I just finished reading The Confidence Code, by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay. All women should read this book, especially mothers of girls and those who are struggling with their confidence (which, according to research, is most of us). There is so much valuable information in this book and the authors back each of their assertions with research and expert interviews. The Confidence Code had been on my long list of “books to read” for a while. After Mel Robbins plugged it in her book, The 5-Second Rule, I moved it up in line (if you haven’t seen Mel’s viral Ted Talk, check it out here).
Confidence, especially among women, is something I am passionate about. So many people (especially women) are living quiet and bland lives because they lack the confidence to ratchet it up, take risks, and become the people they were born to be. Confidence is a game-changer – it can mean the difference between a spectacular, out-loud, fulfilling life… and a ho-hum, blah existence. If you want to make drastic, awesome changes in your life, you’ll want to cozy up with confidence. I’ve decided to write a series on confidence because the topic is too broad – and too important – to cover in a single post. In this series, I’m going to highlight the differences between male and female confidence, the nature versus nurture argument, and strategies you can use to turbocharge your confidence even when you’re feeling meh.
What is Confidence?
First, I want to be clear about what confidence is. Many people link it to body image, attitude, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and gregariousness. Although related, these qualities differ from confidence. An outgoing attitude may be a product of confidence, but it does not describe its true nature.
Also, confidence is not the same thing as extroversion. There are plenty of confident introverts, and being naturally gregarious and social is not always an indication of confidence. While introversion and extroversion are fixed personality traits, confidence is malleable. That means no matter how low your confidence is, you have the power to improve it. It also means that even if you’re an introvert, you can develop the confidence of a rock star.
As Shipman and Kay explained, confidence “isn’t about throwing your weight around or talking over people or always being the first to jump in. Confidence isn’t an attitude at all.” Although insecure people often “throw their weight around” in attempt to feign confidence, it is important to understand that true confidence is often quiet and ninja-like. It doesn’t need to make a spectacle of itself. The most confident person in a room may be the quiet individual in back who feels comfortable holding her own space without the approval or attention of others.
Now we know what confidence isn’t… so what is it?
Confidence, it turns out, is about taking action. According to Shipman and Kay, confident people act on their ambitions and desires. They don’t let fear of failure stop them. As the late Norman Vincent Peale so aptly put it,
Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence.
You want to increase your confidence? It’s pretty simple: become a doer.
My Confidence as a Kid
Now in my 30s, my confidence is stellar… but it was not innate. I didn’t leap out of the womb with the boldness and tenacity that some people just seem born with. I was a quirky little girl who never quite fit in (although that never concerned me much). While other kids were hanging out at each other’s houses, I was usually by myself reading, writing poetry, teaching myself to paint, growing gardens, or riding my bicycle around the neighborhood.
A lot of things made me nervous and I definitely struggled with anxiety and worry. I loathed speaking up. I hated standing up for myself. When called on in class, my face would turn bright red and my neck would get blotchy. The unknown petrified me.
The difference is that I didn’t really let fear or discomfort (or being a straight up weirdo) stop me from pursuing things that I found interesting. For example, I was terrified of being in front of crowds as a kid. But I loved acting in plays. I cherished memorizing lines and dressing up to transform into different characters. The fear and anxiety I would experience before stepping onto a stage was nearly paralyzing. But I pushed through it because the joy I got from acting was stronger than the discomfort of stepping outside of my lane.
The confidence I possess today is the product of life decisions and experiences. It is largely the result of my willingness to try things that are uncomfortable at first. With each trip outside of my comfort zone, with each decision I’ve made to take action, my confidence has increased. I’ve made it a habit to be a doer. Action is fundamental to confidence.
Today, I want to cover the main takeaway from The Confidence Code; the three things that women must do if they want to improve their confidence: think less, be authentic, and take action. When you train yourself to think less and respond to your authentic inclinations, action follows naturally.
