Confidence is a good thing, right? Everyone wants confidence.  It makes you more attractive to others. It helps your performance. It makes you feel good about yourself. It allows you to set high goals. It's good stuff.

It's also an illusion.

The reality is that there are only two conditions you can be in. You can either have an accurate view of your own abilities or an inaccurate view. Confidence is similar to will power in the sense that neither of them exists and yet society is quite certain they do.

Will power isn't a real thing because humans simply act based on the greatest impulse in their brains at the moment. The guy who can best resists eating cupcakes is the one who enjoys them the least, or is the least hungry. Will power never enters into the equation. It is a rationalization after the fact.

Confidence and will power feel as if they are real things because we have words to describe them, and we usually agree when the words apply. That's why the illusion is so persistent. If the words didn't exist, I don't think the illusions would be so troublesome.

I came to this view of because people insist on viewing my various behaviors through the framework of confidence. When I have a realistic view of my ability to do some particular task well, I am labeled confident, as opposed to simply accurate. When I predict that I would be below average at some particular task, based on years of knowing myself, I am labeled unconfident when in fact I am simply right or wrong. Where does confidence come in?

Suppose a drug existed that could give you the sensation of confidence independent of your actual ability to perform tasks. Would that be a good thing? Actually, we know the answer to that question because the drug is alcohol and it kills 37,000 people per year in automobiles alone, just in the United States.

But what about the self-fulfilling nature of confidence, you ask? Doesn't the feeling of confidence sometimes make you perform better? A confident public speaker, for example, is a better speaker. A confident quarterback will make better decisions, and so on.

I would argue that in some cases your performance can be enhanced by generating in yourself just the right amount of illusion about your own performance. A quarterback might imagine himself able to throw the perfect pass 100% of the time in order to succeed half of the time. He would be using confidence as a useful illusion because it keeps his energy in balance after some bad misses.

Generating a temporary illusion of confidence in yourself can be a good thing so long as you are aware of what you're doing.  The quarterback needs to understand that he's just using a trick to pump up his performance. Otherwise he'd feel like a failure for completing only half of his passes.

Confidence is an illusion, but a useful one.
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Jan 4, 2011
I think that there is a resemblence in what Scott has proposed to this research: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

I know that there are a few of my colleagues that suffer from this effect.....
Jan 4, 2011
If it's a noun, which can be described, and have some consensus for definition, it's not an illusion.
Unless that noun is "illusion".

Confidence is simply a word describing a positive view of personal competence... or something like that.

I think you're mixing up "illusion" with "concept". Lots of intangible things are simply concepts, but are not illusions. For example dreams, time, love, numbers and so on. They can all be defined, described, expressed and even measured (at the very least, relatively, and/or by some arbitrary metric).
Jan 4, 2011
Totally disagree, and here's why: Ask your wife who's more attractive, a man with confidence or a man without it? A guy can be hideous, but his confidence makes him more attractive to women than a guy who's actually more attractive (within a margin) but less confident. And in this instance, his inaccurate world view about his general attractivity is an asset that allows him to succeed beyond the tools he actually has.
Jan 4, 2011
hers by consistently exceeding the average performance. As ability improves, so does a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with achievement. Call it confidence if you will.
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-10 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 4, 2011
Similarily confidence can't be measured in the abstract. Unless you know the person's real ability then you can't declare them to be confident or not. A person who believes they can do something they have no experience in is basically the person that when asked
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Jan 4, 2011
Scott, the Dilbert character exemplifies "depressive realism"- the accurate belief that things are bad. When psychologists studied depressed and non-depressed college students, the non-depressed believed that many classmates liked them, while the depressed students believed they only had a few friends. It turns out the depressed students were accurate, and the non-depressed students were wrong. But the non-depressed acted on their belief that they had many friends, and eventually they got more friends. This supports your post's thesis that "confidence" can be only a useful illusion.

On the other hand sport psychologists know that only confident athletes can handle the massive pressure of the Olympic games. It is a SKILL that can be developed and must be developed to succeed in pressure situations. In this case confidence is real. You cannot "trick yourself" into being a better than you are. Your best performance is a reflection of your best self. Confidence simply helps you achieve this more often and when under pressure.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 4, 2011
Thanks to an incompetent co-worker, I was feeling especially confident in my job skills today. Just an hour ago, as I was getting home from work, I abruptly thought to myself: "Wait - there's no such thing as confidence. There are only people who've accurately assessed their abilities and other people who are hopelessly deluded." It's a freaky coincidence that you would write today about the same topic using the exact same reasoning!
Jan 4, 2011
The best leaders are those who have all their troops believing they will succeed.
Jan 4, 2011
I think you need to consider the opposite of confidence. It is fear of failure (or dying) which dominates the opposition to success. Our lizard brains (see Godin or Pressfield) put us into safety mode and we frequently retract and withdraw from confrontation/opportunity. A person who can successfully repress and overcome the self-preservation fear of the lizard brain has confidence.

The opposite of confidence is a powerful and sometimes debilitating force in our lives. The opposite of heat doesn't exist, but that quickly becomes just a semantic argument. Cold is pretty real, and so is confidence.

