“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
– E.E. Cummings
The self-esteem movement has swept through Western culture over the past 50 years, with parents and teachers alike doubling down on the idea that improving children’s self-confidence will lead to improved performance, and a more successful life in general (Baskin, 2011).
After all, the most successful people tend to have the highest confidence in themselves, right?
This movement started with a book published in 1969, in which psychologist Nathaniel Branden argued that most mental or emotional problems people faced could be traced back to low self-esteem. Branden laid the foundation for the Self-Esteem Movement with his assertion that improving an individual’s self-esteem could not only result in better performance but could even cure pathology.
Since then, there have been thousands of papers published and studies conducted on the relationship between success and self-esteem. This is a popular idea not only in literature but in more mainstream mediums as well. Before we begin exploring the complexities of self-esteem it is essential to unpack the differences between the overlapping concepts of self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem.
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Defining the Difference: Self-Efficacy, Self-Confidence, and Self-Esteem
While most people generally think of self-esteem and self-confidence as two names for the same thing, and probably rarely think about the term “self-efficacy,” these three terms hold slightly different meaning for the psychologists who study them (Druckman & Bjork, 1994; Oney, & Oksuzoglu-Guven, 2015).
What is Self-Efficacy?
Albert Bandura is arguably the most cited author on the subject of self-efficacy, so his definition is a safe one to use when considering this subject. He defines self-efficacy as individual’s beliefs about their capacity to influence the events in their own lives (Bandura, 1977, 1994).
This differs from self-esteem in an important way: the definition of self-esteem often rests on ideas about an individual’s worth or worthiness, while self-efficacy is rooted in beliefs about an individual’s capabilities to handle future situations. In this sense, self-esteem is more of a present-focused belief while self-efficacy is more of a forward-looking belief.
What is Self-Confidence?
This is likely the most used term for these related concepts outside of psychology research, but there is still some confusion about what exactly self-confidence is. One of the most cited sources about self-confidence refers to it as simply believing in oneself (Bénabou & Tirole, 2002). Another popular article defines self-confidence as an individual’s expectations of performance and self-evaluations of abilities and prior performance (Lenney, 1977).
Finally, Psychology Dictionary Online defines self-confidence as an individual’s trust in his or her own abilities, capacities, and judgments, or belief that he or she can successfully face day to day challenges and demands (Psychology Dictionary Online).
Self-confidence also brings about more happiness. Typically, when you are confident in your abilities you are happier due to your successes. Also, when you are feeling better about your capabilities, the more energized and motivated you are to take action and achieve yourgoals.
Self-confidence, then, is similar to self-efficacy in that it tends to focus on the individual’s future performance; however, it seems to be based on prior performance, so in a sense, it also focuses on the past.
Many psychologists tend to refer to self-efficacy when considering an individual’s beliefsabout their abilities concerning a specific task or set of tasks, while self-confidence is more often referred to as a broader and more stable trait concerning an individual’s perceptions of overall capability.
What is Self-Esteem?
The most influential voices in self-esteem research were, arguably, Morris Rosenberg and Nathaniel Branden. In his 1965 book, Society and the Adolescent Self-Image, Rosenberg discussed his take on self-esteem and introduced his widely used accepted Self-Esteem Scale.
A Free PDF of the Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale is available here.
His definition of self-esteem rested on the assumption that it was a relatively stable belief about one’s overall self-worth. This is a broad definition of self-esteem, defining it as a trait that is influenced by many different factors and is relatively difficult to change.
In contrast, Branden believes self-esteem is made up of two distinct components: self-efficacy, or the confidence we have in our ability to cope with life’s challenges, and self-respect, or the belief that we are deserving of happiness, love, and success (1969). The definitions are similar, but it is worth noting that Rosenberg’s definition relies on beliefs about self-worth, a belief which can have wildly different meanings to different people, while Branden is more specific about which beliefs are involved in self-esteem.
What about those who have too much self-esteem? Narcissism is the result of having too much self-esteem. A psychological definition would be an extreme amount of selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.
