Talent, as I have written elsewhere, is highly overrated. I’ve seen it time and again: a student who is a hard worker out performs a student with much more natural talent. Talent has to be used and improved upon or it soon becomes worthless. Hard work always pays off, even when it doesn’t lead to the entire result that was desired. Now there is evidence that confidence is another attribute that can often trump talent.
Anderson et al (2012) found that overconfident people achieved a higher status than their peers. At work, “higher-status individuals” tended to be more admired, listened to, and had more influence over group decisions. Researchers at the University of Melbourne found a strong correlation between confidence and occupational success. Their findings included results of a survey of confidence levels felt by study participants. Those who self-reported higher levels of confidence earlier in school earned better wages, and were promoted more quickly (Hasmath, 2012). This is encouraging, because confidence, like hard work and unlike talent, is not something a person is born with, but instead is something that can be developed and increased through practice and training.
As teachers, we are in a position to build confidence in our students with encouragement, well-planned lessons, and activities that provide the right amount of challenge. When something meaningful and substantial is accomplished, confidence is increased. A person cannot be talked into having confidence; it must result from success or the belief that success is possible or probable based on past experience and bolstered by encouraging words. Encouragement alone won’t get the job done.
I find that often, students who lack confidence are also afraid of failing, and will avoid making a serious effort in order to prevent failure. These students need a lot of cheerleading, not initially to build confidence, but to motivate them to try. Once they have agreed to try it is crucial that they experience success, so every ounce of effort on my part is needed to guide them through what I want them to do so that they can have something accomplished to feel good about. Once they are into a project and have begun to succeed at it, they become excited and eager to continue. As they do, they build confidence, which makes further success possible, which continues to build more confidence. This highly desirable snowballing effect continues to the end of the project, with intermittent applications of encouragement to continue when momentary lapses of doubt reappear. At the end of this type of intense instruction, both teacher and student are invigorated, and looking forward to the next class. Students who have been through such a class no longer feel compelled to clutch self-doubt and resistance to try, because they now want more of what they experienced last time, which was success and confidence, both of which feel good, and are the most lasting forms of motivation.
Anderson, C. et al (2012). A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Hasmath, R (2012). Self-confidence the secret to workplace advancement, Retrieved November 17, 2014 from http://phys.org/news/2012-10-self-confidence-secret-workplace-advancement.html