Today's Reading

For as much as we use the present tense when we consider confidence ("I feel confident"), we are always talking about the future. We are projecting an outcome and then determining the odds of our success in achieving it. ("I feel confident now because I believe that I will make the baseball team tomorrow.") Confidence is inherently forward-looking; it's our summary assessment of our expectations. We may try to live in the present, but how we feel right now, in this moment, has everything to do with what we imagine will happen next. Put simply, we feel confident when we think we know what is coming and we feel prepared for it—when we see success ahead of us.

This may seem simple and self-evident, but there are several important subtleties.

First, confidence is a feeling. It may have nothing to do with any of our five senses, but we instinctually put confidence in the same "perception" box. Changes in our confidence level foster a near-sensory response: we feel it in the pit of our stomach; we taste it at the back of our throat.

Second, our assessment process for determining our confidence level is hardly courtroom ready. While we may take in evidence as a jury does, we also decide which facts get presented for serious consideration—often unconsciously. There is neither a prosecutor nor a defense attorney forcing us to consider opposing viewpoints. We may have hit every single pitch at yesterday's practice, but does it even matter when all we're replaying in our head is our disastrous strikeout at last week's game? Our process for presenting and evaluating facts is highly subjective and personal. Others may try to encourage us to be confident, but ultimately, we alone make the call.
Our assessment process is also reflexive and self-reinforcing—in other words, how we assess our confidence depends heavily on our confidence level. The more confident we feel, the more rose-tinted our glasses, and the less apt we are to go looking for or put stock in counterarguments. We limit our view to belief-affirming evidence.

Conversely, when our confidence is low, we overthink things. If one thing has gone wrong, then so might something else. So, we go looking for problems, conjuring long lists of the many other ways things could go wrong. Our scrutiny level and our confidence level are inversely related.

Our confidence levels are also, well, squishy. There is no objective scale on which we measure confidence; when we say we feel confident about something, we can't transform that feeling into degrees Fahrenheit or measure it precisely on a Richter scale. We have only our personal scale to use, and, like stock-market bulls and bears, we do not all see the world in the same way. Confidence is highly subjective.


If what I just shared about the nature of confidence seems too abstract to be useful, I have some encouraging news. Underlying our personal and subjective feelings of confidence are two very consistent factors that we can learn to diagnose and put to practical, everyday use in our analysis: our feelings of certainty and control.

We tend to lump our feelings of certainty and control together, believing that we can't have one without the other. That isn't true. When we are on an airplane, for example, unless we are the pilot, control rests with someone else. We have only a feeling of certainty—the presumption that the plane will land safely.

Typically, our lack of control while riding on a plane is of little concern. We believe pilots are rigorously trained, planes are well maintained, and air travel is highly regulated. There is ample evidence we can draw from to affirm our conclusion that flying is extremely safe. But when we experience unexpected turbulence, suddenly our lack of control can feel like a big deal.
To be confident, we need our "C & C." We need to feel things are predictable—that we have certainty in what is to come—and we need to feel we have the right preparation, skills, and resources to successfully steer our way through it—that we have control. When we are confident, we believe we will land safely and successfully on the other side of what's next. Feelings of certainty and control lie at the root of the decisions we make in business, investing, politics, and our personal lives. These two variables drive how we feel and, in turn, how we act. The more we understand their precise roles, the more accurately we can predict what we and others are likely to do next and calibrate our own decisions accordingly. Whether we're investing in technology stocks, designing the next ad campaign for a clothing retailer, or running an emergency room, by understanding how feelings of certainty and control drive what we do, we can predict trends, generate better outcomes, know when to trust or second-guess our natural instincts, and, generally speaking, make better sense of a world that too often feels chaotic.

This book is an all-weather guide to our feelings of certainty and control—useful no matter what your natural confidence level—and, as you will see, it comes complete with a handy map to help you better anticipate, and navigate, whatever the future may have in store.

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