The Little Engine That ...

By Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, July 2011)

She drove confidently into the parking lot. She felt an assurance that had not been there in weeks, able and capable to handle whatever came her way. She was glad this moment was here, for she had anticipated it all morning, rehearsed what she would say, able to declare with absolute certainty her position and want. This time there would be no doubt. She knew she could do it.

She approached the speaker, rolled down her window, and heard the words that had shaken her so frequently in the past, “Hello, welcome to Coffeeville, may I take your order?” The time had come: “Yes, I’ll have a double half-caf non-fat latte with two sweeteners.” She didn’t even say please. She wanted to leave no doubt. The time was now and this is was her desire. With absolute confidence, she commanded her order. And this time, she would get it.

Confidence. What is it exactly? When do we know we have it?

I have done some recent polling on the meaning of confidence. I hear such definitions as:

“Being sure of yourself”
“Believing you can”
“Knowing you can”
“Having courage; mentally, physically”
“Resolving to be true to yourself”

These are good definitions, and often what we consider to be the sum total of what confidence is. It is an internal assurance in an action about to be taken, a trusting in one’s capability to carry out one’s intent. “I am confident in my ability to do this action, therefore I will attempt it.” In this definition of confidence, there is pro-activity, a taking of initiative, stemming from the belief, the assurance, that one can. It is the Little-Engine-That-Could. Confidence arises from a sense of “couldness” — “I could make this happen if I really wanted to or tried it.” We tell our children that the little engine could because it believed it could — it was confident. Therefore, it made it happen.

But is that all there is to confidence?  I don’t think so.

I think this definition is Part A. I think there is a Part B, and Part B is deeper, richer, more stabilizing, more peace-inducing (which honestly is what I hear most people requesting when they say they need to be more confident; I hear them really saying they wish they were more at peace with what was happening).

So here is Part B to “confidence:” handleableness: the perception that whatever happens is handleable. “Whatever happens, I’ll be ok; I can handle whatever results occur.” This aspect of confidence speaks of one’s trust in his or her own adaptability. It is about handling the unknown, beyond what one’s capability creates, instigates, or sets in motion. It deals with our reactions to events, where we have little or no control, or sense of anticipation.

It is one thing to be capable; it is another to be adaptable. The person who believes they are capable is confident to a degree; but a fuller measure of confidence comes when that same person believes that no matter what their capability instigates, they can handle what comes next and be okay; he or she can be at peace.

Most of our worry and anxiety comes from what we cannot anticipate (which is why we have those feelings). But if we perceive that we can handle well whatever is thrown at us, especially beyond what we can consider or anticipate, we can be at peace. And if we are at peace, we feel much more assured about any situation that may occur. We are truly confident; well-roundedly so.

And that can make a difference in our lives in so many ways, from handling a problem at home to ordering a high-maintenance cup of coffee.

Or even in making up words for a monthly article in a published publication (“couldness,” “handle-able,” “well-roundedly”). My spell checker is going nuts. I, however, am at peace; confidently so.

To talk further about the places in your life that lack “couldness” or “handle-ableness”, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us visit our website at Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.