I’ve met a few people recently who have been, in their words, ‘starting to lose their confidence’. This has often been after a series of unsuccessful attempts at winning their next assignment.
This set me off down the road of pondering on what confidence is, how we get it and how we lose it?
We talk about confidence as if it were a thing. Like a mobile phone or an umbrella (these are very easy to lose). But confidence isn’t a thing. You can’t see a piece of confidence on the pavement that someone else has lost and keep it for yourself, or, if you’re an honest type, hand it in at the nearest police station.
So what exactly is confidence?
It’s difficult to say really because confidence means different things to different people. Some cultures even place a limit on how much you should have. “He/she’s got a little bit too much confidence!” can be a pretty big insult (at least here in the UK). In these cases however, it is not confidence per se that they are disapproving of, but behaviours they associate with over-confidence – loud, brash, cocky, doesn’t listen to others etc. Strangely though, people who behave like this are generally not very confident people inside.
So, here’s my view. Confidence is a catch all name for a variety of feelings. For me these feelings might include optimism, engagement, hopefulness, trust, calm, purposefulness (is that a word?) but you may have others that fit better with your definition.
To see how we get and lose confidence, it’s therefore critical to look at feelings, how we create them and how they change.
Now, here’s the difficult bit to get our heads around.
Feelings are not created by what happens to us or how people behave towards us.
I admit that it’s a compelling illusion that things outside of us cause feelings inside of us, but it’s just not true. If it were, we’d all feel the same way about the same situation. At a football match, some fans like the result and are happy and some do not and are unhappy. Same match, different feelings. Some people like Blackadder and think it’s hilarious (me) and some think it’s stupid (my Mrs.).
How come we can experience the same thing and feel so differently about it?
Well, we all have our different opinions on how things should be. These opinions or beliefs are based on what we’ve been taught, experienced and otherwise absorbed throughout our lives, wandering around the place doing the best we can.
We use our beliefs to judge pretty much everything we see and experience. It’s good or bad. Beautiful or ugly. Clever or stupid. Funny or stupid. We also use our beliefs to decide what we want more of and what we want less of and we try and change ourselves and the world around us (exhausting) to comply with our beliefs about how things should be.
It is not the things that happen to us that cause us to feel the way we feel, but our beliefs about what SHOULD be happening and isn’t.
I get mad if it rains when I’m playing golf. How daft is that? The rain isn’t being vindictive, nor do I think whoever is pulling the strings of this universe has got it in for me (though sometimes I convince myself they do). It’s just raining and it’s my thinking that it shouldn’t be raining that is causing me to feel mad.
The problems come when we believe our beliefs to be ‘The Truth’. To be Fact. To be Right. To be the Law. They’re not. They’re just opinions. Gravity is a fact. Our need for oxygen (and things like beer) in order to survive are facts. But most of our beliefs are not. They’re just opinions. Except we forget this (fact).
So when things don’t match up to the way we think they ‘should’, we get angry, sad, disappointed, irate, indignant, depressed, pessimistic.
Right, where was I? I seem to have got distracted. Ah, losing confidence.
So, confidence is a feeling. It isn’t a thing. It’s a result of our thinking. We ‘lose’ it not because of what happens to us, but simply when we believe our negative thinking about the world, ourselves and others.
A thought comes into our head “I’ll never get a job/assignment/girlfriend/boyfriend/Ferrari/new lawnmower” and then we believe it. In our minds, it’s an indisputable fact. Not a belief but a fact. Nonsense, it’s a belief. If we believe it, we feel bad and when we feel bad we don’t perform well. We either panic and look desperate (not good for getting jobs/assignments/girlfriends/boyfriends) or we give up and don’t bother, seeing no point in even trying. Either way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
No, no, no. I’m not suggesting you exercise thought control and stop these pesky negative thoughts arising in the first place. I bet you couldn’t anyway. Not possible.
Nor am I suggesting you practice positive thinking – it’s tiring, false, unnecessary, and it doesn’t work long-term i.e. more than about a minute, but that’s just my opinion. Other opinions are available.
There’s nothing you need to do except see that the way you feel is as a result of taking your thinking/beliefs/judgements far too seriously and believing they are fact. Believing that they are true.
I guarantee, that once you see this for real, not intellectually, but really see the truth in it, life will become lighter, easier, more fun and more productive.
And finally, if you think you’re losing lose your confidence, don’t look around for other people to give you some of theirs. It’s not possible. Confidence comes from within and it’s a natural state when you stop believing your beliefs.