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Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

Motivation

Are Confident People More Productive?

Procrastination's main instigator? Insecurity.


Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University has spent decades studying confidence. He defines confidence as this: the stuff that turns thoughts into action. Why? Because confidence first turns our thoughts into judgements about what we are capable of, and then transforms those judgements into actions.

Action is confidence’s essential ingredient because confidence is achievement-oriented. We like to see and feel productive things come from our ability to muster up the courage to make something happen.

As a result then, the natural result of under-confidence or insecurity is inaction. Think about the last time you did not speak up in a meeting or did not apply for a new position at work. Now, think about why you chose not to act. It was most likely your hesitancy was laced with a sense of under-confidence.

There is a fleeting quality to confidence. In some circumstances we have it and in others we don’t. Which explains why I can be confident in my running skills, but not as self-assured in my cooking skills. Confidence is domain specific.

This is why relying on confidence for professional success is more important than actual ability, asserts Cameron Anderson, a University of California, Berkley professor. In his research he found that confidence matters more to social status than competence. He also asserts that when people are confident, they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are.

Confidence is the fuel that drives us; it is life’s enabler. And, if that’s the case, it is better to believe a bit too much in your capabilities than is called for, because then you lean toward doing things instead of just thinking about doing them, a point made by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their 2014 book, The Confidence Code.

And it is the doing that begins the connection between confidence and productivity.

The Link Between Confidence and Productivity

The research of Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, has found that mindset—either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset—makes all the difference when it comes to achievement and success.

Her research found that the most successful and fulfilled people always believe that they can improve and learn new things. They have a growth mindset, so they believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.

[See the 99U interview with Dr. Dweck here.]

Both confidence and productivity require a growth mindset because believing that skills can be learned leads to doing new things and learning more efficient, effective work processes.

Confidence stirs in you the ability to act; productivity gives you the tools to act well. Confidence is linked to doing and productivity is about efficient, effective execution. Confidence is what turns thoughts into actions and it is this “action” side that relates to productivity. The natural consequence of under confidence or insecurity is inaction which often manifests itself as procrastination—the antithesis of productivity.

If you are not confident in your ability to take action to achieve a desired outcome you cannot be productive. It is our thoughts that drive the actions we take that produces results. If we take out confidence, or the stuff that turns thoughts into actions, we are missing the essential catalyst of the productivity equation.

Confident people are productive and, it’s a self-catalyzing cycle. Confidence leads to productivity which leads to confidence which leads to productivity in an ongoing cycle.

Confident people are productive and, it’s a self-catalyzing cycle.

I run a productivity consultancy, one that helps others work simply. And in my job I’ve come across hundreds of clients and they all have one thing in common: When they are confident in their abilities to perform well at their job they are more able to learn and apply new productivity practices. They are confident they CAN perform; they are just not sure the best way TO perform. But, they know themselves well enough to know that they can use productivity strategies to achieve more and make a stronger impact.

Where do you go from here?

  • Confidence is a choice. It’s a choice you make to act or do or decide. Create an environment that supports you taking action. For example, make a list of tasks that can be completed in 15 minutes or less and when you feel the pull of procrastination, the natural byproduct of under confidence, just complete one item on your list. The action will beget more action.
  • Take small incremental steps towards your goals. Small steps prepare you to take more meaningful risks which will increase your confidence. For example, break the projects on your task list into small, discrete next action steps – the very next physical action step you need to take to move that project forward. Start each task with an action verb to anchor you into action.
  • Remember the growth mindset—a willingness to learn—this can be a confidence booster. For example, practice only reading your email once and making a decision on your next action step. Since you are practicing, there is no need to strive for perfection. If you don’t remember to use this strategy, there is no blame or shame. You are practicing and learning as you go.

Confident people are more productive. Productive people are more confident. Think about what you are going to do today to increase your confidence and productivity; then imagine all that’s possible for your career.

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Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.
Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.