"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
Yes, the book title is The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know. But that’s where the “strictly women only” message ends. Instead, journalist-authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman travel to the frontiers of neuro-science on a hunt for the “confidence gene” while revealing surprising new research as to its roots in our brains.
The Big Idea
Confidence Is Not Hard-Wired
"Confidence becomes less about what you were born with, and more about what you make of yourself."
One of the most vital and unexpected conclusions they reached is that confidence isn’t even close to being in your head. Indeed, you have to get out of your head to create and use it. Confidence occurs when the insidious self-perception that you aren’t able is trumped by the stark reality of your achievements.
Via breakthroughs in our understanding of brain plasticity, we learn it’s not a fixed psychological state after all. Yes, what you see as your “lacks” may have come from patterns created in childhood (based on how your parents treated you or others perceived you). Your neural tracks laid down memories in response that even today generate knee-jerk reactions.
But if you can layer those over with new memory networks, you can re-route the highway. For example, you can build metaphorical bridges or otherwise work around it. Though you may never entirely get rid of the highway because it was established so early, you can literally lay down new roads.
This is also a remarkably effective way to eliminate a key confidence destroyer: negative habitual thought. Speaking of which…
"Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a certain way."
As pesky as their phonetically similar mates, in this case the term stands for “negative automatic thoughts”.
Unfortunately, you can’t simply wipe them out with a can of spray! However, you can challenge and wrestle these inner monsters with logic plus alternatives. The first step is recognition. Though potentially tedious, keep a journal by your side and write them down.
Do not beat up on yourself for having them. Rather, look for an alternative point of view. Just one different interpretation (perhaps positive or even neutral) – a reframe – can open the door to confidence.
In this way, “I’m not efficient and what’s wrong with me” becomes “Maybe I’m doing a good job balancing so much”. The second thought doesn’t even have to prove the first wrong. Simply, the mental exercise of taking time to create another explanation lessens the potency of the first.
Star in Our Own Production
"Our confident behavior cannot be apologetic or mumbling or retiring."
Another aspect of using our attention (i.e., what we focus upon) as a positive force is to reverse the spotlight… Instead of concentrating upon faults or insecurities, we ought to take credit and enjoy our achievements.
While being self-deprecating seems more appealing than boasting, it can backfire. By trying to downplay in front of others, we’re essentially telling ourselves a damaging story. This includes feeling undeserving of our accomplishments plus how others see us. Devaluing ourselves further makes it less likely that we’ll attempt to clear future hurdles.
When praised, reply, “Thank you. I appreciate that.” It’s surprising how uplifting saying those five words feels.
Fascinatingly, Kay and Shipman conclude by dispelling common myths. One to avoid is “fake it till you make it”. The very notion of straying far from our real selves is at odds with their central premise.
Confidence isn’t about pretending or putting on an act; knowingly masquerading as something we’re not increases anxiety. Likewise, the workplace “gold standards” of bravado, driving to win at any cost, too-quick decisions and high-decibel communications don’t define confidence. Expressing some vulnerability can actually prove a benefit.
In the end, true confidence springs from taking action via an optimal blend between so-called male and female qualities. We need not jettison the natural advantages men and women each possess but instead celebrate our individual uniqueness.
Authenticity is the linchpin. When we interact with the world from our core, we’re at our most powerful.
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling more confident already!