Although the confidence gap primarily applies to women, those who feel marginalized in any way experience it, too. Say, for example, you’re the youngest or oldest person at your office, an introvert or the only minority. You might feel insecure and begin second-guessing your every action. Follow these tips to boost your confidence so it falls in line with your competence:
1. Make the choice.
It’s likely that you’re more than qualified for the job you have. Instead of improving your skills, focus on increasing your confidence. A significant part of confidence is what psychologists call volitional: our choice. “With diligent effort, we can all choose to expand our confidence,” Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write in The Confidence Code. “But we will get there only if we stop trying to be perfect and start being prepared to fail.” Even if you’re terrified of asking your boss for a raise or your yoga instructor to dinner, ignore your second-guessing and negative thoughts and go for it. Over time, coping with failure will get easier, and the successes will help grow your confidence.
2. Avoid the perfectionism trap.
Failure and risk-taking are key components of confidence building. Cara Maksimow, a clinical social worker, says women can start overcoming their perfectionist tendencies by accepting that not everything in life is certain. She tells clients struggling with perfectionism to picture their task or challenge as the bottom of a staircase. “A lot of us think we need to see what it looks like at the top, but you don’t need to see the top in order to take one step,” she says. “Just say ‘OK, how can I just take that one step and what does that step look like?’ You can always go back.”
3. Leverage your inherent confidence.
You’re more confident than you think. Just consider this: Making everyday decisions, such as what to eat for lunch or what to text your mom, requires a low level of confidence. “Every day we make hundreds of decisions, almost unconsciously, that require basic confidence,” Kay and Shipman write in The Confidence Code. Boost your confidence by reminding yourself of all the successful small decisions you make on a daily basis.
4. Ignore the negative soundtrack in your mind.
It might sound counterintuitive, but being slightly out of touch with reality might be an integral step in developing confidence. Shipman says she is still in the nascent stages of exploring this idea: “You almost need to suspend disbelief a little bit to have agency in the world. Because if you operated almost like a computer and you put in all of the inputs—things that could go wrong and all of the odds—you probably would never do anything. Utter accuracy is probably an impediment in one’s life to getting things done, which is odd to think about.”
5. Start early.
Teach children the benefits of confidence at a young age. Encourage them to take risks, and then teach them how failure is acceptable. Reinforce that pleasing others and being “good” all of the time isn’t always the most important thing. Shipman was initially concerned about one of her daughters, whom she describes as rebellious and not a girly-girl. “Until I was writing this book, I think I was trying to shoehorn her a little bit more into a mold,” she says. “I think I’m more comfortable now just saying, You know what? This is going to be great for her. Let her try things and fail and struggle. She’s building a lot of resilience and confidence this way.”
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance.
Sharon Anderson Wright, the CEO and president of Half Price Books, says she never lacked confidence because of her gender, in part because she began working in the family business at a young age and her mother was the co-CEO. She did, however, feel insecure about her age at times because she managed people older than herself. “Because I was younger, I didn’t feel as smart as some of the people around me. We’d bring in professionals from the outside, and I realized they knew a lot more than I did. I tried to rely on the people who I thought had the right answers,” she says. Don’t be afraid to ask others around you for advice.
7. Be a public defender in your brain.
Shipman gives this advice to women striving to become more confident. She cites this example: Let’s say you received a performance review at work, and your boss gave 80% positive feedback and 20% negative feedback. Instead of dwelling on the negative 20% (as many women do), reframe your thoughts to realize most people receive similar reviews. Remind yourself that the feedback was mainly positive. “It’s important to try to use some of these tools to get through the dwelling and overthinking, and just be able to move on,” she says.
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.