Rick is on a downward spiral. A junior in high school, he’s finding his courses to be significantly harder this year. When he got a failing grade in the first quarter for math, his confidence began to crumble and he started to feel – and act – like a loser. His initial response to the failure made matters much worse, and his future was in serious jeopardy. Fortunately, he found someone who taught him how to turn his life around.
At first Rick was too embarrassed to talk to his teacher. He rushed out of her classroom to avoid her. As his grades got worse he often skipped going to her class altogether. The math teacher tried to help Rick by giving him make up work to help him catch up, but he viewed being given extra work as unfair treatment and it made math even more distasteful.
Rick was afraid to tell his parents because he knew his dad would blow up and his mom would become flooded with fear about how this was going to affect his future. So when he was home he holed up in his room, telling his parents that he was doing his math homework. In reality, he was playing on his computer because he was too overwhelmed and too far behind to even get started on his homework.
As Rick felt more and more shame about the situation, he began to question whether he’d be able to graduate from high school and get into college. The more he dwelled on his failure, the further he withdrew from friends who were doing well and talking about their college plans. He found himself hanging out with other kids who were on a downslide. They, of course, reinforced his thinking that there was no point in making any effort to turn things around.
The further down Rick slid, the less energy he had. He used alcohol and drugs to try to make himself feel better. But after the initial relief they provided had worn off, he was even more exhausted. When his parents started seeing him sleep more, they confronted him about not trying hard enough. Feeling that nobody understood him, Rick gave up on his other subjects as well.
Confidence is crucial for guiding our decisions about what we need to do to achieve success. Our level of confidence is determined by two factors. One is the mental calculation we make to determine whether making a personal commitment of time and energy will produce a positive result or lead to disappointment. The other factor involves our assessment of whether the people with whom we interact will support our efforts and ideas or discourage us by focusing on our faults and failings.
People who are ultimately successful conclude that it’s worth their making an extra effort as well as asking for help because there’s a high probability those actions will pay off. Those who fail to achieve their goals frequently feel that there’s no point in trying because they aren’t capable of overcoming the obstacles on their own and there’s no one who can help them. No matter what they decide, they’re always right.
The only good that comes out of setbacks is that they set off alarm bells. By paying attention to these wake-up calls, you’ll be able to bring yourself to a choice point. Either slip into self-defeating behavior or recover by remembering the three cornerstones of confidence:
- Find the desire to make your situation different,
- Take personal responsibility for making improvements, and
- Believe that there’s someone who’s willing and able to support you.
Confidence comes from digging deep within yourself when you’re facing a challenge. To be successful you must find within yourself the character strengths that support confidence: being accountable, proactive, and collaborative.
Accountability involves finding the inner strength required to make every effort to live up to your responsibilities and commitments. Being proactive means fighting off your negative reactions by finding a few small steps you can take to give yourself some control over the situation. Behaving collaboratively requires giving up blaming others and instead turning toward them for mutual support.
Rick was struggling with self-confidence until his parents took him to counseling. His psychologist helped him discover his strengths – his unique combination of special qualities. He took the free Character Strengths survey at www.viacharacter.org. Rick found that working with someone who could help him use his best traits made it easier to accomplish what had seemed impossible.