Self-esteem at high and low levels can be damaging so it is important to strike a balance in the middle. A realistic, but a positive view of the self is often ideal.
But where does self-esteem come from? What influence does it have on our lives? Self-esteem is often seen as a personality trait, which means it tends to be stable and enduring.
There are typically three components which make up self-esteem:
- Self-esteem is an essential human need that is vital for survival and normal, healthy development
- Self-esteem arises automatically from within based on a person’s beliefs and consciousness
- Self-esteem occurs in conjunction with a person’s thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and actions.
Self-esteem is one of the basic human motivations in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow would suggest that individuals need both esteem from other people as well as inner self-respect. These needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to grow and thrive.
These needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to grow and achieve self-actualization. Self-confidence and self-esteem are two closely related psychological phenomena, both based on past experiences and both looking forward at future performance.
Going forward, in an effort to keep confusion to a minimum, we will consider self-confidence and self-esteem to be essentially the same concept.
Popular Theories of Self-Confidence
With these definitions in hand, we can take a closer look at common beliefs and popular theories surrounding self-confidence and self-esteem.
As noted earlier, Branden’s theory of self-esteem became a widely referenced and understood theory, but there were also other theories and frameworks for understanding self-esteem in the psychological literature.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, an iconic although somewhat out-of-date framework in psychology, theorizes that there are several needs that humans must have met to be truly fulfilled, but, generally, the most basic needs must be met before more complex needs can be met (1943). In his pyramid, self-esteem is the second highest level of need, just under self-actualization.
According to Maslow, humans must have their needs of physiological stability, safety, love and belonging met before they can develop a healthy self-esteem. He also noted that there are two kinds of self-esteem, a “higher” and a “lower,” the lower self-esteem derived from the respect of others, while the higher self-esteem comes from within.
In the years following his introduction of the hierarchy of needs, Maslow refined his theory to accommodate the instances of highly self-actualized people who are homeless, or individuals who live in a dangerous area or war zone but are also high in self-esteem.
This hierarchy is no longer considered as a strict theory of unidirectional growth, but a more general explanation of how basic needs being met allow individuals the freedom and ability to achieve their more complex ones.
Terror Management Theory
A darker theory that delves a bit deeper into the human experience to explain self-confidence is the Terror Management Theory.
Terror Management Theory (TMT) is based on the idea that humans hold great potential for responding with terror to the awareness of their own mortality, and that worldviews that emphasize peoples’ beliefs in their own significance as humans protect them against this terror (Greenberg & Arndt, 2011).
TMT posits that self-esteem forms as a way to protect and buffer against anxiety, and subsequently people strive for self-confidence and react negatively to anyone or anything that could underminetheir beliefs in their comforting worldview.
Mark Leary, a social psychologist who researches self-esteem in the context of evolutionary psychology, also contributed a theory of self-esteem to the literature.
The Sociometer Theory suggests that self-esteem is an internal gauge of the degree to which one is included vs. excluded by others (Leary, 2006). This theory rests on the conception of self-esteem as an internal individual perception of social acceptance and rejection.
There is some strong evidence for the accuracy and applicability of this theory. For example, studies have shown that the outcomes of events on people’s self-esteem generally match up with their assumptions about how the same events would cause other people to accept or reject them (Leary, Tambor, Terdal, & Downs, 1995).
In addition, Leary and colleagues found that the ratings of participants in their study concerning how included they felt were paralleled by ratings of their self-esteem. Finally, evidence shows that social exclusion based on personal characteristics decreases self-esteem (Leary et al., 1995).
The Importance of Self-Confidence
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Regardless of which theory you may personally subscribe to, the outcomes of high self-confidence are generally agreed upon by researchers.
