Summary of the book “Self-confidence” by Charles Pépin: Charles Pépin helps us understand, using concrete examples, why “self-confidence” is first and foremost a question of confidence in others.
By Charles Pépin, 2018, 240 pages.
Note: this is a guest chronicle written by Julie Colaux from the blog osez-reussir-en-physique.com
Chronicle and summary of “Self-confidence – a philosophy” by Charles Pépin:
Chapter 1: Introduction
Watch a child as she sets off on her bicycle with no training wheels under the guidance of her father. You understand how self-confidence is an alchemy that combines 3 factors.
- Confidence in someone else: the child does not set off alone, but with her father and thanks to her father. She trusts him.
- Confidence in your capabilities: she listens to her father’s advice and acquires a level of ability.
- Confidence in life: taking off and picking up speed brings the little girl great joy. This is more than just the satisfaction of knowing how to ride a bicycle. It is a deep joy that resonates with gratitude towards life.
Studying self-confidence in a laboratory is tricky. You have to observe it in real life to understand it. In various degrees, you will always find the three drivers mentioned above: Confidence in someone else, confidence in one’s abilities, confidence in life.
The modern world makes us free and responsible for our own destiny. It is up to us to find our place in society. To do so, we need confidence. Paradoxically, the way we live teaches us less and less about gaining confidence.
We have lost contact with “doing”, the initial contact with things. Sophisticated technology leads more and more people to obey “processes” without ever building anything with their own hands. We are missing out on opportunities to find confidence. But we are not born confident, we have to become that way.
Chapter 2: Cultivate strong ties – confidence through relationships
Self-confidence first comes from others. Our human condition propels us into life even though we cannot survive alone. We are obliged to place complete confidence in the person who takes care of us. Babies feel that the love they receive is not conditioned by what they do or do not do. They are loved for what they are and not what they do. This is the fundamental basis for the confidence they will have later in life, the life force.
To get started, a young child draws on the love they receive from their family. So we can see how the first years of life are decisive. Happily we can forge relationships that give us confidence at any age, and can eventually complete what we may be lacking in the field. Madonna was a shy child who lacked self-confidence. She lost her mother to breast cancer when she was five years old and did not cope well with the fact that her father quickly moved on and had children with another woman.
She was a teenager before she met a dance teacher who would change her life. When preparing for the end of year ballet show, he told her that she was talented and hugely charismatic. Years later, Madonna would say that those words changed her life. Sometime, words that are spoken from the heart are enough to give you confidence for life.
However, these words do not just happen through a chance encounter. They often come from someone who trusts you and helps you to make progress, someone who supports you in overcoming your difficulties. So it is not so much from the person themselves, but from the relationship that has been built over time, that confidence is born. Little by little, the confidence that our “mentor” has in us becomes our own. That shift in confidence is the specifically human way of learning.
There is also a phase of accompaniment in the shift. The teacher helps the pupil, followed by a phase of insecurity during which the teacher asks the pupil to act alone. The teacher has confidence in the pupil. When he sees confidence in the eyes of the teacher, the pupil feels stronger and takes a chance. In the same way, parents should show their children that they have confidence in them from an early age, letting them do things instead of doing things for them.
Now you can see that when people say: “he lacks self-confidence”, the phrase is often used incorrectly. If an individual has never been made to feel confident by another person, how can they be self-confident, no matter how talented they may be? Self-confidence is first and foremost about love and friendship.
Chapter 3: Go into training – confidence through practice
In ‘Outliers’, journalist Macolm Gladwell generalises “the 10,000 hours theory” developed by the psychologist Anders Ericsson. This theory, while not based on science (it cannot be verifiable or refutable), says that once a threshold of 10,000 hours of practice is crossed, you can aspire to be one of the best in the world in your field.
It is something of a shortcut as an analysis. Every musician who spends 10,000 hours playing their instrument is not necessarily going to be a virtuoso! You need to have a certain pre-disposition, a genuine aspiration to become better, to be truly present in your art, to enjoy learning… Nevertheless, the result is interesting because it shows how the sheer force of practice means you can acquire any skill and you can be genuinely confident in your ability.
“Confidence takes time to achieve. It develops in tandem with growing competence, that, as it becomes integrated in stages and incorporated, has a liberating effect. Confidence is not innate, but something that is largely acquired. “
To feel that you are self-confident, you have to test it in a concrete situation. We need specific skills and genuine successes. It is a path: we are confident in our ability to talk, to walk, to ride a bike… So, we need to progressively achieve confidence in our ability to read a piece of music, start a conversation, express disagreement, say what we mean, speak in public…
To achieve this, is it absolutely essential to test our ability to do this. It is in fact a very good idea to toast our successes, however small they may be, because they pave the road to our success. And one day, without even noticing, you make that leap – you are self-confident. It is a long process that requires patience and curiosity.
