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Guest opinion: Growing in confidence (part two)


By Brittany Heard | Lead adviser, Foster Group

Over the last few years, I have been on a journey to grow in confidence.

A few months ago, I wrote an article called “Growing in Confidence.” If you have not had a chance to read it, click here. After writing this first article, I read a fantastic book called “The Confidence Code,” which is mostly about why women typically struggle with confidence more often than men.

This topic fascinates me because of the nature versus nurture aspect of confidence. While the ideas of my last article were mostly my own, I owe the ideas and facts in this article to “The Confidence Code” authors, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

Let me start with some data about men. On average, men rate their performance to be 30% better than it is. The authors call this honest overconfidence. Men truly believe they are better than they are and often portray authentic confidence to others.

Sometimes, I wish I had that much confidence. Yet, not everything about overconfidence is good. Overconfidence often leads to risky moves in investments and a belief that one can outthink and outperform the market. Some of this is biological. Elevated levels of testosterone lead to increased risk-taking.

On the other hand, elevated levels of estrogen can cause women to act with too much caution. Women typically overthink things and want perfection. This leads to a lack of confidence; they will not act until they think they have found the perfect solution. As I read this, I noticed these issues in myself. I tend to overthink things, focus on pleasing people, and want perfection.

So how can we women gain confidence in the face of these genetic odds?

An admission: In my last article, I was wrong in saying we should pretend to be confident. Kay and Shipman make it clear that you cannot fake confidence. People can see right through you and know when you are not being authentic.

However, I was right about practice. Confidence grows with mastery of learning something new. Confidence is linked to action. Therefore, we need to do more and think less. Fear and lack of confidence often cause us to pause and not act. If we leave our comfort zone and act even if we do not feel confident, we may fail, but learning to fail and get up again, over time, teaches us confidence. Successful people believe they can improve and learn, so they get up and try again. I will, therefore, continue practicing public speaking at Toastmasters, even though there are many other things I would rather be doing!

While it is not possible to fake confidence, you can make a choice to be confident. We can change our thought processes through cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation and prayer.

Women often have negative automatic thoughts and not enough self-compassion. For example, if I give a speech at Toastmasters and speak too quickly, stumble over my words, and use too many “ums,” I start thinking only about the negative aspects of my speech. If, on the other hand, I was talking with a friend who was upset about giving a poor speech, I would point out, “You did a good job writing the content, looking people in the eyes, and speaking clearly.”

When we are talking with ourselves, we need to give ourselves more grace and self-compassion, like the compassion we share with a friend in the same situation. If I can reframe my thoughts of my own performance to focus on the positives, I will be more comfortable trying again, instead of giving up. It is important to remember that it is OK to be average. We cannot achieve perfection or mastery in every aspect of life.

Where do I go from here? When I feel uncertain about something, I plan to act instead of hesitating. Something I want to work on is to make decisions more quickly. I also want to praise progress in myself and others. It is important to focus on trying again and learning from mistakes, instead of trying to achieve perfection. Women do not need to be more like men, we simply need to learn to believe in ourselves.

Brittany Heard works with Foster Group clients to help them define and pursue their financial goals. She enjoys helping clients make small changes that are intended to benefit them long-term. Please see important disclosure information.

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