Sense of Mastery is the Key to a Better Confidence

It’s probably fair to say that we all have been there—at a point in our lives where we’ve felt more as the mere spectators than the action heroes in our own stories. We’ve watched opportunities slip away but were unable to grasp them. And there wasn’t much we could do to change all that. As if we were paralyzed or lost in a hazed dream.

Simply put, we’ve felt that we were not in control of our lives.

It’s not a great place to be.  We feel powerless—about our ability to make an impact, to reach our goals, and to change our outcomes. What’s more—we don’t quite see ourselves as being capable to, nor trust ourselves that we can.

It turns out, however, that such unfavorable perceptions are very close allies with low self-esteem. That is, if we lack confidence, research has discovered, the loss-of-control sensation will be a frequent companion in our everyday lives.

Scientists also tell us that how highly we value ourselves is very dependent on two important traits, which they call “sense of mastery” and self-efficacy,[1] and they simply mean the extent to which we think we have control over the forces that govern our lives, and how much we trust that our actions can influence the outcomes of various situations.

It’s not hard to grasp then that having or developing these traits can be very beneficial to all of us in many ways. Time and again, studies confirm that they help us to weather some of our most highly stressful life experiences as a job loss, financial woes, or relationship problems.

When it comes to confidence, the beliefs that we have control over our lives and that reaching our goals is largely dependent on our own actions, are major predictors of the levels of our self-esteem.

In fact, they are so powerful in terms of shaping our confidence, that they rank higher as influencers than things as income, education, or social standing.

They also help explain a fair bit of why we differ in terms of our confidence levels. It’s quite simple really—it’s because we all vary in how much we value our strengths and in how much of an impact we believe we have over our lives.

So, it’s not hard to spot the connection here—more self-belief and self-empowerment equate to more confidence.

So, how can we acquire this invaluable feeling of being the crafters of our own fate?

1.Family Upbringing

It starts early on and is linked to how we were brought up by our parents—if we were challenged by them, asked to solve problems on our own, if they taught us various life-coping skills.

To what extent we were allowed to participate in decisions, such as picking out our clothes, or having a say in family activities, also played a role in honing our decision-making and problem-solving skills. These, in turn, have made a great difference in how we’ve learned to approach and deal with life challenges.

2. Our Own Learning Curve

As we grow up, our own experiences of trial and errors start to shape our sense of mastery—we learn to expect that certain actions on our part can successfully influence our outcomes. For instance, putting in some extra effort at work can give us a greater chance to get the promotion we want. Or taking better care of ourselves—working out, eating healthy, or scheduling some quiet time—will help us de-stress, look younger and more energized.

3. Support networks

Encouragement and trust from close others—that we have the capabilities to master difficult situations—can tremendously boost our own beliefs that we can fiercely overcome any obstacles and successfully reach our goals.

Hence, surrounding ourselves with the right people is pivotal to not only improving our sense of control, but to also enhancing our self-perceptions and confidence.

4. Challenges

The better we perform and the more stimulating and complex problems we are able to solve, the more we will feel that our actions can directly lead to the outcomes we want. But while challenges are good for us, choosing too difficult tasks will undermine our self-efficacy. Our self-esteem will plummet too.

Low to moderate level of stress can enhance performance—we all know this—but too much will debilitate it.  So, before we set the bar high and go race for the prize, we need to have a plan of how to get to our goal and should follow it.

After all, we don’t want to let anxiety take control, right?

5. The Spill-Over Effect

Observing others thrive at similar tasks (known as vicarious experiences) would strengthen our beliefs that we can prosper as well. Furthermore, being in close proximity to successful people and watching them overcome the things we may be afraid to approach, can spike our efforts and accomplishments too.

Research supports this too—sitting next to high performers at work, for instance, can make us more effective and productive. Surrounding ourselves with self-assured people—both in our personal and professional lives—will help improve our own self-opinions. Psychologists call this a “positive spill-over” effect.

6. Self-Encouragement

Finally, because efficacy is, after all, a subjective self-opinion of our own capabilities, it all often starts with a simple belief that we are in charge of our lives and that we can achieve the aspirations we have set for ourselves. And to stretch this a bit further—to gain confidence, we need to feel ownership and responsibility over our own fates, but we can’t accomplish any of that if we don’t become our greatest supporter first.

~ ~ ~

So, there we have it—the secret to a better confidence: be proactive, don’t be afraid to make decisions, tackle challenging problems, find some good buddies, and cheer up on your own accomplishments.

Because in the end, it all comes down to this: do we want to sit back and watch life happen to us, or are we willing to finally take the responsibility for writing our own story, with the ending that we want?


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This piece appeared on Thrive Global on December 20,2017.


[1] The theory of Self-Efficacy was first introduced by Prof. Albert Bandura—a professor of psychology from Stanford University, who is also considered to be one of the most influential psychologists of our time.

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