How can we encourage this metamorphosis from competence to confidence? By enjoying it! People who take pleasure in learning, who set themselves challenges, become self-confident much more quickly than others. The reason for this is simply that the enjoyment allows them to put things in perspective and to be more relaxed. If they make a mistake, at least they will have had fun.
The enjoyment is the clue that your chosen field suits you and that you are doing yourself good by getting better at it. That is why competence becomes confidence more easily if it allows us to get to know ourselves better, to know what we like and what doesn’t suit us.
However, we need the wisdom to develop our abilities while remembering that we cannot know everything and that the unexpected can always happen, and that is fine. If we develop our abilities in the hope that we can master everything, we risk facing a crisis of confidence at the first bump in the road.
Never forget that the goal of mastering a skill is to step outside your comfort zone to try something new, see what you are capable of and increase your feelings of confidence. Without this intention, accumulating skills would be counter-productive. On the other hand, if you develop your skills in a spirit of discovery, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Do not seek reassurance by gathering a collection of skills. Enjoy what you do and set challenges for yourself.
“What’s more important than our competence is the path we have travelled and how we have negotiated it, which is what makes up our true experience, and our treasure. Along the way, we have learned about how we react to adversity, failure or success; we’ve taken the measure of our talent, our desire, our ambition. We have gained in self-knowledge. No-one can walk this road for us.”
Chapter 4: Listen to yourself – Trusting your intuition
In the midst of chaos, the emergency on-call doctor must remain calm and make good decisions. How does he do it? He has to be able to listen “completely”, to not allow one faculty to dominate another. If reason asserts itself, then that is what we will listen to. If our feelings assert themselves, then we will follow them.
And if no faculty emerges as the dominant one, leaving space for all of them, then we will listen to and have confidence in ourselves. It is no easy task in the heat of the moment or in an emergency, but we are all capable of it.
To succeed, you need to:
- Stop submitting to accepted truths. If you never question yourself, if you never put your practice into question on the pretext that “this is how we’ve always done it”, then you give up any possibility of listening to yourself.
- Do not submit to the tyranny of emergency. Do not act hastily because there is no time. To escape from this dictatorship, you need to ask yourself the right question. Many things are urgent, but they are not all important. If you hurry your work, but you know that what is important is that your children are happy and well, then you can act in an emergency, because you know what really matters lies elsewhere. It is up to us to keep in mind what is important – to correctly accomplish what is important for us.
- Put rituals in place. Rituals help us to find ourselves, to place the stress of everyday life at arm’s length. It could be doing yoga once a week, going for a run 3 times a week, meditating regularly, doing sport on a Sunday morning or going to church… These rituals allow us to step away from the emergency to refocus on what is important. We can take a breath. We can be present for ourselves. And in these moments, quite often, the knots become untied. We find the solution to our problem and understand that we can trust ourselves: the solution lies inside us. It is important that these practices become rituals. We have to accomplish them systematically, without even considering the idea of cancelling them. Because if we count on our own desire to grant ourselves moments of presence, then I bet we won’t find too many of them. St-Exupéry’s fox tells us: “Rituals are what makes one day different other days”. It is because these rituals repeat themselves that they allow us to measure what is not repeated. They help us to measure our progress along the path of our life.
Learning to genuinely listen to yourself means trusting your intuition – it is, quite simply, being free. When we submit to the ideas of others without thinking, then we do not accept our own freedom. We tend to believe that freedom is the total absence of constraints. This is wrong. Life is a series of constraints. We are free when we are fully what we are, when we manage to bring together the totality of our past, our experience, in the present moment. That is precisely what listening to oneself means. It is accepting your past, your experience, without wanting to bury part of it.
Chapter 5: Expose yourself to wonder – When beauty gives us confidence
There is one moment when we trust ourselves with certainty, and that is wonderment. When we look at a view or hear a piece of music, we announce: “That’s beautiful!” Not, “I like this view”, but “It’s beautiful”. What a great deal of self-confidence it takes to utter a general truth like this!
In that moment, we are so confident in our own judgement that we do not even feel the need to argue the point. We doubt ourselves so often and here is something that we have no doubt about. When we contemplate beauty, we finally allow ourselves to listen.
“On so many other occasions, at work or at a family gathering, we find we lack the ability to be authoritative. We have ideas, but we don’t dare introduce them into the conversation. The aesthetic experience is never simply aesthetic. By making us more present to ourselves and to the world, it also has the power to awaken us, provoke us and perhaps even strengthen our self-confidence.”
Feeling the need to read criticism or submit to the diktat of “what you should think” (the definition of snobbism) is a lack of self-confidence. So let us spend time with beauty, as freely and as often as possible. In the city or the countryside, let us open our eyes. Beauty is everywhere and it engages with our freedom.
