I recently received an e-mail from Barry Crane of Yahoo with a link to an article written by a pretty ticked off woman who is sick and tired of being told that women have less confidence than men. She even quoted some social researcher claims that there is no hard evidence that women have low self-confidence as compared to men. It is perhaps a little murky. Yet when you combine the studies of social research, leadership research, and gender differences revealed by brain science a pretty clear picture comes into view as to why women are likely to appear less confident than men.
Harvard researchers John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut have a compelling evidence-based argument that women are emotionally and mentally designed for empathy and seeking consensus. Women have also been socialized to avoid conflict with physically stronger males by acting less assertive. Those are not criticisms, only scientific observation. And there is nothing wrong with being less assertive except when it makes you less influential. Unfortunately most organizations are designed to favor highly assertive behavior as a path to power.
And there is nothing wrong with being less assertive except when it makes you less influential.
So let’s clear something up right now. My years of leadership consulting lead me to the conclusion that women are NOT less confident than men… not at all. In fact in many cases I find women’s inner confidence to be higher and more grounded in reality than men. However most women behave less confidently. I experience it this way. Men generally exhibit higher behavioral self-confidence. Yet, women more often possess something I call “soul-confidence.” I’ve come to this conclusion because when I fully excavate the inner story of most women I consult with I find a solid core of intrinsic self-worth.
It’s true. When I peel away all the self-doubt and calm the screaming inner voice of self-criticism what I find in women is an intrinsic knowing that they are valuable. What derails women is a chronic feeling of under appreciation. This is one reason women are more susceptible to depression than men. Feeling powerless and invisible will do that to you.
Men on the other hand feel much freer to push confidence into arrogance.
Men on the other hand feel much freer to push confidence into arrogance. Arrogance is the dysfunctional expression of a lack of inner confidence. When people are arrogant they are unreachable with facts, reason, values or empathy. That’s because arrogance is driven by the fear of losing control. And studies reveal that men’s brains are designed to feel most secure when they feel the most control. The result seems to explain why men are much more likely to define their worth through their status and achievements rather than through their values and character. As you can see from this continuum, confidence is the balance point between insecurity and arrogance. The truly confident person is still open-minded, persuadable, and interested in evidence and different points of view. An arrogant person is only interested in getting their way and solidifying their power.
The truly confident person is still open-minded, persuadable, and interested in evidence and different points of view.
Our challenge is this. If we are going to create a better world…a world with sustainable abundance we need far fewer arrogant leaders and far more intrinsically confident ones. Fortunately research tells us how people can contain their inner demons and release their genuine inner self worth so that we authentically act more confident. (This is necessary if want good people to take over the world.) Here are the three internal habits proven to do the most to translate out intrinsic worth into external self-confidence. They tap into the strength of your mind, body and spirit…of course they do.
Invest your flow of attention on your success story.
Mind: Invest your flow of attention on your success story. There’s plenty of evidence that most people experience similar levels of success and failure. Insecure people tend to focus on their failures, which create an inner story that you are not destined for success. This “negative attention” will eventually hijack your your true identity dragged down by a litany of beliefs that you are not capable enough, smart enough, educated enough, or lucky enough. If you allow the “victim identity” to take over your attention you will simply stop looking for opportunities and look for ways to escape your pain.
The solution to this problem is simple. I have helped many leaders who suffer from the “imposter syndrome” which is the belief that if other people discovered who you really were, people would neither respect nor follow you. To break the cycle of negative self-thinking I ask clients to do two things: First, every evening before bed right down three things you did that day that you did well and that you enjoyed. Then go to sleep with a smile on your face and let your subconscious mind marinate in your successes. Second, re-frame all of your life’s failures as essential learning experiences.
Although it may sound corny it is also true that failure is never final until you stop trying. I am not aware of a single success story of remarkable people whose life was not littered with big failures. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company. Abraham Lincoln failed at business and lost elections. Eleanor Roosevelt had a philandering husband the world adored while she was ridiculed for being uppity and unpretty.
If you’re still breathing you have not failed.
Winning your life’s journey takes guts and resilience. If you’re still breathing you have not failed. Capitalize on what you have learned and keep climbing.
