The Daily Mail had a piece on U.S. college students' confidence levels shooting sky high while their actual competence and performance in the areas of their confidence dipped to new lows a few days back (the original article's here).
The article mentioned research finding that that more and more young people were carrying bigger and bigger life goals, and more and more of them were falling short and slipping into depression and anxiety disorders.
It quoted psychologist Jean Twenge as saying "You need to believe
that you can go out and do something but that's not the same as
thinking that you're great," and, "An intervention that encourages
[students] to feel good about themselves, regardless of work, may
remove the reason to work hard."
I thought it was a fantastic article for one reason: the clear differentiation between confidence and success.
I've always found the, "I just need to tell myself I can do it, and then I can do it!" approach to "achieving things" to be a little daft, and it's nice to see some research backing this up.
I'd like to talk with you a little about this today, because, if this research is anything, there are fewer and fewer people out there like me who think that the secret to success is just going out there and busting your chops until you get there, and more and more who think you can just think your way to success.
Well, I've got news for those people: nuh-uh.
Before we go into confidence and success specifically, I want to discuss where all this "self-confidence!" mumbo jumbo came from in the first place.
When the self help industry first emerged, it brought a lot of good things to the fore. There are people out there in self help who really have helped and inspired a lot of good in others; Steve Pavlina and Tony Robbins are a couple of examples right off the top of my head who've made some impact. I'm sure there are countless more.
But there were also a lot of grifters and conmen who saw the self help scene as a quick way to get some cash by selling ineffective advice that made people feel good temporarily, or fooled them into thinking the life improvement they were searching for was just around the corner.
Robert Kiyosaki's an example of this with his whole Rich Dad, Poor Dad
empire - he was essentially a bankrupt, failed businessman who made it
rich by writing a book about how to get rich, then selling it to a
bunch of sales people in a multi-level marketing company and using his
success there to get a book deal... his money came from selling books
to clueless buyers about getting rich on real estate, something he had
no experience with. Today much of his money comes from his "Rich Dad
Seminars," which teach you about real estate for a few days while
telling you to raise the limits on your credit cards as much as you can
(so you can buy real estate), then on the third day pitching you "elite
classes" that they negotiate with you over price (basically, whatever
will fit on your newly raised credit card limit - hey, it's going to
make you a MILLIONAIRE, so you should have NO problem spending every
penny you've got on it, right?).
However, one of the greatest travesties in the rise of self help has been the elevation of "confidence" over all else, in my opinion.
Why's it so bad?
Because now you've got tens of millions of people out there walking around trying to get better by making themselves more confident.
I saw it in pickup when I first discovered the pickup community. There was this incredible focus on "inner game." Like, if you just focused on your internals enough, it'd make you magically irresistible to women.
I thought it was bunk.
But everybody else seemed to think it was magic. They were drinking the Kool-Aid.
I chose to abstain.
What's happened over time though, is that this, "Just believe in yourself!" mentality hasn't remained constrained to self help. Gradually, it's spread its tendrils out into everything: books, movies, TV shows. Your teacher, your boss, your Uncle Karl, sitting there in his recliner with a six pack of beer resting on his belly telling you you've just got to believe in yourself and be confident, and you'll be anything you want to be.
What's So Wrong with Being Confident?
Well, that all depends.
Confidence as a product of already knowing how to achieve whatever you want to achieve is great. Then instead of wasting a lot of time and energy worrying about things, you can just go do them and be happy about it.
But if you have no idea HOW TO DO something, and you're STILL confident, you just end up looking like an ass and stumbling your way to defeat.
Just think of one of those over-confident characters in some comedy show or film.
"Here, let me help you out with that," says one of the more experienced characters.
"Oh no, it's okay; I got this," says the over-confident, under-skilled comedian.
Hilarity ensues as he makes one ridiculous blunder after another.
Or, imagine you're at the top of a dangerous ski slope - and it's your first time skiing before.
