By: Emily Maybanks

I recently listened to a BBC Radio 4 three-part series called The Confidence Trick, which I would certainly recommend listening to. In this series, English writer and journalist Laura Barton explores the place of confidence in modern life and examines “the increasingly important part confidence appears to play in modern life, at the point when so many of us are beset by problems surrounding our own self-confidence.” Furthermore, she “examines the key role of our background and education in determining our levels of confidence, teasing out the intricate interplay between aspects including class, gender, psychology and even architecture.”

The whole series of The Confidence Trick is interesting to listen to and very easy to listen to and relate to. Each episode explores a variety of issues surrounding confidence. The first episode looks at finding the balance between confidence and arrogance. The creator and narrator of the series – Laura Barton – says that confidence has the ability to carry us forward in life; at its best, confidence is a beautiful thing, it’s the stuff of bravery but she wonders if our balance is a little off. She poses the question as to whether we’ve tipped too far towards a version of confidence that is hot, loud and opinionated and lacks subtlety, steadiness and depth, and if we have tipped too far in this direction, where it might lead us and what we might lose? The Confidence Trick includes series of interviews with a wide range of people, including Marina Hyde, who says that people these days feel that they must have an opinion on everything and asks whether this is necessary and why people feel the need to shout their opinions so loudly, particularly through social media. Another interview with Katty Kay looks at the idea of banking confidence, and that you gain confidence by doing stuff that is hard for you and that each time you do these things, you bank a bit of confidence.

The second episode explores early education and school and how that factors confidence. Barton talks about how these experiences at the beginning of life while you’re growing up are vital in developing the confidence that you’ll carry forward in the rest of your life. The idea of failure is explored and it’s important to tell young people that they might fail but the most important thing is to try again, and again. An interview with a BME woman talks about people planting a seed of doubt in your mind that affects your confidence and how, when someone plants that seed, you’re often torn between a “just watch me” attitude, wanting to prove them wrong, and having that seed there, causing it to make you question yourself. A nice message in from this is that if you don’t go through one door, you won’t go through any other doors that might open for you. This episode also talks about the need to shift our view of confidence so that we look more at how people feel about themselves, we need to empathise with and relate to other people.

The third and final episode in the series explores putting your confidence, faith and trust in other people, but also about having the confidence to forgive ourselves, especially when it comes to trying things for the first time. This links back to what is said in the first episode about confidence being gained the more you try something and that if it doesn’t work out the first time, you must try again. The idea of being an introvert means that you’re too often perceived as being ‘lovely’ and ‘a good person’ and how this is often oppressive because you feel as though you can’t ever be angry, for example, is talked about too. Furthermore, it is also stated that if you’re not feeling confident, the best thing you can do is to listen to other people. Also, the question is asked as to whether it is possible to display confidence without turning into a ‘jerk’?

This three-part series – The Confidence Trick – was recommended to me and I’m glad that I listened to it because I got a lot out of it in terms of being able to relate a lot of the content to my own life and my own experiences, past and present. I also found myself empathising enormously with the narrator, Laura Barton, who talks a lot throughout the series about her own lack of confidence. In the first episode especially, Barton talks about how she hates public speaking but loves creating radio programmes and that she’s spent her life speaking quietly and being told to speak up, but when she’s making radio programmes, she is in her element because people can hear her but cannot see her. In the third episode, she says that one of the best things about creating this series was meeting people who have the kind of confidence that is steady, generous and open; they make confidence appear semi-permeable and that upsetting things can often happen to these people but their fundamental core won’t be disturbed and that they are capable of being great hearted and expansive without losing their inner steadiness. Towards the very end of the final episode, she says that if she could take a “magic pill of confidence”, she would and that a lack of confidence is something that has frustrated her and held her back throughout her life. Some of her greatest adventures and her firmest friends have come from moments of absolute confidence. I found myself relating to Laura Barton’s words throughout the series as well as feeling inspired by the whole thing.

Finally, there are several definitions of confidence, including “the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something”; “a feeling of self-assurance, arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities”; or “the state of feeling certain about the truth of something.” The Confidence Trick explores all of these definitions in a lot of depth. I think however that everyone has their own interpretation of what confidence means to them and how confidence feels to them. I believe that confidence is a very interchangeable thing, depending on the circumstances. You might have days where you feel like anything is possible and that you can do anything; however, you might have days where you just don’t even feel like you can get out of bed and face the world.

If you want to listen to The Confidence Trick, please click here. Extended versions of the interviews in The Confidence Trick are available on Soundcloud here. Furthermore, Laura Barton wrote an article for The Guardian: Too scared to speak up? How to be more confident; which you can read here.


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