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5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence


Image by ForsterFoto

We all want to be confident, don’t we? It’s a word that crops up fairly often in coaching sessions, even with people who are very talented and successful. We’re all human, and for most of us there are times, places, audiences and situations where we feel we’d like to be a little more confident. For creative professionals, these typically include high-pressure performance situations, such as presentations, pitches, interviews, auditions and stage shows.

Of course we want to perform at our best in these situations, but I think the word ‘confidence’ creates more problems than it solves. I usually advise clients to change the word to ‘enthusiasm’. Here’s why:

1. Confidence is about you – enthusiasm is about your subject

As long as you’re focused on ‘being confident’, you are the focus of attention. And when it’s all about you, it’s very easy to get caught up in self-doubt (“Am I really up to this? Will I be able to do it?”). But when you focus on a subject that’s important to you – the work you’re presenting, the information you want to share, the message you’re trying to get across – then chances are you’ll find yourself overtaken by enthusiasm. You’ll be energized, your voice will sound stronger, your hands will start gesturing, you’ll find your whole body moving as you warm to your task. You’ll lose your self-consciousness and be lost in the work itself, in the words and ideas you want to get across.

2. Confidence is about you (again) – enthusiasm is about others

I repeat – when you’re trying to be confident, your attention is on yourself. But when you focus on your audience – whether one person, a roomful or a whole stadium – you stop worrying about your own performance. Instead, your attention is on the audience’s experience: How are the ideas coming across? How do they look? Engaged? Confused? Intrigued? Have they ‘got it’ yet? If not, what can you do to help them? What feedback are they giving you? How can you use this to make it easier for them to learn, to enjoy or to see your point of view? How can you get them to share your enthusiasm?

3. Confidence is impressive – enthusiasm is infectious

How many times have you watched a presenter or met someone and been impressed with their confident manner – but without really warming to them? Confidence can be impressive, but beware the kind of impression you’re leaving. Enthusiasm on the other hand, is highly infectious. Think of a time when you heard someone talk about a subject you had previously no interest in, but they were so enthusiastic about it, you couldn’t help being intrigued, even fascinated. There’s something contagious about the body language of enthusiasm – when you see someone talking excitedly, smiling, gesturing, full of energy and keen to share what they know, you can’t help responding. It’s as though at some level we look at an enthusiastic person and think “That looks good, that looks fun” and can’t resist the urge to join in.

4. Confidence is certain – enthusiasm is creative

You can feel confident when you know what you’re doing, and are sure you can do it well. There are lots of times and places for this kind of confidence, but too much certainty can be stifling. With enthusiasm, there’s always an element of uncertainty, the excitement of not knowing exactly what you’re going to say next and looking forward to surprising yourself. That’s why scripted speeches are so dull, and why the atmosphere at an improvised show is electric. Accounts of the creative process abound with stories of images, ideas or words ‘popping into’ someone’s mind – and invariably, the subject or medium is one for with the person has huge enthusiasm.

5. Confidence is serious – enthusiasm is fun

When you start talking or thinking about being confident, you’re likely to start taking things a bit seriously. When you want to be confident about doing something, it’s because you think it’s important. And when something is important, it means Bad Things can happen if you get it wrong. Thinking about Bad Things is enough to make anyone serious. But when you’re enthusiastic, importance translates into passion – and the whole thing becomes fun. There are few things more enjoyable than talking enthusiastically about something you’re passionate about, and feeling others share your enthusiasm.

I’ll climb off the soap-box now. Enthusiasm is one of my enthusiasms. What are yours?

EDIT: in the comments below Ludivine has asked a really good question:

what about when worrying about practical & financial issues stiffles enthusiasm ?

I’m answering this question with a short series of posts: How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough, 7 Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure and 7 Ways to Tap into Enthusiasm.


  1. What a joyous post!

    I agree with you about the virtues of enthusiasm.

    I especially love the etymology of the word: from the Greek for “the God within you.”

    When you’re enthustiastic, it’s almost as though you have access to a divine source of inspiration.

  2. Thanks Roger. Yes I like the etymology of enthusiasm, and think it fits very well with what I was trying to get across. Confidence has a pretty good etymology too (‘with trust’ or ‘with faith’) but I think the modern meaning has drifted away from the original one.

