Confidence, and Where Can I Find Some
I’ve been jotting down notes, and getting lost in trains of thought about a word. About a quality. A state of mind, of body and soul. A feeling. And not surprisingly, the Universe was laying down signs and magic doors and triggers and supportive people and negative people to help me figure it out, and to help me help myself.
So. What is confidence?
the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something
synonyms: trust, dependence, reliance
the state of feeling certain about the truth of something
a feeling of assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities
synonyms: self-assurance, self-confidence, self-reliance, nerve, poise, coolheadedness, courage, boldness, fortitude
Alright, let’s see where my rambling thoughts lead to…
Have you noticed when people are around, it seems harder to get something done? Or the opposite - maybe the addition of a crowd pumps you up and drives you to do even better?
In one of the chapters of Invisible Influence, Jonah Berger talks about many studies that show how performance is affected in the presence and absence of people. These differences can be explained by social facilitation. Social facilitation is “an improvement in performance produced by the mere presence of others. Studies on social facilitation concern the extent to which a given piece of an individual’s behavior is affected by the real, imagined or implied presence of others.” (1)
And the two results of social facilitation are co-action effects and audience effect. Essentially, co-action effects are where the execution of a task improves due to the presence of others performing the same task. And the audience effect is when the presence of others can hinder the ability to perform a complex/new task, while on the other hand improve the execution of a well-learned or simple task.
According to [Nickolas] Cottrell, it’s not the presence of other people that is important for social facilitation to occur but the apprehension about being evaluated by them. We know that approval and disapproval are often dependent on others’ evaluations and so the presence of others triggers an acquired arousal drive based on evaluation anxiety. (1)
Starting to get the gist of this?
One of the studies mentioned in Invisible Influence goes into detail about an experiment with cockroaches. Yes, cockroaches. I mean, humans are animals right? And because there are so many overlaps with communication and social structure across the animal kingdom, this experiment is very useful to analyzing ourselves in social situations. Bob Zajonc, a scientist that received his PhD in social psychology in 1955, used cockroaches to test his theory about the differing outcomes in the presence of others.
Zajonc thought he knew why others’ presence was having opposing effects. Why others sometimes increased performance and sometimes decreased it. In his mind, it depended on the complexity of the task, or the thing on which people (or animals) were being measured. If the task was easy, or something participants had done many times before, spectators would facilitate performance. But if the task was difficult, or involved learning something new, spectators would inhibit performance. (2)
So Zajonc set up two tasks for the cockroaches. The first was to have the cockroaches scuttle under a bright light from point A to reach the dark recesses of point B, a straight track to run. The second task involved having to make a left or right turn to find the shadows of point B - a bit more complex. And lastly, clear walls on each side of the track filled with cockroach spectators for some of the trials.
Not surprisingly, it took the roaches longer to run the more complex track. They had to figure out which way to go and needed three times as long to finish. But the audience also influenced performance. On the straightaway, roaches ran faster when the audience was present, chopping almost a third off their time. But for the more complex track, others had the opposite impact. An audience led the roaches to run slower, increasing their time by almost a third.
Zajonc was right. Whether others help or hurt performance depends on the complexity of the task. (2)
Growing up, I only liked to raise my hand in class if I was certain that I had the answer to the teacher’s question. And that deep notion of not wanting to be wrong, to seem dumb, or be laughed at still lingers. Looking back, I can see how social facilitation was at play. If I was confident in answering the question, I’d raise my hand. If I wasn’t sure, still didn’t understand the concept we were talking about, or maybe didn’t read the assigned chapter the night before… I would avoid eye contact with the teacher in hopes that I didn’t get called on.
Honestly, that feeling still evokes fear in me today occasionally. I mean shit, I experienced it two weeks ago when I was told to do my helicopter passenger briefing with a few of my new crew mates. I did awful, by the way. Through the years of speeches and schpeels, I’ve worked hard on eliminating “um” from my vocabulary, but that day I filled alllll the pauses with ‘em. My crew mates pointed out all the um-ing, and I just wanted to yell out “I’m actually really good at this stuff!!” I didn’t though. I accepted what happened and thought about what I could do so that wouldn’t happen again. Alright, I was frustrated for a little while, and then accepted and reflected on the situation. But where’s that line? That line between being subconsciously ruled by social facilitation, and the feeling of assurance in one’s own abilities and qualities? How can you overcome that?
I think a good chunk of that answer involves taking things personally. With attaching that failure, that wrong answer, that lack of knowledge/skill to your identity. So, some wisdom from The Four Agreements since I’m always talking about it now…
DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY
Just because you’re struggling with one of your new job tasks does not mean you struggle all the time. Being wrong doesn’t make you a wrong person. Coming in last on a hike doesn’t mean you’ll always be slow. These are all opportunities to keep taking steps forward, learn more, and love yourself for doing your best. (I say “you” but really I’m writing to myself right now. Sometimes you gotta give yourself a little pep talk). And what Cottrell said earlier, the important factor in social facilitation occurring is apprehending evaluation from others, not necessarily the presence of others. And so looking back on a few weeks ago, apprehension was definitely there. Had it been other people though, it may have gone entirely different (and resulted in improved execution). That rolls back around to not taking things personally. Don’t take negative feedback from others personally. Don’t internalize the judgements of others. Don’t even take a raving, stellar review personally. Because what other people say to you is a reflection of themselves, not you. And let’s face it - not everything is about you.
