“How often in life do we avoid doing something because we think we’ll fail? Is failure really worse than doing nothing? And how often might we actually have triumphed if we had just decided to give it a try?”
I recently finished The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, an interesting book about women’s issues with confidence, what forms and inhibits self-confidence, and the authors’ search for a unifying definition.
Though just over 200 pages, this book covers a lot of ground, so I’ve decided to break this review into sections based on the themes that stood out most to me. Note that this isn’t how the book is organized, but rather these are common ideas that popped out to me again and again in various chapters.
Perfectionism & Failure
“In our success-oriented world, we tend to think of failure as abnormal…The irony is that perfectionism actually inhibits achievement.”
Kay and Shipman’s comments on perfectionism and fear of failure were especially pertinent to me. I’ve always been what I would describe as a perfectionist, but I generally thought that was a good thing. The Confidence Code gave me an “A-Ha!” moment when I realized that I often let my desire for perfection (and my underlying fear of failure) prevent me from even trying. I have no chance of succeeding—or even improving toward success—because I’m too paralyzed with fear to take any action. And taking action is a key component to building and maintaining self-confidence.
The idea that a lack of confidence can lead us to not go for the things we really want was repeated all throughout The Confidence Code. I think a big reason for that is that the authors interviewed lots of successful, inspiring women to get their perspective on what confidence is to them. The interesting thing is that many of these women, whom you would assume have loads of self-confidence to be able to get to where they’re at, repeated the same notion: women are so often afraid to try that they never reach their full potential because they don’t act.
“The natural result of under-confidence is inaction.”
If we would stop worrying so much about what we look like, what other people think, or assuming we are inferior or incapable, we can stop being one of the worriers and start being one of the doers.
“Confidence, ultimately, is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine from those who do.”
The more you do, the more you prove your efficacy to yourself, which increases your confidence to try new things. It’s a positive cycle that feeds into itself, increasing our self-confidence and willingness to take on new opportunities.
“I did it once, I can do it again. And every time, it gets a little bit easier.”
Instead of being on this track, many of us are stuck in the cycle of worry, fear, and inaction. I know I have been. But reading this book, and hearing from other women that they have had the same self-doubts, made me feel less insecure because although I was suffering from a serious lack of confidence, at least I wasn’t alone in that.
“A willingness to be different is critical to confidence.”
What matters most in developing self-confidence is what we think of ourselves. Do we believe we are capable? Then we will go out there and try. We won’t be intimidated by the possibility of failure. We will be delighted at the chance to learn and grow, because we are going after what we want, not what society tells us we should aspire to.
“Confidence comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and working toward goals that come from your own values and needs, goals that aren’t determined by society.”
When our confidence comes from our perception of ourselves instead of from what other people say or think, it is much stronger, much more resilient than if we are worried about what other people say or think about us.
“Confidence that is dependent on other people’s praise is a lot more vulnerable than confidence built from our own achievements.”
Confidence is difficult to develop and maintain for many people, including me. I knew that before I dove into The Confidence Code. What I know now is that many women feel or have felt the same way I do. This book opened my eyes to how many things in my life are affected by my under-confidence, and it used empowering women to show that the difference between where I am and where I want to be starts with how I think about myself. Changing your thought patterns not only influences your actions, which can propel you toward success, it can actually reshape your mind.
Mediation & Confidence
“All of us can rewire our brains, even as adults…When we change our thinking and develop new mental habits, that effort creates physical changes in our brains.”
“Researchers have found that the power of habitual thinking creates physical changes and new neural pathways in our brains, which can reinforce and even override genetics and change brain chemistry.
“Some of the most dramatic examples of change in the brain’s function and structure have involved basic meditation. A number of studies, conducted with MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) before and after a period of meditation, showed less activity in the amygdala, the fear center…A recent experiment, done with highly stressed business people, found not just less fear activity after meditation, but also that the amygdala itself actually shrank and remained smaller. Conversely, those same postmeditation MRIs show more activity in the prefrontal cortex, the center of calm reason.”
Meditation is something I find especially challenging. My mind is always going, going, going. All day, all night, no matter what I’m doing. Meditation used to be just pure frustration, as I couldn’t seem to get my brain to cooperate. Clear your mind. Ground yourself. Nope. My mind was stubbornly full of a web of thoughts, constantly zipping around. I’ve realized that for now the only kind of meditation that is successful for me is guided meditation. I need to focus on listening to someone else’s voice in order to quiet my own. I’ve found an app called Stop, Breathe & Think to be incredibly helpful. I hope I can work up to the point of being able to do un-guided meditation (the idea of meditating to only the sounds of nature seems amazing) but I’m doing what works best for me right now.
I’ve noticed that a few minutes of meditation per day seems to reduce my anxiety, but I’ve yet to notice any influence on my confidence. *Fingers crossed*
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Confidence Code. I found it reassuring, lightly inspiring, and a fairly quick read. There were parts that didn’t really jive with me and others where it felt a bit repetitive, but all in all I would give it a 3.5 out of 5. In my opinion, if you’re a woman who finds the psychology of confidence interesting, it’s worth a read.
Have you read The Confidence Code? What did you think?