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Confidence Is a Bad Thing
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Confidence Is a Bad Thing

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Every now and then an idea comes along that seems too wrong to be right but makes so much more sense the more you look into it. “Confidence is a bad thing” is one of those ideas. We all have grown accustomed to the idea that “confidence” is something to shoot for in our efforts. Being bold and assured leads to more success, right? But what if it’s counter-productive to be confident? It might seem counter-intuitive, but it seems there is research emerging to show that you’re more likely to achieve more success if you’re hesitant, question yourself, and are honest about your insecurities.

One of the benefits of regular bagpipe practice is to become more adept and confident in your ability to perform on the instrument. But sometimes, confidence can lead to complacency and a more relaxed approach to performance that works against you. Self-doubt can be a performance killer but it can also enhance our efforts. When we experience doubt, we can either disengage and abandon a task, or invest greater effort in practice and preparation. “Perseverance” rather than “confidence” would seem to be in order. In one study, participants were asked to skip rope for one minute. They were then told they had to repeat the task using a more difficult rope (when it was the same type of rope). The participants showed lower confidence in their ability but their performance improved. Their lack of confidence and hesitation in the next task forced them to work harder in their performance.

Higher levels of confidence can indeed help us perform and strive for more difficult goals. But higher confidence can also cause us to lower the amount of effort given toward these goals. Interestingly, there are other results that show the relationship between confidence in a task and actual measured results will differ by a large amount. When confidence and performance are not calibrated, in other words, when we think we’re more capable of a task than our actual performance of that task indicates, the effect on actual performance is negative. We actually perform worse on a task the higher the opinion we have of our abilities to do it.

So what is the answer? Being honest with yourself. Taking stock of your current skills and capabilities with respect to performance results will realign your notions of self-efficacy with your actual peformance. Performance feedback would seem to be the key element in another study. The more feedback one receives, the more closely matched are one’s opinions of their ability and actual performance. With respect to bagpipe playing, this feedback would be all of the things you have heard recommended here at Dojo U: regular recording/listening; open live sessions at Dojo U; personal one-on-one instruction; the new Daily Doses. A more honest assessment of our skills and abilities—or a lack of confidence—provides a more clear perspective and allows more clear vision of the work we need in order to improve. In fact, questioning ourselves and experiencing doubt in our abilities, as some research has shown, is necessary to truly achieve the improvement we seek to become better pipers.

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Vin Janoski Vin is a long-time piper based on the east coast of the USA. He has been on the Executive Committee of the EUSPBA and been the editor of the acclaimed Voice magazine. Recently, he has played in the Grade 1 Oran Mor Pipe Band, and the Grade 1 Stuart Highlanders pipe band. He currently produces the websites Pipehacker.com and WhiskyTunes.com.... And, needless to say, he spends way too much time than is allowed for any one person playing, writing about, and thinking about bagpiping.

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