Where does confidence come from?

Is it inborn or acquired? Nature or nurture?

Experience definitely plays a critical role in gaining confidence. As the joke goes: When a person with money meets a person with experience, the person with the experience ends up with the money and the person with money ends up with the experience.

Through experience and training – trial and error and repeating patterns – you gain confidence in your respective field. Even when you are skilled in a given area, it is only with years of experience that you become confident in yourself and your accomplishments.

Peer support is also an important factor in gaining confidence. Beginning from early childhood, the support we get from our parents (and also the lack of it) directly affects our level of self-confidence. When a child is acknowledged and encouraged, assured and complimented, the child builds courage and learns to trust him/herself. As a child explores it’s surrounding, observe how s/he looks for affirmation from parents and adults.

Then of course, as we grow older, we look to our friends for support and confirmation. Even as experienced professionals, a compliment and endorsement helps build our self-confidence. It often helps us have the courage to make even bolder moves in our particular areas of expertise.

Yet, after all our experience and peer support, confidence remains somewhat of an elusive mystery. Consider the fact that many experienced people, who have all the support in the world, may still be insecure and lack self-confidence. Others, on the other hand, have deep self-confidence despite their lack of experience and affirmation. Many revolutionaries and inventors forged ahead with great confidence even as they were being dismissed and dissuaded by others.

Confidence must also not be confused with persistence or audacity, or with boldness and nerve, just as it shouldn’t be confused with cockiness or arrogance. Many bold actions can be driven by forces other than self-confidence. Indeed, many an insecure person will often compensate for his/her lack of self-confidence by acting audaciously. As a friend once told me about a certain arrogant individual: “He hides his ignorance with his arrogance.”

Some people seem to be born with an inherent self-confidence, others not.

So what lies at the heart of confidence?

Perhaps the question can be answered by asking conversely: Is there such a thing as absolute confidence? An even bigger question: How is confidence possible in a mortal world in which every thing is temporary? Every entity we know erodes. Nothing in the material world is forever. So how can we ever be secure and confident in a world in which everything is always shifting, changing or dying?!

Confidence, in other words, if it’s not superficial or artificial, must be connected with permanence.

The only permanent thing in your life is your soul. Everything else in this world – your body, your material possessions – is transitory and ever-changing. Your soul, by contrast, is Divine; permanent and indispensable. “Soul” in this context means both your personal soul and all your “soul” activities, like love, children and all the eternal things that you create in your lifetime.

Thus, true confidence is rooted in the soul.

But all people have souls, so why are some more confident than others?

Because the soul is very elusive in this material world. The soul is trapped in a very powerful physical body, which never ceases to beckon us with all its needs and temptations.

The soul is like a pilot flame. It is always burning, intact. Yet, it must be fanned in order to make its impact. Blocked arteries (G-d forbid) will not allow a healthy heart to properly pump blood to reach and nourish the bodily organs.

Security comes from a connection to your soul, an awareness of your soul’s power, resulting in a profound self-confidence in your soul’s capacity.

So we have two voices within us: the secure voice and the insecure one. The confident voice and the unconfident one.

The insecure voice is the one that identifies with the impermanent things in our lives. The more we immerse ourselves and worship the transient materialism of life, the stronger it feeds our insecurity. Yet we also contain an unwavering resource called our Divine souls, which can provide us with absolute confidence.

How then do we access the inner confidence of the soul?

Two ways: Internally and behaviorally.

To access the secure soul in an insecure world you need to connect to the soul; to be aware of it. The deeper your awareness, the more profound the confidence. You must become confident with confidence, so to speak; Confident with your own inner soul confidence. To achieve that you need to have a relationship with your soul. By communing with your soul – through study, prayer and good deeds – you can glean energy from the soul’s inherent confidence.

Yet, we live in a mortal world, a world that worships the sensory and the tangible. This makes it quite difficult to access the invisible soul. We therefore have another way to access our own inner confidence – through behavioral change.

