I don’t think I could attempt to estimate the number of times throughout my life I was confronted with the phrase “you need to be more confident”. Confidence became quite an infamous concept in my life, I was like a dog running after its own tail, doesn’t matter how hard I tried just couldn’t quite catch it. It’s no secret that a lack of confidence has inhibitory qualities but to what extent it influences physiological arousal, psychological processing and general well-being is rather impressive. In today’s blog I aim to answer a fundamental question: What essentially is self-confidence.
When thinking about confidence or self-confidence many words, adjectives or stereotypical perceptions of what a confident human would entail come to mind. I would describe self-confidence with the term “trust”, to have trust in your own ability to control your desired outcome. According to Perry (2011) analysis on the concept of confidence, it is described as a firm belief, trust or reliance. Perry (2011) analysis also expressed a more contemporary definition which described self-confidence as “the belief in oneself and in one's powers and abilities”. This definition Perry (2011) described was closely related to the self-efficacy theory from Albert Bandura.
Albert Bandura (1989) who presented the famous Social Cognitive Theory conducted an analysis on human agency, a loose definition of human agency is our ability to make meaning of our environment and of the world through consciousness. Human agency has been conceptualised in three different ways, either autonomous agency (independent of exterior factors), mechanical agency (only dependent on exterior factors), or emergent interactive agency (a combination of multiple factors determine how we give meaning to our world). The Social Cognitive Theory subscribed to the model of emergent interactive agency, central to this agency model is human motivation, which is people’s beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over events that affect their lives and how these beliefs are moulded through various variables. Central to human motivation is “self-efficacy” (synonym for self-confidence), the way Albert Bandura (1989) describes self-efficacy is as a large function of thought which we use for motivation, goal setting and processing of previous experiences. It is like one big closet of all our previous experiences, successes and failures which we draw from when making decisions. Therefore, our self-efficacy is instrumental in how we construct our desired futures, anticipate outcomes and self-reflect, but it is also very subjective to hindering factors such as negativity, self-doubt, narcissism, anxiety and depression. In simple terms, how high we set our goals or how much we believe in ourselves is determined by our self-efficacy, our self-efficacy is enhanced or hindered by our past success and failure which is also subject to certain psychological, physiological and biological factors... I’m starting to see why I was chasing my tail.
If self-efficacy is determined purely by these factors, it would suggest most people’s self-efficacy would be rather low and quite fragile. A single rejection or failure is all it takes to hinder someone from striving to achieve goals that may be very much attainable. It almost seems too simple, x amount of success equals x amount of self-efficacy enhancement, x amount of failure equals x amount of self-efficacy diminution. Should this be the case, how would we account for the countless people who achieved great things against all odds, such as the novelist, Saroyan, who accumulated thousands of rejections before his first piece was published. Vincent Van Gogh who only sold one painting in his lifetime or composer Stravinsky who was run out of Paris by critics for his piece Rite of spring. Followed by many, many more examples, all these names left a legacy of inspiration within their respective fields. Albert Bandura (1989) stated that “early rejection is the rule, rather than the exception”. Such examples demonstrate two characteristics or factors that seem to outweigh all other factors. The first being resilience, specifically resilience within one’s own self-belief system, the cliché Rocky Balboa “It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s about hard you can get hit and keep moving forward” really proved itself true, failures and rejection are inevitable. The ability to regain self-efficacy and self-belief is what set all these examples apart, the ability to continue believing it is possible whilst being faced with rejection. Which leads me to the final and most important factor I believe to be behind self-confidence, OPTIMISM. Optimism or I like to say irrational optimism, is to believe in something with genuine belief and courage regardless of how irrational the belief may be. Albert Bandura (1989) mentions optimism as a key characteristic in order to overcome the adversity, failure, rejection, setbacks and frustrations encountered throughout life. Optimism presents no boundaries; it allows us to recover our self-efficacy even in moments of self-doubt and continue to strive towards something better. I for one often got caught within the very common mindset of being “realistic”, realism only provides limits, it is a generational construct that is very difficult to escape, generations have passed down realism as a justification for their own inadequacies. Should anyone who has achieved great things had believed in being realistic, they’d never have even attempted half of what they were able to accomplish. I have found throughout my career this to be all too true, I played alongside players who may not have been super talented but had this undeniable optimism that seemed to carry them through to higher levels opposed to those who potentially possessed more talent. Optimists tend to understand rejection isn’t personal, it’s a reflection of their situation and not their efficacy, it’s all part of the learning process that needs to be repeated until success is achieved. This simple perspective optimists hold is what allows them to have such great resilience even in times of failure. Optimism has proven time and time again, that anything you put your mind to is possible, yet we are often advocating for realism.
When I began my journey in football, I started off an extreme optimist, I was young and open to the world. After much rejection and adversity, life pushed me very hard into the field filled with realistic sheep where I began creating limits, setting boundaries and allowing others to tell me what my reality was. I feel a sense of pity for all those sheep now. The world becomes rather dull should you take a realistic perspective. Confidence is all about believing in something better than what your past has told you, not allowing your past to dictate the future, rather creating the future you purely desire, confidence seems to not actually care about the possibility of failure. So many have tried and have failed hundreds of times, but every time regardless they continue to try again. Rid yourself of fear towards rejection or failure as there is nothing to lose when you have everything to gain.
My journey in life has brought me to a place where I wish to advocate for the optimists, those who believe in achieving something better than what society tells them is possible, as its those people that I would choose to believe in.
Albert Bandura (1989), ‘Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory’, The American psychologist, vol. 44, no. 9, American Psychological Association, pp. 1175–1184.
Perry, P 2011, ‘Concept Analysis: Confidence/Self-confidence’, Nursing forum (Hillsdale), vol. 46, no. 4, Blackwell Publishing Inc, Malden, USA, pp. 218–230.
BANDURA, A 2001, ‘Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective’, Annual review of psychology, vol. 52, no. 1, Annual Reviews, Palo Alto, CA, pp. 1–26.