Are you confident?
Merriam-Webster defines confidence as follows: a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or reliance on one’s circumstances; faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way. When researching her book, The Confidence Code, Claire Shipman first needed to establish what confidence isn’t. It’s not a “passive self-evaluation, aka self-esteem,” according to Shipman. “Confidence, she found, is defined by trust in the aptitudes and abilities required to act.”
What is confidence and how do you gain it?
It’s not feeling good about yourself. That would be self-esteem. It’s what makes you act on your thoughts. So, how do you gain confidence? Many experts say anywhere from 20 to 50% is genetics, with the rest coming from life experience. This means that we can, to some degree, be born with a natural aptitude toward confidence as the genes that affect confidence are the same ones that affect dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin in our brains, our natural feel-good drugs.
Life experience exposes us to adversity, which in turn helps build determination and resilience. Perseverance and resilience help us learn difficult things. Many call this mastery, while others call it grit. And the good thing is, “we can create the conditions for building confidence ourselves,” according to Shipman. Confidence is important. We need confidence to help us make the best decisions possible. Without confidence, we will miss numerous opportunities throughout life. One of the major hinders to gaining confidence is perfectionism.
Perfectionism is like an anchor around your neck
If confidence and growth are gained through taking risks, making mistakes and picking yourself up and trying again, perfectionism does just the opposite. It sets very narrow margins for success and tends to hold you in your comfort zone. And we all know that we must step out of our comfort zones to grow. Yes, it’s tough to do. That’s why they’re called comfort zones. Claire Shipman offers an exciting example involving boys and girls.
Girls, boys and perfectionism
Shipman observed that girls tend to learn perfectionism in elementary school, where making good grades usually involves following clearly defined steps. Girls learn quickly that pleasing their teachers and parents will yield rewards. Shipman says young girls are “encouraged to color within the lines and please everybody. Boys follow a different path of learning. They learn that they can make mistakes and the world doesn’t go under. Young boys learn to take risks, fail, try again and not please everybody.” That doesn’t seem fair, does it? As adults, this may explain the difference in the way men and women have traditionally approached taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zones. Building confidence involves acting, taking risks and overcoming the fear of failure. So, how do we fight perfectionism?
Getting rid of the anchor
You must learn to take risks and do things imperfectly,” says Shipman. Learn to say, “this is good enough.” Divide your tasks into two groups: one where tasks don’t need to be flawless and aren’t time-critical – just good enough. This group should contain most of your tasks. The second group consists of tasks that need to be performed very well. There should only be a few tasks in this group.
When in doubt, act
It’s great to be prepared, but it’s far too easy to get bogged down in research and editing and any number of other things. According to Shipman, this is often the case with women, who are generally more socially aware and detail-oriented than men. To solve this problem, prepare less and act more! Women tend to worry, overthink or ask for advice before they act. Instead of giving yourself reasons why you shouldn’t act yet, give yourself reasons to act. Acting will build your confidence for the next task you tackle.
Fail fast forward
In today’s fast-moving world, it’s nearly impossible to get everything done perfectly. It’s not fun to fail, but failing is a critical aspect of success. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying and growing. Stop worrying about failing and learn to see it as a learning experience. Start off by taking small risks in areas where you are the most afraid. Practice, practice and practice some more. Fall down, get up and repeat! This is how you gain confidence.