Research indicates that one of the greatest barriers to confidence among women is our tendency to overthink. Not only do we want to consider every possible freaking option, outcome, and danger before we do something, but we also ruminate. We have a hard time letting things go. When we are criticized, the critical words tend to stick with us, keeping us up at night and sending us into a shitstorm of over-analysis. When we have an argument with someone, we replay it in our heads over and over again, often brooding over hurtful things that someone said. We create imaginary dialogues and play out scenarios in our minds that simply aren’t true. We worry, we imagine worst-case scenarios. We engage in analysis paralysis like it’s going out of style. It’s no wonder that women are much more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than men.
It’s also no wonder that women are typically far less confident than men. Men are much better at letting things go than women are. They shake off set backs, are less likely to overanalyze situations, and don’t engage in the heinous amount of self-criticism that women do. They move one. Men don’t overthink the way women do, and that’s a key reason why they typically have significantly more confidence than women.
What you can do: Choose to be decisive and action oriented rather than funneling your energy into pointless over-analaysis, rumination, and self-criticism. Action, as I will keep repeating, is the hallmark of confidence.
The second key to confidence, according to research presented by Shipman and Kay, is to be authentic. I took this to mean a couple of things.
First, be you. Take time to discover who you are, where you values lie, and what your purpose is. Then act on those things. When you take action out of authenticity, you’re building confidence. Plus, it’s a lot easier to take action when you’re being authentic because it is easy to feel strongly about being true to yourself. Find out what makes you tick, what things you really want to experience and accomplish. Then, take decisive action in those directions. Who cares if other people poo poo on it? You don’t need permission from anyone else to live out your dreams and purpose, but you do need the tenacity to take action on the things that excite you. Maybe that’s something simple like dying your hair pink or taking an art class because you always wanted to learn to paint. Or maybe it’s grander. Maybe it involves quitting a job you hate or moving to another state because you always dreamed of living there. Maybe it means changing college majors and pursuing theater even though your parents told you there’s no future in the arts. Maybe it means joining the Peace Corps because, although the idea scares the shit out of you, you desperately want to travel and help others.
Second, don’t try to “fake it ’til you make it.” I found this piece of advice really refreshing because to me, faking anything is inauthentic and lame. Also, when you try to put on an air of confidence that isn’t genuine, people around you will sniff it out quickly… and you’ll feel like a fraud. Instead of trying to fake confidence, put in the work to build it. And what work am I referring to? Action, of course. Take action. Think less and do more.
The overthinking that women tend to engage in thwarts action, and action is the single most effective way to build confidence. The great thing is that action doesn’t have to lead to success in order for it to foster confidence. That’s right, even action that results in failure can build confidence, as long as you perceive failures as opportunities instead of setbacks. Decisive action is also an incredibly effective way to stop overanalysis paralysis. Instead of examining every possible angle before taking action, sometimes you just gotta leap. Train yourself to become a doer instead of someone who just thinks about doing. Each time you take action (regardless of the outcome), you’re building your confidence. I’ve found that failures have actually bred a lot of my confidence – not only because I learned from them, but also because I was able to see that each time I failed at something, the horrible disasters I imagined as possible outcomes simply didn’t happen. I lived. Things were okay. So the next time I wanted to do something but a fear of failure crept into my mind, it was easier to shut out those negative thoughts and take action. When you consistently take action and become a doer, your self-perception will wildly change (as will others’ perceptions of you).
If taking action seems scary, start small. When you have an impulse to do something, act on it before your brain can shut it down (Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule is great for this). Say hello to a stranger. Make a phone call you’ve been putting off. Sign up for classes. Stop thinking about the things you want to do and start doing them, and you’ll be on the road to rockstar confidence.
Jen Sincero offers a great tip for taking action when you’re feeling a little timid. Remove yourself from the outcome and just think of the action as a little experiment. Tell yourself that you’re going to do something because you just want to see what will happen. I’m going to pursue this idea for a business that I’ve had for years because I just want to see if it will work. Or, I’m going to go to this networking event because I just want to see if I can make some new connections. As Jen says,
Just see what you can get away with. Take the pressure off and get back in on the adventure.
I love that advice. By looking at action as a game instead of dwelling on the potential outcomes, not only can you assume a more playful outlook, but you’ll find yourself much more willing to step into the unknown. And those unknown territories, outside the fringes of your comfort zone, are where the good stuff happens.
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