Insecurity vs (Over)Confidence

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, while wiser people are so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell

We live in a world where the dominant paradigm endorses, promotes, requires or even is dependent on certainty and confidence. If you want to “play the game” you will have to do it with a large dose of confidence.

You can’t even challenge this status quo unless you express your thesis with over-confidence (which implies certainty). So we learn the necessity to develop confidence, or at least to project it (even fake it)!

hero_crouching_pose_400_clr_11457But does this “game” help us grow? Does it promote true and valuable accomplishment? Does it allow for innovation and discovery?

Most probably certainly not…

“Doubt is the origin of wisdom.” – René Descartes

The safest way to attain confidence is to stay in our comfort zone. We become comfortable with who we are, what we know, what we can or can’t do, and accept without questioning our own (or the dominant) point of view, however narrow and limited in-depth it may be. We produce but we don’t create.

However, growth comes from stepping outside our comfort zone, albeit strategically, that is, with specific goals and in a controlled and continuous manner that brings along new stimuli, knowledge, discovery and expanded perspective.

“You should be self-confident but must have doubt to create. You must transmit confidence and acknowledge doubts, and then transform doubt into opportunity.” – Gilles Pajou

Growth comes from internalizing your learnings and experiences.
The result is knowing more than you’ve learned.

Accomplishments and rewardable achievements come from externalizing your learnings and implementing an action plan with confidence.

scared_behind_chair_400_clr_3272But is it realistic to expect that one can maintain a high (or simply consistent) level of confidence during the journey through the uncharted discomfort zone(s)? Or is it natural that one will oscillate between periods of overconfidence and insecurity, especially until one is able to find the most “productive” level/balance of comfort/discomfort and confidence?

Confidence and insecurity are natural feelings (or states of being) which are inadvertently internalized (dealt with in a manner not externally evident) and externalized (made visible to others).

“The little I know, I owe to my ignorance.” – Sasha Guitry

But how should one manage these feelings in order for them to become productive forces in their life?

A healthy dose of both is needed. A productive balance should be achieved while remaining mindfully aware of how both (over-confidence and insecurity) are expressed avoiding internalizing or externalizing them in an unproductive way.

“Between self-loathing and narcissism there is a vast spectrum comprising infinitely various degrees of self-regard. Neither extreme is good.” source

When you internalize insecurity in a positive way, you increase your motivation to work hard, overcome any deficiencies you may have and prove yourself. In this context, a “positive way” could mean the acknowledgement of the feeling of insecurity and an effort towards understanding its root cause through introspection.

On the other hand, when you internalize insecurity in a negative way, you increase your anxiety and amplify your fears, thus decreasing your capacity and energy to react. In this context, a “negative way” could mean avoiding introspection, which leads to never finding the root source of your fears.

When you externalize insecurity in a positive way you usually receive a surplus of support and help, and you are not perceived as threatening. In this context, a “positive way” could mean the open acknowledgement of the feeling of insecurity to others (directly or indirectly), and asking for help or advice, while showing the willingness to learn from others and adjust your behaviour or perspective.

“We live in a culture that encourages us to be big about ourselves, and I think the starting point of trying to build inner goodness is to be a little bit smaller about yourself.” – David Brooks

When you externalize insecurity in a negative way, you use aggressiveness to disguise your insecurity and usually, you are perceived as a threat. In this context, a “negative way” could mean blocking new ideas, not allowing others to speak, raising your voice in arguments, etc.clever_goldfish_shark_400_clr_9243

When you internalize confidence in a negative way you get a false sense of importance in relation to the people in your environment, whom you perceive as less confident, thus less valuable (than you). This results in a sense of superiority over others, in a lack of respect of their efforts and progress, in the assumption that you are above all the challenges that may come, in false pride and arrogance.

“There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence inspires; arrogance intimidates. Arrogant people always know best and feel superior to others. They will never celebrate your confidence because it interferes with their arrogance.” source

When you externalize confidence in a negative way, you usually project overconfidence and others may see you as arrogant and as a threat to the natural equilibrium of their social environment. This way you may obtain some independence which, however, may derive from the need of others to push you aside and away from them. In this context, a “negative way” could mean being cynical and authoritative, not listening to what others have to say, imposing, diminishing others’ contributions, etc.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man;
true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway

When you internalize confidence in a positive way, you create internal space, you achieve expanded thinking and set a productive foundation for moving forward. In this context, a “positive way” can mean being able to benchmark against your goals considering your point of departure, to acknowledge a sense of achievement based on effort and respect for others, and to make space to revisit the lessons you’ve learned.

“You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive,” – Boyatzis.

When you externalize confidence in a positive way you create trust, independence, credibility, and attract important assignments. In this context, a “positive way” can mean helping others evolve, assuming the lead role when needed, and also influencing positively through your actions, knowledge and your experience, but mostly through your positive perspective and attitude.

“Focusing on our strengths, urges us toward a desired future, and stimulates openness to new ideas, people, and plans. In contrast, spotlighting our weaknesses elicits a defensive sense of obligation and guilt, closing us down.” – Boyatzis

With the contribution of Luis Sequeira.



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