What is confidence? How do certain experiences shape it? Kestia Milonga, a fourth-year biology student, described a time when she found that her confidence was being challenged. “I studied a lot for my genetics midterm, so I felt confident. I was able to answer most of the questions, but then I got to one question that really challenged my confidence about my knowledge of the material. Instead of panicking, I decided to stay calm and write as much as I could remember. Since I decided to stay confident in my abilities, my answer was, in fact, correct.” This might sound familiar to students, as our confidence is often challenged throughout our university experience.
Metacognition, the ability to assess our own skills and performances, can be linked to our confidence in our abilities to perform specific tasks. Our confidence can be highly impacted by the feedback we receive, or the lack thereof. When we perform a certain task, such as writing a paper, we are more likely to feel confident in our abilities when we receive substantial feedback compared to when we receive little feedback, which often decreases our confidence. How we gauge our confidence impacts our everyday life, including our decision-making and the goals we set for ourselves, whether they are short-term or long-term.
How do we make sure to keep a good balance between low self-esteem and overconfidence? Various parts of our brain and many factors, such as receiving feedback, are involved in developing our confidence. The way we perceive ourselves and how confident we are in our abilities can be greatly altered by mental health; someone struggling with their mental health is more likely to have low self-esteem. On the other hand, someone who is overconfident is often more likely to partake in more risk-taking behaviour and unsafe decisions. There are other factors that are involved in overconfidence or low self-esteem which can make it difficult to find the right balance between the two. Therefore, it is important to remind ourselves of what we achieved in the past, or what we have overcome, to remember that we have the skills and capacities to achieve our goals while remaining realistic about those skills, since we can always improve them.
As university students, our skills are challenged in order for us to work on them and improve them. It can be hard to stay confident in your capacities to achieve certain things, as we often doubt ourselves. Will I be able to pass this class? Will I graduate when I expect to? Am I actually good enough, or smart enough, to be in this class? The questions about our capacities as university students never seem to end. Don’t worry, we’ve made it this far because we are capable! We will continue to be able to achieve the goals we set for ourselves whether it is as undergrads, graduate students, members of the workforce, and even outside of our studies and work. Remember, sometimes failure is part of the process; that is also how your brain learns and improves for the future.
For more information, check out Rouault & Fleming (2020), “Formation of global self-beliefs in the human brain.” https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2003094117