When my son was 4, he wore a superhero cape. All of the time. I vividly remember a trip to Home Depot when he had dressed himself in shorts and a shirt, cowboy boots, swim goggles, gardening gloves, and the cape. Even though he attracted plenty of stares, he walked through the store very sure of himself and his wardrobe choice.
Many of us outgrow our childhood ideals, but why is it we also often leave behind the sense of confidence that accompanied them?
Self-doubt is common—especially in women—and for many the feeling remains constant. A survey of British managers done by the Institute of Leadership and Management in the United Kingdom found that 50% of female respondents and 31% of male respondents don’t feel confident about their job performance and careers.
“We’re all born with the capacity to be our best selves—to be who we really are,” saysJen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. “Then we hear the messages that exist in our fear-based society, and we get beaten down. Being confident means peeling away the doubt, fear, and worry, and getting back to our core. Confident people have learned how to get back to their pure selves.”
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, coauthors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, say confidence isn’t just an attitude: “We spent a long time trying to define confidence because we felt that it would be easier to grow it if we really knew what is was,” they write in their book. “In the end we came to this conclusion: Confidence is life’s enabler—it is the quality that turns thoughts into action.”
Nothing builds confidence like taking action, especially when the action involves risk and failure, say Kay and Shipman. Confident people start small and continue to take action until they become more comfortable with the risk.
“Nerves are normal—everyone has them,” write Kay and Shipman. “The difference between a confident person and an unconfident person is simply that the confident person acts on their ambitions and desires and doesn’t let fear of failure stop them.”
Confident people are not immune to failure; instead of letting it stop them, they view it as an information-gathering session.
“It’s a notch in their belt and proof that they’ve started moving in the direction they want to go,” says Sincero. “Confident people thank the experience for the lesson, and then they course-correct.”
It’s not the strongest species that survives, say Kay and Shipman, it’s the one that’s most adaptable.
Sincero says confident people don’t speak badly about themselves. Instead, they question their self-doubts.
“Instead of believing something is 100% true—such as feeling like a loser—they realize that they bought into something that’s not certain and they attach feelings to new belief,” she says.
Kay and Shipman call that getting rid of NATS (negative automatic thoughts): “Women are particularly prone to NATS. We think we make one tiny mistake and we dwell on it for hours and hours … and it kills our confidence,” they write.
To get rid of NATS, the coauthors suggest reminding yourself of three good things you did for every negative thought you have. Eventually this technique will help you eliminate the tendency to think badly about yourself.
Instead of feeling like a victim of their circumstances, confident people take ownership of their situation and do something about it, says Sincero.
“They don’t blame their parents or others, they take responsibility and change the things that are getting in the way of their goals,” she says.
Sincero says confident people read books, take classes, practice meditation, and find coaches and mentors who have done the things they want to do.
“If you’re confident then you don’t feel weird about showing your vulnerability and opening yourself up to learning from somebody else,” she says. “Insecure people stay where they are because they’re afraid of admitting their weaknesses.”
Sitting up straight gives you a short-term confidence boost, say Kay and Shipman. The coauthors suggest keeping your abs in and chin up, which they call “astonishingly simple yet woefully infrequent.”
Also try nodding your head: “You feel more confident as you talk when you do it—and you’re sending a subconscious signal that makes others agree with you,” they write.