Twenty Signs of Confidence: the Other Side of Insecurity

Over 200,000 of you have read my essay, Signs of Insecurity, one of my first blog posts. Might you want to determine if you are more secure than you were? I offer 20 signs of confidence. Though I begin with one on the lighter side, the discourse is no joke:

  • Getting over how you look, as much as any of us can. This is easier for a man to say, and essential for a bald one, including yours truly. I don’t mean you ought not be presentable. Dress well if you can afford it and care to. Exercise and eat right for the sake of health, fitness, and energy – you bet. Just give up on the comb-over, dressing as if you are 18 when you are 55, and resign from the competition with your earlier self and the gorgeous young people sprouting like weeds you wish you could eradicate. Accept your appearance until you obtain your next driver’s license photo and scream, “Oh, no!”
  • Keeping eye contact. I’m not talking about a zombie gape or an effort to intimidate, although the “Stein Stare” – as my kids call it – is handy on occasion. You’ll learn more if you can recognize “who’s there” in the eyes of the other, make human contact, and display tenderness. And sometimes you will be dismayed to discover your counterpart’s “lights are on, but no one is home.”
  • Making difficult phone calls. I agree email is easier. But if someone wants you to call, you do this, even if fearful of rejection or otherwise uncomfortable.
  • You are open to your mistakes and learn from them. A wise friend (Henry Fogel) told me, “I try to make new mistakes.” In other words, he wished to avoid repeating the old ones.
  • The ability to give competent business presentations and speeches. This means you practice and present enough to become competent.
  • Doing hard things solo, without hand holding. Travel, for example. Eating by yourself at a nice restaurant. Going to a professional meeting alone and talking to strangers. The same with parties. If you are introverted, you still won’t love group events, but will manage them when necessary.
  • You can tell a story or a joke. Again, you will do better with practice. You laugh at yourself, too.
  • Making difficult choices with a minimum of procrastination and regret. While a few decisions take time, routinely you study them, get the consultation you need, and choose. Most should be possible on your own. No free lunch, however, when the alternatives are both desirable or both bad. Still, you only stay on the high wire for so long, between one place and another.
  • Not taking criticism to heart or attacking the critic as a matter of course. Nor do you believe all the negative evaluation you receive. You choose to listen only to those you respect or who possess a particular expertise; and, the ones who are dear: whose intimacy, happiness, and goodness you value. When you screw up, you admit it.
  • Giving bad news, if possible, face-to-face. I am including here romantic rejections (unless you are dealing with a stalker), job terminations, and saying “no” to those who implore you (say, for a loan or money to buy drugs) when a “no” may seem heartless. Being able to say “no” is crucial, lest “takers” suck the life out of you.

Take a breath. Here are the second ten:

  • Possessing the courage to “risk” in spite of everything. A confident person can sometimes (not always) reframe a crisis as an opportunity. Both the Stoics and 20th century theologian/philosopher Paul Tillich recognized the hardship and pain of life, but tell us we must embrace those evils nonetheless in pursuit of its riches.  The alternative is to turn away or hide; and, thereby reduce our existence to living behind a barricade.
  • You make your way without excess apology. State opinions with tact, but strength. Reflect upon yourself to know what you value, then live those values. You do not sacrifice your interests solely for approval, to please others, or to assuage guilt.
  • You do not crave the spotlight, but you can show leadership. Success is shared with coworkers who also contribute.
  • Being up to most situations, in control of yourself most of the time, not shaking in your boots. You avoid avoidance, remind yourself (except in true extremity) that worse things have happened and you will survive the present moment if it is fraught.
  • Because you accept who you are, you don’t spend inordinate time downing yourself internally or to others. You affirm your positive qualities more than you kick yourself.
  • Expressing and receiving love. You make friends and permit some of those friends to see the vulnerable part of you. Hurt cannot be avoided, but in your openness you will find the greatest opportunity for joy.
  • You master your nerves. The recently deceased opera singer, Carol Neblett, said, “Of course I have nerves. Anyone who doesn’t have nerves is a fool.” Not quite, but many of the greatest performers do. Johnny Carson, legendary Tonight Show host, claimed he never went on stage to give his monologue without nervousness. The trick is to proceed despite your fear, as he did.
  • Taking opportunities. Rather than being self-effacing, waiting to be called upon, you recognize enough of your strengths to say “yes” to those chances that reveal themselves, and creatively seek the dimly lit openings unseen by others, neither overestimating nor diminishing your capacity to succeed. You are assertive. Studs Terkel understood. He signed off from each of his WFMT interview shows with the words, “Take it easy, but take it.”
  • You don’t have to be right. In entering conversations you listen a good deal, considering the arguments that might cause you to amend your view. You do not let pride or insecurity take over and demand you “win.” You identify an exchange of ideas as an opportunity to learn, not triumph.
  • Affirming your truest, enduring, most genuine self. You possess knowledge of qualities in yourself needful of alteration, but embrace those aspects of your being essential to you – essential to your nature. These inform you who you must be when you are most true to yourself. This requires courage, as Paul Tillich tells us. You are then like an early spring robin singing his song. He can do no other. Those who live by suppressing, denying, or hiding their essence inflict a terrible injury upon themselves: self-alienation or self-estrangement.  As Oscar Wilde put it (tongue in cheek): “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Please take the listed items as aspirational, rather than expected or required. I realize accepting yourself and improving yourself are ideas in contradiction, but confidence allows for both. I’ve witnessed it. No one is secure in every situation, every moment, except for a few people too foolish to recognize they are lost at sea.