"Hey, you know what, let's take you down to the bunny slopes and get you doing the basics first," says your instructor.
"No, don't worry about me; I'll be fine!" you declare confidently, and then shove off down the mountain, plowing into a tree or a rock a minute later.
Well, of course those guys are idiots! you say. That's not confidence - that's foolhardiness!
Well, how about the guy who's just going to start a business without learning much about it first, or consulting any good mentors or teachers? How about the guy who's not going to bother studying women and dating, he's just going to assume if he's confident it doesn't matter what he says or does, and women are sure to love him?
How come THESE guys get assured success by everyone?
The reason, I've come to believe: because these are complicated arenas that most people don't actually understand how to succeed in.
And when it's not actually clear to succeed, you're ripe for all kinds of influences to come in and tell you how to do things.
Even if all they're telling you is, "Just be confident!"
Confidence is a Poor Substitute for Skill
The predominant school of thought in economics in the West today is a sort of economics called Keynesian economics. Keynesian economists believe that the pillar of an economy is demand: the more demand there is, the stronger the economy. So, if you just increase demand and keep demand levels high, supply will grow by default (the economy will necessarily adjust to meet the demand).
Confident that they know what they're doing, government economists recommend complex monetary policies that ordinary people don't really understand, and even most government policymakers don't really understand. They take it on faith, implement these policies, and sometimes the economy grows, and sometimes the economy shrinks. Is any of that due to the policies of the Keynesian economists?
Nobody really knows, because nobody seems to understand the system all that well. Being an economist is sort of like being a voodoo witchdoctor; you don't really know if what you're saying is right, but you've just got to act confident and hope everything turns out okay.
Unfortunately, confidence is a poor substitute for skill. And confidence does not guarantee success by any stretch of the imagination.
Just ask countless medieval European alchemists, confidently (and
vainly) mixing concoctions together in search of the philosopher's
stone or the elixir of life.
Or ask countless ancient Chinese royal scientists, confidently crafting potions intended to let their kings live forever, but quite frequently bringing about those regents' untimely demises instead.
Or ask an economist today.
While confidence can at times be very convincing with other people, the limit of confidence's powers stop there. And even with people, most people have their bamboozle detectors at the ready to pick up on conmen and charlatans... there's only so far you can get on confidence alone.
So, does that mean you should abandon confidence altogether?
"Let's wait until we can be a little more confident of the right action."
"I want to try it, but I'm just not confident enough."
"How do I make myself more confident?"
These are the kinds of protests I hear centering on confidence most often. Sometimes they have some merit - and I'll review which situations those are that they have merit in - but most of the time, these protests are empty and purposeless complaints.
"Lack of confidence" is a frequent complaint of those suffering from victim mentality; as if sitting around waiting to somehow become more confident through inaction is ever going to change anything.
And that's the problem with "waiting for confidence;" if you're not taking ACTION while you wait, that confidence will almost never ARRIVE.
How Confident Are You?
When I first started in sales, I was not very confident in myself. I looked at sales, and I saw it as this insurmountable mountain to climb; there was the district's star salesman, right next to me, and there was me, who struggled to sell even to people who really wanted to buy something. It felt impossible.
So, you know what I did to increase my confidence?
Instead, I just worked hard to learn the product, I studied the methodology of that star salesman working across the counter from me, saw how he sold and made people want to buy, observed his flaws as well - where he was taking shortcuts, giving people breaks on prices - and tried to find ways to match his sales performance without cutting the corners he was. I learned his method, and then I perfected it more than he had.
The only thing I was confident of was that I could learn bits and pieces of things here, if I worked at them. So, I just learned one bit and piece at a time, until eventually all those bits and pieces I'd learned made me a star salesman too.
It was the same deal with music, and the same deal with pickup. Every time I've started something new, I've started weighted down with self-doubt and a lack of confidence.
But instead of sit there and gripe about how unconfident I am and how much that sucks, I just go take action, and trust that my lack of confidence will work itself out as I gain experience.
