|There are three people in a rock climbing gym, one climber and two spotters. The one in red is climbing, not flying.
In my post "Proactively Thinking Like a Pro", I laid out the proactive thought cycle of "think, feel, do" as a way to put us in control of our internal environments. It's time that we look at the role of one particular feeling, confidence, and its role in this thought cycle. In light of this thought cycle, what does it mean to be confident? Confidence is a feeling. It doesn't matter if we are thinking proactively or reactively, feelings sit between thoughts and feelings.
If our feelings follow actions and drive thoughts, then we are being reactive. In the case of confidence, that would mean that we look to what we just did to decide if we should feel confident about what just occurred. Rather than confidence, this is better thought of as competence. We often mistake confidence for competence but they aren't the same thing. Competence is best demonstrated by action but confidence is usually demonstrated by thought. Success is a judgement we make on an action after the fact and competence comes when we have demonstrated success. I am not arguing that competence is bad, but rather that it is different than confidence. We can use competence to contribute to our future confidence but it is important to realize that it doesn't have to precede confidence.
Confidence is an emotional expression of thoughts of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy means thinking that you can do something, that's all. It is a thought that you are capable. If you think that you can, that's enough to feel confident and to then act on that feeling. So in our proactive thought cycle, we begin by recognizing that we are capable, which sets us up for feelings of confidence as we see ourselves performing a skill successfully. These thoughts and feelings put us in the best position to go out and perform at our best, all because we thought and believed that we could. This process doesn't have to begin with any proof, just a thought. This is what lies at the center of Albert Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory, that we believe that we can do something because we have seen it done by others. According to Bandura, people with high self-efficacy are more likely to see difficult tasks as worth engaging in rather than as worth avoiding.
That's where we get into the stereotypes of misplaced confidence or overconfidence. While we can overdo our feelings of self-efficacy, we can also believe that the ability lies within us without getting carried away and assuming that we are going to be great at it when we first try it. This is where many young athletes get lost. They tend to see confidence not as self-efficacy but as either competence or overconfidence. They expect that either they must have already done a thing to feel confident about doing it or they expect that they are being overconfident if they are acting like they can do something that they aren't really sure of. This second idea is at the root of the "fake it 'til you make it" mentality. I see this mentality as telling ourselves (or others) that we can do something without the self-efficacy. Self-efficacy isn't a thought of guaranteed success, only a thought of possibility.
So what is confidence? It is a feeling of possibility. Whether we have the proof yet or not, we believe in our ability to do.
The above comic is used with permission of the excellent rock climbing comic betamonkeys.
Please check it out.