Arrogance vs. Confidence: Identifying Key Traits6 min read

Difference between Confidence and Arrogance

What is the difference between arrogance and confidence? They’re each a kind of self-belief, but of different nature.

In some ways, arrogance looks like confidence, but truly, it involves a kind of ignorance that tries to substitute for confidence and is a serious liability. By contrast, wise confidence is an essential virtue for our personal, professional, and spiritual development.

In this article, I clarify the key traits of arrogance and confidence and share an example scenario. Further, I share some self-assessment questions for you to determine your needs, and an overview of the path forward. All this so you can powerfully accomplish your goals, with integrity and energy.

Defining Arrogance and Confidence

Arrogance Uncovered

Do you associate confidence with pretentiousness, bravado, an inflated ego, conceit, selfishness, aggression, or lack of empathy? That is actually not confidence,  but arrogance.

As described in my book, arrogance is over-confidence: you have plenty of certainty, motivation, energy, and boldness—but you are blinded. You can’t see your biases or shortcomings. You don’t prepare for the challenges of the journey, nor feel the need to put in the effort your goals may truly require. In other words, you’re overestimating yourself and underestimating your challenges.

As a result, you’re not fully present in your journey, and not tapping into your full potential—because half of you is checked out. You’re fooling yourself, and you may take some unwise risks. Life will eventually give you the gift of a painful “correction”!

The Essence of Wise Confidence

Confidence is not arrogance—it is integrity. It is how much you trust yourself, believe in yourself, and are willing to bet on yourself. It is your general perception of your abilities combined with your tendency to believe in your capacity, skills, judgments, and likelihood of success in your endeavors.

It’s a set of enduring positive beliefs, self-talk, and self-image. It creates a buffer against life’s challenges. Most people equate it with self-belief, which is one of its predominant elements.

Wise confidence includes a healthy respect for the realities of the path ahead, humble awareness of both your shortcomings and your strengths, and belief in your capacity to face the challenges ahead. It is rooted in self-worth and self-belief, and balanced with humility.

Origins of Arrogance and Confidence

The Underpinnings of Self-Belief

Our belief in ourselves and our beliefs about ourselves develop in childhood, as we learn from our interactions with the world around us.

  • If we’re naturally good at most of life’s early challenges, we may develop arrogance, believing that we’re good at everything, that we’re smarter than others, and that life will be an easy ride. This trait may be outgrown in adolescence or soon after, as life becomes more complex and challenging.
  • If we struggle with learning how to navigate the world, or if we’re criticized or bullied by others, we may develop insecurity, or lack of confidence.
  • If we’re encouraged by those around us and by our general ability to learn new skills, we develop confidence, not only in particular skills but in our general capacity.

For most of us, it’s a mixture. Our opportunity, as adults seeking to live consciously and grow, is for us to update our core beliefs based on models that are more accurate or at least more empowering.

The Impact on Self and Others

Arrogance as a natural trait can make you feel good in the short term, but it’s not a good foundation for long-term success, and it can greatly harm interactions with others, partially because of lack of empathy. It is the confidence of bullies, narcissists, and egomaniacs, and it is an aspect of what is modernly known as toxic masculinity. Arrogance, thus, brings more enemies and trouble than benefits.

By contrast, true confidence comes from within. It is based on an empowered, but grounded, self-image; it does not seek external validation nor is it shaken by the opinions of others.

It gives you strength to be who you are and to pursue your goals to the finish line. It is a true gift you give yourself.

How Arrogance and Confidence Can Look in Real Life

This will all become clearer by looking at some real-life scenarios and case studies. Let me give you an example from the world of martial arts. Suppose you need to face an opponent who is bigger, stronger, and meaner than you. “Opponent” here is a metaphor for any challenge in your life. What attitude would be most helpful?

When Arrogance Takes Over

If you are in overconfidence mode, you’ll think, “No problem, I’ve got this; I’ll easily beat him up, because I’m better.” In fact, you are deluded. You underestimate the challenge and therefore will not be able to harness your whole capacity to deal with it. When you think you can win with little effort, you won’t fight with all your might.

Confidence in Action

In the mode of wise confidence, you’ll think, “I’m fully present to this challenge, and I’ll show up as my best self. I trust my capacity and my skill. I’ll tap into all I’ve got. I must succeed in this. It has to happen. I’m determined to show up with all I am, regardless of the outcome. I’m not afraid of him—he should be afraid of me.”

Here, you’re showing up with your whole self, with full courage and determination, and with empowering self-talk. You’re neither underestimating the challenge (overconfidence) nor underestimating yourself (self-doubt).

Expert Insights and Self-Evaluation Tips

Learning from the Experts

If you study the biography of any successful entrepreneur, athlete, scientist, or artist, you will find that self-confidence was one of their main attributes. They believed in their dream. They believed that the path they took would take them there. And their believed in their capacity to overcome whatever challenged came their way.

At the same time, the best among them has found ways to balance confidence with humility, avoiding arrogance and arriving at what I call wise confidence.

Successful people not only have confidence
that they will eventually succeed, but are equally confident
that they will have a tough time getting there.

— Heidi Grant Halvorson

In my practice and my coaching experience, I’ve observed that there are two ways you can get to this. Either you start with confidence and balance it with awareness; or you start with humility, and balance it with inner strength. By balancing your virtues with the opposite virtue, you get to their most elevated expression.

Are You Confident or Arrogant? (Self-Evaluation Questions)

It is important to know how to identify when we are showing up with confidence versus arrogance. Here are some questions that can help you discern the difference.

  • Am I considering the possibility that I might be wrong here?
  • Do I consider that some big obstacles may come and make me feel discouraged, confused, tired, or demotivated?
  • Am I preparing enough for the challenge ahead?
  • Do I frequently look for opportunities to grow to my full potential as a person?
  • Do I stop and reflect upon the criticism of others?
  • Do I often let people speak without interrupting them?
  • Do I enjoy listening to other points of view?
  • Am I acutely aware of my flaws, shortcomings, or weaknesses?
  • Treat each no as a red flag. The more noes you get, the more likely is that you are in operating with arrogance. And if that is the case, at least now you know it. This awareness can be the starting point for you to upgrade your mindset and self-image.
How to Cultivate Confidence, and Avoid Arrogance

The heart of developing wise confidence—which is a balanced and healthy approach to confidence—is redesigning your identity. Your identity is the set of core beliefs that define how you see yourself and how you navigate life.

An identity of arrogance contains the belief of superiority or infallibility, which is often a coping mechanism to help us compensate underlying insecurities. An identity of self-confidence, however, is based on full awareness of our strengths and shortcomings, together with an unwavering decision to believe in our capacity and work hard to fulfill it.

So the path to cultivating confidence while avoiding arrogance is to create this identity of self-belief, together with full awareness and with the determination to always show up as our best self. You support this deep inner work by:

  • Cultivating positive self-talk with the help of affirmations
  • Cultivating positive emotional states through the help of visualization, meditation, and embodiment techniques
  • Developing your mindfulness skills, so that you can just observe and let go of the thoughts pertaining to your old identity
  • Facing fear and taking action that confirms your new identity (exposure therapy)
  • Showing up in your personal relationships with more authenticity, knowing how to be assertive and set boundaries.

For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, check out my book Wise Confidence, and try the self-confidence meditations part of the Higher Mind App.

Difference between Confidence and Arrogance

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