Beauty offers us even more: it helps us to find courage. We have already experienced this virtue of beauty. When we are filled with doubt, we may find ourselves contemplating a superb landscape. In that moment, nothing seems impossible to us.
Contemplating nature has the power to offer us a change of perspective, a different point of view. When we observe nature, we have the feeling that something grandiose exists and is at work. Once again, we understand that self-confidence is not simply confidence “in yourself”, but also in what is at work in nature…
Chapter 6: Decide – confidence in the midst of doubt
When we cannot bring ourselves to make a decision, we tell ourselves that it is due to a lack of knowledge or information. In reality we lack confidence. Making a decision forces us to take a risk and to accept the consequences, but that’s life. If we never make decisions, our life will be a series of non-choices and it will slip through our fingers, along with our self-confidence. We forget how colourless life is when everything is sure and predictable
Choosing means taking the risk of being wrong, with potentially painful consequences. If we refuse this reality, we deny ourselves our lucidity and our capacity to listen. Conversely, and paradoxically, by becoming aware of the risk and accepting it, we will have the courage to come to a decision.
We must therefore accept as serenely as possible the possibility that we will make poor choices. We can even go so far as to like the idea that our decision may not be the right one. This possibility reminds us that we were brave enough to take a risk!
“We need to practice with the little things in life. The better we become at deciding (first the little things, then the big), the more confidence we will have in ourselves, and this confidence will nourish our capacity to decide: it’s a virtuous circle!”
To decide is to step outside your comfort zone: take a risk in order to gain self-confidence. Self-confidence is a two-step waltz!
Chapter 7: Get your hands dirty – Doing to develop confidence
We risk losing confidence in ourselves if we spend our days at the office without knowing exactly what we are doing and without being able to observe the direct effects of our action. How can we know if we are doing what we do well if we don’t know exactly what we are doing?
We are deprived of the basic pleasure of doing and therefore we are alienated from ourselves and lose confidence in ourselves. According to Aristotle, an intelligent being is a being that knows how to use his hands. It is therefore logical, if our intelligence extends to our hands, that if we don’t use them enough we will start to doubt ourselves.
Conversely, manual work directly shows us our power to transform something real. It can be very fulfilling, from both a human and an intellectual point of view. From this point of view, craftspeople find it easier to trust themselves. They know what they are doing and they know that they are doing a good job.
“To make things with your hands, your intelligence and your heart; this is the road to a sturdy self-confidence.”
Chapter 8: Swing into action – acting to gain confidence
Here is an experience that actors often notice: when they step onto a stage, they gain confidence. Not before. So they don’t have confidence in themselves, but first and foremost in the action itself. If you never try, you will never find self-confidence. If you do not act, you deny yourself the liberating virtues of action. And your anxiety will surely grow.
“To exist is take the plunge, to go forward towards others and the world, toward the obstacles that we can turn into opportunities. As long as we are willing to change how we see things […] Don’t have confidence in yourself, then. Instead have confidence in what your actions are capable of bringing about, in the point of contact they offer you with the world and with others […] Have confidence in the luck that your actions can stir up. Have confidence in the men and women who you will meet and who will maybe give you ideas, advice, hope, strength, and, why not, love.”
Chapter 9: Admire – Confidence and exemplarity
Everyone has heard of the writer George Sand. But few people know how chaotic her life was. At the age of 4, she lost her father in an accident and was more or less bought from her mother by her grandmother who wanted to raise her. Not an obvious way to develop unshakeable confidence in life. By her own admission, Aurore Dupin became George Sand. Throughout her life, she was a fervent admirer of the singular figures around her. People who dared to be themselves.
In all these inspiring examples, she found the strength to be herself. The admiration we are talking about here is not the fascination of fans for their idols, but rather a deep curiosity, a lively interest in the talent of others that tells us about the possibility of our own talent: if it is possible for others, then it is possible for me.
We need to take as an example those who have dared to walk their own path, to find themselves. But it is not simple. In our society, it is much easier to blend in with the crowd than to stand out from others. Having people we admire helps with this approach because good examples are always more inspiring than long speeches.
A word of warning however – admiring does not mean copying. That would of course be absurd! We admire people because they are unique; their singularity is what attracts us. We need to feed on as many inspiring examples as we can to find out what defines our own singularity.
And dare to assert ourselves. Nowadays, many young people spend time watching reality TV shows ironically, mocking the participants. It is their way of saying that they are not fooled, that these are not real stars. Be that as it may, all that time spent mocking the fake stars is time that is definitively lost in terms of building their own personality.
Chapter 10: Stay true to your desire – The antidote to a crisis of confidence
Social media take up more and more space in our lives. They are poisonous for self-esteem. They push us to constantly compare ourselves to other people, who appear to be better-looking, richer, happier, more intelligent that we are…
Our parents did not have this problem. They could not hurt themselves quite so easily. They could not compare themselves with the success of perfect strangers. Their only point of comparison was those around them. And therefore they had fewer sources of frustration.