A broad review of the correlates of self-esteem found that high self-esteem is associated with better health, better social lives, protection against mental disorders and social problems, successful coping, and mental well-being (Mann, Hosman, Schaalma, & de Vries, 2004). Children with high self-confidence perform better at school and, later in life, have higher job satisfaction middle age. Self-esteem is also strongly linked to happiness, with higher levels of self-esteem predicting higher levels of happiness. High self-confidence has even been found to increase chances of survival after a serious surgical procedure (Mann et al., 2004)!
Children with high self-confidence perform better at school and, later in life, have higher job satisfaction middle age. Self-esteem is also strongly linked to happiness, with higher levels of self-esteem predicting higher levels of happiness. High self-confidence has even been found to increase chances of survival after a serious surgical procedure (Mann et al., 2004)!
As noted earlier, there have been thousands of papers published on self-confidence or self-esteem, and many of these papers connect self-confidence with success in life.
Some studies show a strong relationship between self-confidence and achievement orpositive mental health (Atherton et al., 2016; Clark & Gakuru, 2014; Gloppen, David-Ferdon, & Bates, 2010; Skenderis, 2015; Stankov, 2013; Stankov & Lee, 2014). The success of individuals with high self-esteem lies in these 6 attributes:
- A greater sense of self-worth.
- Greater enjoyment in life and in activities
- Freedom from self-doubt
- Freedom from fear and anxiety, freedom from social anxiety, and less stress
- More energy and motivation to act
- Have a more enjoyable time interacting with other people at social gatherings. When you is relaxed and confident others will feel at ease around you.
In less happy news, other research has shown that increasing confidence does not always lead to enhanced positive outcomes (Brinkman, Tichelaar, van Agtmael, de Vries, & Richir, 2015; Forsyth, Lawrence, Burnette, & Baumeister, 2007).
Journalists in mainstream media have also pointed out that there are also negative correlates with self-confidence. For example, self-confidence has steadily increased over the last 50 years, and with it, narcissism and unrealistic expectations have also increased (Kremer, 2013). Maybe there is too much a good thing when we are building our children’s self-esteem.
Too Much of Good Thing: The Consequences of Self-Esteem Education
Self-confidence or self-esteem has been praised in Western society for the past 25 years. It’s been believed that a positive self-image is key to a happy and successful life. Thus the self-esteem era of education was born. Children of this generation are taught in schools and at home to consider themselves to be special, to only focus on their
Children of this generation are taught in schools and at home to consider themselves to be special, to only focus on their positive traits, and to receive praise for very little accomplishment.
Recent research, however, suggests that these practices and beliefs, rather than protecting people from depression, may contribute to low motivation and a decrease in goal-directed behavior (Dweck, 2007).
If boosting self-confidence is better at increasing narcissism and ambition than achievement and success, what should we do? Do we ditch the idea of improving self-confidence?
Baumeister and colleagues have an answer. There are certain contexts where a boost of self-confidence can improve performance, and these opportunities should not be ignored.
They recommend continuing to boost self-esteem, but in a more measured and cautious manner (Baumeister et al., 2003). They encourage parents and teachers to give children praise in order to increase their self-confidence, but only as a reward for socially desirable behavior. This method ensures that children receive some positive attention and have the opportunity to develop a healthy self-esteem, but it does not run the risk of convincing children that they are exceedingly competent whether they work hard or not.
This method ensures that children receive some positive attention and have the opportunity to develop a healthy self-esteem, but it does not run the risk of convincing children that they are exceedingly competent whether they work hard or not.
Steve Baskin (2011) lays out another positive move parents can take: letting their children fail. Recently parents have taken great care in shielding their children from pain and problems and forming a protective bubble of love and esteem-building around them. This often has the unintended consequence of not only protecting children from struggle but also from growth.
Baskin suggests taking a step back as parents, and letting children figure out how to deal with disappointmentand pain, an undertaking that will likely result in the development of resilience and successful coping skills. If we want to encourage all children to not only feel their best but to also do their best, these seem like good solutions.
In his TED talk Dr. Ivan Joseph (2012), a former athletic director and soccer coach connects his dedication to building self-confidence with his subsequent career success and encourages the audience to follow some tips to build healthy self-confidence in their children.
