The Self-confidence Trap

The Self-Confidence Trap: unrealistic expectations about how self-confident we ‘should’ feel, which in turn damage our self-confidence

Self-confidence is a prized attribute commonly associated with competence and its close cousin, success. This is an example of the numerous myths and misconceptions about the nature of self-confidence. The term ‘self-confidence’ is rarely used by psychologists. Instead, they measure separate elements which together we commonly refer to as ‘self-confidence’:

        Self-esteem:         the value people place on themselves

        Self-efficacy:        the ability to achieve personal goals

What we call self-confidence is the belief your effort can make a difference combined with a healthy level of self-esteem (as opposed to narcissism). In this digital age the nature of messages regarding what constitutes success has created a paradox, one where we mistakenly believe confidence and success go hand-in-hand.

This results in what I call the Self-Confidence Trap: unrealistic expectations about how self-confident we ‘should’ feel, which in turn damage our self-confidence.

To help you recognise the Self-Confidence Trap, I’ve catalogued some common myths, mistakes, and misconceptions below.

Self-confidence IS NOT

Something you either do or don’t have.

We tend to think of people as being either self-confident or not self-confident, but this isn’t true. We all have self-confidence. Whether we feel it depends on circumstances. Self-confidence can come or go – it’s not permanent state of mind or feeling.

Never feeling uncertain, nervous, or afraid.

It’s human to feel these emotions. Even people who seem very self-confident experience them. What matters is how you respond to these feelings.

Given to you by someone or something else.

How we feel is a result of our reactions to our environment in combination with what’s happening in our inner world. You may have a positive reaction to people or circumstances and feel more self-confident as a result. These people or circumstances didn’t give you the feeling, you did.

Necessary to have before you can act.

Imagine a world where nobody acted until they were 100% confident of success. We wouldn’t learn basic life skills such as walking if we didn’t dare to try before we were sure we wouldn’t fail.

A magic spell which guarantees success.

Have you ever felt confident about what you were doing, only to have it go wrong? Self-confidence doesn’t determine success. Sure, it helps, but there are no guarantees.

Something successful people feel all the time.

Think about some people you deem to be successful. Have they taken risks, had setbacks or suffered failures? They most probably have, and since they’re human they’ve probably had moments of self-doubt and lacked confidence.

What you can do

Try the following next time your self-confidence feels low.

  1. Ask yourself these questions to help you figure if the issue is your self-esteem or self-efficacy, or both:

           ‘Do I believe I can do this?’

           ‘Do I feel worthy / good enough?’


  1. Listen to your language and take note.
    What you’re thinking leaks out in the words you use and your speech pattern.
  2. Remind yourself of situations where you feel self-confident, and look for patterns.
  3. Get some help either from a trusted friend, mentor or professional.

If you’re feeling this way it’s merely proof that you’re human. How you feel doesn’t define who you are or what you’re capable of.

How can I help you?

If you’re looking for some resources to help you through a self-confidence slump, try my Self-confidence Repair Kit or Self-confidence Strength Builder.

If you’re at a cross-road and are seeking clarity about what’s right for you , then my self-coaching journal for women might help. It’s like a coach in a luxury hard-cover guide and comes with e-mail support from me.

If you would like to work with an experienced coach, I’d be happy to talk about how we may work together.

About the author

Jacqui Alder is an internationally experienced human resources executive, consultant, and coach, with over 30 years’ experience in global businesses. She has worked in Australia, Europe, and Asia across multiple industry sectors.

She is founder at Clarity Simplicity Success for Women, and author of a self-coaching journal for women of the same name. The purpose of this business is to empower women to define their own meaning of success.

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