School must also take its share of responsibility. By handing our test results in front of the rest of the class, it encourages comparison between the students. And it gives children the idea that their value is to be measured against that of others. As if satisfaction is to be found in being better than others rather than in our own progress.
It is regrettable, because comparison distracts us from the truth of our existence. We are all unique and our value is absolute (and not relative to that of others). Because of this, any comparison between two individuals makes no sense.
To resist the temptation of comparison, we need to know ourselves well, and know what we want. If I have an intellectually satisfying job that does not pay very well, but offers me a good quality of life, why should I be jealous of a person who makes much more money than me? Of course, as social beings, we continue to compare ourselves to others, but if we are true to our desire we will not suffer from that comparison.
Chapter 11: Trust the mystery – Confidence in life
This chapter can be best summarised by this short excerpt from the book: “Confidence in life is both an obvious thing and hard to define. We have come already across come across it several times in the course of our reflections, but without exactly specifying its nature. To have confidence in life is to bet on the future.
To believe in the creative power of action, and to embrace uncertainty rather than be afraid of it. It can be all that at once, but it is also more than that. It is to believe that there is something in life, in all life, that is good, maybe even loving. And it is to continue to love life even when it seems hard. It’s thinking that life doesn’t need to be perfect to be worth living.
To put it in its simplest form, having confidence in life is to think that life is a good thing overall. To believe that deep within the world, despite the ugliness that sometimes surfaces, there is a tenderness, a light that all of us have glimpsed and can never forget. We don’t really need to know where it comes from, we don’t always know what we have confidence in when we have confidence in life. We have confidence, that’s all, a confidence that has no object, pure confidence […]
This confidence in life is not confidence in something. It is THE confidence.”
Conclusion of “Self-confidence – a philosophy” by Charles Pépin:
The author tells us that he finished writing his book on the day that France Gall died. The radio stations were playing one of her songs over and over – “Il jouait du piano debout”. This song, written by Michel Berger, is a hymn to confidence. To have confidence in ourselves means moving forward “on our two feet”, one in our comfort zone, to other venturing outside it.
To have confidence in ourselves silences the inner “coward”. The one that goes down on his knees when faced with norms and obstacles, unable to rise up and say yes to life. It also silences the “soldier at attention”, the one who finds it easier to obey orders than to listen to our own desires.
The only true freedom is the freedom to be fully oneself. We can all play the piano standing up […] To have confidence in oneself is not to be sure of oneself. It is to have the courage to confront uncertainty rather than avoid it. To find in doubt a point to push off from and the strength to go forth. ”
Even more than Charles Pépin’s first book “The virtues of failure”, I recommend this book for anyone who suffers from a lack of self-confidence as it will help them to stop feeling guilty about it.
When we understand that self-confidence is not innate, but something we have to build, then we can feel less guilty about our lack of it. Above all, we can dare to take the first step towards leaving our comfort zone. As usual, Charles Pépin gives us some examples that bring the book to life. I found the example of Madonna especially touching, for two reasons.
Firstly, from a personal point of view, I can also say that the words of my primary school teacher (“See, having self-confidence brings good results”) changed my life. Also from a professional point of view, we, the teachers, working with young people, should be in the habit of praising our students’ progress. Sometimes a few fair and kind words can sustainably improve the everyday life of a young person.
I found the chapter about practising confidence very telling. It made me think of Carol Dweck’s concept of “mindset”. I am increasingly convinced that every educator in the world (parents and teachers) should know about this concept. And encourage it in the young people for whom they are responsible.
I also like the image of the “two-step waltz” to express this in-and-out of the comfort zone and the outside world to learn how to gain self-confidence. Last but not least, I especially like the author’s honesty when he explains that we can build our confidence at any moment in life. It is a lifelong learning process.
Telling yourself that anything is possible when you look in the mirror every day is not enough to succeed, despite what some trends in personal development would like us to believe. What don’t I like about this book? Frankly? Nothing! I raced through it in two days and then I read it again!
Basically, it is a great read and I wholeheartedly recommend it!
Remark You may find it strange that this kind of article was written by a science blogger. The goal of my blog is to help young high school students to succeed in science subjects. When you read my story, you will understand why I am convinced that a lack of self-confidence can be a brake that makes any kind of learning complicated!
- The images used to illustrate certain concepts allow us to better integrate them.
- Concrete cases drawn from the lives of celebrities bring the concepts to life.
- The ideas are broken down into a number of chapters, which facilitates the reading.
- He offers a lot of advice without being judgemental.
- The author’s ability to breathe a sense of well-being into the reading.
- Um… Let me think… Truly? Nothing!
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