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  • Writer's pictureDr Maike Neuhaus

How to build self-confidence (and why I wouldn’t wait for it to take action)

Have you ever not done anything because you felt like you weren’t ready yet? Or have you considered the fact that confidence comes with experience and not before it? And what is the difference between confidence, self-confidence, and self-efficacy?

Let's get to the bottom of this.

If everyone would be like me and wait with a book proposal until they feel confident enough, we’d have zero books to read. And one of the gems we’d miss out on then is ‘The confidence gap’ by Dr Russ Harris.

Harris explains that we often expect that we should feel a certain way before we do something, whereas in reality it’s our actions that shape how we feel. In other words, when we set out to change our behaviour, we are likely to feel uncertain and to doubt ourselves. While a lot of people take this as a bad sign and stop pursuing their change further (i.e. give up), uncertainty and doubt are exactly what they should expect to be feeling!

To understand that, one just needs to look at how confidence is built. And when I say confidence, I actually mean self-confidence or, more specifically, self-efficacy.

Confidence, self-confidence, self-efficacy

While confidence is the general belief that one can have faith in something, self-confidence is the general (and not necessarily context-specific) faith in one’s aptitude. Self-efficacy on the other hand is the confidence in our own ability to control our motivation and actions to achieve a specific goal.

Self-efficacy is a term that was coined by Psychologist Professor Albert Bandura and is often misunderstood. Self-confidence might get you started to set out on a new goal, but self-efficacy will see you through to the end. Because you KNOW you can do it, based on evidence you have experienced in the past. It’s an important and significant difference for your self-leadership journey, because there will always be some obstacles, right?

That evidence I mentioned can be one of four elements or a combination of them. These elements are also the key to cultivate self-efficacy!

1) Observation

It’s probably fair to say that Bandura became famous for being the great mind behind social learning theory. We learn simply from observing others. That holds also true for self-efficacy: Simply by observing someone else who succeeds in their endeavour to achieve the same goal that we hold, we become more confident that also we can achieve the same outcome.

In other words, through watching others succeed, our self-efficacy grows. So, find yourself a good role model. Importantly, the more similar the role model is to yourself, the more relatable the person is to you and the more powerful the impact on your self-efficacy.

2) Experience

If you have nailed some previous goal pursuits, chances are your self-efficacy is quite high already. The more we collect experiences of mastery and success, the more confident we will become that we can succeed again.

This is one of the key reasons why it’s important to set attainable goals. If you take small steps, the more likely you are to succeed, the more you will build up your self-efficacy, and the more likely you will be to succeed again. It’s a positive cycle.

3) Current state

Our current physiological and psychological state will also impact our self-efficacy. But not just that – our interpretation of our state is at least as important. Ever get tingling in your tummy before an exam, giving a presentation, or an interview? If you interpret this as being horrified, shy and unsure, this will weigh heavily on your self-efficacy, negatively affecting your performance. You’re better off interpreting the tingling as excitement and enthusiasm.

4) Social persuasion

I often talk about the importance of valuable, authentic relationships and the role of social support for your self-leadership journey. Fact is, the more people believe in you and cheer you on, the more self-efficacious you will feel as well. So, surround yourself with people who encourage you and remind you of your strengths and past successes.

So, do not wait to feel confident before you act, because that day may never come. It is highly unlikely that you will feel ready and confident before you have even started. Instead, get started and trust that you will feel confident with consistent effort over time.

Maike x


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