Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Illusion (?) of Confidence...

First, let me preface this blog article by saying that the concept of "Confidence as an illusion" was given to me by a [supremely confident?] comic strip author... so don't expect lots of references to long-term studies and scientific measurements.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, said in his blog...

The reality is that there are only two conditions you can be in. You can either have an accurate view of your own abilities or an inaccurate view. Confidence is similar to will power in the sense that neither of them exists and yet society is quite certain they do.

I'm not sure I agree that our view of our abilities is either "accurate" or "inaccurate". How do you measure the accuracy of our perceptions? Isn't that something that is subjective by nature? As Scott admits later in his article, it is often useful to be "inaccurate" in how you perceive your own abilities. For one thing, there are too many variables in any given situation to accurately predict with 100% certainty so we are always going to be inaccurate about our abilities to some degree. If it were possible to predict with 100% certainty, then where would the fun be in that?

Growth vs. Talent Mindset
It seems that Scott may have fallen into the "Talent mindset"which says that either you are good at something or you are not. If you fail at something, then don't bother trying again because you don't have the inate talent for it. The Growth mindset is very different. It says that any one outcome is simply an indication of how far you are along your progression to eventual success.

This is where confidence can play a key role. If you are using the Growth mindset and have failed in the past, your confidence can still be high since every outcome is simply feedback on your way to success.

Confidence is important because it gets you to TAKE ACTION. As a famous philosopher once said, "80% of success is just showing up" and confidence gets you to "show up". (I think it was said by Woody Allen.)

How does Confidence work?

I find it interesting that Scott compared confidence to willpower. It appears to me that they are similar "brain functions" and can be influenced through similar channels or activities.

For example, I think we can all agree that our brain controls our actions and since our brains have been conditioned to control our actions, based on all the inputs and decisions over the course of our life, it makes sense that confidence and willpower are simply outcomes of conditioning.

Where does Toastmasters come in?

Since this is a blog for Toastmasters, you are probably wondering how this relates to Toastmasters, right? Well, Toastmasters is one of the best ways to condition your brain to accept challenges, try new things and develop a Growth Mindset. The supportive environment of Toastmasters makes it easy to try out new skills without worrying about failure. In fact, "failure" is kind of expected. No one is expected to be perfect and even if you are "very good", there are always ideas for improvement that you can get from your fellow Toastmasters.

So once you have proven to yourself that you can make progress in your communication skills, it is easy to transfer that confidence to other areas ... such as taking on a leadership role in your club or trying something new in your personal or business life.

Perpetuate the Illusion !

Scott Adams ends many of his blog articles with the disclaimer..."Do not take [investment] advice from a cartoonist". I'm sure that is partly for legal reasons and partly for humorous effect. But, he is probably one of the most thought provoking writers around today and I guess the moral of this story about Confidence is "Think for yourself" ... but maintain your confidence (even if it might be an illusion). It will keep you growing.

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