The Three Cs: Confidence, Creativity, and Compassion

Most of us experience at least one major shift in how we perceive the world. Whether it results from a traumatic event, or from the natural aging process, at some point we find that our old habits no longer serve our current needs. For me, one of these shifts happened earlier this year.

After taking some time to reflect on the experience, I set about summarizing my thoughts into a set of simple guidelines. These guidelines are meant as a motivational tool to keep myself focused on the things that are the most important to me. I called these guidelines the Three Cs.

The Three Cs aren’t a set of strict rules, but rather signposts for everyday living. They came about as an answer to uncertainty about my long-term goals and my short-term progress. As I struggled through a gauntlet of tough situations and upsetting losses, I started to lose interests in the things that made me happy. With so many hypothetical fires to put out, I simply didn’t have time to focus on anything but the bare necessities. That included hobbies, obligations, and friends.

The Three Cs are motivational tools for helping you find those things in life that make you feel motivated and fulfilled. These aren’t specific items, goals, or objectives, but broader concepts. When you find yourself facing a problem and you’re not sure how to approach it, the Three Cs encourages you to stop and ask:

  1. How Confident do I feel about my abilities?
  2. How Creative can I get with my solution?
  3. What is the most Compassionate choice?

With that out of the way, let’s dive into it.

#1: Confidence

n. Faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way (Merriam-Webster)

Confidence is the ability to make a decision and follow through with certainty and conviction.

I deliberately listed confidence first because of its necessity. Everything we do is driven by confidence, from when we get out of bed in the morning to when we fall asleep in the evening. Confidence lets us perform actions without hesitation and without fear, even if those actions place us in danger.

Contrary to confidence is doubt. If confidence is our green light to go forward, doubt is a flashing red light. It forces us to second guess each and every action and question whether our decision is the “right” or “best” option. While doubt helps us avoid potentially harmful situations, too much doubt can have a tremendously detrimental effect on our performance.

That being said, becoming confident in yourself is hard. It takes time, effort, and sometimes incredible sacrifice. Most of us gain confidence through repetition, where we repeat certain actions over and over again until they become second nature. For instance, nobody knows how to walk at birth – it’s something we develop over several years and continue practicing for the rest of our lives. The benefit of repetition is that by time we master these actions, they’ve become a part of who we are. We become so confident in our abilities that we can do them without thinking. Given enough time and enough practice, a life of doubt becomes difficult to remember.

But there’s another way to gain confidence, and that’s through sudden, unfamiliar, and intense experiences. In other words, leaving your comfort zone. Leaving home for the first time, having a near-death experience, giving birth – we can never fully prepare ourselves for these events no matter how hard we practice. At the same time, we need to be confident in our ability to react appropriately, otherwise our comfort, health, or safety might be in danger. Surviving these experiences can reward us with a massive boost in confidence, helping us recognize and react to similar situations in the future. And even if the outcome is less than ideal, we can still reflect on the actions that led to that outcome and how we might avoid it next time. At the very least, surviving a scary and unfamiliar experience can help us become more confident in facing the unknown.

Confidence is Not the Same as Arrogance

Confidence and arrogance are two very different thing. A confident person trusts his or her ability to react to a situation, no matter what that situation is. An arrogant person, however, acts with a sense of self-importance and pride. They’re convinced that their opinions and decisions have more merit than those of others. You don’t need to be confident to be arrogant as long as you hold yourself above others.

The key to confidence without arrogance is to stop comparing yourself to others. Confidence is about trust in yourself. Even if you are completely isolated from others, you can still be confident in your decisions and in your actions. On the other hand, arrogance needs other people to compare itself to. If you don’t believe in yourself, that’s fine; arrogance only asks that you believe yourself to be greater than others.

It’s very easy to fall into a trap where confidence and arrogance feed each other. To become confident without becoming arrogant, avoid comparing yourself to others. Always strive to be a stronger person, but do it for your own benefit, not to become better than anyone else.

Trust Your Instincts

For me, confidence manifests itself in my decision-making process as a “pull.” When I’m weighing my options, the one with the strongest pull is usually the one I feel most confident about. This could be for a number of  reasons, including:

  • Knowing that I have the energy needed to make it happen
  • A history of similar decisions that turned out well for me in the past (or failures that I learned from)
  • Greater rewards and/or fewer risks than other options

Ultimately, it comes down to instinct. Confidence is all about trust in yourself: trusting yourself to make a decision, trusting yourself to see it through, and trusting yourself to learn. Avoid the doubt trap, and you’ll accomplish far more than you have before.

#2: Creativity

n. Marked by the ability or power to create: given to creating (Merriam-Webster)

Creativity is the ability to express yourself without restriction. To explain what creativity is, we first have to explain what it isn’t.

Creativity vs. Convention

Modern life is conventional. We tend to do the same things at the same times pretty much every day. In the developed world, this means driving to work, sitting at a desk for 8 hours, driving home, watching TV, and sleeping. In exchange for this commitment,  we get some pretty awesome benefits – near-instant access to food, water, shelter, medicine, and safety. But in return, we sacrifice our freedom to be unconventional.

