Have you ever received a compliment that you have found difficult to accept? Maybe someone has praised your creativity, your accomplishments, your kindness or your perseverance. Was is it hard to fully embrace and believe in your brilliance?
I was struck by an article “The Confidence Gap” in which authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay shared that in interviewing some of the most influential women in the nation, they were surprised to discover that even they suffered from self-doubt.
They found examples everywhere. Tech entrepreneur Clara Shih (32), one of the few female CEO’s in Silicon Valley and member of the Starbucks Board of Directors, described how when she was an undergraduate at Stanford she at times “felt like an imposter” even though she went on to graduate with the highest GPA of any computer-science major in her class. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and author of Lean In, shared that feeling, saying that there are days she wakes up feeling like a fraud, not sure she should be where she is.
As the authors studied the phenomenon, they found more and more evidence that there is a big confidence gap between men and women.
What brings down the confidence of women?
One factor is that many women have a tendency to assume the blame when things go wrong, while crediting circumstance—or other people—when they succeed. Men tend to do the opposite.
Not wanting to take risks is another problem. A review at HP found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job, while men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. Study after study shows that women feel confident when they are practically perfect, while many men charge ahead and take the risk.
Why are we so averse to taking risks?
Studies have found that women tend to activate their amygdalae more easily in response to negative emotional stimuli than men do—making women more likely than men to form strong emotional memories of negative events. As a result, women are more apt to ruminate over what’s gone wrong in the past compared to men.
Also, girls seem to get a lot of praise for being perfect, so they begin to seek out approval more by being good.
In the meantime, boys teach each other a different lesson. From the time when they are little, they roughhouse more, tease one another, point out one another’s limitations, and call one another morons and slobs. In the process, these remarks lose their power. Boys make each other more resilient and are able to let other people’s remarks slide off their backs more.
Girls seem to be conditioned to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. Yet many psychologists believe that risk taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence-building.
It’s a vicious cycle – girls lose confidence, so they quit competing, and thereby lose out on the best way to regain it.
I found the definition of “confidence” in this article very interesting. According to the authors, confidence is not just feeling good about yourself. Confidence is having the belief that I am able to succeed, and then moving into action as a result. Of course, courage and persistence may be needed as well, but having confidence is key. When I take action, I in turn strengthen my belief that I am able to succeed. And so confidence begins to accumulate—through hard work, success, and even failure.
When we have low confidence, the result is inaction. When women don’t act, when we hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. But when we do act, even if it’s because we’re forced to, studies have shown that we perform just as well as men do.
So the key finding is that to become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act. I would add that we need to have a system in place that allows us to deal with mistakes and failures that will inevitably happen: Engaging in positive self-talk and acknowledging yourself daily, practicing self-compassion and surrounding yourself with positive support.
Once we have a practice in place that allows us to take action again and again and keep on going when mistakes and failures arise, we can continually build our confidence.
Manuela loves helping smart and creative women bring more balance, happiness and success into their lives through Professional Coaching!