As of late I’ve been thinking about self-confidence. Particularly I’ve been thinking about how to determine if that confidence is built on a solid and sure foundation or on a sandy one. As I was thinking on the matter, a question occurred to me that I used as a personal thought exercise. It’s not a perfect question, but it did put me in a position of self-reflection. Here it is:
If I’m driving a nice car and am at a stop light, how do I feel about myself if the car next to me is an old, broken down car? What if I’m driving an older car and somebody pulls up next to me in a brand new, luxury car? Does that have an impact on my self-confidence? If so why?
In asking myself the question, what I’m trying to uncover is the basis of my self-confidence. Is it based on something from within, or on something material? Would I feel more “confident” if I drove a nicer car, lived in a bigger house or had a specific title or position at work?
Before moving further, it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with acquiring things. In fact, diligent work can often bring money, positions or titles. What I am questioning however, is whether we’re misplacing how we calculate our self-confidence.
I once read a talk, which was meant to inspire men to be a role model to boys who don’t have a father figure in the home. It read “[Boys] need men to teach them to how to be men or they may learn, as so many do, from imitation men who themselves have it all wrong, who may have perverse ideas, who think that manhood rests in muscles or money, or crime or crudity, or cards or conquests.”
While the quote itself refers to a misguided understanding of what manhood is, the same principles apply to a misguided understanding of what it means to be self-confident. If our self-confidence is based on what we own or accomplish; if it’s based on perceived status or reputation; in short if it’s based on some sort of material good or praise then I’m afraid we’ve built up an imitation sense of confidence based on what others perceive of us instead of what we truly perceive of ourselves. Candidly, I feel the majority of us have been deceived in living our lives in search of constant search of praise or commendation.
Additionally, research has shown that individual who seek external praise tend to live their lives amid a lot of stress. That’s because the stress hormone, cortisol, depletes feel good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. Seeking for praise is a cognitive form of brain activity that seeks to compensate for the lack of dopamine and/or serotonin in the body. The problem however, is that the levels of dopamine and serotonin created are high enough levels to create a dependency for constant third party validation. Someone to tell us that we’re good enough or that we’re needed in order to feel good. If for some reason the validation doesn’t come, or if it isn’t as strong as we think it should be, the stress mechanism remains active and grows stronger. This of course leads to corrosive thinking, negative emotions and a change in our body’s chemistry, negatively affecting our mental and physical health.
So how do we build self-confidence in a way that’s true and sustaining? As I’ve considered the thought, the only way I believe we can do so is through developing our character and integrity – something we probably don’t take time to think about very much. That’s not to say that we don’t value it, but we likely don’t give as much thought to developing character and integrity as we do, for example developing time management tactics, communication abilities and other vocational skill sets.
In order to develop character and integrity, I’ve come to the conclusion that the formula is a simple one: we must do good with pure intent. When I say do good, I refer to keeping an open mind to provide acts of kindness throughout the day. Something as simple as a compliment can go a long way. When I refer to pure intent, I mean that we should commit those acts of kindness without any kind of personal agenda in mind. I shouldn’t be looking to do good by my employer because I want to impress for a promotion or pay raise. I shouldn’t be looking to do good to my children because I’m hoping to promote some sort of desired behavior from them.
As we look to do good with pure intent, we’ll develop greater character and integrity which will in turn foster a greater sense of self-worth and self-confidence. It will allow us the ability to build confidence without any external influences; a confidence that will allow us to find happiness independent of others or our circumstances; a confidence aligned with pure intention and a truly elevated sense of self.