The Best Pick Ups I've Ever Had...
One night, about 6 months into me actively going out to meet girls, when I still wasn't very good yet and still had a great deal to learn, I thought about going out, and didn't really want to. My only friend in town had gone to New York City for the weekend, and I didn't know anybody else. I was accustomed to going out alone, but that was in my old college town; now, I'd moved to a new city, and I didn't know anywhere to go, really, or anyone.
Finally, I dragged myself out of the house to the bar street in the suburb I was in, thinking I probably wouldn't even end up talking to ANYONE that night. I ended up at a brightly lit bar full of people having fun with their friends... not exactly the kind of place I'd been hoping to find (I much preferred to pick up girls in clubs). But, I settled in, tried to be a little social, and ended up talking to some scruffy looking guy in his 30s sitting next to me for about 10 minutes.
That conversation ended, and I wondered what I was going to do next when the guy turned back to me a few minutes later and said, "Hey man, you want to go to a club in the city?" I wasn't very confident that would go all that great, or even where we'd be going, but as part of my efforts to be more social, I'd decided not to turn down any social opportunity I received, so I said, "Sure." We took a taxi ride into the city, and ended up at a nightclub I'd never heard of or been to before.
I stood around on my own for a while, racked with approach anxiety, before noticing a really beautiful girl who kept stealing glances at me. But, she was in the middle of a crowd, and I saw no way to approach her. So, I stood there, totally unconfident, totally not sure what to do, but knowing that I had to take action at some point or I was going to regret it.
After standing there for perhaps 10 minutes, not knowing what to do, I saw my opportunity: that girl was getting her picture taken with a couple other girls. So, I moved in, and, as the picture was ending, I opened my girl and started talking to her. Immediately I tried to move her; she resisted; I persisted. I knew from 6 months of active experience, that if I gave up after asking her to do something and I let her not do it, I was dead. So, I insisted, and she moved with me... once... twice. She was into me.
I took her to go upstairs with me and grab a seat, but a male friend of hers intervened. He wanted to leave; they were going home. I took her phone number and bid her fair well.
A few months later, that girl became my girlfriend for the next 2 1/2 years, and was one of the most amazing women I've ever known.
Many of the BEST pick ups I've ever had came on occasions that I went out with ZERO confidence, from girls I walked up to thinking for SURE I'd be rejected by. Out of the serious girlfriends I've had, a good chunk I thought I didn't really stand a chance to get.
How do you succeed despite a lack of confidence?
When all the self-help gurus tell you how absolutely CRUCIAL confidence is???
You find success in SPITE of confidence, by arming yourself with something else:
Process = Success. Confidence = Byproduct.
True confidence is a byproduct of success. You have it because you've succeeded at something (or at something similar) so many times that you feel reasonably certain you know what to do, and that you can pull it off.
Why do so many self-help gurus, advice-givers, and feel-good friends tell you you need confidence?
Because they see successful people acting confident, and wrongly attribute those individuals' success to their confidence.
"Well," the observer thinks, "this person's very successful, and very confident. My other friends, who are not successful, are also not confident. What's the BIGGEST personality difference between successful people and unsuccessful people? Hmm... seems like confidence! So what determines success? Must be confidence!"
Then these people go around telling you, "You don't need SKILLS... you don't need TALENT... what you NEED is CONFIDENCE!"
And then you get all excited, because they make you FEEL confident and then...
... and then...
... and then it wears off. And you're no better able to effect any real change in your life than before that big, impressive pump-up speech.
Confidence doesn't get you success. Everything I'm successful at I started off certain I'd fail miserably at and be ashamed for all time of my performance in. And many of the things I started off confident I'd be able to ace quickly (like surfing) I got discouraged by my lack of initial results mismatching my barrels of initial confidence and threw the towel in on to tackle something a bit more fulfilling with my time and effort instead.
