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Quiet Confidence

I had been working in the library for a few months when my first review came up. That means that your manager scratches three illegible sentences on a piece of paper and asks you to sign it, whether or not you agree with his or her assessment.

I seriously could not read the writing, so I asked her to read it to me. She thought I was joking. I was not joking, and so she sighed, re-sighed louder just to make sure I knew she was annoyed, and read:

“Josh exudes quiet confidence and grace. He is very good at making people feel at ease.” Then she started squinting because she couldn’t read the rest of it herself, the writing was that bad.

I signed the paper without agreeing with it. If I had written my own assessment it would have said: “Josh is a big loud ox. He is the opposite of graceful, but he tries hard and doesn’t seem to care at all when he screws things up. He loves working in a library. I do not expect this to change. He is less sure of himself than he pretends, however. The end.”

Developing confidence

I remembered that odd little experience because the concept of confidence, confidence training, improvement, or whatever you want to call it, is fascinating to me.

It’s fascinating because you can think someone is confident when they aren’t. You can even think you are confident without it being entirely true. I am. I am always confident when I am moving fast. I am rarely so sure of myself when I slow down and face things. So I keep moving.

I do think improving confidence is possible, but I think it can be tricky to define confidence to begin with. Does it mean that you always know you’re right? That you made the right choice? That the good results in your past have convinced you that you’re walking a path worth being on?

Once you have your definition, how do you improve your own confidence?

I had a friend who was extremely quiet. Everyone assumed he was shy. He wasn’t. We would laugh after parties sometimes at how many people told him he needed to quit being so shy.

“Why would they think that telling someone not to be shy could have any positive effect on a shy person?”

I feel the same way about confidence. Saying “Be more confident” doesn’t really do it. So how does a person lacking in self-confidence get more?

I wrote a post about how to be more confident that is currently my fourth-most-viewed post, but it wasn’t really about how to be more confident. It was about how to look more confident, in the hopes that it will eventually happen.

What do you think? How do we do it? Oh, and what is quiet confidence, anyway?


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  • cinderkeys August 17, 2010, 12:49 am

    How do you increase your confidence? Get better at whatever you’re trying to be confident about.

    When I first started writing songs, I didn’t tell many people. If anyone had told me they thought my work wasn’t good, it would have shaken me. Eleven years later, eh. I’ll care if someone points out a real flaw in one of my songs, but if they’re just not into it? Well, a lot of people won’t be. That’s OK.

    I didn’t develop that confidence by trying to develop confidence. I just got a better handle on what I was doing.

    The principle becomes a little trickier if you’re dealing with social stuff, but I think it still applies. There are tricks to interaction. Those of us who are not particularly socially graceful can learn them. We might never become the life of the party, but we can relax a little after we realize that no one is pointing and laughing at us.

  • Philipp August 17, 2010, 12:58 am

    In my opinion you can get more confident by practicing things and by being well-prepared. One example from school: At the age of 13-14 nearly no pupil is really confident, but some are natural actors and able to pretend very well, while others are not. But those usually get more confident over the time, when they become good at something. A shy pupil giving a well-prepared presentation (something he could prepare and therefore feel safe), will perhaps speak more frequent in class after this success.
    Team sports are also, in my opinion, a good way to improve confidence not only in sport, but also in all other areas.
    Success, I think, is the base for confidence, so helping people to have their own, small successes helps them with their confidence.
    Of course, sometimes you do not have the time for that, e.g. when I tutor children only a few weeks away from their exams, I often show them little tricks to appear more confident, but I also try to give them the feeling that they are well-prepared, because this will give them confidence.
    Long post, with lots of repetitions, but I’m not fully awake right now 😉
    I really enjoy reading your blog,
    have a nice day,

  • Amy Harrison August 17, 2010, 1:42 am

    Confidence also depends on what you are doing as well. In certain situations I am confident and at ease, in others I am incredibly uncertain and flustered. Weirdly though, the same situation on different days can produce different effects in me. There is no rhyme or reason why I am confident sometimes and not other times.

    I used to think that I had to get this figured out and work on it, but I just beat myself up less about it. If I find myself tongue-tied and shy I no longer have a fight in my head about it telling me I should speak up and say something witty.

    Not sure if this will improve my confidence but I’m definitely a lot happier. 😉

  • Moira August 17, 2010, 5:29 am

    I was put off on sick leave recently because of the fall out from my lack of confidence in dealing with a stressful situation at work. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are at something or how much training you have you still have to believe you can do it to alleviate the anxiety enough for you to get the job done well. I wish I knew how to be confident in myself if the situation occurred again.

  • Todd August 17, 2010, 6:21 am

    I am uber shy, partly due to a lack of self-confidence. I force myself out of my comfy zone now and again. I attend a men’s group at my church every week. While I enjoy listening to the other men, I make sure that I speak to the whole group at least once during each meeting.

  • Jeanette Swalberg August 17, 2010, 9:59 am

    Great comments! Moira, I especially liked your comment about believing you can do it. Heck, Olympic athletes use visualization to achieve better results! I have worked as a substitute teacher in the junior high and high school setting on both coasts, and I can tell you, you had better be confident, or “fake it ’til you make it”. I did a lot of the latter at the beginning, and with time, it got easier.
    My definition of quiet confidence is doing what you think is right, and being willing to accept the consequences of your decisions.
    And here’s a quote for religious readers:
    If your self-worth is dependent upon anything other than your relationship with Christ, you are in big trouble– Hyrum Smith

  • albert camus August 17, 2010, 11:29 am

    “Fear comes from uncertainty. When you are absolutely certain for your worth or worthlessness, you are impervious to fear” Bruce Lee… This key to living is to seek out those things that bring you absolute certainty of your worth or worthlessness.

  • Eric | Eden Journal August 17, 2010, 12:34 pm

    I’m going to alter a little from many comments here and say it’s not doing something well that leads to confidence. It’s related, but it’s not the cause.

    I think confidence comes from not giving others the power to judge you, and to not worry what anyone else thinks. When you take away the power of other people to judge you, their comments, thoughts, and criticizms don’t matter. You can be yourself and be happy.

    That is actually a byproduct of becoming good at something. When you know you are good at something, you don’t care what anyone else thinks, because you KNOW you are good.

    When you mentioned “quiet confidence” the first word that popped into my head was “smug.” The third definitation from merriam-webster.com defines smug as “highly self-satisfied.” That’s a confidence that doesn’t require input from anyone and it doesn’t need to be spoken of.