Rosabeth Moss Kanter on Confidence

The New York Times has an article on Rosabeth Moss Kanter, business guru, on the topic of confidence. I really like her definition of confidence as "a belief that persistence and hard work will yield results": it's certainly not self-deception, and it's certainly achievable.
She believes that self-confidence is less important than confidence that things will work out, and that the most lasting form of confidence is often not self-generated, but nurtured by others. She posits that sports teams win because coaches instill a belief that they will, and that children succeed when parents and schools create an environment that encourages them to do their best.
I really do believe that expectations of success breed success, and expectations of failure breed failure. In a way, Kanter's thoughts reminded me of Martin Seligman's work on learned optimism. It's not the same as mindless rah-rah "positive thinking" - learning optimism is utterly realistic about setbacks, but it deals with setbacks by training you not to view them as permanent or as personal. (Here's an interesting test to measure your optimism. I came out as "moderately optimistic" - good about not letting bad things get to me, about average in my response to good things. Sounds about right.)

Another interesting point was the final conclusion of the article, that classic psychoanalysis does not work as well as behavioral therapy in restoring confidence (Kanter: "Understanding your deep psychic structure isn't what's important in breaking a self-destructive cycle"). Makes you wonder. On the one hand, there is much to be said about the innate value of introspection and the examined life. But if the goal is to break out, perhaps it's better to take advantage of the human mind's wiring: the hedonic treadmill means that your highs aren't too high, but it also ensures your lows aren't too low.


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