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Understanding self-confidence

In this article, Helen Kempster discusses the elements that make up self-confidence and how it can be increased.

Self-confidence is an important factor in career success. In this article, we’ll look at the elements of self-confidence, and how it can be increased.

What is self-confidence?

Self-confidence is referred to by some psychologists as ‘Core Self Evaluation’ and is made up of two elements: self-efficacy and locus of control (Judge, Locke and Durham, 1997).


  1. Self-efficacy refers to your belief in your ability to succeed in specific situations. Your levels of self-efficacy are shaped by three things: direct experience, observed experience and social persuasion.

    Direct experience refers to the boost in confidence you feel when you try something new and are successful. This makes you more likely to try other new things in the future. You can therefore increase your self-efficacy by taking on new responsibilities or trying new activities.

    Observed experience refers to what you learn from observing a significant role model succeeding or failing at something. You can internalise this learning from an early age, and it can affect how you approach situations in your own life. Those with higher levels of self-efficacy are more likely to reflect on positive situations that they have observed.

    Social persuasion is linked to the increase in confidence you might get when someone tells you you are good at something or have done something well. This makes you more likely to build on your experience in that area. People with high levels of self-efficacy are better at accepting praise and receiving criticism in a measured and rational way. You can boost your self-efficacy by seeking feedback from others and being open to constructive criticism.

Locus of control

  1. Locus of control, a term coined by Julian Rotter in 1954, refers to your belief in your ability to influence situations in your life. Your locus of control can be located internally or externally.

    Those with an internal locus of control believe that their own hard work, attributes and decisions determine their success. Those with an external locus of control are more likely to believe that good or bad luck, circumstances and fate determine their success. Therefore, those with an internal locus of control are more likely to have higher levels of self-confidence, as they believe that they themselves are able to influence their environment.

    To boost self-confidence, it’s important to focus on the positive, both in your own experiences and in those you observe in others. One way of doing this is to address any negative thoughts that you may have by reframing them in a positive way.


Negative thought
“Anyone could have done that, it wasn’t that impressive.”
Reframed positive thought
“I am good at what I do. My skills are impressive and I made a big achievement.”

Negative thought
“It’s all my fault that I didn’t get that job.”
Reframed positive thought
“I was partly responsible for not getting the job, as I know I could have prepared for the interview more. However, there were some factors that were out of my control, such as the number of people who applied and the quality of the other candidates.”

Negative thought
“Going to university will be too much for me to cope with.”
Reframed positive thought
“I’ve faced many challenges before, and have overcome them.”

If you’d like to learn more about confidence and career success, check out the full online course from Goldsmiths University, below.


Judge TA, Locke EA, Durham CC. (1997). The dispositional causes of job satisfaction: A core evaluations approach. Research in Organizational Behavior, 19, 151-188.

Rotter, J. B. (1954). Social learning and clinical psychology. New York: Prentice-Hall.

© Goldsmiths, University of London
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