Confidence, ultimately, is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine from those who do.
The Confidence Code, by well-known journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, investigates the neuroscience of confidence and how it affects our lives. The scientific discussions and examples in the book are written in an easily accessible and engaging style. In the last chapters of the book, the authors provide actionable suggestions for improving confidence, and make the compelling case that a more confident life is within our reach.
I noticed this book quite by accident as I was wandering through my local Barnes & Noble. It was actually the subtitle that caught my attention: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Every Woman Should Know. Any book that claims both science and art automatically gets a second-look from me. Confidence is a topic that interests me because I have often found it an elusive feeling in many aspects of my life. Despite knowing that I have worked hard and have undoubtedly enjoyed a lot of success, I still experience those whispery thoughts of inadequacy. The dreaded imposter syndrome snags another victim!
There are some book reviews that rate and rank the content. I’m a believer that I can always learn something from any situation and that when people have taken the time to share their knowledge, perspectives, and advice with me, it’s something to appreciate. So, in my reviews, I will be providing the three best lessons that I have learned rather than a qualitative metric. For The Confidence Code, my top three lessons are:
Most women believe that if we work hard and play by the rules, we will be rewarded.
This belief is a clear case of my wanting something to be true, despite my own experience proving that it isn’t. I have worked hard for many years, assuming that people will notice. And they do. A little bit. I’m here to tell you that confidence is at least as important to your success as competence is. In fact, the book sites some studies that show that confidence is actually a MORE important predictor of success than competence. Are you shocked and dismayed by that? What about after you really think about it? Don’t you know people who have gotten where they are by riding high on a flimsy combination of bluster and self-promotion? Of course, you do. We work with them every day.
Luckily, we don’t have to take the coarse road to confidence. The lesson here is simply to take credit for your work. Why are so many of us so good at accepting blame and so reluctant to take credit? Here’s the trick: taking credit is much easier if you’re acknowledging the group effort rather than focusing on your own. You don’t have to be arrogant and say “Yes, I was amazing.” Most of us would feel uncomfortable and inauthentic taking that approach. But since we are often much more eager to praise others than to accept praise for ourselves, you could try “Yes, we did an amazing job. The team worked really hard on this.” It’s confidence that convinces people to accept your ideas, follow your lead, and give you more responsibility. Competence alone won’t get you there.
Don’t apologize or equivocate before you speak.
So many women start with an apology before speaking. Don’t do it! Don’t give people a reason to dismiss what you’ve said before you have even said it. I confess that I used to do this all the time. As I’ve gotten older, I do it less, but I can still catch myself offering timid introductory statements that undermine the very points that I’m about to make. The cringiest thing I have said recently? “I hate to be a fly in the ointment, but…” Ugh. So much better to have just started off with “from my perspective…” or better yet, to just start talking.
Confidence grows through action.
I have been labeled a perfectionist at times throughout my career, and it’s always been something I have secretly been proud of. But, in truth, it isn’t really a good quality. Perfectionism is a “confidence-killer” according to our authors, and I can see why. It prevents us from taking action and sets us up for “analysis paralysis.” Waiting to do something until you think it will be perfect leads to a lifetime of missed opportunities. When I think back on my biggest regrets in life, all of them (ALL of them!) are chances that I wish I had taken and didn’t. Setting high standards? Yes. Expecting perfection? No.
After I have finished a book, I try to think about how I’m going to implement what I have learned. That was easy after reading The Confidence Code. I decided to take action, and that’s why you’re reading this blog today. If I hadn’t picked up the book, I would still be ruminating and thinking and spinning scenarios in my mind instead of just getting on with it. That’s the biggest lesson from this book. Stop thinking so much and start doing.
If you are interested in understanding the scientific origins of confidence and how you can apply that knowledge to live a more confident life, I recommend this book to you.
Read some of my other book reviews here.