Riker’s superb advice on building confidence

Spoiler Alert

  • Star Trek The Next Generation Season 2 Episode 15: Pen Pals

For someone who dreamed of a career in Star Fleet, Wesley Crusher had everything he needed.

He’s obviously a child prodigy, which helps. But not only that, but he was working alongside and being coached by the best in the business.

Of course, part of that training involved technical skills, and he got to work alongside Geordi and Data for that, which would be useful for anyone. But the crew knew that this isn’t enough. To train an officer, you also have to develop internal traits, such as self-confidence.

So, Riker puts Wes in charge of a little operation – conducting a mineral survey on Drema IV, a planet that’s been suffering some severe geological stress.

Unfortunately, Wes gets a little intimidated by the team he puts together, who are all older and more experienced than him. He wants an icospectogram running, but one of his team talks him out of it.

We can all relate to that right? I mean who hasn’t wanted an icospectogram running and been talked out of it.

So, Wes finds Riker (who naturally is in the middle of a date), and asks for advice. Here’s what Riker says:

“Wes, responsibility and authority go hand-in-hand. Now, I know you’re responsible – now we’ve gotta teach you a little bit of authority. One of the reasons you’ve been given command, is so you can make a few right decisions, which will lead to a pattern of success and help build self-confidence. If you don’t trust your own judgement, you don’t belong in the command chair.”

Success brings confidence

This is a well-known, time-honoured confidence-building strategy. Boxers use it – especially when it’s been a while since their last fight. They’ll take on a few lower-rated opponents, get a couple of wins under their belt, and then challenge a bigger fish.

Positive results build confidence. Why wouldn’t they? It’s literally the definition of the word – your belief (or, confidence) that you will succeed in a given task. If you have already succeeded a few times, it stands to reason that you will again. So you become confident that you will.

So here, Riker is engineering a scenario where Wes picks up those quick wins – a relatively easy operation, something that’s totally within his ability to complete. Given enough time, Wes could have completed the whole survey himself. But the point wasn’t to test his already-strong technical skills. It was to build his command skills.

Engineering success to build confidence

If you want to build confidence, find ways to engineer success:

1) Pick a thing to build confidence in

A pretty easy first step, you probably already know what this is.

2) Assess your current skill level

For this, you don’t actually need to make a completely objective analysis of your skills. Because we’re talking about confidence, what matters more is what you feel you can handle.

3) Take a step down and play at that level for a bit

Identify a lower or sideways level that you can practice in.

Try to get the balance right here – aim too low, and you’ll expect yourself to win anyway – this is not confidence-building. But aim too high, and you might end up not getting the win you wanted (note: this can still be confidence-building, because you’re still getting experience – but you have to know how to deal with failure, and not beat yourself up over it).

For example:

  • If you’re looking for a job and you’re planning to step up to a higher level, apply for a few jobs at your current level or slightly below – something you’re very well-qualified for. Go to a few interviews for jobs where you know 100% that you can do this role well.
  • If you have to give a speech in front of 100 people next month, join a speaking group and give one in front of 20 people.
  • If you’ve got a hot date next week, hang out with people you always have a good time with the day before.
  • If you’re not confident singing in front of an audience by yourself, sing in a choir first. It’ll be easier to go from there to singing alone – at least you’ll have had a little stage experience, but at the same time, you’ve got a lot of people around you so the challenge is a bit lower.

Alternatively, you can use the approach Riker took, and combine your target area with something you’re already confident in.

If Riker had put Wes in charge of a security operation, it would have been a disaster. But Wesley was already strong in all things science – he knows that the icospectogram needs running (I mean, let’s be honest, that was obvious to everyone). It was just the bossing people around part he needed help with.

So by combining an area of strong confidence with an area of less confidence, Riker got the challenge level just right.

So what happened? Well, after receiving Riker’s advice, Wes walks up to the same guy who talked him out of his idea earlier:

Wes: Ensign Davies, I want that icospectogram running on the Drema system.
Davies: You got it!
Wes: Smiles in XP +15

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