  3. Thanks for the really enjoyable article.
    All in all its really such a blessing when you love your work and am enthusiatic about it

  4. Thanks Henry, some nice images on your blog, I can tell a lot of enthusiasm has gone into them!

  5. I agree with the comments about the form of words. “Enthuse” has the feeling of allowing something to enter into yourself and into others. Confidence…silly but it has that “con” bit at the beginning as in con-trick, short for “confidence” of course. I think this teaches us that “confidence” is a little bit upon the surface as opposed to “enthuse” which feels deeper. I know from experience that “trying to feel confident” has that inner voice chattering away aspect to it. Enthusiasm, well….it’s a wave isn’t it?

  6. Thanks Mark – like the point about ‘con’ – it would be difficult to do an ‘enthusiasm trick’ wouldn’t it?

  7. what about when worrying about practical & financial issues stiffles enthusiasm ?

  8. I’m afraid I find this article ridiculous, I guess I’m just not creative enough :-). The two are not mutually exclusive and ideally one should possess both. I suppose one could just as easily right a post about why confidence is better and say stuff like “enthusiasm can lack discipline and get you into trouble, while confidence is a result of knowledge and expertise”. But that would be just as ridiculous.

  9. Ludivine – thanks for an excellent question.

    My answer is a bit long for the comments section, so I’ve just written the first of three posts addressing this issue – How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough. The other posts will cover ways to stop worrying and ways to tap into your enthusiasm.

  10. Hi David, thanks for giving an alternative view!

    I’m sure you could write a very persuasive (and creative 🙂 ) post arguing for confidence over enthusiasm, or at least a healthy balance between the two – if you want to do that, I’ll put up a link to it.

    You make a valid point that ‘the two are not mutually exclusive’ – but I didn’t say they were. I’ll concede that my title is mildly provocative, but the post argues a purely practical position, within a specific context – i.e. that people are generally more concerned with ‘being confident’ than ‘being enthusiastic’, and that if you want to raise your performance at a given task, it may well be more useful to focus on enthusiasm than confidence.

    We also need to remember that ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘confidence’ are only labels, and your definition of them may well be different to mine. E.g. When you say that ‘enthusiasm can lack discipline’ it suggests someone who is eagerly ploughing ahead without regard for consequences – but my description of enthusiasm makes it clear that it involves being focused outwards, on other people and how your actions are being received by them.

  11. I’ve just about had enough of all of it how about you?

  12. Wow. Thanks for such a great post!

  13. this is certainly a novel and imaginative take. really gives me soemthing to think about.

  14. Hi Marcia, thanks for the comment, your blog looks interesting – looks like your version of confidence is pretty close to my version of enthusiasm 🙂

  15. Thanks a lot for this enthusiastic plea for enthusiasm 🙂 I’ve just recommended it to my pupils at the blog address linked above.
    What I also find important are your clarifying comments which underline that enthusiasm and confidence are not mutually exclusive, but that, once you have a very solid understanding of your subject and enough confidence to answer all sorts of questions about it, enthusiasm is the final ingredient to the mix that makes it all glitter and shine and a joy to listen to.

  16. Enthusiastic post! 🙂 I love it. And I love the quality of enthusiasm. As Roger puts it, “it’s almost as though you have access to a divine source of inspiration.” Indeed! 🙂

    What we perhaps need is a foundation of enthusiasm, bricks of enthusiasm, windows of enthusiasm, doors of enthusiasm, but a roof of confidence. If that makes sense. Confidence can remind of you those limits in situations where one has to stay within limits….! What say?


  17. Peter – thanks, glad to hear there will be plenty of enthusiasm in your classroom.

    Nimmy – yes, Roger has a habit of hitting nails on the head. Mmm your enthusiasm house sounds good. And yes you do need a more ‘hard-headed’ approach sometimes, otherwise you end up like Tigger – charming at first but a little tiring in large doses…

  18. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson

  19. Thanks Marty, I’m collecting enthusiastic quotations, that’s a great one for the list.

  20. I am completely enthusastic and so happy I found your blog! Thanks Gretchen! : )

  21. Thanks Gretchen, lots of evidence of enthusiasm on your blog!

  22. Dear Mark,

    I’m a budding Indian planner currently working with a local, passion-driven creative agency in Jakarta.

