Confidence and perfectionism
Confidence is something we all want, but often find difficult to define. It’s difficult to pin down for sure. Merriam-Webster defines confidence as follows: a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances; faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way. When researching her book, The Confidence Code, Claire Shipman first needed to establish what confidence isn’t. It’s not a “passive self-evaluation, aka self-esteem,” according to Shipman. “Confidence, she found, is defined by trust in the aptitudes and abilities required to act.” She also found that perfectionism plays a negative role in building confidence, but more on that later. Let’s take a closer look at what confidence is and isn’t and how you go about developing it.
What is confidence and how do you gain it?
It’s not feeling good about yourself. That would be self-esteem. It’s what makes you act on your thoughts. So, how do you gain confidence? Many experts say anywhere from 20 to 50% is genetics, with the rest coming from life experience. This means that we can, to some degree, be born with a natural aptitude toward confidence. The genes that affect confidence are the same ones that affect dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin in our brains, our natural feel-good drugs. You gain confidence through knowledge, practice and experience. On the other hand, self-confidence is trusting yourself and your ability to succeed at new tasks, challenges, and opportunities. “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment.”
Contagious and visible
No matter what the occupation or field, confident people tend to associate with others who possess the same quality. There’s truth in the old saying “you become who you associate with.” And believe it or not, even the way you carry yourself is important. If you demonstrate control of yourself, your emotions and the situation – no matter how chaotic – people will perceive you as confident and want to follow you. While there is no way to guarantee a person will become confident, the following steps will certainly help you: set a goal, determine the price of achieving that goal, prepare yourself, visualize success and put in the hard work to do it.
Life experience exposes us to adversity, which in turn helps build determination and resilience. Determination and resilience help us learn difficult things. Many call this mastery. The ongoing pandemic provides an opportunity to reconnect with some of the essential truths about ourselves that we may have placed on the “back burner.” We can choose how we respond to adversity. Adversity enables us to discover that we’re stronger than we thought we were. The good thing is, “we can create the conditions for building confidence ourselves,” according to Shipman. Confidence is important. We need confidence to help us make the best decisions possible. Without confidence, we will miss numerous opportunities throughout life. One of the significant hinders to gaining confidence is perfectionism.
Perfectionism is like an anchor around your neck
I know a few people who need everything to be “just right,” and I’ll bet you do, too. You can’t miss them because they’re the ones who spend way too long on even simple tasks trying to get things perfect. Perfectionism hangs around with some really bad friends: anxiety, anger and depression. Perfectionism is not all bad, of course. It can motivate you to pursue high standards, new visions, improvement and innovation. Contrary to what many people think, perfectionism isn’t about “having high standards.” It’s about control over an irrational and chaotic world. And that’s just impossible.
But when perfectionists take things too far, they set standards that are impossible to meet, devalue work that doesn’t meet the impossible standards and create a toxic loop. If confidence and growth are gained through taking risks, making mistakes and picking yourself up and trying again, perfectionism does the opposite. It sets very narrow margins for success and tends to hold you in your comfort zone. And we all know that we must step out of our comfort zones to grow. Yes, it’s tough to do. That’s why they’re called comfort zones. Claire Shipman offers an interesting example involving boys and girls.
Girls, boys and perfectionism
She observed that girls tend to learn perfectionism in elementary school, where making good grades usually involves following clearly defined steps. Girls learn quickly that pleasing their teachers and parents will yield rewards. Shipman says young girls are “encouraged to color within the lines and please everybody. Boys follow a different path of learning. They learn that they can make mistakes and the world doesn’t go under. Young boys learn to take risks, fail, try again and not please everybody.” That doesn’t seem fair, does it? As adults, this may explain how men and women have traditionally approached taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zones. Building confidence involves acting, taking risks and overcoming the fear of failure. So, how do we fight perfectionism and build confidence?
Learn what better looks like
You must learn to take risks and do things imperfectly,” says Shipman. Learn to say, “this is good enough.” Divide your tasks into two groups: one where tasks don’t need to be flawless and aren’t time-critical – just good enough. This group should contain most of your tasks. The second group consists of tasks that need to be performed very well. There should only be a few tasks in this group. Learn what better looks like. It’s a bit like the old Zen saying, “Once you understand when enough is enough, there will always be enough.” It’s great to be prepared, but it’s far too easy to get bogged down in research and editing and any number of other things. According to Shipman, “this is often the case with women, who are generally more socially aware and detail-oriented than men. To solve this problem, prepare less and act more! Women tend to worry, overthink or ask for advice before they act.” Instead of giving yourself reasons why you shouldn’t act yet, give yourself reasons why you should act. Acting will build your confidence for the next task you tackle.
Fail fast forward
In today’s fast-moving world, it’s impossible to get everything done perfectly, so ditch the idea of perfectionism. It will prevent you from failing. It’s not fun to fail, of course, but failing is a critical aspect of success. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying and growing. If you haven’t failed, you haven’t lived. Stop worrying about failing and learn to see it as a learning experience. Start off by taking small risks in areas where you are the most afraid. Practice, practice and practice some more. Fall down, get up and repeat! This is how you gain confidence.