The Benefits Of Fear: Practicing Courage and Building Confidence
Fear is there to protect us from physical danger, it is our instinct to prevent ourselves from being eaten by a predator. However in the comfort of our modern homes, in the absence of such predators with protection designed into our homes, cars and parenting styles— what this fear has adapted to do is respond to modern day stresses, which can trigger past negative feelings of shame, hurt or fear.
These experiences operate in the background of our psyche, taking up mental bandwidth and memory, just like mobile apps which run around in the background of your phone using memory and battery power.
When we stay in our comfort zone protected from these experiences by the familiarity of routine activities, we live life unaware of our ability to growth and develop new strengths and skills. The less we experience opportunities for mistakes and failure the more scared we become of what could happen if we were to step outside of the comfort zone.
However when we do take that plunge, even without confidence in our abilities courage takes over. In the realm of the known, confidence operates without any hindrance, but in the realm of fear of the unknown courage takes over. Courage is typically a more noble attribute than confidence because it requires greater strength, and typically a courageous person is one without limits for growth and success.
Courage is typically a more noble attribute than confidence because it requires greater strength, and typically a courageous person is one without limits for growth and success.
We can be grateful for fear . We can learn to eagerly embrace it, understand its origin and use it as a signpost for what needs to be dealt with, a powerful tool to declutter the mental closets. And just like actually cleaning out our closets, we can sort through what we want to keep and what now longer fits us. And when it’s cleared out we can feel renewed and energized.
But fear can’t always be overcome just by crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
We, humans are strange creatures, we expect our fear to disappear in an instant however we accept that we cannot just pick up the violin and play Vivaldi in an instant.
“To build confidence, you have to practice confidence”
9 Lessons for Practicing Self-Confidence
Martin Seligman reminds us that positive self-image by itself does not produce anything. A sustainable sense of security in oneself arises from positive and productive behavior (Seligman, 1996). This is not to say that feeling secure and trusting in yourself is not important to well-being. High self-confidence or
This is not to say that feeling secure and trusting in yourself is not important to well-being. High self-confidence or self-efficacy has been linked to many positive physical and mental health outcomes (Pajares, 1996).
Many of us would like to have higher self-confidence but struggle to overcome insecurity, fear, and negative self-talk. With some reflection, hard work, and perhaps a shift in perception we can work towards a strong and stable belief in ourselves.
“Well-being cannot just exist in our own head. It is a combination of actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment” -Martin Seligman
Stand or Sit in a Posture of Confidence
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy and others have studied the positive effects of confident body postures on our hormones.
Look for the sensations of confidence and practice feeling them more in your body. Feel your feet on the ground, keep your body relaxed and open. Think regal.
Watch Ammy Cuddy’s Ted Talk about all about the effect of posture on self-confidence:
Her basic message in the video is that an individual’s posture does not just reflect the level of confidence or insecurity. Posture sends messages to the brain that informs you exactly how you feel. That being said, if you need to feel confident, you want your posture to send your brain that message. So stand tall, sit up straight, and have a smile on your face.
2. Practice Presence
Similar to the concept of mindfulness, proven to have significant benefits for your physical and psychological well-being. You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere. You can give try it right now by following these steps:
- Become aware of your awareness; that is, begin to observe yourself and your surroundings.
- Start with your body sensations, feeling your feet and legs, your belly and chest, your arms, neck and head.
- Let your eyes notice what is in your visual field, your ears, what they are hearing. Perhaps sensations of smell and taste will come to awareness as well.
- Then, go beyond these simple sensations to feel the energy, the quiet, or the noises that surround you. Feel your presence.
3. Build Your Capacity for Energy
What does this mean? A bit of stress can be useful to keep us alert and give us the extra energy needed to perform. Try reframe your nervous jitters as excitement! Knowing how to engage with these feelings in your body will expand your presence rather than shrinking it down.
