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The new trick to confidence

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic believes a lack of confidence might actually be vital for success. Really? He explains all to Suzy Greaves

by Psychologies

How many times have we read that if you just believe in yourself, then the world is your oyster? But psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author of Confidence: The Surprising Truth About How Much You Need And How To Get It (Profile, £12.99), suggests a lack of confidence might actually be vital for success. Why? Because low confidence will encourage you to improve and grow more competent. ‘If you accept the fact that you’re not as good as you’d like to be, you’ll be able to focus on what you need to do to improve,’ he says. ‘Low confidence allows us to acknowledge our imperfections, problems and worries, then we can motivate ourselves to make changes and improve our lives.’ Here are his game-changing, myth-busting secrets to success:

1. Improve competence not confidence

What we really need is to close the gap between our confidence and competence, says Chamorro-Premuzic – unless we back up confidence with competence, we are deluded. ‘Deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are means we’ll overestimate our ability to perform, dismiss negative feedback as inaccurate and end up doing far worse than if we had a realistic self view,’ he says.

Conversely, although high confidence may increase your ambition, it will also decrease the dedication, focus and effort needed to build on your success.

2. Prepare yourself

Chamorro-Premuzic suggests we work on moving from incompetent confidence (embracing realistic self-doubt along the way) to get to a place of realistic confidence by focusing on preparation. The more you prepare, the less you’ll underperform, he says.

3. Focus on others, not on how you feel

Do you feel shy in social situations? Join the club. We’re all worrying about our own anxieties. The key to success, says Chamorro-Premuzic, is to stop being self-obsessed and focus on helping others. ‘When you’re worrying about your confidence or lack of it, you’re self-focused and unable to pay attention to others. But if you shift your focus onto others, you’ll be empathetic and far more socially competent.’

4. Adjust your focus

Focus on what other people want, which includes:

  • love – to be appreciated and valued;
  • success – status and to be recognised; and
  • knowledge – understanding how the world works.

Help people get what they want. Don’t criticise, avoid complaining, remember people’s names, ask questions and listen to the responses, talk about what others like instead of what you like, show you value and admire them, respect people’s opinions, admit when you’re wrong, and voice positive feedback as much as you can.

5. For success, work hard and be kind

After 20 years studying the psychology of success, Chamorro-Premuzic says successful leaders and employees are not the most talented or confident, but the hardest workers who are modest and kind. Companies led by humble leaders are more successful, more likely to sustain success and less likely to be corrupt. Top performers are the ones who respond quickly, get stuff done and produce exactly what is asked of them, if not more, he adds. For long-term success at work, don’t tell lies, be arrogant or selfish – research shows the most important attributes of successful managers are trustworthiness, kindness and empathy.

6. Be ethical

Develop a strong work ethic. Always be kind, even when this means showing someone a bit more compassion than they may deserve. Give credit to those you work with and don’t shy away from taking the blame sometimes. Be likeable, not difficult.

7. Nurture your reputation

Chamorro-Premuzic says: ‘You should care about what others think of you; it’s the only way you can have a coherent view of yourself in the first place.’ Why? Because we tend to believe our self-views are more accurate than everybody else’s view of us, but numerous studies show that reputation built on the views of others are much more accurate. ‘If what you think about yourself is not shared by others, then it probably isn’t true,’ he adds.

Studies also show what others think of us can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A now-famous experiment that involved providing primary school teachers with made-up IQ scores of their pupils showed the teachers’ false beliefs about their pupils’ competence resulted in an actual increase (or decrease for the ‘dim’ students) in the pupils’ performance.

8. Present the best version of yourself to others ‘Your inner confidence has no effect on how others perceive you – people only observe behaviour – they have no insight into how you feel. Your inner confidence is invisible, but your competence is highly visible,’ says Chamorro-Premuzic. This is how others judge your abilities and how you build your reputation. Ask for honest feedback from friends and colleagues. Take on board their assessments, then focus on how to improve others’ perception of you, and build a successful self-fulfilling prophecy.

9.  Understand the secrets of dating

Want to find love? ‘Of all the factors that determine whether somebody likes you or not, one of the strongest is whether that person thinks you like them,’ Chamorro-Premuzic says. A recent study found that if you make eye contact and lean towards someone, clearly indicating your interest, this made the other person more attracted to you, more so than someone who didn’t flirt or showed minimal interaction. And it works both ways. When someone is marginally interested in you but finds that you don’t like them, they will be less interested in you.

10. Make your move

Make an obvious effort to take an interest in a potential date, with eye contact and body contact where appropriate. Make it obvious you like them, show your interest by asking questions. And don’t forget to smile!

More inspiration:

Read Self-esteem versus self-belief on Life Labs

Watch How To Improve Your Self Esteem on Lifelabs

Photograph: iStock