Before our son was born, my husband and I talked about what traits we hoped he would have. We wanted him to be honest and kind, to have integrity, to be smart, to be curious, and to be confident. As someone who has struggled with confidence, I felt this was one of the greatest gifts the universe could impart on our child. The truth is, however, that confidence is not a gift. It’s more like a muscle. And like any muscle, it can be strengthened over time.
Research shows that my son is more likely to use this muscle than my (future?) daughter. There is a confidence gap that exists between men and women, with women reporting feeling more insecure than men about their value and abilities. This is true across all geographies and cultures.
There are many reasons for this gap. For example, women who compare themselves to men often feel like underachievers because men tend to have higher-status positions and earn more money. Girls are also socialized differently than boys. We tend to teach our girls to be soft and nice and collaborative, while we teach our boys to be brave and bold and take risks. Women are also consistently held to different standards, punished for acting in ways that are inconsistent with these standards, and subject to sexual harassment at alarming rates. Is it any wonder we don’t have confidence in spades?
So, how do we teach ourselves to be more confident? Below are some steps we can take help build up our confidence muscles.
- Believe you can build confidence. If you don’t believe you are capable of becoming more confident, then you probably won’t. When you approach things with a “growth mindset” where you truly believe that your abilities can be developed by putting in the time and effort (as opposed to a “fixed mindset” where you believe that you cannot change your basic personality traits) you are more likely to see positive results and changes.
- Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. There is no substitute for hard work and preparation. When I was working as an attorney, I would get the WORST nerves before stepping into the courtroom to argue a motion or question a witness. But, one thing that always made me feel better was knowing that I had studied the case file inside and out, that I knew all of the important facts and relevant law like the back of my hand, and that I had practiced my arguments out loud so many times that I could recite them by heart. Being prepared is a great way to ease the anxiety that erodes our confidence.
- Monitor your inner dialogue. How often are you telling yourself that you don’t know what you’re doing? Do you often compare yourself to others and count the ways you fall short? Do you regularly remind yourself of all the ways in which you failed in any given day? If so, it’s no wonder you’re not feeling your most confident. So much of life is about perspective, and the way you talk to yourself matters. While everyone falls victim to self-doubt every now and again, it’s important to maintain a positive dialogue with yourself if you want to develop confidence. Remind yourself of all of your positive qualities (make a list if you must), tell yourself you’re capable, and if you fail, show yourself compassion and use it as a learning tool instead of evidence of your inadequacy. Positive thinking alone won’t result in confidence, but you definitely won’t be confident without it.
- Do the thing you don’t want to do. Stepping outside of our comfort zones is rarely fun, but it’s always rewarding. It’s also a great way to develop confidence. After all, you won’t know the limits to your potential if you never test them. I also find that things are often scarier in theory than they are in practice. If you’re scared of speaking in public, ask to lead the next team meeting or assign yourself a speaking role at your next conference. When you realize that the world doesn’t come crashing down around you, even when things don’t go perfectly well, you’re likely to feel more confident the next time you’re asked to do the thing that scares you.
- Get some sleep. This might seem unrelated, but it’s amazing what a good night’s rest can do for your confidence levels. When you’re sleep deprived, you are less able to deal with everyday stressors, making even the simplest of tasks seem overwhelming. Not surprisingly, you won’t be feeling your most confident if you’re feeling frazzled and ineffective. Getting into a regular sleep routine will help boost your self- confidence, in addition to offering a whole host of health benefits.