In a world where we’re taught to be confident in ourselves and to believe we can do anything, is there a point where you can go too far?
There is. It’s called overconfidence and it happens when people become enamored of and overly confident in their abilities, often to their own detriment.
While a healthy dose of confidence is a good thing, it’s also important to know how to overcome overconfidence, so you can have a strong understanding of your own capabilities, know when you’re doing well, and know when to ask for help or support.
How do you control overconfidence and keep it from impacting your success?
Don’t isolate yourself
Overconfidence can occasionally serve you well in a group setting. Some people, like one of my former bosses, call this the FITMI effect (Fake It Til You Make It).
In this situation, overconfidence in the workplace may just translate to an appropriate amount of confidence or bravado needed to get the job done and earn buy-in from others. In fact, research backs the idea that the boost in status from overconfidence on a group project can outweigh the potential negative effects.
As a freelancer, though, and especially a freelancer in the time of COVID, it’s easy to become isolated and to go for days without meaningful professional conversations. When you do this, it’s also easy to create your own sort of echo chamber, where you’re continually reinforcing your own ideas and attitudes.
Consider this basic example: when you read your own writing, for example, it feels familiar.
The physical version of your document or email is competing with the one in your mind. This mental illusion can make it harder for you to find errors or to assess it critically, the way you’d review a colleague’s writing or the way you’d expect them to review yours.
This same type of overconfidence can pervade your work and keep you from committing time to education and development, or make it harder over time to collaborate meaningfully with other freelancers or with your clients.
To overcome the overconfidence bias that comes along with working solo, try to bring others into your workspace, whether physically or virtually. Connect via a coworking space or an online accountability group. Barter services with a fellow freelancer, so you can each sharpen the other’s skills.
Don’t fly by the seat of your pants
People think of procrastinators as lazy people, the kind of people who just can’t get the job done. However, it can actually be very common for procrastinators to suffer from overconfidence bias.
How can that be true?
When you are overconfident in your abilities, you feel capable of doing great work in a short amount of time. You’ve probably heard proud procrastinators say they “work best under pressure” - maybe you’ve even said it yourself!
Your overconfidence can be the tool that leads to your downfall, or at least to unnecessary amounts of stress, because you feel certain you can perform at an above-average level even at the last minute.
If you’re wondering how to reduce overconfidence and stem procrastination, it can be helpful to break down your process, to give yourself incremental tasks to complete at a manageable pace. Instead of trying to tackle a big project in one big block of hours, make your tasks granular enough and manageable enough that you easily avoid a mental trap and overcome that overconfidence monster.
Hearkening back to the idea of avoiding the echo chamber, getting honest feedback from others can help to stem overconfidence in the workplace and in your individual freelance efforts.
It can be very ego-boosting to get glowing feedback from a friend or long time colleague.
However, it can be often more beneficial to receive your feedback from a career coach or other neutral party. Because their relationship with you is on a professional basis, they’re not personally invested in protecting your feelings from uncomfortable truths.
If you choose to meet with a coach to work on overcoming overconfidence, find one who specializes in the proper area of leadership development. Share your expectations that they’ll give you pertinent information to move you past this hurdle, set measurable goals, and continue advancing your freelance career.
Develop a Growth mindset
In a psychological study, researchers asked young children to work sets of math problems, then praised them based on either their effort (“you worked so hard”) or their ability (“you’re so smart”). The children who were told they worked hard continued to persevere through several additional levels of difficulty.
Having a growth mindset means recognizing that there’s always more to learn and looking at new situations as opportunities for development, rather than expecting that you already have everything in your mental toolbox to meet the situation.
Growth mindset works similarly in reducing overconfidence.
When you function from a growth mentality, you’re willing to keep working and finding the right answers even when it’s challenging. This tenacity is an invaluable skill for freelancers who often find themselves filling roles they never imagined and serving as their own customer service, tech support, client services, sales team and more.
Handling these tasks with a growth mindset works to reduce overconfidence by treating each situation as a challenge and opportunity in its own right, not as a roadblock that you are too important or skilled to be bothered with.
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Don’t let overconfidence become a detriment in your work.
At the same time that these steps help you reduce overconfidence, they can also, conveniently, help you build a healthy dose of realistic confidence by keeping you grounded, curious and connected with others as you build your freelance career.