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Change Work October 2009

To boldly go ...

confidence (noun) - the belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.
 - a positive feeling arising from an appreciation of one's own abilities; self-assurance.

Recent events may have shaken your confidence in many aspects of society: politics, the economy, standards of public life.  None of these seem to be quite what we thought they were.  There's every reason to feel fearful of what the future may bring.

On the other hand, if things are going well, are we justified in expecting them to continue in the same way?  You certainly wouldn't think so to look at what's happened to our recently booming economy.  So, if things seem bad now, why should we expect them to stay the same, or get worse?

You can always analyse the course of events after they've happened and commentators now looking back describe the financial crash as "inevitable".  Very few saw that inevitability a couple of years ago.

Similarly, your personal circumstances aren't determined by their past trajectory.  Although you might sometimes empathise with the old saying, "If I wanted to get to there I wouldn't start from here", what actually matters isn't where you are, rather it's the direction you choose to move in.

That's a summary of the logical, rational argument for setting goals and making plans irrespective of past history and current disadvantages.

So why don't we always (or ever?) do the logical, rational thing?

The answer, as suggested above, is that we fear the worst.  A positive outcome can't be guaranteed so we don't take the action that's needed.  Usually, and ironically, this makes the feared outcome much more likely to occur.

What you need in order to move, in what you know to be the right direction, is confidence.

So, are we talking about a blind faith that everything will turn out for the best?  Well, that's not quite what confidence is.  It isn't the same as believing that you're infallible and that everything you attempt will be successful.  "Confidence" accepts that the outcome is always uncertain but your actions can dramatically affect the odds.

For example, Heather was a seemingly successful woman with a Masters degree in Management Studies and working in local government.  She was ambitious and looking for the next career step.  But she told me that she "lacked confidence in interviews" and so couldn't progress.  It turned out that she felt a need to be accepted and validated by others and didn't know how to balance this with the demands of managing a team.  Consequently, she doubted her ability to do the higher level job and expected the interviewers to see this.   She imagined herself rejected before the interview started.

Once she focused on the details of her actual performance in the interview - what to say and how to say it - and then constructed a mental image of the panel members smiling and nodding their approval, she felt confident.  At the same time she accepted that she still might not get the job but was able to perform as if success were certain.

The global financial system depends on the players having confidence in its institutions.  For individuals, the ability to move forward in the face of uncertainty is the critical skill - and always has been.

You can be confident of that!