Reviewed: Confidence – Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic (2013)

Confidence - Tomas Chamorro-PremuzicConfidence takes an unprecedented and unorthodox approach in the Self Help genre. It highlights the myths associated with good confidence, advocating instead for the benefits of low confidence. Chamorro-Premuzic argues that confidence should be associated with competence, and people with high confidence don’t have a true measure of their competence, and therefore never feel the need to raise their competence. On the other hand, people with low confidence are able to acknowledge their low competence (hence, the low confidence) and are therefore able to take measures to improve it.

I found Chamorro-Premuzic’s arguments to be flawed on a fundamental level. He puts forward a strange cyclical logic, a sort of self-fulfilling premise: if you acknowledge your low competence > you have low confidence. But if you don’t acknowledge your low competence > you have deluded confidence. And no, “if you acknowledge your high competence > you have high confidence” isn’t an option.

Chamorro-Premuzic fails to define the quality of a confident person, that is, a truly confident person, as opposed to a deluded one. He doesn’t acknowledge a state of healthy confidence: where a person has a realistic measure of their competence (high or low) and is accepting of that. Not necessarily complacent, just accepting.

I agree with Chamorro-Premuzic on the point of deluded confidence, but he makes it sound like the only kind of confidence visible in our society. We’ve all met people like that, sure, but it’s nowhere as pervasive as Chamorro-Premuzic makes it. Deluded confidence isn’t true confidence. Chamorro-Premuzic ping pongs  his discussion between this state of deluded confidence and low confidence, breezing over true confidence. It’s as if, if he were to acknowledge what true confidence is, it would break the big idea of his book: that low confidence is good.

I tried finishing the book, but couldn’t. I was hoping Chamorro-Premuzic would eventually acknowledge healthy confidence and propose how to get there. If you can’t swallow the basic premise (which I couldn’t), the rest of the book will be hard to digest.

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