Peruse the self-help section of the bookstore and you’ll find a common mantra: “If you think you can, you will.” Thomas Chamorro, professor of business psychology at University College London, says the idea that simply believing in ourselves is the key to success is false. His latest book, Confidence: The Surprising Truth About How Much You Need and How to Get It, argues those who are their own worst critics are more likely to succeed than those who are their biggest fans. Chamorro says confidence is over-rated and insecurity is really what we need more.
"There's a very weak relationship between competence and confidence, not because most people are overly modest or under-confident but because the majority of people think they're better than they actually are," he says.
Chamorro says our society suffers from a crisis of over-confidence. We don't have to look far to see that confidence can cause harm. The 2008 economic crisis may never have happened were it not for inflated confidence our society held in the products financial institutions were selling. Homeowners may not have borrowed so much money had they been less confident in their ability to make their mortgage payments.
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Although those who lack this confidence are often made to feel guilty and ashamed, Chamorro says those with an abundance of it have unrealistic expectations about what their confidence will help them accomplish and will actually become hindered by their confidence rather than helped by it.
There are four distinct advantages of being insecure:
1. You're naturally more realistic. Chamorro says entrepreneurs, because of their nature as risk-takers, tend to suffer from over-confidence, which can blind them to potential problems. This is the reason, Chamorro says, why 90 percent of entrepreneurial business ventures fail. Those with lower confidence have a higher ability to perceive threats and are more likely to be successful as an entrepreneur because they aren't blindly jumping in.
2. You work harder. While over-confident individuals do little to improve their skills or performance, those with lower confidence take preparation, training and work more seriously than their over-confident peers. "Because they perceive a gap between where they want to be and where they are, they close that gap not by trying to display more confidence, but by working harder," says Chamorro. Over-confident individuals, by contrast, tend to work less and will under-prepared when faced with important challenges and assignments because they're under the delusion that they're better than they actually are. This confidence can hinder one's career potential, preventing them from growing and improving.
3. You're more liked. Although it's true confident people are often called "charming" or "charismatic," being over-confident can cause others to label you as arrogant, especially when that confidence is deemed to be unwarranted. Chamorro says many cultures prefer interacting with people who come across as humble or modest.
4. You're more likely to accept criticism. While overconfident individuals are immune to negative feedback, those who are less confident are more likely to take criticism as constructive and work hard to improve upon their weaknesses.
All of this isn't to say that we should all be insecure all the time. Those who lack any confidence at all prevent themselves from making their goals. We still need some confidence in order to be successful, but Chamorro says, it’s all about balance.