The problem is that we are unconventional by nature. Yes, human beings have an innate desire to create laws, establish governments, and set rules of conduct. But as infants, abstract concepts like language, law, empathy, respect, and countless others are wholly unfamiliar to us. By learning these concepts and structuring our understanding of the world around them, we make the world a safer and more predictable place – but we also lose our unconventional and spontaneous nature.

Creativity is the ability to step outside of these concepts and embrace our unconventional nature: to see the world as it really is, not as we’ve designed it to be.

This isn’t to say that we should absolve convention and embrace anarchy. Laws, social obligations, and behavioral expectations play very important roles in making sure our species doesn’t implode on itself. Even experiments like Burning Man – which wholly embraces freedom of self-expression – is bound by rules and expectations. We must all be free to express ourselves however we choose, but we must also consider our responsibilities as citizens, tax payers, parents, employees, and so on.

For many of us, being creative is challenging because we spend so much of our lives being conventional. But being creative doesn’t have to be difficult – in fact, it’s one of the easiest things we can do. The challenge is that in order to be creative, we need to not be conventional. We need to unlearn many of these abstract concepts we’ve practiced over several decades. Many of us feel uncomfortable going against our learned behaviors, which is where confidence comes into play.

Be Confident in Your Creativity

There’s a reason creativity comes after confidence in this list. In order to be genuinely creative, you have to be willing to go against a lifetime of conventional knowledge and education. There are ways to merge creativity and convention; marketers, writers, architects, and countless other professionals only become masters of their craft by thinking outside the box. But pursuing a purely creative life (or even a partially creative life) is extraordinarily difficult. In order to persevere through your creative endeavors, you need to have confidence in your ability to see through your conventions to your true nature. Otherwise, the rigid walls of everyday life will keep you bound where you are.

In my experience, the fastest way to kill a creative spark is to set a benchmark. Nobody wants to fail at a task, especially one that’s as personal and fulfilling as expressing yourself creatively. But as soon as you set a benchmark, you compress all possible outcomes of a creative task into two: success and failure. Creativity can’t possibly be defined by abstractions, so by forcing it into this artificial benchmark, you’ve already guaranteed failure. When starting a creative endeavor, be careful not to limit yourself by defining a success or failure state. Give yourself the freedom and the space to just be creative, and see how that changes not only the outcome, but your enjoyment of the task itself.

Practicing creativity is just like practicing any other skill. Over time, you’ll find it easier to think outside of everyday abstractions, approach problems in innovative ways, and become more aware of the world around you.

#3: Compassion

n. sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it (Merriam-Webster)

Compassion is an awareness and sympathy towards other people’s situations. My definition of compassion also includes empathy, which is an awareness and understanding of other people’s thoughts, feelings, experiences, and emotions. Combined, compassion and empathy allow us to help others pursue their interests, solve problems, and improve their quality of life for their benefit, not ours.

Confidence and creativity benefit you directly. They are about helping you gain control over your life. They can be applied in a crowd or in isolation: you can be confident and creative whether you live in the heart of Manhattan or at the bottom of the ocean. Compassion, however, demands that you throw your own interests out the window and shift your center of attention to another person. For those of us living in societies where “looking out for number one” is our top priority, this is an enormous and difficult leap to take. We have to be able and willing to put aside years of self-reinforcement, which is a task that requires (you guessed it) both creativity and confidence. Otherwise, we can’t possibly bridge the gap between our own self-interested bubble and others.

What Does Compassion Really Mean?

Being compassionate means placing yourself in a position to help others achieve their own desires and goals, possibly at the expense of your own. This means having to set aside your own interests – or even placing yourself in danger – for the benefit of someone else. The problem is that we can’t truly understand what someone else is going through because we only experience the world through our own bodies. We can’t possible know another person’s experiences, memories, sensations, or intentions. We can create approximations using language, art, and other communication tools, but even the most talented writers, musicians, and artists struggle to convey their feeling without others interpreting their message a million different ways.

In order to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we first need to imagine being that person. We need to consider what we know about them – their behaviors, their speech, their body language, what they’ve told us about them, and what we’ve experienced about them – and we need to do so without introducing our own biases. Even then, the mental image we have is only a crude likeness of who that person truly is. We’re eager to fill the gaps with our own biases, and while we can never avoid all of our own biases, this act requires us to be as unbiased and grounded as possible. This requires us to think outside of our normal boundaries, which is an act that demands a great amount of creativity and a breaking of convention

Although compassion is about helping others, it does require us to help ourselves first. This is the only reason why it comes last in the list. If you’re not comfortable with yourself, or if you have doubts about your ability, being compassionate is significantly harder. Before you can give yourself up to someone else, you have to be confident in your ability to help them. Even if you’re not confident in your own abilities right now, you can be confident in your ability to learn, grow, and approach the problem along with the other person. In most cases, this is far more important than being able to solve the problem outright.

Getting Motivated

Remember, the Three Cs are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. They may not fit you as well as they fit me, but I hope you find them useful as inspiration, and I encourage you to find your own motivational tools.

And please, feel free to leave any comments below!

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