I’m “confident” you own a paddle even if you are on the water. How do I know? Because, if you have read this far, you are already a thoughtful person.

A good start.

The top image is A Beautiful, Self-confident Woman by Hno. Oscar Galo Artista plastico Picassiano. The second one is a Study of a Nude Man (The Strong Man) by Thomas Eakins. Both come from Wikimedia Commons.

17 thoughts on “Twenty Signs of Confidence: the Other Side of Insecurity

  1. Good reminders. Nice to contemplate that there is only one of us in this world and that each of us has the opportunity to live our one life with confidence. Thanks.

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  2. Don’t you think that confidence is genetic, at least to some degree? From a background of grading temperament in puppies, by 8 to 10 weeks you can usually tell the confident ones from those that are more hesitant about things and, evaluations based on puppies at this tender age more often than not prove true once the dogs are full grown, regardless of whatever environment they are placed in. The points you list above, like keeping eye contact, making difficult phone calls, giving speeches, etc., a not so confident person can act their way through and can give the appearance of being self-assured but still be quite insecure and self-conscious internally. No? Does pretending to be confident make you confident eventually or is the pretense counterproductive to the “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” concept?

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    • There are important, innate temperamental differences in people, for sure. As you say, some little ones are stimulus seeking, some more hesitant. I think, however, your argument may lose its way in making too much of this, almost to defeat the human project of growth and self-improvement. And, ignore the data. Over 50 years ago Harry Harlow, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, demonstrated that infant monkeys who received their food from inanimate surrogate “mothers” made of wood and wire were severely psychologically and behavioral damaged as compared to even those who received sustenance from “mothers” who had the same “body” covered with cloth, thus making for a somewhat softer cushion against the mother’s “body” while feeding. Obviously none of the monkeys could “fake” their way clear of their behavioral eccentricities. Nor, speaking again of humans, have I personally encountered people who could easily, routinely, and convincingly perform the faking you describe. Indeed, there is much research demonstrating how practice (and/or) therapy, making use of successive approximations (baby steps) can get you to a real level of psychological ease with activities like public speaking. As to your last point, Brewdun, the essence of yourself I referred to is not the terror you are describing, but whatever is life affirming in you.

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      • Your points are well taken, and maybe I didn’t make my thoughts as clear as I should have. In speaking of puppies and their various levels of confidence or lack thereof, I was referring to an entire litter of say 10 babies, same parents, one single litter, all raised on the same diet, by the same person in the identical environment. I was not referring to 2 different ones, from different parents raised under different circumstances such as the monkeys in the study you reference. Environment most certainly plays a big role in development but when speaking of confident people, doesn’t one’s genetic makeup also come into play? You can learn to do the things that make you uncomfortable to give the appearance of confidence but still be quite insecure. My point was just that there’s a hereditary influence in addition to the environmental one, on whether you have a confident persona or not. Am not quite sure what you mean about the “terror” I described, but if that’s how it all came across, I definitely did not mean it that way.

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      • The scientific method assumes correctly that if you have two groups of a single species in the same environment, randomly selected, you can change one thing about your treatment of them and can come up with valid conclusions (assuming the results can be replicated). No one disputes Harlow’s findings. If you reread what I wrote in the essay, I never said temperament didn’t matter. The terror I’m referring to is that which is found in an anxious, avoidant way of living that, inevitably, misses the best things about life because the person who lives that way is behind a barricade. Moreover, if you live behind a barricade it is very difficult to know what life is like for those who escape the barricade. The person who lives in a cloistered fashion tends to make a great many assumptions about life and the people who are “living it” that do not bear close scrutiny. Their assumptions and fears further diminish the existence they have. To say one more word, we all “fake it” a bit, but if you have enough of the signs of confidence I listed, you are either the greatest actor in the world or someone who genuinely believes in himself, at least somewhat. None of us have full confidence in every situation, as the essay stated, nor should we.

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  3. Dr. Stein,

    Thank you so much. I needed this aspirational list at this moment in my life more than you know. I have printed it and will refer to it often!

    Sincerely,

    Suzi

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this informative and self-improvement post, Dr. Stein. I can’t tick off all 20 signs, but that’s okay. I’m working on them 🙂

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  5. You are welcome. I’m working as well, Rosaliene.

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  6. Joseph Patrick Lori

    When it comes to this whole business of being self confident in a business world where time is money and unions have become weak, I believe, from my own experience, that it might be wiser, (to say nothing of being more practical), to adopt the poem, “Casey at the bat,” by Earnest Thayer, (1888), as one’s theme and point of reference for everyday life, at the very least, indeed.

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    • I do remember “Casey,” Joseph. And, if you mean to point out the dangers of overconfidence and swagger, you couldn’t have given a better example.

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  7. A great list. Over the course of this past year, I can see how I’m growing in some of these things, and am much more confident in myself than I ever was before. Life is a continuous journey of learning and growth.

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