4. Exercise Regularly
Exercise has a powerful effect on confidence. Regular exercise releases endorphins which in turn interact with the opiate receptors in the brain. This brings a type of pleasurable state of mind and in turn, you’ll view yourself in a more positive light. When you are regularly doing this not only will you get better physically but you will feel more motivated to act in ways that that build your self-confidence.
When you are regularly doing this not only will you get better physically but you will feel more motivated to act in ways that that build your self-confidence.
5.Visualise: Imagine Confidence
Close your eyes and relax your body completely. Stay firmly connected with the sensation of relaxation and, in your mind’s eye, see yourself speaking on camera or doing whatever activity for which you require more confidence. Allow the feelings of comfortable presence pervade your body and your mind.
6. Give Yourself Permission To Be In The Process, Take Risks and Make Mistakes
From the outside we often think, “wow, everybody else is more happy, beautiful, creative, successful, active, etc. than me. I’m just not good enough to be like them”. What we don’t tend to consider is that failure is inherent in accomplishment and that in order to pursue our goals we have to work hard and face our weaknesses. Even those who are exceptional in some areas of life are likely struggling in others.
What we don’t tend to consider is that failure is inherent in accomplishment and that in order to pursue our goals we have to work hard and face our weaknesses. Even those who are exceptional in some areas of life are likely struggling in others.
Allow yourself to be a learner, to be a novice. Trust that it’s okay not to be perfect; in fact, you’ll likely provide inspiration to others in similar situations.
When breaking out of your comfort zone and starting something new, you are expanding your own limitations and when you successfully complete something that is out of your confidence zone, you are building confidence in yourself.
7. Clarify Your Goals
Making progress towards personally meaningful goals is the scaffolding upon which healthy self-confidence is built. In his book Flourish Seligman proposes PERMA, a 5 factor framework for well-being in which the “A” stands for accomplishment.
The S.M.A.R.T goals system offers a guideline for goal-setting in which goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This system is based on research that suggests that these types of goals lead to greater and more consistent achievement (Locke, 1968).
When considering what goals you’d like to set for yourself, it may be helpful to start big considering your core values and lifetime goals. Then you can come up with actionable steps to work toward these. Writing a personal mission statement is a great way to give yourself some direction.
“Happiness does not simply happen to us. It’s something that we make happen and it comes from doing our best”.
8. Speak Well to Yourself
It’s always delightful to get good feedback from others. However, always seeking approval from outside yourself is an easy trap.
“Approve of yourself; be the one that says the words of encouragement you long to hear.”
Speak to yourself with self compassion, kindness and encouragement. After all, the most important relationship you have in your life is with yourself- make it a good one!
9. Ask For Help and Offer Your Help to Others
Many of us struggle to ask for help due to fear of rejection or being seen as incompetent. In Western cultures, the high value placed on self-reliance gets in the way of reaching out to others even though this is a necessary part of working toward our goals. However, conversely, a core feature of self-confidence also lies in being valued by others. A sense of belonging within our social system is fundamental to personal well-being (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).
In a recent review of contemporary literature, Stephen Post, head of Case Western Reserve University Medical School, found a profound connection between giving, altruism, and happiness (2008). When we play a positive role in our families, friendships, and communities we rightly feel good about ourselves. We feel that we are fulfilling a greater more meaningful purpose in our lives.
A study by Frank Flynn, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, revealed that people tend to grossly underestimate the willingness of others to help (2008). Flynn says “our research should encourage people to ask for help and not to assume that others are disinclined to comply” (2008).
Collaboration among people creates the most powerful results. When we reach out to others we can see our efforts flourish in ways that we could never achieve on our own.
“Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable increase in momentary well-being than any other exercise we have tested”.
Take Home Message: It’s a Process
The bottom line is that a healthy sense of self-confidence is not something that we achieve once and then just have for the rest of our lives. If you are a parent, teacher, or someone else who interacts with children frequently, stop trying to build the child’s self-esteem through protecting and praising them without warrant.
