Confidence: At the Price of an Open Mind?

July 15, 2005

Confidence is usually associated with a positive, healthy mentality. Confidence is a sign of maturity, high self-esteem, and proficiency. I have noticed that my confidence has grown over the years, in many different areas. Becoming more confident aids in ridding ourselves of personality traits that may have been bred from insecurities. Insecurity seems to be the opposite of confidence. With all these positive connotations with becoming more confident, I never really stopped to thing about the corollary. What is the price of becoming confident in your ideas and mentality?

I think the first answer is obvious: becoming over-confident. Naturally, this is construed as negative, as is anything that we add “over” to: over-eager, overzealous, over-anxious…
Becoming over-confident in an area presumes that you don’t have reason to be as confident as you are. For some reason, you believe your truth is more absolute than you have evidence for.

But aside from being over-confident, is there a negative to being confident? Over the years, I’ve found myself becoming more confident in areas where I am proficient, or have lots of experience. This may be something like technology, or running, or perhaps ideas around personal development. I once looked at this as a general crystallization of my mentality… Where I am starting to figure out who I am, and what I stand for. In the last two years I’ve had the opportunity start music, where I was an absolute beginner. The mentality shift of being an absolute beginner is amazing. I listened to anyone and everyone, since most people knew more about music than I did. I was initially very open-minded, since I had nearly no opinions of my own. I didn’t necessarily take every piece of information as absolutely true, but I did have an open mind toward it, and would think quite objectively before deciding whether to agree or disagree.

I believe the danger in becoming more confident is that as we do so, we become less open-minded. As we crystallize our views on a subject, new information gets filtered into simple categories of “This fits into the mental framework I already have, therefore I agree.” or vice versa. Now, of course, as with most things, this is not absolutely true, and sometimes a person you respect can shake your views by presenting a compelling argument. However, I believe that as your confidence in your views grows, this happens less and less often.

A friend of mine told me that the ultimate is to become very confident in your ideology, yet still open-minded towards new ideas. It sounds great, to be open-minded and supremely confident at the same time, but these two things naturally oppose each other. There are many things in life which we accept as having an inverse relationship, and I believe that this too, is a case of “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I think the Zen philosophy of always keeping a ‘beginners mind’ presumes that you never hold onto your views too strongly. Meanwhile, confidence comes from a believing you are strong in your views.

Where do we go from here? As we grow older, learn more, and grow in confidence, are we doomed to look at the world with a more biased, ever-narrowing perspective? Maybe, but perhaps there is an ultimate path… Or else I’d like to think there is, so I’ll make one up.

Perhaps it is possible to become confident in who we are, and our abilities, rather than confident in our knowledge. Is it possible to be sure of my ability to solve a problem, but never too sure of the answer I come up with? There is a popular saying that can be paraphrased as such:

“He who knows the most, is constantly amazed by how much he doesn’t know.”


Getting It All In: Categorizing My Pursuits

July 1, 2005

I am inundated with the sheer number of things I feel I need to do everyday. It seems that nearly every goal I have requires daily consistency. This is logical, but at some point I just run out of time. After all, there is only so much you can do in one day.

Over the years, I have become very good at multi-tasking. Doing vocal exercises while I get ready in the morning, practicing the harmonica while driving, brainstorming while I’m running, practicing on my balance board while brushing my teeth, calling my family while I’m cleaning my house… The list goes on. I rarely do a routine ‘mindless’ activity all by itself. I find that many things that have to be done, like folding clothes, cleaning the house, washing dishes… require almost no thought at all, so I usually ‘double up’… so I can use my time more efficiently.

However, I still run out of time. I sleep about 6.5 hours a night, and yet I’m still fighting to get more done before bedtime. Sometimes I just run out of energy… I know when sitting back, reclined on my couch, strumming my guitar with lackluster strokes, that its about time to call it a day.

I’ve often been posed with the question: “Don’t you ever just relax?… and do nothing?”
Its a good question, and a worthy concept to think about. After all, you can’t just go, go, go all the time… everyone needs downtime. My explanation is that a lot of the things I do, I find very refreshing and relaxing. Running and playing the guitar can both fit into this category, depending on how I approach them on a particular day. I don’t find ‘zoning out’ on the couch to be that relaxing… I get frustrated with my lethargy very quickly. I do enjoy watching movies (not TV), and that’s definitely a sedentary activity, as is reading. But, in general, there are so many things I want to do, I’m never bored, and I just can’t see the point of sitting around and ‘doing nothing.’

That said, I understand that this is simply my mentality. I’m sure that there are people who are actually happier when they are in a ‘doing nothing’ state. If that’s the case, then I wish them well.

Meanwhile, I seem to have an ever increasing list of things that I want to do everyday, and I find that I would still move forward in most pursuits, if I just had consistency on some level, even if it was every third day, or even once a week. The problem I find is that I tend to do things everyday, and I really improve in those areas, and other non-daily activities seem to eventually fade away, and I don’t focus on them at all. I just don’t have much of a routine that I can cycle at a lesser frequency… Blame it on the sun, the moon and the Roman calendar.

Today is the halfway point for the year, so I was thinking about my goals and extracurricular pursuits. I realized that at this point, I can pretty much categorize them into three areas. (This is for pursuits outside of work. Work is a dictated schedule, and my goals there are quite distinct, and time is automatically allotted for them)
The three categories are:

  • Health
  • Communication
  • Music

Health includes running, calisthenics, stretching, etc. As well as eating healthy, cooking, and reading about nutrition issues.

Communication is basically a lot of reading and research, as well as trying out my ideas. This also includes my pursuits in public speaking.

Music includes voice lessons, learning music theory, ear training, jamming with friends, practicing the guitar and harmonica.

An overarching area that is not really a goal, but definitely a use of my free time is being with friends and developing the relationships in my life. Though I don’t think about it as a pursuit, it really does take up as much time as any of the other areas, if not all three put together. Rightfully so, because it is also the most important.

My idea at this point is that if I spend a good amount of time everyday in each category (as opposed to each activity), then I’ll have general progress, and I won’t feel like I’m slacking off in any of the areas. Realistically, this is more a way of thinking than a way of actually going about getting things done, since certain things, like running and guitar, I will do everyday regardless. But the categories might be a good way of ‘filling in the cracks.’