Ch-5: Develop Your Self-Worth and Self-Confidence
Part 4: Self-ConfidenceTom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
Send Feedback/Questions to: Tom.Stevens@csulb.edu
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5, Part 4, from You Can Choose To Be Happy, Tom G. Stevens
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How do we get self-confidence?
Self-confidence is the expected probability that a person will achieve a goal in a certain situation. For example if Mark estimates that his probability of achieving an "A" on a calculus exam is 90%, we would conclude that Mark had high self-confidence in his ability to do well on a calculus exam. If Mark had estimated 10%, then we would say he had low self-confidence about his ability to do well on the exam.
Self-confidence is situational--not absolute. It is important to remember that self-confidence is always relative to the task and situation. We have different levels of confidence in different situations. For example, Mark might be confident in Math; but lack confidence in English. He may also lack confidence in meeting people. He may estimate that his probability of success when he meets someone is only 10% (relative to a goal of making a new friend). Confidence is relative to the prescribed situation, task, and expectations.
Although self-confidence is primarily situational, self-confidence may generalize across many situations. For example, suppose Jason was good not only in math, but in almost all academic subjects. He would probably develop self-confidence for learning any academic subject--even those he had not attempted. If Jason is also good at sports, people skills, and other life areas, then he would probably develop a high level of self-confidence in general.
Similarly, if Jeff performed poorly in math, social situation, sports, and most areas of his life, then he would probably develop a low level of self-confidence in general. However, most of us are not like Jason or Jeff. Most of us believe that we do well in some situations (such as math) and not so well in others (such as meeting people or dealing with conflict).
I use the term "self-confidence" to mean what Dr. Albert Bandura, a leading research psychologist, has called "self-efficacy expectations." It has been the object of intense study in the field of psychology and led to many important findings. Generally, it is a good predictor of how well people will perform on all sorts of tasks. High self-confidence also increases people's motivation and persistence.
Self-confidence is at the root of self-fulfilling prophesies. Another research finding is called the self-fulfilling prophesy. An example of a positive self-fulfilling prophesy would be if you believe, "Lori will probably like me if I talk with her." That belief alone can partially cause you to initiate a conversation with Lori and be friendlier to her. Thus, the belief alone actually increased the probability that it would be fulfilled (since the belief actually helped cause the action that helped cause the prophesy's fulfillment.)
An example of a negative self-fulfilling prophesy would be your belief, "Lori will probably not like me if I talk with her." That belief might prevent you from speaking to her or cause you to be less friendly to her. In turn, Lori may not like you because you were not friendly to her.
What if I believed, "If I think it will rain tomorrow, my belief will actually make it rain tomorrow (because my beliefs have some magical powers over the weather)?" What is the difference between a belief like that and the belief, "I can learn math"?
It is important to differentiate between a self-fulfilling prophesy and a superstitious belief. A superstitious belief is a belief that XXX is a cause of an outcome when it really isn't. For example my beliefs do have causal effects on my motivation, but my beliefs do not have causal effects on the weather. Any such belief is superstitious.
It is important that we not waste our time trying to control events that we really can't. Too many people spend too much time, money, and energy seeking the advice of astrologers and others. People often claim to have magical powers of insight or control over events that they do not and prey on people's desire for help. Don't become psychologically dependent on these people. Don't become a victim of superstition. Investigate claims of magical powers and insights--especially if money or power is involved.
Our general beliefs about ourselves can have a powerful effect upon our self-confidence across many situations. An engineering student in his mid-twenties came to one of my workshops because he was a junior on academic probation (had less than a "C" grade average). He really wanted to be an engineer, but he believed that he was not as smart as the other students.
As a result he usually felt insecure in his classes or in any situation that related to engineering. He was afraid to talk to his instructors because he feared they would discover his secret--that he was really "dumb." Whenever he came across a difficult problem or idea, he would give up easily because he thought that he was "too dumb" to ever understand it.
His underlying false belief was, "If I feel confused, it must be because I'm dumb." He often felt confused, so that "proved" he was "dumb." What he didn't know is that the "A" students often feel confused also, because the ideas and problems really are hard. Feeling confused is not an indication of intelligence or ability, it is a normal part of the learning process. (See chapter 7 on harmonious functioning and peak performance).
How is this an example of a negative self-fulfilling prophesy? The belief he was "dumb" caused him to give up too soon. If he had believed he had the ability to solve the problem, he would have persisted.
We can believe that we are too strong and secure to feel threatened. Several weeks later this student came in for counseling. He told me that the workshop helped him reinterpret his confusion. He no longer assumed that he was dumb. Each time he started to assume that he was "dumber" than the other engineering students, he questioned that assumption and persisted until he understood or solved the problem.
His effort, understanding, and grades improve dramatically. In addition, he enjoyed his classes more and felt more confident about his intelligence in general. He said, "I used to think that the few students who could solve the tough homework problems must be brilliant. Now, I am one of them--I can't believe it." His increased self-confidence in his personal intellectual power gives him more confidence in almost any problem-solving situation--even outside of engineering.
