Why Confidence is More Important Than Ability

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We achieve what we attempt.

A female pro surfer is holding her board on a beach in Bali.

There’s nothing more demotivating than the prospect of failure. Most of us won’t take a step further if we know that there’s a likelihood we won’t even make it to the finish line, and why would we? If failure is certain, we’d rather not waste our energy.

But failure is almost always never certain – it’s common, but not certain. And, as researchers point out (and countless business people who have succeeded against the odds will attest to), it’s your ability to ignore the possibility of failure and push on that will make your achievements that much more certain. Put simply: you are more likely to attempt something if you think you can achieve it. Furthermore, you’ll obviously be more likely to achieve something if you attempt it. The difference, say researchers, is confidence.

“Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action,” says Richard Petty, a distinguished university professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University.

While there are a raft of other emotions that will also help push you out into the deep-end (courage may be another, Richard points out), it’s confidence that underpins one’s ability to actually get things done. It’s actually more important than actual ability.

Take this fascinating study, for example.

In 2011, research psychologist Zachary Estes was investigating how male and female confidence levels affect results. In a series of 500 spatial puzzles, men outscored women. Crucially though, Zachary found that the women had done poorly because there were a number of questions that were unattempted. When the experiment was repeated under the caveat that all questions had to be attempted, the women’s results matched the men’s, with a noticeable increase. Sure, this was used to illustrate gender differences in confidence, but it’s telling that achievement was measurably increased once some kind of forced confidence was included.

The moral? Believe in yourself a little more – that’s the first step to success.

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