“Confidence comes from preparation and the only way to be fully prepared is to practice something until you have it down so well that you know it will work.”
– John Havlicek, Hall of Fame NBA player
“With accomplishments comes confidence and with confidence comes belief. It has to be in that order.”
– Mike Krzyzewski, four-time NCAA championship coach at Duke
The Main Point Of This Book
Increasing your competence, i.e. getting better, is the only effective strategy for gaining confidence.
Having genuine, long-lasting confidence requires you to increase your competence. This cannot be done through self-affirmations, visualizations, positive thinking, or other emotional boosters. Increasing confidence is done through better preparation (a.k.a. practice) and performance.
About The Author
This book was written by Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a legit researcher, not a motivational speaker or pop-science journalist. He is a business psychologist and professor at UCL and NYU.
It is a well-researched book with over 200 references to past studies and other books. He included decades of recent psychological research, including his own studies, on confidence and competence across multiple domains like health, dating, and careers.
The Book Notes
Chamorro-Premuzic breaks down a bunch of myths and covers many topics in this book. We’ll look at 4 important things in this post:
1. Why more competence is always better than more confidence
2. Why low confidence is better to have than high confidence
3. Why your reputation among women is more important than your own self-views
4. How to apply this to improve your social skills, dating, and relationships
How Confidence And Competence Works
Confidence only comes after lots of preparation, demonstrated performance, and getting a reputation.
Getting better is really 90% preparation and 10% performance and proving it to others.
“When you are performing in low-confidence mode your inner doubts distract you, making you lose focus on the task and conveying to others that you lack competence. However, performance is just 10% of the time and effort needed to accomplish something. The remaining 90% consists of preparation, and the less confident you are about your performance, the more motivated you will be to prepare.”
Why Your Reputation Matters More Than Your Self-Confidence
Humans are social animals and you should care what people, especially women, say about you.
Your reputation is what others (those in your mating market) think about you. It is more accurate than your own self-confidence of how competent you think that you are. Other people are better at evaluating you and your competence than you are.
For example, women are better at evaluating your attractiveness, in every way, than you are at evaluating your own attractiveness. And this might sound weird but even other guys are better at evaluating your attractiveness and how you stack up than you are at self-evaluating it.
“As the saying goes, ‘Your beliefs don’t make you a better person; your behavior does.’ Pay attention to how you behave and what others make of your behavior to get a good sense of who you are. Fail to pay attention and you will end up having a very peculiar view of yourself — one that nobody else shares.”
Why Low Confidence Is A Great Thing To Have
“Low confidence is the result of failure but the source of success.”
Having lower confidence has been found to increase resource allocations (i.e., investment of more time and energy in trying to accomplish a goal) and competence. It is an adaptive tool that can help you prevent disasters and enhance competence.
The most solid scientific theories of motivation, such as perceptual control theory, argue that motivation results from the perceived discrepancy between present states and desired states. Since higher confidence reduces this discrepancy and lower confidence increases it, lower confidence is a stronger motivational force to change and get better than higher confidence.
High confidence often masks low competence, which can be a curse: It stops you from working to improve. It’s better to have realistic self-knowledge than distorted self-disbelief, so that you know what you need to work on to get better.
Even depression, a rock-bottom level of confidence, has evolutionary benefits:
Psychologists Paul Andrews and Andy Thomson’s research ties into the evolutionary origins of depression: “The current therapeutic emphasis on antidepressant medications taps into the evolved desire to find quick fixes for pain. But learning how to endure and utilize emotional pain may be part of the evolutionary heritage of depression, which may explain venerable philosophical traditions that view emotional pain as the impetus for growth and insight into oneself and the problems of life.”
“Having a fairly reactive negative affect system (depression) causes people to strive hard for what is desirable and to avoid negative outcomes, and this may well be associated with increased fitness (the evolutionary word for competence),” says Daniel Nettle, evolutionary psychologist in the UK.
How This Applies To Social Situations And People Skills
“The evidence very clearly suggests that whatever confidence surplus people perceive (surpassing competence) is toxic. The minute people perceive that you have more confidence than competence, they like you less.”
[Mating Grounds note: This is one example of where blogs, even science blogs, get this wrong. Humans do prefer confidence if we’re clueless about the subject, lack control, and feel scared. This research was on stock markets and shows one reason why people listen to Jim Cramer’s advice, even though he’s made terrible stock picks. But when we are knowledgeable, we do prefer competence and expertise, not confidence. Johnny Manziel and Tom Brady are both very confident NFL quarterbacks, but who would you prefer to have on your football team? Lastly, a funny example of confidence with zero knowledge or competence is a late-night TV segment called Lie Witness News.]
