Types Of Confidence

Confidence, the cornerstone of high level performance and fulfilling your potential. A huge concept of great importance and significance, that can seem frustratingly ephemeral, easy to loose and a tough challenge to build. True confidence isn’t thinking to yourself or telling yourself that you can do it, it’s knowing that you can do it to such a degree that it’s become a subconscious level assumption that doesn’t require clarification or evaluation. Confidence is such an important area in psychology that when I’ve worked with experts on the subject we’ve treated it separately as a subject all of its own.

true confidence is knowing that you can do it

Based on my own considerable and wide ranging practical experience on the topic I have come to separate confidence into 2 very rudimentary (not strictly scientific) domains. Surficial confidence and foundation confidence. In on-the-day high performance I believe having plenty of both makes the difference, whilst for the long term journey of self development having as much foundation confidence as you can is very important.

Surficial confidence is the positive feeling a person gets from a quick win or quick success or from being told that they are great or doing a great job by people who are close to them or even in some cases complete strangers. This process can happen on a regular basis, with repeated positive acknowledgement building up successive layers of conscious opinion that the person is special, worthy and good at what they do. However, and of course there is going to be an inevitable ‘but’ to this story. This kind of confidence is thin and fragile and generally only short lived in nature unless positive feedback (praise) is perpetually provided on a regular enough basis to support the ongoing belief.

surficial confidence

The second type of confidence in this model is foundation confidence. To understand what this is consider first your inner critic in your head. It exists to keep you out of harm’s way and to help you make smarter long term decisions at more complex junctures in your life. To build deep foundation confidence you need to satisfy this inner critic with real life factual evidence that can’t be disputed. When the subject sets a clear goal, even a modest goal, and this goal is achieved and the result is clear and easy for your critic to accept it gets entry passed the steel trap door into the confidence store. Your brain is forced to accept the successful outcome and associate that experience with deep positive feelings whilst internalizing it into the store.

foundation confidence

So there are some clear differences between these 2 types of confidence. The most important being that foundation confidence is resilient and can stand up to challenges and tests. And the more of this type of confidence you can accumulate the tougher the test it can stand up to. Meanwhile surficial confidence is in contrast relatively fragile and is easily dissolved and dismantled when a significant test presents itself. So if you never leave sight of your comfort zone and your lifestyle doesn’t present significant tests then you can get away with operating on surficial confidence. However that is not the life of a ‘self-actualised’ individual who aspires to execute a high level performance on a given day.

A second important difference between these 2 contrasting types of confidence is that they generally operate on different time scales. It only takes a few minutes to encourage and praise someone and tell them they are brilliant people, worthy and great at what they do. To build foundation confidence takes long periods of time. It involves making small but regular deposits into the store and constantly reinforcing proven positive results to your inner critic.

foundation confidence requires making regular small deposits into the bank

Each week or month or year of positive internalisation building a thicker and thicker barrier around your emotional brain, protecting it from negativity and despondency. The more clear-cut and authentic the achievement is and the more it’s associated with a significantly hard challenge the more foundation confidence you build in the store from a given experience.

authentic achievement

One classic situation where lack of foundation confidence and over-reliance on surficial confidence becomes exposed and causes the house of cards to collapse is what I would call the ‘big fish’ situation. When people operate for long periods of time in an environment where they are practically much better at something/s than their peers and they experience repeated quick and easy psychological wins, over time they will develop and proliferate paper thin surficial confidence. In effect they are the big fish in a small pond. The problem arises when they go outside of this shallow constrained pond and take on tougher challenges against peers from outside of this ‘bubble’. In most cases they don’t perform very well and their so-called confidence they and those around thought they had, suddenly evaporates very rapidly, almost immediately in some cases. Unraveling self believe in a way that makes the subject feel as though their emotional center is conspiring to betray them.

the Big Fish situation

However it is not that people shouldn’t build surficial confidence because there are times in life when this can be extremely useful at breaking down false barriers and initially ‘getting you through the door’. But to ensure future high performance on a consistent basis the subject needs to spend extended lengths of time focused on progressively building foundation confidence to a greater degree than surficial confidence. When future tough challenges present themselves this will fundamentally change how the subject responds when they are seriously tested. Will they try to convince themselves they can do it, or will they never even think about it because they already know they can do it and a successful outcome is inevitable for them.

it is not that people shouldn’t build surficial confidence

Of course all of this rhetoric sits on a sliding scale, a continuum. Everyone brings their own personality and psychology to their situation and the fine details as to how to apply these concepts has to be in line with what the person inherently brings to the table. And it would be foolish to not mention the great power that lies in community and who the person surrounds themselves with regularly, what’s been termed the ‘troop’ in Steve Peters’ model of the chimp paradox. Choosing the wrong troop can lead to feelings of insecurity and greater reliance over time on boosting surficial confidence. A good troop and associated environment should encourage stretching of boundaries, acceptance of necessary risk taking and ample opportunities to demonstrate indisputable successful outcomes to your own inner critic.

As a final important note, I believe it’s important for the person to be mindful of how they internalize the outcome of events. Celebrate your true wins (not the artificial ones) and feed this evidence to the inner critic but remember that it’s just a stepping stone on a longer path of success.


\\Ever struggled with or experienced different ways of building different types of confidence? Or have experience studying this area? Leave a comment below to share your ideas and knowledge with others//


Malc Kent
Malc Kent

Scientist | Gait Analysis Expert | Strength Coach | Technology Developer

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