Born Self-confident: the big lie


  • We aren’t born with self-confident and then lose it. Babies learn to walk because of the absence of doubt, not the presence of self-confidence.
  • Doubt is a complex emotion that develops as we develop language and cognitive skills. The same is true for self-confidence.
  • Building the emotion of self-confidence requires us to learn how to override doubt so that we can build it.
  • Doubt is a normal human emotion that appears when there’s a new challenge in front of us. Learning to accept and expect it and plan for it are the key to building self-confidence.

Kids and Self-confidence

The idea that we’re born with self-confidence and lose it as we grow up is false. And thankfully it is. How does it feel to think that we’ve lost something innate because of our upbringing and messaging?

Powerless. Because we’re going to constantly have messaging that will challenge our confidence. Then we need to get something back we lost because of someone or something else, again, where’s our say in that?

Doubt is a human emotion. Just like self-confidence. But both are not something we’re born with.

There are 6 emotions1 ready to go when we’re born: anger, joy, sadness, fear, disgust and surprise. If you look at each one you can see how they’re linked to our survival.

We’re not born with doubt. Think about it?

A baby who is trying to learn how to walk takes a few steps and falls down. He fails. And then he tries again and falls down, again, failing. If doubt was present as an emotion babies would have no chance of walking. It’s a good thing we don’t come pre-programmed with such complex emotions.

Doubt and self-confidence

All other emotions (outside the 6 listed above) come into our lives as we develop our cognitive skills and language. The development of language in humans is what has advanced us and therefore the myriad of other emotions like rejection, doubt, determination, motivation and yes, self-confidence.

We develop complex negative and positive emotions as we grow up. This is powerful news.

You can then navigate and learn about these emotions – meaning – we simply need to learn and have tools to deal with doubt and grow self-confidence at the same time.

A huge relief. Because the self-confidence is not lost, we acquire it as we grow and age and we can do something about it to build it.

Doubt is normal, in fact, if you don’t experience doubt, you probably don’t have a big enough goal or challenge in front of you.

When it appears, as it does when we want to take a risk or doing something new, the one thing that’s needed is the ability to develop overriding it and simultaneously growing the opposite emotion – self-confidence.

Building self-confidence

But how do you do that with kids and as an adult?

There’s no real difference in the approach. And if you’re an adult that wants to develop self-confidence there is no better lesson for your kids than yourself.

Doubt is human

First, understand that doubt is a human emotion and accept that it will arrive. In fact, expect it and anticipate it whenever you’ve got a challenge in front of you.

Become aware of the thoughts that create the doubt. They can be sneaky. It’ll look like “I’m not ready yet” or “I need to prepare more”. It’ll stop you from taking the action towards a goal – whether that’s losing weight to trying for a sports team or asking for an increase in salary.

Goal setting is doubt revealing

Not sure what doubt looks like in your brain? Decide on a goal. A specific one. Decide to lose 10 kilos in 3 months. Decide to ask your boss for an increase at your next performance review.

See what happens. Your brain will automatically think of all the reasons why this goal won’t work. “Bad timing. I’m on holiday. I’m not ready.”

If that makes you queasy to think about even setting a deadline with a concrete goal like money or kilos – that’s doubt.

For kids, you can help them set goals that are age appropriate. They want to make the team next year, perform in a play, achieve certain marks in certain subjects, etc. See what comes up for them and that’ll be doubt speaking.

People will think I’m a knob.

A lot of doubt for older kids will be about how people perceive them. That’s a form of doubt that keeps them from going after something they want. Heck, even adults still do this.

Plan for doubt is a plan for self-confidence

Now, make a plan for the doubt. Like I said, doubt is part of the human experience. And this is such great news because as you write out your thoughts about your goals you’ll see patterns. And the wonderful thing about patterns is that they are predictable.

A plan looks like this: You want that promotion and think you don’t have a skill in a certain area. You plan to develop that skill by taking a course or working with a mentor.

The same is true for a kid. Your kid wants to make the football team next year. Have a plan to develop their skills by practicing every afternoon or going to a summer camp. This moves you forward, sitting in your doubt (especially when you’re not aware of it won’t built your self-confidence) won’t.

Notice what happens when you start to use your doubt to make an action plan. Self-confidence is being built at the same time. Practicing, preparation become part of the plan – the plan to build and grow your self-confidence.


1Ekman, Paul. Emotions Revealed: Understanding Faces and Feelings. June 1, 2004. Orion Publish Group.

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