Right now I’m immersed in the next-to-last (or so) edit of our book, and I’m continually struck by what an important role confidence plays in dating success, and in life in general. Even though we discuss a huge number of issues around relationship readiness, nearly all of them come back to confidence in some way.
If you lack real confidence, life can be pretty difficult, and not just in dating. It seems that our society is drenched in talk of confidence and self-esteem- often used interchangeably- but why does it seem like so many still lack this basic attribute?
And if you feel you are lacking in confidence, what can you do to acquire it?
So what exactly is confidence?
Even though it’s generally considered a positive attribute, there are still a lot of people who equate it with arrogance, and see it as a bad thing. Confidence also gets mixed up with pride, which in our Judeo-Christian tradition goeth before a fall (I love me some King James!), and among the nerdy, with hubris- the fatal flaw of many ancient Greek heroes.
It seems that some fear confidence because they don’t wish to risk being seen as arrogant. They are not the same thing. Arrogance is unmerited, while confidence should be based on deserving action. The arrogant constantly talk themselves up, and often put others down, while the confident never require that, and in fact let actions speak for themselves.
Maybe we should start with a definition of confidence. According to the dictionary, confidence has a pretty lengthy definition, but we’ll look only at the first two, since in this case we don’t care so much about keeping secrets:
1a : a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances
b : faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way
2: the quality or state of being certain : certitude
Why do so many lack real confidence?
Looks pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? So, why do we seem to get it mixed up with so many other terms, and why do so many people seem to lack it, in spite of the concerted efforts of our educational system and the self-help industry?
Maybe it’s a case of too much talk and not enough action. From the time we start school, we are constantly told how great we are, how wonderful, how special. While this is certainly better than the alternative (beatings because you are a horrible little sinner), it’s pretty empty if there is no accomplishment to back it up.
If you’re constantly told how wonderful you are, but know deep down that you haven’t really performed anywhere above average, how will that make you feel? I don’t know about you, but I would probably doubt my capabilities. Am I being told this because it’s true, or because it will make me feel good? Feeling good is nice, but real accomplishment is much better.
When we’re spoon-fed self-esteem and it’s not based on anything we’ve done, there’s a tendency to feel entitled. When everyone around us keeps telling us how wonderful we are, we start to think that we deserve the best in everything, even when we haven’t earned it. Far too many people think they are entitled to a perfect mate, simply by virtue of being alive.
That’s why true confidence needs to be built on a foundation of achievement. In the realm of dating, this can create a chicken-and-egg dilemma. How do you go about getting confidence when you haven’t had any success?
Why is confidence needed?
I’m re-reading Napoleon Hill’s “The Law of Success,”and one of the first things he brings up is self-confidence. “You can do it if you believe you can!” In this Law of Attraction classic, Hill considers confidence to be one of the most important and primary attributes you need to cultivate if you want success at anything.
Hill feels that lack of confidence is usually driven by fear. And if you think about it, fear is indeed the opposite of confidence.
So, what can you do about fear?
First, Hill suggests that knowledge is fear’s greatest enemy. Once you understand the cause of your fears, and how irrational they are (and they usually are), it’s a lot easier to move forward.
Hill also notes that persistence and good habits go a long way toward eliminating most fears. He advocates having a clear and definite purpose for your life. Once you know what that is and have determined the steps you need to take to get there, accomplishing even one small first step will be a huge boost to your confidence.
Steps for building confidence
The key is to start small. Figure out where you stand now and build on that.
Win small victories
Let’s say you’re a very shy person who has trouble striking up conversations with strangers, let alone an attractive member of the opposite sex. Some would advocate that you simply start asking people you fancy out on dates. That may be much too terrifying for a first step, and devastating if you get shot down, which is highly likely.
Baby steps. Start by resolving to smile at every person you come into contact with every day for a week. Not everyone may respond, but the ones that do will make you feel good. Once you’ve become comfortable with that, work on talking to anyone and everyone. If you have trouble talking to women, start convos with women of all ages and all levels of attractiveness. The more social success you have, the more confident you’ll feel.
Take Responsibility for your Life
Too many people lack real confidence because they feel they have no control over their lives. If you ask them why they haven’t done something they wanted to do, they usually have a list of excuses, blaming every conceivable circumstance, their parents, society, and/or “the man.”
Until you take full responsibility for your own life, for your own failures and successes, you will never be able to develop real confidence. How can you, if you don’t believe that there’s anything you can do to affect your destiny? We were all born with both advantages and disadvantages and we all have to do the best with what we have.
If you’re reading this, you either live in a developed country, with unprecedented opportunities, or you are one of the privileged few in a less developed country, with access to technology, and by extension, a great many opportunities.
No matter who you are or what your past has been, you have natural assets, and something to work with.
Face your fears
Another way to increase your level of confidence is to face your fears. Things that frighten us are usually far worse in our imaginations than they are in reality. In fact, in “Getting Things Done,” David Allen notes that intelligent people are far more susceptible to creating anxiety because they have vivid and creative imaginations. He gives an example of how simply worrying about completing your tax return can quickly mushroom into the fear of doing something wrong, with an end result of IRS harassment and possible imprisonment!
Seen in the light of day, such fears are ridiculous, but we do have a tendency to revel in the worst-case scenario. Again, the best way to curb these anxieties is to act. Do your tax return and send it off. Even if you make a mistake, the IRS will give you a chance to fix it, long before you end up in federal prison. If you’re terrified of public speaking, seek out opportunities to do it. Once you’ve pulled it off, clammy palms and all, you’ll find that the world hasn’t ended and you weren’t laughed out of the auditorium.
Build your accomplishments
Finally, build your accomplishments. As we discussed before, the more you achieve, the more confident you’ll feel. Far too many people think that because they lacked opportunities in their youth, they are stuck wherever they are. This simply isn’t true. We’ve all heard about the 80-year-old freshly minted college grad, and most of us aren’t anywhere near that old.
Educate yourself, pick up new hobbies, learn new things. Becoming good at anything will make you feel better about yourself. And it won’t just be an empty platitude; it will be based on stuff you’ve done, and done well.
Over the years, we’ve met people in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of looks from all walks of life who’ve found love and are happy. This is not because they are perfect people who’ve done everything right. While a few sourpusses did get lucky and find someone who loves them in spite of their grumpiness, most have found love because they believed they would. Maybe it wasn’t even conscious, but somewhere inside them was the knowledge that they were worthy of love and that it would come, in time.
Maybe it’s hard to be confident because we expect everything to happen quickly. Unfortunately, while you may be on a timeline, love might not be. If you stay open to love, and believe that your perfect match is out there, and that there is more than one possibility, you are far, far more likely to find it than if you worry that it won’t happen, or won’t happen in the timeframe you “need” it to.