If you're waiting for confidence
before you start something, you're waiting for the wrong thing.
It's kind of like a guy saying, "I'm not going to start building a
business that can make me a millionaire until I'm a millionaire," or,
"I'm not going to start learning how to date multiple women until
I'm dating multiple women."
You've got to do the thing first; results and byproducts come after.
You can't think your way to success. You can't will yourself to be confident, and then suddenly experience and skill becomes irrelevant.
I don't even think confidence is all that helpful for struggling through the troughs and low points of skill-building. Most of the people I've known who've been super confident they could do anything never really learn that many new things, because they don't see much need for it; who needs skills when you're already confident you'll be a success?
What really leads to success isn't confidence. It's process.
Process enables you to follow steps to success despite how confident or not you're feeling. Process enables you to work out patterns and pathways to follow to achieve the results you want. Process frees you from the crashing and receding tides of emotion and grants you logic to follow, test, and refine.
Process sets you free, and gets you REAL success.
How do you get yourself focused on process instead of confidence as the key to your success?
Simple: you start looking at steps, and stop chasing emotions.
Chasing Emotions: The Modern West's Curse
Sometime in the mid-1700s in Western culture, a curious thing began to happen: the ideal of logic and rational thought and reason being held in higher esteem than emotions gradually began to wear away, and emotions began to be hoisted into the place of reverence and veneration that logic previous held.
While someone in the 18th century would've chided you for acting childishly and immature if you told him (or her) that you wanted to get married for love (rather than because your mate was a good match), or that you wanted to pursue a profession because you enjoyed it (rather than because it was where you could best contribute to society or best enhance your position from), someone in the 20th or 21st century would tell you that those were exactly the right reasons.
Society shifted from encouraging reason to encouraging emotion.
The problem with that, though, is this: emotions change.
They're ephemeral. They shift. There is no constant in emotions.
And when you base your life around something that is inconstant, your life itself becomes changeable, fluid, and inconstant.
Which is fine if you're a traveler with no set purpose or direction. Or someone not tied to one place or one life.
But most people in the modern West aren't like that. They live settled, sedentary, rooted lives, best suited to constancy and solidity. But their minds are focused on shifting, changing emotions instead.
"Be happy!" That seems to be most people's life goal if you ask them. But then you ask them if they are happy, and you get a vague response, if not an outright "no." Then you ask them what it'd take to MAKE them happy, and you get another vague response, about something that'll happen far off into the future.
People don't know what they want, and they don't know how to get it. They're so busy chasing emotions, they never stop to realize they never actually achieve those emotions, but for a moment... and then the emotion is off, and the chase is on again.
The problem is, this carries over into their skill-building and life-determination as well, and instead of being able to logically target the acquisition of a given skill, they decide they'll just "follow their hearts."
So, they never get better at anything, and end up becoming bitter as they watch the clock slowly tick down on their lives without things ever getting any easier or clearer.
A Series of Steps
Confidence is just an emotion. Trying to rely on confidence for success is like trying to rely on happiness for fulfillment, or excitement for an enriching life. It is, as a member of the Enlightenment would've called it, a child's plan; and it isn't one that works.
What does work?
A process; a series of steps.
If you've ever done any goal setting, you have some experience with this. Goal setting is setting a few steps or objectives that you'd like to accomplish.
Building a process for ANYTHING is simply laying out a series of loosely connected steps, then following them.
Process is how you take control of your life despite the vagaries of your emotions. You may be a very emotional person; you may not be. But if you train yourself to follow a certain process, you can achieve predictable, controllable, consistent results that are not reliant on how confident or not you're feeling on a given day.
A process for selling tires (my old job back in university) looks like this:
Greet customer, ask how you can help him today
Ask him to see his car and the tires he has right now
Ask him how those tires did for him
Ask him if there's anything he'd like to have better (wet traction, cornering, quiet ride, etc.)
