Have you ever wondered where confidence comes from? Or why do some people seem to have more of it than others?

It’s a question I’ve been grappling with on and off for most of my life. As my own confidence is often fleeting.

I was surprised to learn recently that research suggests that 50% of our self-confidence is genetic. Meaning some children are predisposed to be more confident than others – even their siblings.

To the extent that some degree of self-confidence is developed or nurtured it seems that it often follows a very consistent pattern of a bell curve. Our confidence begins to rise significantly during our late teen years and peaks during middle age. Only to begin to fall in our sixties, perhaps as our skills and abilities tend to decline.

As society isn’t equally kind or supportive, confidence can also wane depending upon who you are or your life circumstances. Women are often less confident than men and people struggling in poverty less confident than those with more financial means.

While there may be differences in our feelings about confidence, they aren’t always grounded in the reality of our abilities. In fact it’s often the opposite. Competence and confidence can often have an inverse relationship. I’m sure we’ve all seen or know people whose confidence belies their abilities (look no further than our politicians.) Why is this? Well it seems that people who are highly competent are more aware of what they don’t know, hence more humility and diminished confidence. In contrast those who may be less competent, literally may think they “know it all” because they have no idea of what they don’t yet know.

For people, like myself, who often grapple with low self-confidence, we are often met with comments like “you have no reason to not be confident” or “why aren’t you more confident?” While well-intentioned it’s not always helpful. We are obviously not trying to be less confident and in fact would prefer to be the opposite.  We often marvel with envy, at people who peacock around with heads held high and chests puffed out, the air of confidence enveloping them.

I’m clearly no expert in how to develop one’s confidence but will say this. First off, if you aren’t always as confident as you’d like, don’t take it personally. Some of it is not on you. As noted above, it may be partly genetic or impacted by who you are or in fact an inverse reflection of how competent you really are. Feeling bad about your low self-confidence could be the equivalent of feeling bad about the color of your eyes.  It could just be part of who you are.

This is not to say that it’s fixed. As we’ve seen, confidence naturally grows as we get older and there are in fact some things that can accelerate that growth.

What is most helpful to me, and backed by research, is to simply remind myself I’ve been here before. That I have faced similar challenges – often succeeding but at the very least making it through relatively unscathed. This practice of positive remembrances and self-talk makes perfect sense when you consider the origin of the word confidence –  which means “to have full trust.”

To trust oneself comes easier for some than others but by reminding yourself of what you’ve previously done and what you are capable of doing, we are demonstrating that we have indeed earned that trust.

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