine my potential.”
Most of the research into this belief has been done by renowned psychologist Carol S. Dweck, PhD, and her team at Stanford University. Dweck calls this belief the fixed mindset, and she calls the opposite belief — that talents and abilities are not fixed — the growth mindset. The fixed mindset exerts one of the most powerful undermining effects on our resilience, motivation and integrity in the face of uncertainty and failure. This is because people with a fixed mindset worry whether their (presumed) finite abilities are enough and whether sooner or later they will be found wanting. The fixed mindset also assumes that a person’s long-term potential can be determined simply by measuring his or her “real” level of intelligence, talent and ability using an externally applied performance test, such as an IQ test.
Dr. Dweck and her colleagues have shown that performance test results that apparently measure “latent talent” are, in fact, poor indicators of how likely some people are to live up to those expectations when real-world confounding variables such as challenge, adversity and failure come into play. Instead, she found that our beliefs about whether our abilities are fixed are more predictive of how we respond to challenge, adversity and failure than any externally measured performance or ability score. Dr. Dweck found that people with fixed mindsets tend to panic, give up, avoid or fib about how well they did when faced with adversity, challenge and failure because they interpret a suboptimal performance as revealing some sort of personal inadequacy as opposed to an opportunity to learn.
By contrast, people with growth mindsets are better at persisting, learning and adapting amid challenging and uncertain situations because they don’t allow their doubt and uncertainty to turn into paralyzing self-doubt. They don’t see not being able to do something immediately or perfectly as indicative of some form of personal inadequacy. In short, a belief in our ability to acquire the skills, knowledge and motivation we need to succeed at a task is more predictive of long-term success than a belief that we already possess the skills, knowledge and motivation needed to succeed at that task.
Confidence-limiting belief #2: “When a bad outcome occurs, I tend to think and act like things will always turn out badly and that it will affect everything forever.”
This belief is like ending a story with “and they all lived miserably ever after.” Pessimism (and optimism) is best explained using the learned explanatory styles model of psychologist and educator Martin Seligman, PhD. He referred to pessimism as a learned process that results from acquired beliefs as opposed to as an innate personality trait. He noticed that people learn to interpret life’s challenges in certain ways and found that those who exhibit a more pessimistic thinking style tend to talk about causes and consequences of problems in a way that implies that these causes and consequences will be permanent as opposed to the not necessarily permanent mindset of an optimistic style.
Optimists view a problem as a specific event, and they dispute the assumption that they might not have any control over the cause of the problem. Pessimists also tend to believe that challenges, adversity and failure have more pervasive or far-reaching consequences than optimists think they do. People with a pervasive mindset believe that individual failures determine their feelings about themselves, their abilities and their lives as opposed to seeing a problem as a specific event that occurred amid a specific set of circumstances that can be learned from and moved past.
Here’s what Dr. Seligman found when he combined these various beliefs and explanatory styles: People end up with a much more resilient, optimistic response to challenge, adversity and failure if they adopt a not necessarily permanent and specific explanation of an issue. By contrast, people end up with a much less resilient, more pessimistic and helpless response to challenge, adversity and failure if they adopt a permanent and pervasive explanation of the issue.
In practical terms, optimists learn to dispute the inevitability of everlasting and all-encompassing doom and gloom, whereas pessimists don’t learn to dispute the likelihood of everlasting and all-encompassing doom and gloom. This makes pessimists more pessimistic and thus less willing to face adversity head on, move on and try again. Dr. Seligman’s point is this: If you can learn to become something, you can unlearn it and learn the opposite. Optimists learn to dispute the inevitability or the permanency of everlasting and all-encompassing trouble.
Winning and Status
Confidence-limiting belief #3: “My self-worth is defined by how I rank and compare against other people.”
Beliefs relating to competing and winning are linked intricately to self-confidence. The confidence limiting belief here is, “I’m worthy when I’m winning,” which drives what I call the “status” motive. No one likes to lose, and there are times and situations when we are competing explicitly to win, such as when playing sports. However, if our self-worth is dependent primarily on whether we win or lose a contest, this ultimately will undermine our self-confidence and long-term fulfilment. Furthermore, if someone becomes obsessed with winning and being better than other people, that person may consider subversive tactics such as cheating or undermining others who are threatening their status. They are also more likely to see every challenge or difference of opinion as a “contest” that they must not lose. People who are “never wrong” tend to have less sustainable and/or fulfilling relationships.
A more positive version of competition and winning is this: “I believe that my success is determined by how well my competencies enable me to perform the tasks I need to do to perform well.” I call this the mastery motive. Mastery always begins with mastering the basics by applying effort, dedication and coaching. While it is entirely possible for someone with a status motive to dominate his or her area, that individual is more likely to overreact or threaten to quit if or when “beaten.” By contrast, people with a mastery motive recover from disappointment more quickly as they tend to retain a sense of hope because they believe they can always improve by working on strategies, tactics and technique.
All forms of confidence are the product of beliefs. This short article highlights only three of many beliefs that combine to either undermine or build genuine confidence. Some beliefs manifest as a fake or arrogant form of confidence, which we know doesn’t build long-term satisfying or fulfilling relationships. This article has tried to highlight the subtle but incredibly significant effects of holding alternative
beliefs that help us attain that genuine, 24-karat confidence for life.
Dr. Faulkner currently divides his time between working in his own small animal practice in Suffolk, England, and coaching practice owners and managers. His consulting business, The Colourful Consultation, helps veterinarians proactively pursue the four essential outcomes of veterinary practice: clinical resolution, client satisfaction, financial resolution and colleague satisfaction. For more information, visit colourfulconsultation.com.