If you’ve ever wondered why someone with similar skills seems to get ahead faster, it may be due to their level of confidence rather than competence, according to a recent article, “The Confidence Gap,” in The Atlantic Monthly.
No matter how comfortable we are in our skin, we all find ourselves in situations where we need a dose of confidence. Whether speaking your truth, delivering a presentation, requesting a promotion, or undertaking some other fear-inducing endeavor, confidence is the catalyst propelling us forward.
Yet studies show that women’s lack of confidence consistently holds them back. One example: For years, college professor Marilyn Davidson has found “massive differences between male and female responses” when she asks her students what they deserve to earn after graduation. The females report 20 percent less than the males report. Even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has admitted there are times she feels like a “fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”
Another confidence killer: Women tend to blame themselves when things go wrong and credit circumstances or outside influences when they have success. Men are more likely to do the opposite. For example, in a particularly difficult math course at Cornell, male students look at their lower grade and acknowledge that the class is challenging. Female students tend to react with the mindset that they aren’t capable of doing the work.
This mindset causes us to doubt, rather than do. Yet, the truth is when we do jump in with both feet, the research supports we’re equally as successful as the guys who don’t let their doubts hold them back. In fact, they overestimate their abilities and performances as compared to women. One researcher, who dubs this male tendency “honest overconfidence,” notes that the guys aren’t trying to be deceptive. They simply believe in their abilities.
So how do we create confidence in those situations when doubt threatens to torpedo our progress?
1. Face it ’til you make it. As someone who believes in being genuine, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the old adage to “fake it ’til you make it.” Research shows that when we’re pretending, not only are we more anxious, but others can spot our masquerade through body language, voice intonation and other giveaways. Instead, face your fear and move forward anyway. Take one small, brave act and let it nurture your confidence.
2. Script a success list. Rather than mentally check off all the reasons why you’re not capable, sit down and write a new script. Write at least 10 responses to the following question, “I know I will be successful because…” Reread numerous times and make it happen.
3. DO, don’t OVERdo. Concerned about an upcoming presentation? Prepare. Out loud. More than once. Have research and facts to solidify your position and give you a firm foundation. But realize that if you wait until everything is perfect, or until you’re perfect, you’ll stay rooted in one spot. Perfectionism kills confidence, and it’s mainly a female issue.
4. Strike a pose. Yes, our body language influences how confident we feel. So stand (or sit) up straight, shoulders back and down, spine long. Breathe deeply and slowly. Remember, research has proven the power of the Wonder Woman pose (standing with feet wide, hands on hips). Try that for two minutes next time you need a quick burst of confidence while repeating, “I am excited,” which has also been shown to increase confidence.
5. Take bold action. Low confidence equals inaction. Research psychologist Zachary Estes illustrated this when he gave 500 students tests that required reorganizing 3D images on the computer. The women scored lower than the men, seeming to confirm the stereotype that men are better with spatial puzzles. But then Estes discovered the women had done poorly because they didn’t even bother answering a lot of the questions. He repeated the experiment, telling the students they had to at least try to solve each puzzle. Guess what? The women then did just as well as the men. Many of us spend too much time ruminating over something instead of boldly taking action. Psychologists believe that risk-taking, failure and perseverance are key to building confidence. So count to three and go! You’ll be fine, and that’s the truth.