When I was at Uni, studying English literature, the only ones to graduate with a First were the only two males in our year group.
I never thought it was.
While the personalities of the two guys on our course were completely different from each other: one introverted and quiet, the other extroverted and into performing arts, I noticed at the time an attribute they both shared – and which the rest of us didn’t display, and that was: ‘naming things as so’. We women on the other hand, would ‘bring things up for discussion’ (or not at all). Where these two chaps, in their own distinct voices, would assert (a hypothesis or view), us women would ask, discuss, propose or ‘tip toe’ around things.
Why should one approach lead to top marks and success, and the other not so?
Well, it’s because confidence is a huge contributor to outcome. Confidence is not just a concept or personality trait, it’s an actual energy with the power to affect how things work out.
Maybe you knew that already.
Maybe I did too.
But lately, after reading a couple of books on the subject, I realise not only how much confidence is a factor in how things turn out, but how ‘being confident’ impacts the wiring of your brain, outlook and even your health.
Fast forward from those college years’, 25 years’ later, to sitting on my couch this weekend and hearing an interview with neuroscientist and psychologist Professor Ian Robertson. They are discussing the topic of confidence and the interviewer asks the professor, “is there a difference between men and women when it comes to confidence?”
Professor Robertson (author of a new book called ‘How Confidence Works’, as well as a previous best seller ‘The Stress Test’), emphatically replied: “The level of confidence in men has been clearly proven to be on average a lot higher than it is in women. Men make claims, women make suggestions or doubt their convictions more than men. If you couple this with research and data that shows a robust correlation between confidence and outcome, then you can see how and why when you just look at the world around you who is in positions of power’.
If I trace my life through jobs and work environments I’ve been in ever since those college days, I can see a through line showing those colleagues who ‘assert’ are more likely to get senior roles or have more influence or earn more, compared to those who ‘don’t assert’.
You know what? This seems unjust and unfair to me!
I’ve always valued and looked to those who see things in 360 and don’t assert things. To me the wiser and compassionate person is the one who doesn’t believe they ‘know’ and has the ability to listen.
So this idea of cultivating confidence and acting in a certain way to effect what you want doesn’t ostensibly sit well with me. And, I’m also not interested in having power or influence, are you?
The science and psychology showing the effect of confidence on our wellbeing does interest me. Which is why I thought I’d write about it in this blog.
The benefits of cultivating confidence to personal wellbeing, outside of being more successful (and of course there’s nothing wrong in being more successful! It’s just that us yogis don’t look at life like that..), are:
Because not feeling confident makes us slump, and our breath shallow.
By the same token, if you un-slump and breathe deeper, this helps cultivate confidence (facts!).
–More positive view of the world:
With all the aggro, negativity, problems and challenges around us, let alone in our own individual worlds, it’s easy and understandable to unconsciously develop a negative world view – but us humans can’t thrive or find fulfilment if we he hold a negative world view.
Feeling and developing confidence helps to counter the innate negativity bias we hold our brains and nervous systems, and this leads to us believing in the good we and others are capable of. The effect of that is that we are more motivated, connected to others, and more likely to feel fulfilled.
–Ideas are more likely to happen –and even if they don’t, you learn and grow
You have to have some confidence in order to try new things, develop your own voice, and believe your life, actions and thoughts matter.
Without confidence we get stuck and our mind narrows. Without confidence we won’t try or grow.
Yes, too much confidence leads to the opposite (over-fixed mindset). But ‘some’ confidence is needed to open our mindset in the first place and experience life more fully.
What if you are reading this and you’re thinking, oh blimey, I’m not feeling confident in my life at the moment, or, I’m not a confident person, well that’s ok. There can be a whole host of legitimate reasons for that, from a current challenging situation through to how we were raised as kids, our environment, and the experiences we’ve had in our lives.
The GOOD NEWS is, is that each of us CAN cultivate confidence, starting from today.
Here are key tips on how we can do this:
–Build confidence through small steps; by doing small things that don’t stress you out, but are small challenges and wins in the day. Set small goals – not too many – and see how you get on.
–Abandon a fixed mindset by being open to other views, ways and ideas and see this as growth and living creatively.
–Believe you can affect your motivation by remembering confidence affects even the chemistry of your brain and breathing; learn and practice simple breathing exercises
-In the really tough times, just try to get through it: just ‘getting through’ a tough time gives you the confidence and memory of having got through it, and you take this into the next time a challenging situation arises. “I got through the last one, I can get through this one.”
-Socio economic status DOES affect confidence: wealthier people have a lot more confidence than people less well off or poor. And education has a lot to do with confidence too.
BUT, to get over this divide, you need to let go of comparison, and not let others’ set the agenda for how you want to live; you need to listen to your own voice and remind yourself every day of your good points and qualities – these things transcend money and education.
-Gender, as discussed right at the start, DOES affect confidence; so women need to be aware of this, and that if they don’t feel confidence in themselves this can actually lead to a self fulfilling ‘I am lesser’ prophecy. Professor Robertson’s advice to women is “to have goals that you set for yourself, and work on them – this will develop an innate capacity not dependent on others, and which in turns leads to confidence.”
–Anxiety is an energy that cripples confidence: find tools to manage anxiety and that will in turn help build confidence
–Yoga has been shown to improve breathing and regulate the nervous system: these two physiological effects are necessary to have faith in yourself and to follow through on goals.
Finally, no one likes over confident people. And we’ve all seen (in politics, our families, at school, at work and even in our friendship groups) people with too much confidence having a crushing effect on those who don’t, and at worse how this can cause trouble, havoc or even change culture. To ensure we don’t become over confident, we just need to: regularly remind ourselves of our principles and values, and check into our foundation of essential good from which goals, desires and yes, confidence can pour forth from.
Yoga philosophy has a great line to keep us thriving and believing in ourselves, without harming others or becoming over-bearing: put the effort and focus into your goals, it’s your birth right to live and do so, and let go of the outcome once you do – don’t define yourself by your achievements, but by the heart and mind that went into the endeavour.
-link to Professor Ian Robertson’s work