Jan 4, 2011
Scott, you're wrong. Again. Entertainly so, but wrong anyway. False confidence might be what you describe. Perhaps everyone around you just uses the word wrong? Confidence that is a measure of ability, practice and other preparations, is simply the knowledge that success is a foregone conclusion. I wish to be confident that I will succeed, therefore I prepare myself to be so and thereby instill myself with confidence. You are a confident pool player because you have wasted so many hours of your life that you can defy the laws of physics... =P
Jan 4, 2011
In the interest of accuracy, roughly 20% of fatal accidents in 2007 (last year census bureau makes available on "The 2010 Statistical Abstract") involved a driver with a BAC of 0.08% or greater. Only drivers are counted, so drunk drunks stumbling into the path of a sober driver don't make it into the stats.
Jan 4, 2011
You may have the relationship backward. Read "Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior", in which the authors (amongst other interesting things) make the argument that people's abilities are often informed by not just how they perceive themselves, but how others perceive them as well. In other words, if someone else views you as more competant, you become more competant.

This isn't just voodoo; they back it up with data from real-world experiments. One involved people in charge of officer training in the army. The trainers were given fake data about incoming trainees, with the applicants' aptitude for leadership randomly assigned along a sliding scale. The applicants themselves were told nothing of this. At the end of the training, the ones who had been ranked higher in the beginning tested better in independent exams. When the trainers were told of the experiment, they refused to believe it; they insisted that they "knew" the data was real, even when shown all the details of the experiment.

So, Scott, you are postulating that confidence, or the lack thereof, is merely an accurate summation of your abilities, but it is more subtle than that -- it is a generally accurate predictor of results, true, but not because you know yourself so well, but because your belief influences the outcome of events.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 4, 2011
How can you "generate an illusion" to rick yourself into performing better if there is no free will and you simply act on impulse? This whole posts contradicts itself.
Jan 4, 2011
Insecurity, or a lack of confidence, must also be an illusion. If there are three possibilities of living life in terms of these terms: the confidence illusion, the insecurity illusion, and the avoidance of accepting either illusion, a wise person should fluctuate his approach to life's challenges among all three-- in response to the nature of the situation before him or her.

Choosing incorrectly what "illusion tool" best serves at the moment may be a primary cause for life's greatest failures.
Jan 4, 2011
Would confidence explain why those in both houses of Congress believe that they are wise and acting in the best interests of the American public, despite crushing evidence to the contrary, or are they merely delusional?
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 4, 2011
Confidence is trust. As @cfgphil7 mentioned, the original use of the word implies this and they are somewhat interchangeable terms. The usefulness of confidence, then, depends primarily on the reliability of the thing to which it is given. For example, if I place my confidence in a rickety chair with a leg missing to hold me up, I am a fool. However, if I choose to sit in the easy chair that has comfortably carried my weight for the past five years, this display of confidence doesn't strike anyone as odd.

When we translate the application of confidence to our own abilities, the issue is not one of creating an illusion, but rather taking action based on what we trust ourselves to accomplish. We act according to the part of ourself we trust most (or "have confidence in") and we stand or fall based on the strength of that attribute. Confidence is not a construct or an emotion, it is the result of those things. Feelings affect how we perceive our abilities and therefore where we choose to place our trust. As a result, we do not always have an accurate view of our strengths and weaknesses. Applying confidence to a situation like the quarterback in your example is not a matter of slapping on a false veneer of emotion, it is choosing to put trust in an ability and to commit to an action.

I don't think that anyone has a perfect read on their own abilities. Confidence is necessary because it allows us to discover things that we weren't certain we could do and to act when action is needed whether we have experience in a certain situation or not. Instead of being an illusion, then, confidence actually clarifies reality.

As for your notion of will power, I completely disagree. In your example you assume that people only act according to their desires, that we are completely id-driven. There is no resistance to temptation, merely different levels of desire for different people. Do you seriously believe that? That there is no internal conflict in anyone? Will power is measured by one's ability to assert control over one's actions in spite of desire. If may want a donut far more than the other guy, but I want to live past 50 even more. The desire for the donut does not go away but neither does it control my actions.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 4, 2011
"Will power" is the triumph of abstract thought over animal impulse.
The guy who resists eating cupcakes is the one who can understand that while there may be an immediate physical reward (endorphin rush from sugar), it is shorter lived than the long-term reward of physiological health. While he cannot see himself gaining weight from a single cupcake, he abstractly understands that this may happen as a result of such behavior.

Yes, he may "enjoy" denying himself the treat more than the treat itself, but that greater impulse is a completely willful construction of his human mind. He's not blindly following the greatest pre-existing impulse, he's creating his own greatest impulse, knowing that he will follow it.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 4, 2011

Aren't you just arguing semantics? Regardless of what we call "it", we both seem to recognize it as a real attribute, i.e. one among the player's total package of abilities.

Scott's blog wants to dismiss it entirely, as illusion unrelated to real ability. I think he's wrong.
Jan 4, 2011
~40k U.S. deaths per year is all automobile deaths, not just automobile alcohol related deaths.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 4, 2011
I find that how confident I feel depends on what I'm comparing myself to. I've recently relaunched my business after many years as a stay-home mom. Early in my career, I felt like I was faking it every time I did a sales presentation or presented a job proposal. Then I got to know a lot of other successful entrepreneurs and realized they weren't exactly living up to the standard in my mind either. Now I know I can do an excellent job - if "excellent" is defined as "significantly better than most of the other guys out there." If it's defined in terms of my absolute vision of excellence, I'd rate myself "generally mediocre with occasional flashes of excellence".

I have a talented friend who won't put herself out there professionally because she can point to other people who do what she does better than she can. I've tried to tell her that everyone has moments when they are spot on - but that doesn't mean every moment of your career has to meet that standard. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is the willingness (confidence?) to keep going, keep submitting work even when you don't feel you are doing your best work in that moment. In business and in life, "done" matters. Very few people have the luxury of showing the world nothing but their best.
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