    I know my comment comes donkey’s years after you published this “joyously infectious” post, so sincere apologies for the same. However, I hope the delay doesn’t deter you from reading what I have to say and commenting on it.

    I, personally, am a big fan of “enthusiasm” as a trait and luckily, have been blessed with some of it (at least i think so).

    Recently, in my job application to a few agencies, I described myself and my understanding of creativity/advertising/social media/ as a “ball”. Why so?

    Simply because I believe it’s arguably the only object that truly embodies enthusiasm – all-pervasive, cuts across geography/time/space, never tired, never subdued, goes bouncing away from one place to another and incites a sense of excitement and participation the moment one comes in contact with it.

    This inherent effervescence, I think, is crucial for the role of creative applications today and in the future, i.e., relentlessly sharing ideas and stories with people and inspiring them to act… the moment they come in contact with it. It becomes relevant more so because through interactions with creativity in the form of social media, people across the globe undergo cultural drills that help them idenfity themselves by their daily choices.

    Which brings me to another interesting perspective. Perhaps the most fascinating yet utilitarian function of a ball is its ability to bounce, which obviously has a lot do with the external factor of gravity. If we think of gravity as factors that keep pulling us down, ourselves as a ball always trying to go up and “bounce” as our degree of enthusiasm, we’ll unearth – according to me – life’s biggest secret, it’s innate beauty and our true purpose: the harder we bounce, the higher we go.

    Dunno if this repertoire of my carried away thoughts made any sense. If they did, would be honoured to receive your comments on the same.

    Looking forward to hear from you


  23. Hi Yousuf,

    Thanks! That’s a great thought to wake up to on a Monday morning. I particularly like the bit about gravity – “the harder we bounce, the higher we go”. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm.


  24. I’ve always looked at confidence and enthusiasm as being on the same end of the spectrum, with the relationship being that one can lead to the other. There are lots of things that I am confident about, without necessarily being enthusiastic for them. There are also a number of things that I am enthusiastic for without having established my own confidence levels yet. All-in-All you need confidence+enthusiasm+aptitude.

  25. Hi Justin, I like aptitude! Reminds me of Zig Ziglar – “Remember, it’s your aptitude, not just your attitude that determines your ultimate altitude!”.

    I don’t really believe in either enthusiasm or confidence – they are just labels we stick on behaviour, which can be defined in all sorts of ways. So my guess is we would probably agree on the kind of behaviours that get us (and others) engaged with a topic or task.

    The point I was driving at is that a lot of people seem to get stuck when they try to be ‘confident’, so I’m suggesting that in those cases we forget about the ‘confidence’ label and try on the ‘enthusiasm’ one – in my experience it usually gets better results.

  26. Nice blog!

  27. My problem is SHOWING enthusiasm – I may feel passionate about something but I am too diffident to show it.

  28. I bet you have your moments Chris. 🙂

  29. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” said the very quotable Ralph Waldo Emerson, who also said, “Everywhere the history of religion betrays a tendency to enthusiasm.” These two uses of the word enthusiasm

    shams@Funny SMS’s last blog post..Come backs

  30. Thanks, great quotations!

  31. Wonderful article, Mr. McGuiness!

    I am thinking deeply about the subject tonight for kind of an abstract reason, also touching deeply into my personal life.

    I’m not saying I’m 100% sold yet, but I have a feeling I will be by the time I wake up in the morning. What you said made sense to me.

    I’m now going to delve into my long-ago written book, “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling” by Frank Bettger because I believe he had at least -1 large section on enthusiasm.

    I will be back before long to reconsider your post in that new light.

    I am creating my equivalent of Ben Franklin (and Frank Bettger’s) 13 Subjects/Virtues, but of course radically different in both form and substance because while I love emulating, I hate copying.

    Thanks for your contribution to it. By “it” I mean that, and my life.

  32. And forgive me for the important typo in my post.

    There were 2 typos, only one of which was important. It wasn’t the hyphen before and not after the 1 either.


