Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Self-Confidence and Performance

An enlightening analysis of the research literature by Woodman and Hardy found that cognitive anxiety and self-confidence are significantly related to performance. Interestingly, cognitive anxiety appears to affect performance among men more than women and interferes with performance much more for high standard tasks than for tasks with low standards. It is not difficult to see how, given these findings, perfectionism can be so deadly to trading results. By raising the psychological bar to success, we create performance pressures for ourselves that ironically inhibit performance.

Their research, however, found that self-confidence bears a stronger relationship to performance than anxiety. Once again, this effect was stronger for men and for high standard performance tasks. It thus appears that one need not have a huge level of self-confidence to achieve a task with a low standard of success, but when the challenge is raised, self-confidence becomes important to performance.

Importantly, these were measures of *state* anxiety and self-confidence, not trait measures. In other words, one could have modest levels of anxiety and generous levels of self-confidence in daily life, but if one's current state is anxious and self-doubting, performance will be at risk.

Why might these findings be more significant for men than women? Perhaps it is because men are more likely to judge themselves and attach their self-worth to their performances. If that is true, strategies to put performances into perspective--to divorce the ego from short-term results--should be helpful even when anxiety and self-doubt are present.

One interesting study asked students to toss nerf balls into a garbage can. Half the students received negative feedback prior to the task; the other half received positive feedback. The negative feedback group performed significantly worse than the positive feedback group. Think about how markets always give us feedback about our positions and how this might affect our state levels of self-confidence, anxiety--and ultimately performance.

Research suggests that self-confidence is crucial to performance even among elite athletes. Those athletes do experience symptoms of anxiety, but the self-confident ones are more likely to label these in a positive way and use them in a manner that aids performance ("I'm getting pumped up") than the non self-confident ones. It thus appears that it's not so much anxiety that matters than how we interpret the signals of the body and mind. Self-confidence channels stress into performance.


Building Self Efficacy