The Science of Confidence

By McKenzie Schwark
Science of Confidence

We have all been told at one point or another to just “be confident.” But how? Everyone seems to have their own tips and tricks to gaining more self-confidence, but there is quite a lot to learn from science when it comes to gaining self-confidence.

What is low self-esteem and how does it impact a person’s career?

Self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall self-worth or own perception of their value. Having low self-esteem can lead to problems in life that show up both personally and professionally. Self-esteem is important because it can impact a person’s decision-making, relationships, emotional and mental health, and general well-being. Low self-esteem can lead people to not go after their dreams, advocate for themselves in the workplace, or feel like their work isn’t valuable.

People with low self-esteem tend to doubt their own abilities. This can lead to low self-confidence, which women describe as one of the big major factors that is holding them back in their careers. Racism and gender-based discrimination can largely impact someone’s self-esteem.

What does science say about building self-confidence?

Many psychologists have studied the effects of self-confidence on a person’s mental and emotional health and well-being. In doing so, they’ve identified and come up with theories on how people can develop and retain better self-confidence. In “Finding Your Zone,” author Michael Lardon, M.D. discusses psychologist Albert Bandura’s process for developing confidence. He lays it out in four steps: Mastery Experiences, Vicarious Learning, Modelling Behavior, and Social Persuasion.

Mastery Experiences

People feel more confident when they have already mastered a skill or experience. For example, if someone wanted to be a more confident public speaker, they could begin by practicing public speaking. It seems obvious, but our brains are hardwired to act on muscle memory. By practicing the experience or skill you’re trying to gain, you’re showing your brain that you can do it so that the next time you will feel less anxious about the experience.

Vicarious Learning

You’ve probably heard someone say that they’re “living vicariously” through another person’s experiences. But did you know that by doing so, they’re actually teaching themselves self-confidence? When we watch someone else do something we are interested in doing, our brains register how we can emulate that behavior. If there are no consequences, our brains register that too, or can see how we should behave to avoid those same mistakes.

Modelling Behavior

Once we have seen the behavior displayed, we can model that same behavior to emulate it in our own lives. By finding examples of people who are already confident in their abilities, we can mimic their actions to gain that same self-confidence. So, if someone wanted to become a more confident public speaker, they could start by watching videos of famous speeches, or public speakers they admire. Then when they are ready to give a speech themselves, they can model their speech after the confident, self-assured speakers they’ve seen.

Social Persuasion

Think of the last really good compliment you received. It felt good right? It probably made you want to continue doing whatever it was that got you the compliment in the first place. Humans love positive reinforcement. We enjoy being rewarded and knowing that others are noticing that our hard work is paying off. Gaining positive feedback from our peers is one way to gain self-confidence.

Science and psychology can help us to better understand self-esteem and confidence and can offer suggestions on building ourselves up. But ultimately it takes discipline and hard work to start to gain confidence and work toward achieving our goals.