Last week I asked my friends on Instagram a question: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of CONFIDENCE?
Here’s some responses:
Knowing your imperfections but embracing them instead of shaming yourself for them.
Understanding that you are who you are and building from that.
What they said; you have to understand where you are at right now, in this moment, and embrace who you are. Ugh, it’s so easy to compare yourself to other people. Man, I should already know that. Wow, I am so much slower than that person. BUT YOU ARE YOUR OWN PERSON. You have your own milestones you’re working towards, learning skills at your own pace, and building up your reserve of assurance, boldness, poise, and CONFIDENCE for your own life. And you do need a little of that “git sum” attitude to keep persevering. :)
Is there a quicker way to gain that confidence though, that unbreakable assurance in yourself? Some people say “fake it till you make it”…
I have watched this quite a few times over the years, and I think it’s always a great one to come back to. Amy Cuddy talks about manipulating your body language to communicate with others (and the effects of that on our own judgements, thoughts and feelings about ourselves).
Whether you’ve watched the talk or not, what are your thoughts? Where’s that line, between faking it till you make it and faking-it-but-never-making-it-and-just-looking-like-an-ass? I see people in my field of work that utilize this method. Which as Invisible Influence talks about in another chapter, “monkey see monkey do”; everyone else seems cool and knows everything… so I should seem cool and like I know everything. AGHH, wrong! I’ve always felt better in the end saying “I don’t know, but I want to know more” to a question asked of me, rather than trying to spin an answer around with the little to no information that I have about it. If you don’t know but act like a d*ck about being wrong - that’s shitty. If you don’t know, are honest about it, and take the initiative to learn - that shows a lot, and those are the people I want to surround myself with.
But, I do think faking it till you make it is beneficial! Especially with the positioning of your body, which is what Amy is getting across with this talk. Sometimes you truly aren’t confident in your abilities, but imitating the confidence and competence you see in others performing the same task can help you get there. You just tackle the task head on and soon enough you realize you aren’t scared of it anymore!! You can’t be completely blind to your reality though. Back to the people I’ve seen at work… As you’re faking it, you still have to put in the work to get to a place of self-confidence and self-reliance. To improve skills and successfully complete tasks. The key is to keep telling yourself that you CAN do this and you SHOULD be here as you take the time and energy to make yourself better. You really should watch Amy’s talk if you haven’t already.
Here’s some of my favorite, quick take-aways from it:
“We compliment the other’s non-verbal”
“Tiny tweaks lead to BIG CHANGES”
“Don’t fake it till you make it… Fake it till you become it”
When she says we compliment the other’s non-verbal, she means we do the opposite of what we’re seeing. If our boss is taking up space, arms on the hips, chin up - we will subconsciously cross our arms, look down, sit or stand with our legs close together. SO, TAKE UP SPACE! Throw your arms up and feel proud, keep your head up, and SMILE! Try to avoid getting pushed into a non-verbal position of weakness & doubt. The physical positions we hold ourselves in really do affect how we think and feel. I’ll be working on the same thing right along with you!
And tiny tweaks do lead to big changes. Whether that’s focusing on lengthening your stride when you go for a run, keeping your core tight as you tackle a big hill, sit up tall & smile during an intimidating meeting, or stating what you’re grateful for instead of what’s going wrong… those little things add up to BIG CHANGES! Faster times, stronger legs, successful meetings, and a peaceful soul. And then one day, like what happened to Amy Cuddy, you’ll be in a situation and realize you aren’t faking it anymore! You became who you wanted to be, and you are there, and you are ready to keep going and learn more and help others do the same.
I know, kind of went all over the place. To me though, confidence is complex. And I don’t think there’s ever going to be one simple solution to finding it, and keeping it. I think it’s a process of trial & error, and recognizing those triggers. What or who motivates you, what situations and people make you doubt yourself? And why. Is it a challenging new skill? Are you not comfortable in your environment? Are you taking failures personally? Are you scared of not being able to become who you want to be?
And motivation is a whole other conversation for another time, but I hope that this helps shine a light on some shadowy box you haven’t opened yet. When I write I pull from my own experience, which involves health & fitness, wildland firefighting, situations from my personal life and previous jobs. But confidence is something everyone has. It makes life less scary. It helps you love yourself and improve. And I think it keeps you happy & healthy, too. :)
But whether you’re scared about being a good mom, finding a career after college, or staying sober after day one… Whatever it may be, just know that you do have confidence! It’s there whether you know it or not right now. Trust in yourself. Each of us finds it in our own time, in our own way.
Until next time,
Namaste my friends
References/Things I Mentioned:
McLeod, Saul. “Saul McLeod.” Simply Psychology, 1 Jan. 1970, www.simplypsychology.org/Social-Facilitation.html.
“5. Come On Baby, Light My Fire.” Invisible Influence: the Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior, by Jonah Berger, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2017, pp. 193–194.
The Four Agreements | Don Miguel Ruiz, book
Your body language may shape who you are | Amy Cuddy, TED talk