Sometimes when we cannot access the inner resources that lay beneath the surface, we need to scrape away the outer crusts that conceal the energy within. Psychologically this is called behavioral change: external change brings internal change. Shift your routines and this will in turn shift your inner moorings. Shift breeds shift.

One way to create such shift is to “fake” it. I don’t mean actually fake – but to project and believe in the possibility even when you are not in the mood. To act confident even when you may not feel that way.

Some cynics once criticized some Chassidim to their Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

“Your Chassidim are hypocrites,” they argued. “They pretend that they are more pious than they truly are. Even when they are not up to it, they pray for hours on end.” The Rebbe replied, “so may it be fulfilled in then the words of the Mishne, and how much more so in a positive situation.”

The Rebbe was referring to the Mishne that states, “A wealthy person who pretends that he is poor, will ultimately become poor.” If this is true in the negative, how much more so in the positive: When someone pretends to be better than he truly is, he will ultimately become a better person.

But isn’t this a sham? It would be deceitful if we were truly not good people at heart. However the fact is that we inherently are good souls. It’s only the grime of matter that masks the beauty of the spirit. Thus, when you behaviorally “pretend” to act according to the true nature of your soul, when you align your outer self with your inner self, you actually free your soul and allows it to actualize in your life.

So even if you don’t always feel secure, sometimes it’s wise to choose a cause you believe in and jump in with confidence, even if you have fears. Project confidence and true confidence will often follow. (As it is with all matters, discretion is necessary to know when not to be cocky and commit to things you are not ready for).

Another powerful way to behaviorally build self-confidence is to be around confident people. Confidence is contagious. Spending time with secure people will always nurture your soul’s inner confidence, just as hanging around insecure people will always feed your insecurities.

Behavioral shifts that introduce confidence into our actions acclimate you to your soul’s rhythm, to the point that it actually accesses your soul’s determined confidence. By digging from the outside – behaviorally – you reach within your soul. Coupled with a growing inner awareness behavioral confidence will fan the soul’s pilot flame and make it come alive.

If given the choice I would rather be psyched up – even to the point of manipulation – to believe in myself and my possibilities than to hear a sober voice of resignation.

Regardless, we are being emotionally manipulated all the time by media and advertising. “Leaders” of all sorts (competent or not) are trying to inspire us to follow their direction. And they use all the methods available to them – including manipulating images and sound bites as tools of persuasion. So we might as well be emotionally manipulated to believe in ourselves.

Above all, the fact is that we all have both voices inside of us: The voice of self-doubt, and the voice of self-confidence. Which will prevail depends on many factors. Not the least one the mentoring influences in our lives.

Say someone comes to consult with you about a particular challenge they are facing. Do you usually encourage or discourage him/her? Do you find reasons for hope and positive thinking, or do you focus primarily on the impossibilities of the situation? After all, if you soberly analyze any situation you can always find reasons to feel defeated. Yet, some people give us hope and some don’t.

Ask yourself: do the people around me bolster my self-confidence or feed my insecurities? Do they make me feel strong or weak; empowered or disempowered?

Now ask yourself: Whether you are a person who gives others hope?

It’s a mirror image: Confidence breeds confidence; security feeds security. You usually make others feel as you are; you project what you are and you are what you project. Confident and secure people make others feel the same. Insecure people make others feel insecure.

Test it.

Find people that give you hope. People that feed your confidence.

Confidence is an elusive gift. But not more elusive than our subtle souls. All eternal things carry a mystique in a fleeting world.

But don’t feel daunted. This is the challenge of life: The material world was fashioned to convince us that we have no true confidence; no reason to feel secure. It’s up to us to see beyond the transient curtain and access the confidence of our souls, which is our true and rightful heritage.

Believe in your soul. Believe in yourself. Have confidence in your confidence.

Everything is possible. Everything.

