A couple of nights ago, my husband and I watched Miss Americana, a documentary about music megastar Taylor Swift. In it, Swift reveals her need to be clapped for. Her entire moral code, she explains, “is a need to be thought of as good.”
As I’ve continued to research confidence in women, there is no limit on the number of megastars who have publicly proclaimed their insecurities. Lady Gaga was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times regarding her role in A Star is Born, and she spoke openly about her insecurities; Demi Lovato talks confidently to herself in the mirror when her self-esteem is low; Angelino Jolie, early in her life, was self-harming and attempted suicide more than once; and Jennifer Lopez, in several interviews over the years, talks about insecurities related to her talent as a singer, her beauty and her body.
According to authors Kitty Kay and Claire Shipman in their book, The Confidence Gap, many women suffer from an acute lack of confidence. While we are surrounded daily by women who appear to be brimming with confidence, most women suffer from some degree of self-doubt.
What about you? Do you feel like other women have things more together than you do? That you don’t belong? That you’re not enough? Do you feel like dreams are for other women?
You are not alone.
Women’s confidence, in fact, declines with experience: 27% of new female employees are confident they can reach a top management role. As women become more experienced in their profession, this drops to 13%.
Life has a way of chipping away at confidence. Perhaps the passing comment of a co-worker, boss, friend, spouse, and even our own children; or a sequence of things not working in our favor. These things stack up, leading us to believe, one day, that we aren’t good enough, that something is wrong with us.
The good news is you can do something about it. You can grow in confidence by taking action.
Before we talk about HOW, let’s talk about WHY!
The simple answer is because people need you. The women around you need you. They need your smile, your contribution, your talent, and your support and encouragement. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely learned over the years that I can not be what others need me to be if I’m not first of all what I need me to be.
Have you ever wondered about another woman? Why is she not very friendly? Why is she not supportive and encouraging of me? Why doesn’t she care? Almost, without fail, if someone is not showing up the way you want her to be, it’s because she is struggling with her own happiness, confidence and sense of purpose. It has almost nothing to do with you. It’s easy, however, to personalize the absence of support. What is wrong with me? Or What did I do to her?
Very often, we get hung up on what we’re not getting from others. It’s easy to wallow in our own disappointments about the degree to which our own needs and preferences are not being met. It takes a whole lot of strength and courage to put our needs aside and shift our attention to giving. Instead of getting.
You don’t have control over others. You DO have control over your own actions.
If you were to begin taking steps to cultivate your own confidence, what would that involve? Below is a brief recap of the ten ways to cultivate confidence that I talk about in my book, Women Who Spark: 12 Steps to Catapult Happiness, Cultivate Confidence and Discover the Purpose of Your Life.
Ten Ways to Cultivate Confidence
- View confidence as a journey. Rather than focusing on your lack of confidence now, focus on what you can do to grow in confidence. With every step you take to master almost anything, your confidence will become stronger.
- Post affirmations. Affirmations help you manage your thought patterns. It’s easy to get caught up in your head with phrases related to not being good enough, not being able to do what the person next to you is doing, and not being smart enough. You can replace those thoughts with affirming phrases.
- Take small steps. Completing big projects, chasing dreams, and cultivating new talents can feel overwhelming. It is easy to fall into a trap of thinking, “I could never do that.” Instead of letting yourself be intimidated by the big picture, find one small step you can take today.
- Keep your social media feeds in perspective. One of our biggest comparison traps is social media. Please keep in mind that real life is what happens when the photos are not being taken. Most of the beautiful, smiling women have also been hit with broken dreams, along with the unforeseen twists and turns in life.
- Manage your self-talk. This is a big one. Imagine you walk into an event attended by people you don’t know. You notice that almost everyone is deep in conversation. No one notices you or welcomes you.
Your self-talk may kick in:
“I shouldn’t be here.”
“I don’t belong.”
“Everyone else here knows someone.”
“The sooner I get out of here the better.”
“What was I thinking?”
I promise you none of these things are true. Try a little trick: If you are alone, get a beverage, then stand at a high-top table or an off-to-the-side spot in the room. Look around and calmly observe the room. Within about one minute, someone will come and talk with you. This will be a person who arrived alone, like you did. Or it will be a kind person who notices you are alone. Soon, you will be knee deep in a conversation, perhaps intimidating the next solo person who arrives. We are all the same. We all want the comfort of being in a conversation. Often, self-talk is based on mistaken beliefs.
- Focus on others. This is about getting outside of your own head and, instead, looking at the positive attributes, activities and accomplishments of the women around you. Who inspires you? Who do you want to compliment? Who do you want to emulate? What do you want to replicate?
Focusing on others also includes asking, “What can I do for her?”
- Accept that some fear, insecurity and self-doubt is normal. In the 1980s, a professor by the name of Steven C Hayes, introduced us to the idea that some suffering in our life is inevitable and an essential part of being human. Rather than try to replace all negative thinking with positive affirmations, he suggested we could connect with our thoughts, remind ourselves they are not true, and move on.[i]
- Keep in mind everyone is afraid. Afraid they are not good enough, beautiful enough, successful enough, or capable enough. At times we are all afraid we can’t achieve our dreams or do what someone else is doing. Even wildly successful people are afraid.
- Do something to get yourself unstuck. If you’re stuck dwelling on your fears and your long list of disappointments, do something. Don’t try to tackle everything all at once. Do one thing. Whatever is swirling in your head, move it from thoughts to paper. Then pick the one thing you’ll use as a starting point.
- Create your own definition of who you are and what your life is. It’s easy to get distracted by what everyone else is doing. Instead, design your life. You need to get excited about who you are and what you want your life to be.
If you’d like to read the Cultivate Confidence chapter in its entirety where you will find examples to support these 10 ideas, you can find it at https://aletanorris.com/shop/women-who-spark-book/.
[i] Professor Steven Hayes (some insecurity and self doubt is good).