Would you consider yourself a confident person?
According to an article I stumbled upon, 2 out of 3 people in the western world consider themselves generally self-confident.
You could say that if 33% of people have self-esteem issues, that number is alarmingly high. But let's flip it around for a minute... 66% of people claim to feel generally confident.
Again, let that number linger in your head a little. 66%... That's 2 out of 3 people! I repeated that a shit ton of time for emphasis, because let's pause for a minute and be honest here:
How many people do you know?
And how many people have you personally met that move through life with a general air of confidence in everything they do?
In my entire life, I'm sure I can still count them on my 10 fingers.
Yet 2 thirds of all those people we’ve met report to be generally confident in themselves. How can that be?
Because real confidence has become so rare (and I’ll explain at the end of this post why), that we often get confused about what it really is.
There's this CEO of a large company and he is a total baws. Everyone at his company wants to be him. He downright kills it with his presence of cool, calm, collected leadership. All the secretaries fantasize about him. He rocks a suit like he's Barney frikkin' Stinson. Most men would consider such a guy the pinnacle of male confidence.
But he's not. When you put him in a bar alone, he's afraid to walk up to any woman, let alone a man, to introduce himself. Why is that?
Because, like most people who are considered confident by themselves or others in this day and age, he only possesses some sort of faux-confidence suit that he puts on when the situation allows it. This makes him appear really confident most of the time, but as the ancient English proverb so adequately says:
“A donkey with a dildo strapped to its head doth not a unicorn make.”
Most people’s confidence-dildo’s can be categorized under 2 types, which I'll explain in a moment…
Wait for it.
Alright, the moment has come. Time to explain!
False Confidence Type #1: Situational Confidence
Situational confidence is what you get when the situation you are in allows you to feel confident even though in your core, you really aren’t.
If you are a skilled leader and manage to show off those skills during your career in a tactical way that helps you climb up the corporate ladder, you gain confidence that is built upon the situation of you being a high level executive. Until you walk into a bar where no one seems to consider you important and you're back to being your true, insecure self.
If you are in a famous band, you can draw false confidence from the fact that you have heaps of fans who drool over your pictures (I mean drool with their mouths of course), until you travel to some country where nobody knows you and you realize your shit still smells as bad as the next guy's.
When you just won the lottery, you probably feel like a real bigshot as well until you realize the Rolls Royce you bought costs a lot of insurance and gasoline in the long run, and the hookers you hired won't prevent you from being alone when you die without any money.
No matter how frequently the confident feeling occurs, when the associated situation is over, you are no longer confident. That is because this type of false confidence is only related to a specific situation. You draw this false confidence from the fact that you have experienced, and successfully handled these types of situations before. So in that moment you feel confident. But if suddenly you were thrown in a different environment that called for different solutions or characteristics, you’d be confronted with the fact that you actually don’t feel confident outside of that specific scenario at all.
False Confidence Type #2: Extensional Confidence
Extensional confidence is what people get when they start to believe external objects are a part of their identity.
This may sound like a ridiculous idea at first, but I can assure you every single person believes it at some point. I do it as much as you.
It is one of the first things we start doing when we begin to develop our personalities as toddlers. We come into contact with some object that we really like. Like a pacifier. Or a dinosaur figurine. Or that thing mommy hides underneath the bed. And because we enjoy playing with it so much, we decide that is no longer and ordinary object. It becomes "my pacifier" or "my dinosaur” now. And that separates it from all other pacifiers or dinosaurs in the world.
If someone were to steal your dinosaur toy and replace it with the exact same model but without the scratch marks from the wear and tear of extensive play, you'd know it. And you’d be pissed off.
It doesn't matter that it's literally the same toy (or even better without the scratches). It misses the "sentimental value", you would say. Because deep down, the old toy represented a part of our identity.
A big majority of people only has extensional confidence in that they base how they view themselves on external things. You can take the obvious example of the guy who feels confident when he drives in his expensive car but would feel inferior on a bike. But most people have this to some extent. We feel less confident in baggy clothes, without make-up, or without our smart phone. “Oh no! What if my battery dies and I don’t have access to google maps anymore. We might think. Or what if we can’t call that person to let them know we’re late.” But in reality people have handled these things successfully for hundreds of thousands of years. So you may wonder why we give a fuck.
Women (or men of course), would you find it harder to seduce a guy if you were dressed like a homeless girl?
Sure, it makes things a lot harder when you don't wear your sexy-girl clothes. But in essence, did anything change about who you are and your value as a person?
If you take him home, you'd still be the same girl in the sheets that you know he'd love, right?
So why then would you be less confident?
Because the confidence was extensional. You only believed you could handle the seduction process if you felt you looked sexy. When for some reason, your appearance changed, you stopped being confident in your ability to handle it.
Why Does It Matter If Your Confidence Is Real?
On a surface level this doesn't seem like such a big deal, right?
But if you ever find yourself in a zombie apocalypse and all your possessions have turned to ash, well then, where will you get your confidence from, walking in your brains-stained, bullet-holed clothes? 😉
Or perhaps we need an example that’s a bit more realistic:
If you base your self-worth on your external appearance, you'll get less confident every year once you have passed the prime of your youth. If you get your confidence on your job, you'll feel like a total a loser once you, ehm, lose it. And if you get your confidence from your car... Well that's just a very expensive piece of confidence that you lose as soon as you walk into a room.
Still, the biggest part of that 66% that reported to be confident, gets their confidence entirely from things like this. I've rarely met a person who carried their confidence with them wherever their go. I’ve met a few though. And you can immediately feel it when you meet them. It’s in the way they carry themselves, the way they treat you, and in everything they do (or everything they don't do).
