What is confidence?

In today’s training, and indeed on a lot of training where we talk about personal development, a common piece of terminology is raised which I have constant difficulty with. Confidence.



full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliabilityof a person or thing:

belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance:

certitude; assurance:

My trouble with it is that it’s not something which is tangible or a skill which can actually be learned. From the definition above, there are a few things which are important for me: ‘belief in oneself’, ‘reliability’, ‘certitude’. Those are the things I tend to focus on, and develop the conversation around. Further, having confidence seems to be a desired state of being, without understanding what it is you want to be confident about.

We can’t learn confidence, any more than we can learn conformity. They are concepts which encapsulate a range of behaviours. So when, at the start of sessions, a delegate says ‘it’s about confidence’, I stop and challenge that line of thinking. The purpose of the training they are in may be to help them be more confident, but actually that’s not the thing we’re going to focus on. I’m going to focus on your self-belief. And that’s what I think people confuse.

I can work with building your self-belief. There’s been research into what self-belief is, what helps, and what doesn’t. I can do very specific exercises that get you to think about this better and that get you to see what more can be done. And that’s the key to having confidence.

Even those who say – oh but he’s just naturally confident. No, he’s not. He has the self-belief he can do it, and he has something else in mind. He doesn’t care about the consequence. Not in the sense that he’s apathetic, or that he’s arrogant, but ‘he’ understands that it will be a learning experience, so either way it’s a win-win. That’s key number two. I have that attitude, which is why most of my life I’ve just done things. It’s how I learned to ski, why I went camping, ran off the top of a mountain, and did a 10k run.

Be aware. BE AWARE OF THOSE ‘EXPERTS’. Be aware of those experts who claim otherwise. Be aware those claim, they can increase your confidence. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re false prophets. Blasphemers of the highest order (well in L&D anyway).

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

6 thoughts on “What is confidence?”

  1. Interesting post Sukh.

    I think confidence is a compound of various different things for various different people but involves (as you rightly say) self belief, knowledge, understanding and support (are you more likely to be confident when someone has your back?). No science in this (and when I finish revising I may go and nose more) but just a thought…

    There’s a lovely line in “The West Wing” which always comes to mind when people discuss confidence.
    Chief of Staff to Presidential candidate: “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way, fake it till you make it.”

    1. I guess in response to the bit about being more confident when someone has your back, it harks back to a post from a few week’s ago about conformity.

      I like that line > never really got into West Wing though…

  2. Confidence comes from the Latin con – with and fide – belief, and means simply, with belief. I think that belief is derived from a mixture of questioning, real listening, and a good dollop of humility. That’s a recipe I like.

    1. Doug, did you not write something about this a while back? I seem to remember you explaining the latin at that time too!

      Thanks for this though, the humility bit is interesting. When acting confidently, is humility a part of that, and should it be?

  3. Great post, and a difficult subject for the beginner (that’s me) to grasp accurately.

    I think sports psychology has something to offer here. Are you familiar with Willi Railo’s ‘Performance Cage’ concept? I think it is in alignment with your conceptualisation of ‘self belief’ – it’s basically a measurement of how great of range of outcomes you can encounter before anxiety occurs. In Championship calibre athletes – your ‘naturally confident’ types – are simply those that have developed a large performance cages – they know how to lose better and do not question themselves after by defeat, but simply take it as a learning experience. This is exactly the opposite of ego, where high self esteem is married to a small performance cage. All good brainfood

    1. I like this sports analogy a lot, Hung, and agree with it too. Similar to the ‘bucket analogy’ I talked about in my post on resilience, it’s a different way of thinking about how you believe you can perform.

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