The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
– Bertrand Russell.
Two US sociologists, Jessica Collett and Jade Avelis, wanted to know why so many female academics opted for “downshifting”: setting out towards a high-status tenured post, then switching to something less ambitious. Contrary to popular belief, their survey of 460 doctoral students revealed that it wasn’t to do with wanting a “family-friendly” lifestyle. Instead, self deception was to blame — the idea that they were frauds, and didn’t belong in that high powered world. Apparently this phenomenon is much more widespread than surveys suggest which would make sense since, if one believes one is an imposter, one would want to keep that a secret.
While women are much more prone to it than men, men are certainly not excluded. A recent panicked call from my son’s friend after his first week of a prestigious college shed light on how talented intelligent people can be susceptible. “I just feel I don’t belong here,” he said. When I questioned him more about it he confessed, “Everyone here is amazing. I won’t measure up; I just know it. I’m a fake and I must have gotten here by mistake.”
Yet a ‘confidence gap’ definitely exists between men and women. Here’s the crazy thing, the higher women climb up the professional ladder, the more self-doubt they experience. According to journalists Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, authors of The Confidence Code, this gap in confidence plays a huge role in the professional glass ceiling women experience today. And it is real. Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Yet their performances do not differ in quality. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology.
A growing body of evidence shows just how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. This is true for men and women. People mistakenly believe that competence creates confidence. However, the reverse is just as true: the more confident you are, the more competent you become. The good news is that confidence can be unconditionally gained, and easily.
But let’s deal with a couple of red herrings first, shall we?
First, people think that you have to ‘build confidence’. This implies that you do something, succeed at it, this proves you are good at it, which in turn gives you the ‘right’ to feel confident. But if you are a life long learner, and always pushing your edges, you’re often going to experience way more failures than successes. So this little myth creates a negative Sisyphus-like feedback loop, where you’ll never ‘feel’ confident. When I say confidence can be unconditionally gained, I mean that it can be created without the condition of having competence first. So stay tuned below…
And the second red herring is the way confidence lurks so scarily close to qualities like cockiness, pride, recklessness, presumptuousness, impudence, pushiness, and arrogance. These are what the Buddhists call ‘near enemies’ (for a better description of near enemies see my previous blog post). Women, and men in tune with their sensitivity, are wary to cross that line between confidence and superiority. But they hesitate at their peril. Remember that only accountable people worry about those things. Arrogant people do not.
So now that we have those two smelly fish out of the way, let’s talk about how to really, truly, easily rewire your body for confidence, right now. And the answer is deceptively easy and simple: body language. In a nutshell, how you posture your body, not only impacts how others perceive you, but also rewires your own brain towards not only feeling confident, but doing confident and therefore competent things.
I first stumbled into this awareness when I began working with people and horses years ago. I noticed that the horses responded to clarity and confidence reflected in a person’s body language (since horse’s don’t know English, body language was the only way in). I also noticed that people themselves changed because of their body language. They indeed became more confident, and became more successful in any given task with the horse. Their success wasn’t because they learned a skill and did it well, it was because they changed their body language first. But then I noticed something really amazing. Over time they became not only more confident and skilled with the horses, but in their life. Hence the birth of the EQUUS Experience as an astonishingly effective life-mentoring approach.
Body language is the singularly most influential aspect of all communication — verbal and non-verbal. According to studies, words, tone of voice and body language account differently when it comes to how it affects others. Words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38% and body language accounts for a gargantuan 55% of the influence on others. And yet startlingly we have very little awareness of our body, and our posture. But lucky for you, you’re reading this blog and so that is going to change.
The lovely Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and Associate Professor at Harvard Business School did a really wonderful, and touching, TED Talk revealing her research into body language and the transformative practice of embodying what she calls ‘power poses’. According to her research, when participants held any particular power pose — ie, chest up, chin slightly elevated, feet slightly apart and hands on hips — for just two minutes, their brains reflected the hormonal levels indicative of confidence. Similarly, when they held collapsed poses for the same length of time, the brains reflected stress, anxiety and a diminished state. Literally, how you position your body, shapes who you are!
So she coaches people to adopt the practice of standing in a two-minute power pose before entering into any situation that is going to require strength, clarity and confidence. Her favorite is the ‘Wonder Woman’ stance. As she triumphantly says, ‘Don’t fake it until you make it, fake it until you become it!’
Are you a fake? I certainly hope so. I hope you fake it ever day. Fake it and fake it until you become it. So here’s what you are going to do: each time you are about to enter into any kind of situation that requires the best of yourself to show up, you are going to grab your smart phone, set the timer to two minutes and strike the pose. Do Wonder Woman, do Superman, do Chariots of Fire across-the-finish-line and play the theme song if you have to.
Confidence is yours right now and is your unconditional birthright. It lives latent inside your body as a gift waiting to be opened, and waiting to change your life into the adventure you know it can be.