Growing up, my mother told the story about Dumbo and the feather. Dumbo only thought he could fly when he was holding the feather. The feather gave him confidence, but the truth is that Dumbo could fly all by himself. Like Dumbo, we each have the ability to achieve greatness. Sometimes it simply requires reframing the messages we tell ourselves to recognize the power we had all along.
If you look for affirmation and praise from others, or assume that if you can do something it must be easy, you are not alone. 70% of people have low self-confidence. If you believe you are not as talented as other people think you are, and are afraid of being discovered as a fraud, you may have impostor syndrome. These feelings often occur in highly educated and talented individuals, and can hold them back from reaching their true potential. Feeling like an imposter can make someone undervalue their accomplishments, and prevent them from speaking up. Like Dumbo, they just lack self-confidence. So what are some solutions?
- Look at the facts, and take credit for your accomplishments. Write them down and own them!
- Emulate the behavior of people you feel are accomplished. They don’t blame themselves for their shortcomings; they know they cannot be brilliant at everything. Rather than thinking: ‘I could have done better’ confident people say: ‘the exam was difficult’.
- You don’t need to be perfect, in fact making mistakes is an important step in learning. Without failure there would be no progress.
Daniel Boone once said “I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” The key is in interpretation, to see your successes with pride.
So…how do you see yourself? The Dunning-Kruger effect shows that people tend to over estimate their abilities. Gender plays a role, with men more apt to rate their abilities 30% higher than they are [while women are more likely to undervalue themselves]. This type of over estimation is called honest overconfidence because the responder genuinely believes in their inflated abilities, and this makes them extremely self-confident. Even though they might not be the smartest or most capable person, they act as though they are, and others respond accordingly.
Part of the gender difference is that women tend to rely on feedback from others to determine self-worth, and think: ‘They like my answer so I must be smart’. In comparison, men do not rely on feedback from others and have a higher level of self-esteem and think: ‘I am smart’. Behavioral studies found that because women often dwell on the past, and rely on external validation they are more likely to feel the need to be perfect. The desire to be perfect creates anxiety, inhibits risk taking, and prevents women from learning by making mistakes. This gender difference may be caused by society, which supports boy’s roughhouse behaviors, including name-calling and sports losses. These behaviors build internal resilience and confidence. These differences may cause women to have more difficulty shrugging off failure and negative comments. Women need to care less about what others think and rely on their internal barometer.
Confidence is as important as competence, because it turns thoughts into action. Studies have shown that when students affirmed their own values their self-worth and performance improved. Follow these 3 steps to replace the negative self-talk with positive reinforcement and your confidence will improve.
1. Frame your internal messaging as a positive
I’ve learned not to ask what’s the worst thing that can happen, because then I focus on all the bad outcomes. Instead I need to think about the best things that could happen. This gets me excited, and I begin dreaming.
2. Take stock of yourself, understand your strengths, recognize your areas of weakness, and never apologize for being less than perfect
Mistakes provide the ability to learn and grow, so embrace and share them. Emulate the behavior of the honest overconfident, and do it with pride. Think… I am good!
3. Refocus nervous energy into excitement
Instead of being anxious and trying to calm down, use this adrenaline and say I am excited! This is an easy redirection, since our minds react similarly to fear and excitement. Being excited results in 17% better performance and more confidence. And it can be exhilarating.
The secret is to understand that to act with confidence, you don’t have to feel confident. Nobody except you is aware of your trepidation. Simply manage your thoughts and value your accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to take risk or fail, it can provide a valuable learning experience. It has taken me a lifetime to recognize the value of having self-confidence and letting my passion shine.
Be bold! You never know what you are capable of unless you try.