There are three ways to use social anxiety to increase social competence:
1. Become a pessimistic realist. Develop the ability to accurately assess your social skills by paying attention to feedback in order to identify and work on your weaknesses. The opposite of this is the optimism bias that can make higher socially confident people delusional.
2. Pay a lot of attention to yourself and how you’re doing. If you’re preoccupied with what others think of you, you can identify and overcome the weaknesses for which they may criticize you.
3. Let low confidence motivate you to improve in order to avoid an undesirable outcome. If you are more afraid of failing, you will be more likely to prepare and do better.
Good people skills (social competence) are a combination three things. Even having just 2 out of 3 of these is great:
1. Learn to read people by understanding that everyone wants the same 3 things in life: love (being appreciated and valued), success (status or achievement of one’s goals), and knowledge (understanding the world and feeling in control)
“William James argued that the most fundamental principle governing human behavior is our desire to be appreciated. This principle may be the single most insightful remark about social relations ever formulated. Anywhere in the world, our relationships are driven by a fundamental craving for acceptance and appreciation, and that will always be the case.”
2. Present yourself well by getting people to see you in the way you want to be seen, but without getting too caught up in focusing on your limitations.
People want to see the best possible version of you and someone they can predict consistently.
“Almost a century after the formulation of Carnegie’s social competence rules, psychologists are still in agreement with him. Recent studies show that social competence is best understood as a combination of social responsiveness, social maturity, and social control:
- Social responsiveness is about expressing warmth and interest in others — clearly, cocky people are less likely to do this than humble, modest, and even under-confident people.
- Social maturity involves controlling negative emotions and appreciating others, as well as tolerating people who are different from us.
- Social control refers to the motivation to improve one’s social skills to influence others — your motivation will be higher if you perceive that you lack social competence.”
How This Applies To Dating And Relationships
“Women tend to prefer men who seem more confident, but only when they interpret that confidence as a sign of competence. Men, on the other hand, appear not to care about a woman’s confidence.”
First, work on developing an accurate perception of your own eligibility (your mate value). You can ask your closest friends and family, or even previous partners, what they think your greatest strengths and weaknesses are.
“Your overall dating eligibility is a combination of four factors:
- Looks: what evolutionary psychologists call ‘fitness’
- Brains: how smart and resourceful you are
- Partner potential: whether you will be loyal, loving, caring, and good company
- Parenting potential: whether you will be a good mother or father”
Learn when and how to fake dating confidence.
- Make a list of your strengths and strategize on how you can foster them before the date.
- Cultivate your own Unique Selling Points: take some time to think about this. Seek advice and opinions from those closest to you.
- Focus on others: when starting to date someone, don’t talk about yourself too much. “In a world where the majority of people are just too self-obsessed to pay attention to others, it is not a bad idea to be part of the minority.”
Flirting is an effective way to get others to like you.
- Make an obvious effort to take an interest in a potential partner. This can be eye contact and body contact where appropriate.
The four main solutions to finding a happy relationships:
1. Don’t aim too high when choosing a partner.
- Keep your expectations realistic by monitoring how picky you are being.
- Give potential partners a chance to impress you before dismissing them.
2. Don’t aim too low when choosing a partner.
- Work on your confidence in being single and enjoy time on your own.
- Avoid dating people who you know are not good matches.
- Seek advice and opinions from those who know you best. They are likely to give you honest feedback on whom you are dating.
3. Try not to over-rationalize the dating process.
- Be patient and see what happens.
4. Work on improving what you have rather than hoping for continual perfection.
- Seek professional help and tackle challenges head-on instead of assuming that it just isn’t ‘meant to be.”
- Keep the communication up with your partner to ensure you are both on the same page.
- Learn to be happy with what you have, and you will not be unhappy about what you don’t have.
The 3 Quotes That Sum Up The Whole Book
“Dissatisfaction is the mother of change, and only change can drive improvement.”
“As shown throughout this book, there is no evidence that high confidence causes success. Even if it did, it is very hard to change our confidence levels and self-views intentionally. Upon reviewing decades of professional interventions designed to enhance people’s self-esteem, Dr. Roy Baumeister concluded that no evidence had been found to support the claim that through the use of therapeutic interventions or school programs, increasing self-esteem will produce benefits. Rather, 100s of psychological studies show that deliberate attempts to suppress negative self-views backfire.”
“Although we are repeatedly told that exceptional achievers owe their success to their high confidence or self-belief, it is more feasible to attribute it to their insecurity — why else would anybody work so hard, and continue to work hard even after accomplishing much more than most people?”
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