  1. […] “Confidence is serious – enthusiasm is fun.” […]

  2. […] Encontre un artículo hace unos dias que me hizo recordar cuando estudiaba diseño y me auto-nombraba entusiasta gráfico. Creo que era ingenioso y al mismo tiempo es la mejor manera de describir como me sentio hacia lo que hago. Siempre he sido entusiasta con lo que hago y siempre lo seré, trato de hacerlo lo mejor que pueda y hacerlo mejor cada vez. Sé que Jorge estaría de acuerdo conmigo si digo que mucho de lo que hemos hecho hasta hoy a sido por el entusiamo de aprender, de explorar y de disfrutar. Uno siempre esta buscando la seguridad para hacer las cosas, yo prefiero ser entusiasta. Aquí hay una buena explicación de porqué. Ian • Jan 8 / 07 – 9:54 am • […]

  3. […] It was great to get a Christmas present from Design Observer when they linked to my enthusiasm post in their ‘Observed’ column. I can’t imagine them getting quite so excited about a link back from me, but Michael McDonough’s Top Ten Things They Never Taught Me in Design School is worth reading (even if you didn’t miss out on the top 10 by not going to design school). The list includes ‘Talent is one-third of the success equation’, ‘95 percent of any creative profession is shit work’ and ‘When you throw your weight around, you usually fall off balance’. […]

  4. […] In terms of the blog content, I want to incorporate more of the recurring themes of my coaching with clients – i.e. to start capturing more of the things I find myself saying over and over again. The best example of this is my post on why enthusiasm is better than confidence – I heard myself saying it a couple of months ago and thought “I’ve said this hundreds of times, I need to put it on the blog”. Although it’s relatively recent, it’s been far and away my most popular post, in terms of traffic, links and other feedback. And there’s plenty more where that came from – so in 2007 I’m aiming to capture more of my ‘coaching memes’ and get them out there on this blog. […]

  5. […] Wishful Thinking » Blog Archive » 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence We all want to be confident, don’t we? It’s a word that crops up fairly often in coaching sessions, even with people who are very talented and successful. We’re all human, and for most of us there are times, places, audiences and situations where we (tags: blogs inspiration motivation design psychology) […]

  6. […] Wishful Thinking » Blog Archive » 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence (tags: culture design motivation toread) […]

  7. […] In my last post, How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough, I started answering a question from a comment on my post 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence. Ludivine wanted to know what to do ‘when worrying about practical and financial issues stifles enthusiasm’. […]

  8. […] He’s really on a roll at the moment and seems to keep coming up with really interesting stuff. I think his post on “Why Enthusiam’s Better than Confidence” is inspired and quite a few others seem to agree. […]

  9. […] Wishful Thinking » Blog Archive » 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence […]

  10. […] 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence Includes “Confidence is impressive – enthusiasm is infectious” and “Confidence is certain – enthusiasm is creative”. Brilliant! […]

  11. […] 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence – [Wishful Thinking] Author: Kyle Pott Posted: Monday, February 12th, 2007 at 7:43 am Tags: communication, confidence, enthusiasm, workplace Bookmark/Share This! Leave a Reply […]

  12. […] Following on from my earlier posts about Enthusiasm v Confidence, Ludivine’s question about How to Maintain Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough and Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure, I’ll finish off this mini-series with a few tips for tapping into your natural enthusiasm. You’ll be pleased to know that you don’t need to be stressed out to use these tips – they work equally well if you’re just looking for a boost of enthusiasm to get you started (or restarted) on a project that matters to you. […]

  13. […] One of the funny things about blogging is you never know which bits will provoke a response. You can slave away for ages at a post, only to watch it sink without trace in the digital ocean. Or you can write something off-the-cuff or with a feeling that it’s a bit dull, only to find people getting irate or excited, with links coming in from vertiginous heights in the Technorati rankings. I think I’ve said elsewhere that my original enthusiasm post was like that – something I’ve been saying for years to clients, that I thought would make a nice ‘filler’ post on the blog, which turned out to be the most popular page on Wishful Thinking. […]

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  15. […] Mark McGuinness goes into greater detail on each of these points in his blog wishful thinking. […]

  16. […] An aside, here is a very interesting post on enthusiasm. […]

  17. […] writer R. J. Anderson for that realization, since she’s the one who first directed me to this excellent article. The thing is, I may not be confident that other people will like my work, or that it will sell, or […]