Consider what you are encouraging the child to learn from their actions, provide them with enough opportunities to safely learn through failure and offer them space to build their courage and express their self-efficacy.
No matter how confident they are, sooner than you think there will be a moment when they will need to draw from a deep well of self-esteem, resilience, and problem-solving to successfully navigate a complex and challenging world.
Self-confidence waxes and wanes and takes work to build, develop and maintain. We all experience moments which challenge our confidence, however, when we understand the sources of healthy self-confidence we can always work on cultivating it within ourselves.
What do you think about the challenge of building self-confidence? How do you feel about building self-confidence in education? What is your greatest confidence maker or breaker? Let us know in the comments box below.
About the Authors
This piece is possible because of the stellar work of some of our contributing authors.
Courtney Ackerman is a graduate of the positive organizational psychology and evaluation program at Claremont Graduate University. She is currently working as a researcher for the State of California and her professional interests include survey research, well-being in the workplace, and compassion. When she’s not gleefully crafting survey reminders, she loves spending time with her dogs, visiting wine country, and curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book or video game.
Linda Ugelow is a business and mindset mentor, dancer/performer. She helps people transform worry and struggle into inspiration and ease in work and life. Her special love is helping shy entrepreneurs find confidence and joy connecting with their audiences whether on camera or stage. A Master in Expressive Therapies and her extensive experience as a movement specialist, Linda’s work is grounded in body-centered awareness. Her writing has been featured on Positively Positive.
You can access her Feeling Fabulous Guided Relaxation serieshere or connect with her via Facebook, Twitteror her website.
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How confident are you right now in your ability to write a killer definition essay?
A. Super-confident. I can write a great essay with one hand tied behind my back.
B. Reasonably confident. I’d probably need both hands to type my paper.
C. Completely lacking in confidence. I couldn’t write a good paper right now unless I had an extra hand.
If you picked A or B, you probably have a good understanding of how to write a definition essay, but you should keep reading anyway. You might just learn a tip or two!
If you picked C, that’s okay too. I’m here to lend a helping hand and boost your writing confidence.
How to Write A Definition Essay With Confidence
“Thermometer – Confidence Level” by Vic, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
Step 1: Pick a word or concept to define
Picking the right word or concept to define is a crucial step in writing a definition essay, so choose carefully.
Say you choose “pencil” as the topic of your definition essay. After you’ve written something like “a writing instrument” as your definition, what’s left to say? Exactly. Not much.
This means that basic nouns—such as pencil, cow, or corn—usually aren’t good topic choices for a definition essay.
Instead, choose a word that is a bit more abstract and can mean something different to just about everyone.
Perhaps you choose “home” as the topic for your paper. With this topic, there’s so much more to write about beyond the standard dictionary definition of “a dwelling or place of residence.”
A house might be limited to this definition, but a home can be so much more than simply a place to live. To some, home will always be the place where they grew up. To others, home is any place where their family might be. Still others might travel a lot and feel home is wherever they sleep for the night.
Bonus tip on choosing topics: Pick a topic you know something about. If you think Baroque is defined as having no money, then you probably shouldn’t try to define the Baroque style of music.
Step 2: Choose appropriate definition patterns
“Deciding Which Door to Choose 2” by Vic, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
While a basic dictionary might be included as part of your discussion, you should focus on writing your own definition. Provide readers with a fresh perspective or new insights into the term.
How exactly do you write your own definition of a word?
You can choose from and combine four basic patterns to write a definition.
- Define by function
- Define by structure
- Define by analysis
- Define by what the word doesn’t mean
Let’s dive into those in more detail.
1. Define by function
Explain how something works or what it does.
If you’re defining a tangible object, such as a cellphone, you might explain how it works or its purpose. For instance, you might briefly explain various features—such as apps, texting, calling, and the camera—but your real focus would likely be its function in society. How do people use phones? What do they mean to people?
You might also choose a topic that is far more abstract, such as the term “justice.” In this case, think about the function of justice in society. How does justice work? What does it accomplish?
