Self confidence and self esteem – Can you have one without the other?
Can self confidence be learned? Is there a set of skills you can master and once you have them, you will be self confident? When you have self confidence, do you also automatically have good self esteem?
Self confidence is the belief and feeling that you can accomplish something worthwhile, something that somehow expresses who you are. You feel you can face whatever life throws at you. You may not win every time, but you will find a way to make it. It is a ‘can do’ attitude as opposed to an ‘I can’t’ attitude.
If you do not have a sense of mastery or personal power, you have no self confidence. You feel like you are good at nothing and fail at everything you try.
Self esteem, on the other hand has two components: Self confidence and self worth. The one cannot be without the other.
Your self esteem is a combination of how much you like yourself (self respect) and whether or not you think you can cope with life (self confidence). It is both an appreciation of your inner beauty and a recognition of your innate ability.
Self respect is the belief that you are okay with all your idiosyncrasies. You know that you have inner beauty and you are worthy of receiving love and admiration. Self confidence is the ‘can do’ attitude that makes you believe you have the ability to measure up to the challenges of life.
Looking at our definition of self esteem, it seems clear that self confidence is only a part of self esteem.
The difference between self esteem and self confidence is that the first comes from inside and must be coupled with respect for your own worth. Self confidence by itself can be learnt by mastering the skills of presentation and communication.
Self confidence can be learned
Learning the skills of looking self confident from outside, is a great way of starting to build your self esteem. You start outside and work inward. This is why parents who want to help their kids gain self confidence enrol them in drama or acting class.
To act you must learn certain techniques and skills to overcome your fear of doing stuff in front of other people.These skills can be transferred to any other context where you must face other people like going for a job interview or asking a girl out on a date.
Many situations in real life can be compared to performing in front of people. Performance skills can help you act confidently in these contexts.
How can a feeling be learned?
Now you may be wondering: if self confidence is a feeling and a belief, as stated at the beginning, how can it be learned from outside? Surely it must be cultivated from within…?
The truth is that even amongst the best of actors and directors, there is not agreement on this matter. One side insists that acting is best when it comes from a feeling inside and the others disagree saying that you can act out any feeling without having to truly experience it. This is the difference between Stanislavskian acting and method acting as opposed to Brechtian acting.
There is a story about Dustin Hoffman, an American method actor, who had to play a mentally disturbed man. He spent days in a mental institution attempting to feel what it must be like to be mentally il. When he met Laurence Olivier a famous British actor on set Olivier asked him: “Why did you go to all that trouble?” Hoffman answered: I have to be that man.” Why, asked Olivier, “can’t you just act it?”
I will not take sides, but rather say that the two: action and feeling is inseparable and are conversation partners just like self confidence is the conversation partner of self worth when you are building self esteem.
However, when you want to start cultivating a feeling, where do you find it? My answer: start acting the way you want to feel. It is what people mean when they say: fake it until you make it.
I like to say Fake it until you feel it.
Test it for yourself:
Right there where you are try the following sequence of actions and notice the change in how you feel:
1. Rub the palms of your hands together
2. Bite your lip.
3. Breathe faster and more shallow.
4. Look from side to side and even over your shoulder.
5. Wipe your hands on your thighs and take a deep breath…
What are you starting to feel inside?
Here are some of the answers I often get:
I feel anxious, nervous, suspicious, like I am hiding something, guilty, paranoid.
And all this just because of a few physical movements.
Now try the opposite:
1. Sit up straight.
2. Open up your shoulders.
3. Breathe more deeply
5. Wink at the computer.
Now what are you beginning to feel inside?
Action and feeling feed each other
By learning certain skills, or ways of behaving, you can cultivate a feeling of confidence and power. If you act confidently even though you are nervous, people will respond to you as though you have power and know what you are doing. This will feed back into your feeling that you have power and confidence and you will act even more like it.
In the words of Aristotle, ” … we become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions” (Kilpatrick, 1992:97). I would add: to become self confident you need to perform confident actions.
So what are these skills and how do I learn them?
I can teach you my ABC of self confidence. These are all external skills that you can try out and use. They are a kind of checklist for you to tick off as you enter a potentially nerve racking situation where you need to muster as much confidence as you can. They are easy to understand and you can practise them easily by yourself and try them out anywhere.
I have used this ABC to teach Rap artists and singers to market their material to record companies. I taught it to actors and performers to improve their acting. I used it to teach environmentalists to present proposals for changing policy. I even used it to teach some ‘boring’ University professors to get their students interested in their material. Now you give it a try.
What about self respect?
However, without also cultivating self respect the outward appearance of confidence remains just an empty shell. You can be enormously successful from the outside, but feel unfulfilled, worthless and frustrated on the inside.
This is because you are not expressing who you are in what you are achieving. You do not think that what you really have to offer is worth the time and effort so you only do the things you know will work and feel confident about. Yet, you will always end up feeling empty.
How do you fix this problem?
The short answer is: follow your passion.
By all means apply the skills to any situation where you need them, but do so especially in contexts where you are afraid and nervous. In the pursuit of your passion you will have to make many difficult choices where you are uncertain of the outcome and where you will risk all sorts of things: money, reputation, relationships… It is in these moments especially where you must act as though you are confident and fake it until you make it… feel it.
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