Cultivating Core Confidence

How can we immunize young people against the disruptive force of mental illness?

Joseph Gold (2001)

When children read about ordinary people achieving extraordinary successes, they come to realize that the brain is flexible and adaptable, and that intelligence, like confidence, can be also be developed – they adopt a “growth mindset”.

By ignoring the potential of books in the development of Core Confidence in young people we are depriving them of the opportunity to develop this most vital aspect of their being.

Alexander Stajkovic’s theory of Core Confidence says that Confidence resides unseen in the core of an individual’s character, and is manifested in Hope, Self-efficacy, Resilience and Optimism. These distinct but interconnected elements can predict job satisfaction, job performance and, ultimately, satisfaction with life. Furthermore, Stajkovic believed that these elements can be cultivated in all of us.

I believe they can be cultivated in young people using Developmental Bibliotherapy.

Cultivating Core Confidence with Books


“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”

Peter Pan in J.M. Barrie’s book of the same name.

Self-efficacy refers to the belief in one’s ability to produce a given level of attainment. It is disctinct from but related to self-esteem, motivation and resilience.

Self-efficacy influences the goals that we choose for ourselves, the confidence in our ability to learn new tasks and especially, whether we believe that abilities can be learned and developed or are fixed.

Unsurprisingly, mastery of a skill is the most powerful way to build self-efficacy. Through mastery we see that skills can be acquired and as our self-efficacy increases we are encouraged to attempt still more new skills. But influential people in our lives can also strengthen our self-efficacy – with meaningful feedback, encouragement and support we are motivated to greater efforts.

The second most powerful way to cultivate self-efficacy is through Vicarious Learning – watching or reading about people, especially role models, succeeding by their sustained effort raises our beliefs in our own abilities, much the same way that an outstanding team member can raise the achievements of less talented players in a team.

Whether we are reading horror and suspense, romance or an autobiography, mirror neurons respond to the emotions and triumphs of characters as if they were our own. And as our brains are flooded with the thoughts and experiences of characters within the pages of a book our brain is leaning vicariously – imagining conversations, testing alternatives and refining our beliefs.


“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”

Laini Taylor in Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Hope has the power to heal afflictions and helps us endure times of great suffering. Hope has a very positive impact on health, academic achievement, athletic accomplishment, emotional health, personal meaning and our ability to cope with adversity.

Hope has a positive impact on health, academic achievement, athletic accomplishment, emotional health, personal meaning and our ability to cope with adversity. Hopeful thinking is both a trait and a positive motivational state. We think of Hope as being made up of Pathways towards achieving a goal and the determination to achieve a certain goal known as Agency).

We cultivate Hope by visualising multiple pathways towards our goal, by maintaining our motivation towards achieving that goal and by believing in our power to achieve our goal.

“No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” 

Dalai Lama XIV

But to cultivate Hope we must first identify our dreams; and our dreams emerge once we recognize those things we value in ourselves, our relationships and our environment.

Literature helps us to identify our values and decide what is important to us by guiding us through self-reflection. As we share the hopes and disappointments of fictional characters facing obstacles in their fictional quest, we learn to be flexible and adaptable, we visualize alternative strategies towards our own quests, we learn that setbacks and detours are obstacles to be overcome; and we begin to imagine our own paths and dreams.

“The idea of a happy ending is a very powerful thing. Living in a world without hope would be very bleak indeed”. 

Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time)

We accompany characters as they make mistakes and choices, forge relationships and face dangers and we learn to predict, to envisage alternative actions and to consider “what if” outcomes. As we follow, and sometimes identify with, the fictional character on their quest, we learn to forgive their mistakes and transgressions, and we develop empathy and compassion.


“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”

A.A. Milne in Winnie the Pooh

Optimism is the belief that we are responsible for our own happiness and that more good things will happen to us in the future. For optimism to be a positive force this belief must be realistic – appreciating the positive aspects of a situation without ignoring the negative – and our belief must allow for the possibility that bad things do happen to good people.