It is important to note that his intelligence had not increased--only his belief in himself. It was not important that he believe he was brilliant, it was only important that he believe he could keep trying his best a little while longer.
By "failure" I simply mean not reaching a goal. Putting ourselves down, beating ourselves up, and being overly self-critical or self-punitive not only feels terrible, but it is highly unproductive and dysfunctional. Even if negative self-talk produces some short-term motivation for some people to improve performance, the long-term motivational effects are almost always negative. For most people, even the short-range effects on motivation are negative.
Positive techniques work much better. However, you may not know how to motivate yourself with positive approaches--especially if your family did not do it. In chapters 7-9 on harmonious functioning and the O-PATSM self-management system, I will revisit the topic of self-confidence and will present a number of specific methods for increasing your sense of self-confidence. Meanwhile, here are a few statements you can tell yourself when you tend to be too self-critical or focus on the negative aspects of not reaching your goal(s).
If your goal is to learn or grow, you can never fail! No matter how many goals you fail to accomplish in a specific situation, you can always succeed at learning from it. Therefore, make learning a top goal in life, and you can be a success--no matter how much you fail at any other goal.
What is the secret to self-confidence? Is it encouragement and positive feedback from other people? Dr. David McClelland, a leading authority on achievement motivation, summarized years of research on self-confidence. He said that the most important factor for developing self-confidence is to master the needed skills. Your mother, your friends, and your teachers may tell you that you are not good at a task XXX. However, if you know how to XXX well enough, you can feel confident about XXX no matter what they think. Likewise, if everyone else tells you are great at XXX, but you know that you don't know how to do XXX well enough, you will lack self-confidence.
How much of a talent is innate versus learning? We can develop any skill by learning--even skills many people do not ordinarily think of as skills--such as self-motivation, learning skills, and assertion. Do you think that people are born "motivated," "smart," or "assertive"? These factors can be affected by heredity, but these (like almost all) personal characteristics involve mostly learning beliefs and skills.
We can improve our skills through watching and learning from others who are experts, reading, taking classes, and from practice. The more we immerse ourselves learning the skill, the faster we will learn.
By gradually increasing our goals as we increase our skills, we can be
challenged, interested, and feel successful at every stage of learning--novice,
intermediate, advanced, and expert. The same methods of learning apply as well
to interpersonal skills as to sports, business, or intellectual skills. If you have been
good at learning in one area of your life--such as sports, playing the piano, or in
school--apply the same learning methods that were successful there to an area
where you feel less confidence.
Life skills and life success. How important are basic life skills--cognitive skills, self-management skills, and interpersonal skills--to success in life? Research has shown that life skills are keys to success in academic, career, relationship, and personal areas.
I developed the Life Skills Questionnaire (LSQ) to measure the relationship between life skills and life success. My wife, Sherry, and I also developed the Stevens Relationship Questionnaire (SRQ) to measure relationship skills. We used both self-rated life skills and more objective measures. More than 4,000 people were given the LSQ to see how well it correlated with life success criteria and happiness.
One study compared the relationship between life skills of 384 adults in their mid-twenties through fifties and their life success. We found significant correlations between LIFE SKILLS (cognitive, self-management skills, and interpersonal skills) and LIFE SUCCESS (college success, career success, and relationship success). For example overall cognitive skills correlated .37 with college grade average and learning skills correlated .43 with job status. Overall self-management skills correlated .30 with job status and .24 to number of relationships. Overall interpersonal skills correlated with both career status .30 and interpersonal success, and intimacy skills correlated .27 with level of commitment to a relationship. Other researchers have found similar results.
Life Skills and happiness. I think the most important type of success is overall happiness. The LSQ and SRQ had even better correlations with happiness than it did with these other types of success. For example intimacy and assertive conflict resolution skills are highly correlated (more than .70) with the Locke-Wallace relationship satisfaction questionnaire. Overall personal happiness was correlated most with self-management skills .51. But personal happiness was also correlated to cognitive skills .32 and interpersonal skills .34.
It is important to note that cognitive, self-management, and interpersonal skills are vital to all important life areas. For example, all three types of skills can improve chances for happiness and success in one's career and in one's close relationships.
How important are basic life skills--cognitive skills, self-management
skills, and interpersonal skills--to success in life? Research has shown that
life skills are keys to success in academic, career, relationship, and personal
areas. I have developed three questionnaires to measure life skills—the LSQ, SRQ
(with Sherry), and SHAQ.
Success and Happiness Attributes Questionnaire (SHAQ) Results
KEY LIFE SKILLS--
What are key life skills? Following are some of the key life skills identified by the LSQ and in psychological literature that seem important in many life areas.
______Learning and study skills
______Meeting people and talking to strangers
______Skills in home maintenance, car repair, sports,
______Overall Happiness Quotient (HQ) or "Happiness IQ" On a scale of 0 to 100, how confident are you that you can lead a happy life in the future? (This is the most important question.) You may find your HQ by taking SHAQ.
