How many of us have heard, “fake it ‘till you make it,” when we wonder how to increase confidence?.
We live in a culture that reveres self-confidence and self-assuredness, but as it turns out, there may be a better approach to success and personal development: self-compassion. While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate those abilities, wrote Kristin Wong in her recent piece in the New York Times.
We’re led to believe that if we simply pretend to project confidence, we’ll succeed. We look for ways to increase our self-assuredness, hoping others will believe we’re even better than we think we are.
In reality, the opposite may be true. Projecting over-confidence can become a detriment rather than a sign of strength. We’re actually far better off to learn to lean not on our inner-blow-hard OR our inner-critic. Instead, we’re better off to learn how to listen to our inner realist, assess the situation, and then use self-compassion and self-affection to nurture and care for ourselves. We can and should identify our weaknesses, of course. But rather than beating ourselves up over challenges, we’d do better to focus on how to use them as an opportunity to grow and expand our capacity.
I was having a conversation recently with a team member, who also happens to be in one of our leadership training groups. He brought up concerns he’s having with a fellow member of the group.
“He’s overconfident in his leadership abilities. It’s actually holding him back. It keeps him from identifying the challenges and growth areas he needs to work on. It’s like he turns a blind eye to any sign of weakness.”
We all have blind spots.
When we meet a person who refuses to recognize areas where in which they’re challenged, we should realize he or she is actually in a very fragile position. Their outer shell of confidence is just waiting to be cracked, uncovered, and disturbed. When this happens, it’s often particularly difficult for them. In fact, it may be earth-shattering when he or she has to face the truth. It isn’t that they need to learn how to increase confidence, but they need to learn how to increase self-awareness.
On the other hand, kids who are congratulated for trying hard instead, develop resilience and grit. Rather than simply believing they’re smart, they learn they are ABLE. This belief in their own capability and coping skills serve them well into the future. No matter what challenges they face, they realize they’re able to experiment until they find a resolution. They understand the power of trial and error. They’re not frightened by uncertainty, because they recognize challenges are simply part of growing.
We learn far more from mistakes than we do from our successes. When we push ourselves to do everything “right” or when we believe we always know the answer, what happens when we fail? What happens when we face a situation where we really don’t know what to do?
As I counseled my leadership group member, many times those who can’t recognize their ability to fail are setting themselves up for a major failure. We all have blind spots, and it’s foolish to believe they aren’t there, simply because we can’t see them.
Overconfidence keeps us from being really present and aware of our interactions. We can’t truly engage with others—find opportunities to learn and grow from them—if we believe we already know all the answers.
In the late 70s, I was teaching a course at a blue-collar trade school. The students and I had enjoyed a fantastic semester together, and I was deeply honored when I was invited to deliver their graduation address. I felt overly-confident in the situation. I believed we were there to simply celebrate what we’d done with the students. This felt like a situation where we’d toast each other and give out pats on the back.
I confidently assumed my audience would be filled with people who would want to hear us cheer ourselves on. I hadn’t really reckoned with the fact that the audience would really be filled with mothers, dragging along belligerent, resentful fathers who didn’t want to sit through a long, self-congratulatory graduation ceremony where the values of higher education were touted. Many of these fathers hadn’t had the opportunity to finish high school, let alone trade school. They were just waiting for an opportunity to shoot at someone.
And shoot they did.
Because I went into the situation over-confidently, these fathers were ready to take me down. I set myself up for a nightmarish experience of being heckled. What followed was one of the most humbling experiences of my career up to that point.
In hindsight, I realized I walked into the situation believing I was failure-proof. I was cocky and self-assured. I didn’t take into account the feelings or viewpoints of those who I was hoping to inspire (or at least, hoping not to tangle with).
In truth, we can all fail at any time. In fact, it’s often at our most confident and self-assured, we trip up or get our world completely rocked out of the blue. We find ourselves truly blindsided.
Just as Ms. Wong reported in her Times piece, the goal, however, isn’t to beat ourselves up over it. The goal is to practice more self-affection and self-care. We may feel like confidence is where we find the most power, but it’s not. As Wong writes, “Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.”
When we treat ourselves as someone who’s learning, who’s capable of making mistakes, but sees them as opportunities for growth, we’re nurturing ourselves. Many of us look at our kids, our friends, and even our spouse, and we may be able to quickly identify their flaws. In fact, those flaws, or weaknesses may even cause us to feel MORE compassionately toward them. We’re forgiving of them because we recognize no one does everything perfectly all the time. We love them anyway.
Yet, when it comes to ourselves, we don’t want to admit we’re also learning as we go along. In life, our opportunities to grow and learn from each experience are limitless. In fact, it’s this growth that adds interest and excitement to life. Each new adventure and challenge helps us feel fuller and more alive.
So give up faking confidence and aim for self-affection and compassion instead! The next time you make a mistake, give yourself kudos for discovering an opportunity to learn, emerge, and evolve.
For ideas on ways to get MORE out of life, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming networking event, where you’ll connect with others on their journey of self-discovery. We also want to share many of our classes are available for download at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this great opportunity!
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.