The Skill of Self-Confidence

Self-confidence and self-esteem

Dr Joseph makes several important distinctions, both directly and indirectly. He talks about self-confidence. Many people think that self-esteem and self-confidence are the same thing. There is an overlap, certainly, but when we look more deeply, there are differences. I would say that self-esteem has to do mainly with how much you value yourself, which is obvious when we think of the word 'esteem' or estimer in French, or to estimate. Our feeling of self-worth is usually influenced by messages we get in childhood, whether from parents or at school, through friends and teachers.

A closer look at self-confidence

Self-confidence however, has mostly to do with trust and belief in ourselves. Dr Joseph's first point is that when he is looking for athletes who will be successful, while physical skills are of course important, what matters most is self-confidence. Skills can be learned and improved by repetition and practice, but if a highly skilled athlete loses belief in themselves at a key moment, their results will drop right down below that of someone who may have less natural talent, but holds on to their self-belief. Again, if we look at the Latin root of the word confidence, we have confidere, to trust. We may confide in close friends, or we 'share confidences', in other words we trust them with something private. So self-confidence is believing that we can accomplish something, even though we have no proof of that.

Learned helplessness

Hence the saying, 'Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can't, you're right.' Of course this is an exaggeration, but the self-belief makes a massive difference. This leads us to the concept of 'learned helplessness', an idea described by Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology. After a certain number of attempts and failures, people (and animals in experiments which probably wouldn't be allowed nowadays) give up and stop trying. This can make sense from a survival point of view, because it would be senseless to keep wasting energy on an activity which doesn't work. Fail in order to succeed However, success in many activities comes from repeated failure, especially when developing a skill. It is said that an amateur practises something until they get it right, whereas a professional practises until they can't get it wrong. There is no real guarantee that any goal will be achieved—life throws many disappointments and challenges at us, but the willingness to persevere and believe that we can accomplish something will give us a chance at the really hard goals. Few people are prepared to push themselves to this level, but for some who do, the biggest prizes await. Without that belief, we wouldn't keep going. In fact, the greatest achievements are often those which take the longest to bear fruit.

The world of instant The promise of advertising has always been 'easy', 'rapid', 'painless', whether the subject is weight loss or wealth. In the modern world rapid results are expected: fast food, instant coffee, instant delivery, instant uploading, instant communication and responses. Yet skills worth learning can take years or, more likely, decades to perfect. Contrast the contemporary attitude with that of the Chinese emperor talking to his gardener. "Plant some more of those trees!" "But Sir*, they take 100 years to grow!" "Well, in that case you had better start now!" Still instant, in terms of expected actions, but not expected results. *possibly not the actual word used.

Hypnotherapy and self-confidence

Despite the distinction I made earlier about self-confidence and self-esteem, in practice they are often linked or effectively the same thing. That is because someone who doesn't value themselves may well feel useless. If they had parents or teachers telling them that they were no good, and so not even to bother trying, both self-confidence and self-esteem will be affected. That is why I ask hypnotherapy clients whether self-esteem or self-confidence is more of a problem, or whether they are in fact the same thing. That is so that we don't end up wasting time by working on something which isn't an issue. An obviously vital first step is finding out what we are actually trying to achieve. More distinctions between self-confidence and self-esteem Self-esteem is therefore a massive target to aim at, because it affects our whole identity. Self-confidence is more specific, but has a massive bearing on our effectiveness. In a sense, then, self-esteem has to do with our relationship with ourselves, whereas self-confidence has to do with our relationship to the outside world—not only goals, but tasks, and other people as well. How hypnotherapy can help In hypnotherapy, at least the way I do it, it's a question of getting a rough idea of the events which caused the problem, and then neutralising the (usually unpleasant) experiences which caused the feelings of powerlessness or not deserving to succeed. Occasionally, it might be the opposite: some people found things too easy at school, and they stopped trying. Therefore making a big effort is not something that they are used to doing. This will of course require a different approach, a sort of updating their mental software and putting new habits in place. As always, it's not simply a question of going down a checklist and snapping my fingers. Everyone is different, and a personalised approach unquestionably works best.

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