2. Define by structure
Describe its parts, how something is put together, or how it’s organized.
Again, if you’re writing about an object, such as a computer, you could describe its parts and how it’s put together, but your focus would be a larger discussion, such as its function in the workplace. (This is an excellent example of how you can combine patterns to create an extended definition.)
If your paper’s focus is something a little more subjective, such as “the perfect party,” you can explain what parts make up the perfect party, how you put the party together, and/or how you should organize it. Here, you could also combine patterns and include a discussion of the function of a party on a college campus.
3. Define by analysis
Explain how the term fits into a larger group, how it’s similar, and how it’s different from others in the group.
Using this pattern, you create a definition that explains how your term is either similar to or different from the larger group. For instance, if you’re defining “a terrible professor,” you might compare the professor to other professors at the college.
What makes a terrible professor so terrible? Do terrible professors have different course policies than the non-terrible professors? Are their grading scales a nightmare? Do they run their classes like a military boot camp?
4. Define by what the term does not mean
Explain what the word is not.
In some cases, it’s easier to explain what something is not rather than what it is.
For instance, it might be hard to define the perfect date. It might be easier, and more effective, to explain what the perfect date is not.
Maybe the perfect date doesn’t spend the entire evening complaining about her roommate. Maybe the perfect date is a guy who doesn’t spend the whole night checking sports scores and the progress of his fantasy football team.
Step 3: Support the definition with clear and specific examples
Examples are the evidence you’ll use to support your case and create your definition. They are essentially the body of your paper.
Choose examples that are easy to understand and written in clear, specific language. This will allow readers to relate to your writing, thus creating a more effective definition (and a better essay).
Here’s a an easy-to-relate-to example to help illustrate my point.
Let’s define a “good professor.”
You could start with defining by analysis. Explain how this type of professor fits into the larger group of professors on campus.
- You might explain that a good professor provides study guides a week before exams to help students prepare.
- A good professor also has interesting and engaging lectures to help you stay awake through three-hour classes. Here, you could include an example of a history professor who dressed up in period costumes and lectured as if he actually took part in the Civil War.
You could then switch to another pattern and explain what a good professor is not.
- You might explain that a good professor doesn’t lock the door at precisely 8:00 a.m. when the class starts and refuse to let anyone in after class begins.
- You might include a brief example about the time you overslept for your 8:00 a.m. literature class but rushed across campus in a desperate attempt to make it on time. When you arrived, breathless, at 8:04 a.m., you found the door locked with the professor lecturing. When you knocked, the professor came to the door to tell you class had started, refused to let you in, and promptly closed the door in your face.
- You could then explain how a good professor isn’t one who has no compassion or understanding that circumstances sometimes prevent people from being exactly on time and that a good professor would encourage people to attend class, even if they needed to be a few minutes late.
See how all of these examples help readers move beyond a standard dictionary definition and express your definition of a good professor?
Need to see a few more examples before you dive in to write your own essay? Check out these example definition essays:
Definition of the Ancient Nubian Civilization
The Essence of Christmas
Courage: A Major Characteristic of a Hero
The Definition of Freedom
Pop Quiz #2
Now how confident are you in your ability to write a killer definition essay?
A. Amazingly confident. I can write this paper in my sleep.
B. Tremendously confident. I can write the paper while watching a Simpson’s marathon.
C. Both of these are correct. I’m amazingly, tremendously confident I can write a killer definition essay under just about any circumstances.
What? You’re confident you can write the paper but don’t know what to write about, you say? Don’t worry, I can help with that too.
Read this post with 20 topics that go beyond the obvious to get some inspiration for your own definition essay, or check out How to Write an Essay on Just About Anything. Maybe even try some prewriting strategies to get all your thoughts on paper first.
Now, with your confidence levels at an all-time high, it’s time to get to work on that paper!
If you’re looking for a little more help and need some constructive feedback once you have your definition essay drafted, I’m confident a Kibin editor will be happy to help.
Best of luck!
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