Optimism can affect our personal growth, our sense of purpose in work, our relations with others, our pride in our accomplishments, and our general level of happiness and life satisfaction. Optimistic students are less susceptible to stress, loneliness and depression, and less likely to drop out. Optimists are also more likely to have healthy lifestyles.

Literature helps to cultivate our optimism by helping us escape the limitations of our environment and negativity from our influencers. Literature stimulates our imagination and enables us to organise our own experiences while in the process of deciphering someone else’s. Literature helps us to make sense of the past and become less fearful of an uncertain and sometimes terrifying future.


“It came to me that I hadn’t known that I was less than I could have been until then, when I saw there was so much more of the world for me to be myself within.”

Griz in “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

Resilience is the ability to take responsibility for creating the future we want, to persevere through everyday adversities and tribulations, to adapt or overcome major setbacks, and to reach out to new experiences and challenges.

Resilience transforms hardship into challenge, failure into success, helplessness into power, victims into survivors and allows survivors to thrive.

Resilience comes when we believe that we have the power to control the events in our life and to change the things that need changing, and that belief is accurate. Resilience is not a trait that one either has or does not have; resilience is a state that involves behaviours, thoughts and actions, and it can be learned and developed.

  • Resilient individuals seek connections, they accept help and they try to help others.
  • Resilient individuals accept change as a path to growth.
  • Resilient individuals can recognise and articulate feelings, needs and viewpoints and are open to the opinions of others.
  • Resilient people stay curious about their world, and about the past and the future, and they are reflective and mindful of their own and others’ thoughts and emotions.
  • Resilient people maintain a positive self-image, a sense of perspective and derive meaning from failure.
  • Resilient people are see obstacles as ambitious but attainable tasks.
  • Resilient people enjoy learning new skills and use creative experiences to bolster their wellbeing.

Fictional characters can inspire us to develop our own resilience by watching them develop through the choices and responses they make. We learn that resilience is something that we cultivate, not something we are born with, and that sometimes resilience requires immediate action, but most often it does not. We see that resilience involves a realistic evaluation of a situation, to consider for alternative solutions, to be less reactive to our emotions, and to respond better when adversity strikes.


The dangers of excess

It is possible to have too much of these elements of Core Confidence:

  • Too much Self efficacy can make us over confident and we neglect our training, we believe we have nothing left to learn, or we reject new ideas and suggestions.
  • Too much Hope can anesthetise us, keeping us passive when we should be motivated into action.
  • Too much Optimism can shroud us in illusions and irrational beliefs, or cause us to waste energy on unattainable goals.
  • Too much Resilience can make us overly tolerant of adversity, or make us resigned and apathetic in the face of danger.

Hope, Resilience, Self-efficacy and Optimism are states that amalgamate to form Core Confidence, so interdependent that when one is out of balance, the others will fail alongside it or fall behind and either way our Core Confidence is diminished. So it is far better to have too much Core Confidence than too little.

Developmental Bibliotherapy and Core Confidence

Joseph Gold (1998) describes the beneficial power of fiction thus:
“Fiction extracts the reader from their immersion in personal confusion … using narrative to engage the reader emotionally while generating new and newly arranged information so that cognitive shift can take place. The results of this are improved problem solving skills, a greater sense of normality, a breakup of rigid and confusing cognitive frameworks, improved socialization and increased self-actualization.”

Developmental Bibliotherapy has the advantages over other all programs in that it can be infinitely tailored to meet the needs of almost any student. It can be practiced anywhere at any time, alone or in a group, at any age.  

And the resources necessary to implement Developmental Bibliotherapy are already abundant in most schools.

By ignoring the potential of books in the development of Core Confidence in young people we are depriving them of the opportunity to develop this most vital aspect of their education.

“I was seeing the world through the lens of the books I had read about it”

Griz in “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

Further Reading & References

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