What Is Real Confidence?
How would you recognize real, core confidence in yourself?
It would be marked by a feeling. The feeling that you are able to handle most situations as they occur, even though you might not have been in a similar one before. Because you trust your own ability to make effective decisions. And more importantly, you trust your own ability to deal with the emotional and physical aftermath of any decisions you’ll make that are not so effective. Because like everyone, you will inevitably fail a lot of times. But you'll survive it.
People with false confidence will become inhibited when put into a new situation. Or they may “lose control” in the sense that their actions or words now no longer spring from themselves and how they feel they want to be but are merely reactions to external impulses. They might find themselves not being calm or collected anymore when some drunk in a bar is yelling verbal threats and insults at them.
Someone with true confidence on the other hand, will continue to behave as they normally do, regardless of the situation. They usually treat bosses, babies and babes with an equal manner of respect and honesty. They maintain their personal boundaries with these different people as well. And they maintain them in a way that is not unbalanced or aggressive. They don’t need a specific appearance, prop or situation to reinforce the idea that they have value as a person.
Why Do So Few People Have It?
For myriad reasons. One very important one is that global population has literally exploded in the past centuries. If you want to get an idea of just how drastic this change is, look at the graph below:
In the distant past, we lived in much smaller groups in which every person contributed equally to the rest of the group’s survival. Our existence was of vital importance to everyone else's. We were here to feed and protect each other. Also, we had to fight for survival every day. When we woke up, we never knew if we were going to make it through the end of the day. So basically every single day that we were able to stay alive, reinforced our confidence in our own ability to handle things.
It's a sharp contrast: in modern society we often feel like we are a replaceable number in an infinite pool of disposable human beings. What would really happen if we die? Not a lot. Some people would cry. Some people may rejoice and party (if you were a certain politician). But mostly, life would go on. Everyone would survive and stop thinking about you unless something specifically reminded them. Hell, most people don’t even know who you are right now. Compare that to the time when every human in the tribe was essential for everyone else’s survival and you'll get the gist of it.
Talking about survival, for people in the 1st world, survival is pretty easy: Eat food, don’t get hit by a car, don’t get murdered. Yes, in a way, we are still in control of our own survival. But even then, it doesn’t feel that way. We work to be able to survive, yes. But the direct link is gone. At the end of the month it feels as if the money is “handed to us” by someone.
So in a way, the real feeling of being faced with unknown threats every single day and overcoming them, has been successfully removed from our lives. You could say that most people don’t really receive “confidence training” any more the way a human in nature would. (On the positive side of this is the fact that we don’t get attacked by bears that often 😉 )
Throughout most of what you can call “modern society”, I suspect people realized this at some level. And they fixed it with a long-standing tradition of something called a “rite of passage”. When a girl started bleeding, the older women of the village would prepare her for the realities of life as a woman. When a boy started coming of age, the older men in the village would kidnap him and put him into a really scary or threatening situation. Like hunting a lion, diving a cliff, or surviving on his own in a wild forest for a couple of days.
In a lot of societies, such rituals still exist, but most of us view them as stupid or savage I guess you could say that the obligatory military service a lot of our fathers had to do served as a similar rite of passage.
But the point of these often weird and cruel rituals was that the boy would return with a sense of confidence. Having had a close encounter with a wild boar while sleeping in a forest one night myself, and feeling the fear that instilled in me, I can only imagine what it would feel to survive for 3 days in the wilderness as a small boy. I think that it would truly, permanently change you. When you come back from such a challenge and re-enter our safe society, suddenly speaking in front of a crowd, asking a girl to dance or dealing with some random drunk’s insults doesn’t seem so scary anymore, does it?
How Do I Get Real Confidence If I Don’t Have It?
In a sense I experienced a “light version” of such a rite of passage myself when I became homeless at the age of 18, and I found a best friend/mentor in a 36 year old man who went through the experience together with me. That’s not to say I now possess ultimate core confidence the way an initiated man would (I’m still not entirely self-reliant for example), but it did a lot for the way I feel about myself.
Since the end goal is being confident in your own ability to handle unknown situations, an effective strategy could be to progressively expose yourself to the unknown.
You could start by going out to a club without friends. Or giving an unprepared speech where you only know the subject but not what you're going to say.
Then you can slowly work your way up to traveling alone for a few weeks (backpacking of course, not in a resort). Maybe next year, you can do the same, but deliberately go to a country where you don’t speak the language. Then after that, you could book a vacation to a war-zone wearing a t-shirt with a bullseye on it. Or maybe that’s the point where you better stop your training 😉
The point is to keep exposing yourself to more and more unknown situations or things that feel reasonably threatening without actually being deadly, until you make that click in your head where you trust yourself to be able to handle new things.
Put yourself in social situations that make you feel uneasy and specifically don’t try to alter your behavior in any way to make people like you are accept you. Try to go on a date, a job interview and do public speaking, while having the same sense of humor and openness you have with your friends. Saying what’s on your mind, letting your personality come out without worrying about people’s reactions.
Find out what character traits and values you consider make a good human being and don’t betray them. But forgive yourself when you do, because you are only human. Remind yourself that cars can crash, clothes can burn and jobs can cease to exist, and draw confidence from your value as a human being instead.
Realize that we are biologically designed to conquer the harshest of environments together, and that the one you currently live in is a walk in the park (or let's say, a week in Disney World) compared to what you're capable of handling.
So whoever you are, you can trust in yourself that you'll be fine. I know for a fact that you have everything you need to feel confident in yourself.
And if you don't believe that yet, all you have to do is find a way to prove it to yourself.
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