Other people respond to your energy.
Body: In order to project and sustain confidence you must carefully build and manage your energy. Other people respond to your energy. We can actually measure the response through brain scans. People with low or negative energy tend to be avoided. People with high, positive energy tend to be sought out. We each have five kinds of energy–mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical. The boiler room of your energy is your body. The most confident, high-energy people have all the power of a deflated balloon when they are tired and hungry. You build your biological energy by getting at least seven hours of restful sleep. Eat light, healthy and often to keep your blood sugar level even.
You need to stand up, stretch and move for at least 3 minutes out of every 60. Walk 10,000 steps a day, Take a full hour break at lunch to rest your brain by doing something you enjoy. Affirm others whenever you have a positive thought about them. Promote and maintain relationships of mutual advocacy. (We all need people in our lives who root for us and whom we root for.) These simple habits will enable you to be happier, healthier and yes, more confident. Spirit: If you haven’t heard of loving kindness meditation, stop what you’re doing, go on the Internet and search the topic. (A good book to get started is Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.)
It is also called compassion meditation. I am teaching it in many of my business training sessions because it is proven to loosen the knots of our unconscious thinking traps so we can be more creative and collaborative. It is so simple and yet so powerful that all I can suggest is that you try it faithfully for three weeks and see if it begins to change your self-confidence at the root. First let me make a distinction.
The practice of self-compassion meditation is not the new age concept of positive affirmations. Two decades of psychological research on positive affirmations… you know the Stuart Smalley stuff…“I am smart enough, I am good enough and people like me”…actually works but only under one specific condition. You have to already believe the substance of your affirmation is true. In other words, positive affirmations work to amplify positive beliefs you already hold. But if I was to tell myself that I was tall, young and beautiful one look in the mirror would unleash my inner critic to simply yell, “you’re a liar!”
Compassion meditation is different. It has been practiced for thousands of years and builds soul-deep self-confidence by embracing the truth about you.
Compassion meditation is different. It has been practiced for thousands of years and builds soul-deep self-confidence by embracing the truth about you. It detaches the common thinking fallacy that we must be perfect to be valuable. The process begins by putting your self in a meditative state usually attained by sitting comfortably, both feet on the ground, back erect, hands relaxed with your attention focused on your deep rhythmic breathing.
Take 5 to 10 deep breath cycles and then, using one breath cycle for each statement, simply say “may I be wise today, may I be creative today, may I be collaborative today, may I be reliable today, may I be happy today.” Then repeat at least 3 times. That’s probably enough for one session. I usually try to pick 3 to 5 behaviors or feelings that I want to express and repeat them for about 5 to 10 minutes as I stay in meditation. Now I know you might be thinking this is ridiculous. How could this work at all? It’s way too simple. Well consider this, brain scans show that several weeks of consistent meditation begin to calm the parts of our brain that emotionally agitate us. These are the parts of the brain that go wild when we feel unsure, insecure or attacked. Our response is to either be quiet or be aggressive. These are two of the principal ways we dissipate our confidence and lose our power. This is especially true for women and soft power men. We project our confidence and increase our power when we are clear and calm.
We project our confidence and increase our power when we are clear and calm.
To make this a little more vivid let me quote from Sharon Salzberg’s book. She was in a hurry to leave one morning when she dropped a jar and it shattered all over the floor. In the past when something like that happened she would always unleash a barrage of inner criticism but after weeks of compassionate meditation something changed. She writes that her inner your voice cried out “you are really a klutz, but I love you.” It’s so simple. We retain our confidence in the face of mistakes and failures by staying in mindful contact with our souls, our capacities, our values and positive intentions. We are not our behaviors, we are not our pasts, we are not our inadequacies. Rather we are in a constant act of self-creation. As long as we put full attention on that truth our confidence will clear our path forward.
We retain our confidence in the face of mistakes and failures by staying in mindful contact with our souls, our capacities, our values and positive intentions.
So try it. Try these three strategies: Focus your attention on your successes and reframe your setbacks as learning. Increase your physical energy by investing in your health and vitality. Practice compassionate meditation to become so calm and so clear that the arrogance of others is no longer a threat and your true confidence blazes your path forward.