PRACTICE 1: Self-Assessment: Estimate your level of self-confidence and skill levels in each life area. Estimate your own level of confidence and skill in each of the areas in the Key Life Skills table. For a more thorough assessment, try listing more specific, import ant goals or situations within each area. Use whatever standards or goals that you would naturally set for yourself. Relate confidence to your personal reference group or internal standard. How confident on a scale of 0 to 100 are you that you can reach your own goals in each of these areas?
(1) List important life areas where you do not feel as confident or skilled as you
would like for success and happiness in your career, relationships, or personal life.
We have seen how SHAQ users’ actual life skills relate to their happiness and other positive outcomes. Let’s look at how SHAQ users’ self-confidence in their life skills relates to their happiness and other important life outcomes.
Following are some important factors that have been shown by research to increase self-confidence and performance.
>Past success in similar situations. The more experience and success we have achieved in similar situations, the more confident we will tend to feel. If we have a poor track record or lack experience, then we will feel less confident.
>Challenging standards or criteria for success. Our standards or expectations may be too high considering factors such as the difficulty of the task, our level of experience, our relevant skills, our mental state, or the level of our competition. Standards that are too high will undermine our confidence.
On the other hand, standards that are too low can make the task unchallenging and cause us to be overconfident. Sometimes we can set ourselves up for an unexpected failure by setting goals that are too low. Setting goals that are optimally challenging (considering all of these factors) is most motivating.
Following are some factors that can affect our standards.
>Positive philosophy and positive self-talk. We have seen how the way we talk to ourselves gives us important messages that affect our confidence level. This self-talk comes from underlying belief systems--including our internalized parents or peers, our self-images, our world views, and our Higher Selves. As we confront, convert, or replace old negative beliefs with positive ones, our self-confidence will be improved as well. (See Higher Self chapter 3.)
>Visualizing success. Visualizing success not only implements the positive self-fulfilling prophesy motivation, but it also helps us develop road maps to success. Visualizing ourselves successfully performing some task and reaching a successful outcome can help us overcome mental barriers to success. It might be that we, literally, cannot imagine being successful. Perhaps it is because we have not actually tried getting a clear mental image of either (1) doing the task successfully or (2) being in the successful goal state.
>Mental practice increases success. A college student in one of my classes was an Olympic marksman. In the past he had been practicing daily; but now he no longer had time to practice daily, because the practice site was so far away. Instead, he learned to use mental imagery to practice. Six times a week, he imagined--in great detail--shooting at targets as if he were at the target range. Once a week he shot at the range. His shooting scores continued to rise at the same rate as when he had practiced seven days a week shooting real bullets at the real target range.
In a controlled experiment, students in Australia who had never shot a basketball used mental imagery to learn how to shoot baskets. During later tests, those only using imagery shot as accurately as students who practiced shooting real basketballs. In other controlled experiments, people learned to increase communication skills by mental role-playing.
>Visualizing the goal state can help create it. If you haven't pictured reaching an important goal or imagining what it would be like, develop a mental image of it. Start fantasizing about the goal state just for fun.
In the fifth grade, when we studied all the U.S. states in our geography lessons, I decided that I wanted to live in California. Later, as a teenager, I developed a fear that I might never leave Oklahoma City, because I (literally) hadn't imagined living any place else. So, I started imagining myself living in Southern California--the ocean, the palm trees, the weather, etc. I became fascinated with the Hollywood Bowl because I loved music and had seen it in several movies. I moved to Southern California as soon as I graduated from college.
>Visualizing increases motivation. Visualizing something clearly and often helps it seem more possible and increases our motivation to get it. It can also make achieving the goal more rewarding. Many of my dreams and fantasies have been fulfilled. Actually attending my first performance at the Bowl was a thrill. I have had season tickets for many years, and I still sometimes feel like I am living in a dream.
When I am actually participating in something that I have fantasized about, it seems to enhance my emotional experience of it. I get a wonderful feeling of great fulfillment and gratitude when I feel that I am living out a dream.
>Others' Expectations and Input. What others say can also affect our confidence, especially if we are young, inexperienced in the area, or more externally controlled. It is also important to observe how we let other people affect us.
Do you feel more or less self-worth or self-confidence after talking with a certain person or being in a certain group? One simple way to learn to become more confident is to spend more time with people who help you feel better about yourself and less time with those who don't.
>Being focused--lack of interfering or distracting factors. To the extent that other concerns compete with the task at hand for your attention, your motivation and confidence will be undermined. The "rise above" chapter 8 will show you how to keep your focus "on the ball."
=> Note: Chapter 6 can help with self-confidence with people; Chapter 8 can help with self-confidence in task or performance situations. Other chapters can also help.
Self-esteem is like a mountain stream that begins with a small spring
Self-confidence is based upon our belief that we have
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