Ask him how long he intends to keep the car for, and how many miles a year he drives
Show him a tire you think'd be a good fit for him, how the mileage warranty means the tire will last for most of the time he wants to keep the car for, and explain how this tire is better than his existing tire in each of the areas he's said he'd like to see improvement in, and any other standout areas
Tell him the price of the new tires installed after taxes, and let him know you can get started on that for him right away and be finished in 30 minutes
If he's ready to go, get his keys and write up his ticket; if not, show him another tire and repeat the process
Print out the quote, walk him through all the charges and line items, and explain what each is so there won't be any surprise or pushback from him later
Have him sign the quote agreeing to the prices and charges, and hang up his ticket with his car keys for the shop workers to work on
A process for picking up girls looks like this:
Plan out ahead of time what day and time you'll go out and where, so that even if you're feeling out of sorts or not very confident, it's already planned and you'll go
Go out to the place you have planned, and begin approaching women immediately. If it's a social venue (bar, club, party, networking event, etc.), also strike up conversations with men too, but keep the focus on meeting ATTRACTIVE women (not just ANY women, but women you actually like, too)
Move girls minutes or seconds into talking with them to gauge their interest and compliance levels. If they won't invest in you and commit to talking with you by moving when you ask them to move, they won't do anything else either, so use this to screen out women who are simply making polite conversation with you and aren't especially interested
Keep moving and talking to lots of girls until you meet a girl you like who's responding to you, investing, and moving when you ask her to move. Once you've found her, stick with her; don't keep moving and don't break circle
Engage in some light banter, but only enough to get her comfortable with you and recognizing you as a bad boy and attractive man; don't overdo it
Get her sitting with you not long into talking with her; the sooner, the better
Invite her home as soon as you start detecting heightened levels of interest and desire on her part
Kiss her within 10 minutes of getting her alone with you in her place, yours, or wherever else you're taking her to get intimate together
Escalate physically and take her to bed
You can build processes like these for ANYTHING, simply focused on parsing whatever it is you're trying to accomplish down to discrete steps along the way to be completed.
All you need to know to do this is:
What your end goal is
What steps you need to get there along the way
What you need to do to make sure you get started taking action
Hit all three points, and you've got yourself a solid, unassailable process that you can use no matter the emotions you're feeling or not feeling at any given time.
So Do You Really Not Need Confidence?
Don't get me wrong; I think confidence is GREAT. There are few better feelings than being able to strut around like the head rooster, feeling like everything you do is assured success.
What aggravates ME is the veneration of confidence as some sort of success magic pill. It isn't.
Process is. A well-executed, well-rehearsed process that builds on experience and acquired skills. With process, you can succeed in spite of your feelings.
I can't tell you how many times I've felt utterly unconfident, and had process save me. There've been girls I was CERTAIN I couldn't get... they just didn't seem all that interested in me, or the male competition seemed to fierce, or the girl herself seemed like the most aloof, passionless, powerful woman in the world. But I followed process in spite of myself and I ended up together with her.
It's the same with sales, the same with business... the same with everything. There've been countless times I had a customer walk in when I was a salesman when I thought, "There's no WAY I can pull this off... this guy won't buy from me!" But, I'd try my best not to let my lack of confidence show, and I'd follow my process, and voila! I'd have the sale.
There've also been plenty of things I was confident I could do, but I had no skills, experience, or process, and I failed at them miserably. I've watched friends and business partners repeat this again and again; there's nothing more dispiriting than watching a friend totally confident he or she is going to succeed at business crash and fail after months or years of hard work because he or she never got a process down and only ever ran on emotions, and emotions don't last.
Don't cheat yourself by trying to run on emotions. Emotions make for ephemeral fuel... here today, gone tomorrow.
Adopt a process. It's the real path toward success.
And don't worry so much about emotions. When you take the right actions, emotions follow suit.
Grab a process. Get results. And you'll get all the confidence as a mere byproduct that all those other guys - without process, and without results - spend so much time trying to will themselves to have.