Confidence Matters: How to Build It and Keep It in Check

There is a direct correlation between confidence and success that plays a definitive role in the life of every leader. Simply put, if we believe we can succeed, there’s a better chance we will. Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, says it best: “Confidence equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance,” meaning that our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships are all impacted by our levels of self-confidence. And the river flows both ways –– in turn, our self-confidence is impacted by thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships.

What Makes People Confident: General and Specific Self-Confidence

First, we have what researchers call general self-confidence, which is a stable trait that develops from early childhood. This type often emerges in response to our familial and early educational relationships, following us  remaining relatively unchanged throughout adulthood. General self-confidence is most useful when we encounter new situations. 

Second, we have specific self-confidence, which is a changing mental and emotional state associated with a specific task or situation. This type is much more relevant to everyday experiences. Unlike our mostly fixed general self-confidence, specific self-confidence changes with every new experience. 

While some people have naturally higher self-confidence (for example, in the Predictive Index behavioral assessment, higher “A” and “B” personalities are generally more confident), we develop both types –– general and specific –– through automatic, mostly unconscious internal dialogue. Both types are present as this dialogue includes the judgements we make about ourselves based on our interpretation of events and the feedback of others. 

Everyone –– even the most confident –– can suffer from insecurity, however. No one is immune to self-doubt, but with a better understanding of the two types of confidence, we can learn to trust our own abilities. While general self-confidence tends to be more rigid, it’s possible to dramatically increase our levels of specific self-confidence.

How to Build Your Specific Self-Confidence

While having an innate or natural tendency toward confidence is useful, intentional practice can be highly effective at building specific self-confidence. Overall, our interpretation of the information stored in our brains and the sensory data we process about our daily life has the strongest impact on our confidence. This means, if we can change that way we think about the past, as well as how we process and reflect on the present, we can build new neural pathways, thereby strengthening our specific self-confidence.


Self-leadership allows us to positively influence our internal dialogue and thus our conclusions about our place in the world by consciously adding positivity into the normally unconscious workings of our brains. In other words, self-leadership means you are actively trying to persuade yourself of something and lead your mind where you will. The next time you don’t succeed, instead of berating yourself, tell yourself that you failed because it was a learning experience, that you learned something valuable in the process, and that you will succeed next time. 

Prepare Yourself

Preparing for every situation and generating positive mental imagery of success is also important, both before and after performing a task. For example, you would practice giving your speech several times before giving it, or if you were opening a new business, you might do a dry run first. Deliberate practice and visualization always beat natural aptitude.

Be Authentic

Take off your metaphorical mask. You’ve probably noticed that confident leaders are comfortable sharing their values and beliefs. Doing so allows them to act in line with those beliefs. There’s a clear connection between confidence and authenticity, so just be yourself

Ask for Feedback

Approach someone who will give you honest feedback. Evaluation on your progress is invaluable, which is why executive coaching can be such a powerful tool. Positive and/or action-oriented feedback can increase a leader’s sense of efficacy so they feel empowered to tackle their job with confidence. 

Set Goals

It feels good to set a series of goals and steadily check them off your list. As a matter of fact, goal-setting is crucial when it comes to building confidence. Create specific targets for yourself that align with your strengths and incorporate your team, and acknowledge when you succeed. 

How to Avoid Overconfidence 

Self-confidence (general and specific) is extremely valuable, but it’s important to remember that it can create biases. The truth is, if you say something with enough confidence, people will believe you, and that’s not always a good thing, especially if you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is why it’s important to have a full and accurate awareness of your own abilities. Confidence is a huge factor in your success, but overconfidence? Not so much.

So, what are the signs that your confidence has turned into arrogance? Ask yourself the following: do you believe you can do it? If so, good. Do you believe only you can do it? That’s [probably] false. Fortunately, just as there are ways to build our self-confidence, there are also ways to keep our overconfidence in check.


Just like confidence, overconfidence develops through an internal dialogue we have with ourselves, only in this case, instead of focusing on the bad, we only focus on our success, and in doing so, we foster unrealistic expectations for ourselves. That’s why self-leadership can help us temper arrogance. Naturally, this doesn’t require you to participate in negative self-talk, but rather keep your emotions and beliefs in check by recognizing opportunities to improve, moments of poor performance, and reminders that everyone has weaknesses they can improve upon.


Accepting feedback is a skill. Regularly ask someone you trust and who cares about your development to critique the quality of your performance, and be sure to listen to them. Enforce feedback loops as well, meaning you create and follow a process of listening to criticism and using that information to improve. 

Always Be Learning

The antidote to arrogance is a healthy awareness of your own ignorance. Open yourself up to being wrong and learning from mistakes! No one should ever be ashamed of changing their mind. The philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “If anyone can show to me that I think and act in error, I will gladly change it –– for I seek the truth, by which no one has ever been harmed.”

Live Life Confidently

Self-confidence, which in its truest form incorporates humility, is a beautiful thing! When you realize your worth and purpose, it’s no longer a matter of self-promotion, it’s simply bringing what you have to the table. From here on out, focus your energy on what you can control –– directing the internal dialogue inside your head, heeding feedback from others, and learning all you can. Move forward and live well with the utmost confidence in yourself!