The concept of adaptive confidence is a marriage between confidence and humility. People who are confident believe in themselves. They do not doubt that they have the capacity to perform a given task. Confident people are secure, centered, and assured. It is possible, however, to be too confident. a person can become proud and suffer from hubris, conceit, or arrogance. Proud or arrogant individuals overrate their abilities and tend to lose the capacity to learn. They become rigid and closed, unable to make use of input and feedback. This often disconnects them from emerging reality. They use defense mechanisms such as denial to avoid adaptation and growth.
The positive opposite of such hubris or vain pride is humility. The dictionary suggests that humility is an awareness of one’s shortcomings. A humble person is modest and temperate. Such a person tends to be open, receptive, and teachable. The virtue of humility, however, can be taken too far. The overly humble person becomes self-effacing, self -denigrating, filled with insecurity and fear. They may become apprehensive, weak, filled with anxiety, easily manipulated, unclear about their needs or opinions, even undependable and unreliable. Such persons can be skillful in other ways, but are seldom self-reliant, confident, or able to take initiative.
When there is a balance between humility and confidence, we find a person who is modest and centered, open and self0assured, receptive and firm. It is a challenge to bring these seemingly contradictory qualities together, but the effort is well worth any sacrifices we might make along the way. Often we move back and forth between humility/insecurity and confidence/ hubris, rarely balancing it perfectly to where it manifests as adaptive confidence.
Think of adaptive confidence as the ability to face the unknown and continually move forward to co-create a new reality. People who have adaptive confidence feel a hunger for personal and collective learning and development. They recognize that the most powerful learning is found in an improvisational process. THey are secure enough to seek feedback on their successes as well as their failures. Persons with adaptive confidence can move forward inmost situations, taking initiative, remaining open to feedback on these initiatives, and learning while moving. They are simultaneously stable and changing. They live with their environment in a positive, creative tension. OFten the adaptive-confident person and the environment appear to be co-creating each other.
(Letters to Garrett, pgs. 183-185)