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Marilyn Shapiro
13 years ago

I couldnt agree more. It is easy for us to be frozen in space as we recognize the magnitude of making a difference in the world. Looking past that initial fear takes confidence, yes. It also takes courage, since while we might recognize our limitations, our courage pushes us through to do what we can, even if it is not perfect.
Thank you, as always, for your thought-provoking commentary.

Rivka Lazar
13 years ago

Beautiful article, Rabbi Jacobson! Both intriguing and inspiring! Thank you!

13 years ago

Your words touched a place in my soul, they echoed through my heart and brought peace to my thoughts…what an amazing article and how beautifully did you expose on it. God Bless you always. Minah

binah bindell
13 years ago

Thoughtful article resonating a gentle awareness of the essence of who we are at our core. To really know this, to truly feel it, is true confidence, as our soul is part of G-d. What could be more empowering than that?

Brian Levenstein
13 years ago

an excellent piece – simple yet profound

Bruce Heitler
13 years ago

You say Believe in your soul; believe in yourself. In the same sense, shouldnt we add, Believe in Gd?

michele bisnott
4 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Heitler

our souls are the sparks of G-d within us.

13 years ago

Interesting. I have recently come to the conclusion that doing the right thing will always make me feel better than doing the not such a right thing. I reckoned it was because I was being true to my self, my soul. Though great feelings would result from not great deeds, they would not last. I appreciated this article for helping crystallize my thoughts and ideas. Thanks 🙂

13 years ago


very nice

13 years ago

Its always good to enjoy Rabbi Jacobsons commentaries before Shabbat.

lois epel
13 years ago

I am touched by this. Confidence in our souls as we navigate life, and confidence that others have these same souls, whether they are aware of it or not, operating from them or not, as we are often not aware and not operating from ours,is an ongoing awareness I am trying to achieve.

denise urban
13 years ago

You hit the nail on the head Rabbi!! When I either pretend or struggle against all odds to act according to the true nature of my deepest longing, I align myself with my prayers. Then these prayers or actions actually manifest in my life!!

michele bisnott
4 years ago
Reply to  denise urban


Jonathan Kadoch
13 years ago

Fantastic Article. Makes so much sense. Life changing.

13 years ago

Dear Rabbi…You have a special and rare, heavenly sent gift for delivering your words directly into ones heart. No matter how pressed for time we may be, there is never a reason to walk past the homeless or pretend not to see the downtrodden. So what if were a few minutes late for an appointment! When we stop to chat with the beggar, to give change to the poor or assist a disabled person we give them hope….which tranlates into confidence for that better tomorrow that so many millions long for each and every minute of each and every day. Lacking confidence and self-esteem, what is a person inside except hollow and shallow? To give an individual depth of spirit and hope in a better tomorrow we, as Jews, need to comfort the needy with smiles and speak to them, give some change or buy them a meal or a part thereof – that might just be what they need to have the confidence to make it past another night on the street or a day in a shelter. Tell them youre a Jew, and show them our giving nature. Out our best foot forward! Multiplied by thousands of acts of charity each and every day from Jews across the globe we can shed more light on the world. Start now, and dont stop. Theres never enough we can do to show our appreciation for the life that the Almighty gave us!!!!!!

michele bisnott
4 years ago

Very Good ! Thanks!

Minnie Mattheew
4 years ago

Thank you for a very detailed explanation on confidence. We all struggle to find our equilibrium and yet when we tap in to the soul spot there is an instant energy that activates our consciousness from being frail to strong.
Rabbi you are in sync with your heart and soul.. no wonder then you bring so much clarity to every discussion.
I am enriched by your depth and insights.

Carl P Abrams
2 years ago

Giving birth to the a beautiful as God gives birth to the Torah is the gentle correction to humanity. When the soul resides in the light of God’s love, the question we shall ask is Why to worry about God’s soulful Light it’s self-correcting.

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