Research Paper By Kyla Neill
(Career Coach, AUSTRALIA)
Do you ever wonder when you look at extremely successful people or those in the limelight and wonder at how they came to be so confident? This is a question that I have asked myself time and again, and this question, in turn, stimulates a cascade of others: What makes us decide that person is a confident person? Is it their persona, attitude, the way they speak and walk? Also, how do they gain this confidence that we all want to have? Is one gender naturally more confident than the other? Is there a genetic component to confidence? Can it be learnt? How do we develop and maintain such a tenuous thing as self-confidence?
Many of my friends and colleagues comment that I am such a confident person and that they have never seen me shy, introverted or withdrawn. I often reflect on this, as my perception of myself doesn’t always correspond with what others see. There is definitely a woman inside of me who wallows in self-doubt at times, and judges herself in regard to her physical appearance, her ability as a mother, and effectiveness at work, but I’ve found over the years that in respecting myself, and in acknowledging that what I can contribute to society is of value, the confidence that I derive from this conquers any fears or doubts that I may have.
So, the most pertinent question would be, if I am able to subdue my doubts, why are there so many women out there who aren’t? Is it lack of confidence that is sabotaging them and holding them back, and, if so, is this lack of confidence something that they have inherited? Is it due to their gender, or are men also susceptible to self-doubt?
Taking this concept further, does a gender-based ‘confidence gap’ exist, or are men similar to women when it comes to their confidence and how they feel about themselves? Men and women differ in so many ways, and it is assumed by society in general that self-confidence is one of these. Men are, in the main, viewed as having unshakable faith in their own skills and abilities which manifests as an innate masculine confidence, however, is this merely an urban myth, or does evidence exist to support this notion?
In debunking some of the myths and creating a better understanding in regard to confidence, this article will undertake four important discussions. The first of these discussions will be on whether a link exists between lack of self-efficacy and low self-esteem, and what may be required to increase confidence and self-esteem. The second discussion involves the examining of a potential correlation between one’s genetic code and their self-confidence.
The third discussion will question whether gender has any effect on confidence, and the final discussion details how a coach can take the first three concepts and utilize them to work with a client in boosting their self-confidence.
In a contemporary world of globalization, individualization and incessant social media surveillance, it is a given that we constantly compare ourselves to others, and it the misguided value which we place on these comparisons which leave us feeling inadequate, depressed, angry and low on confidence. By addressing these issues, and uncovering some interesting facts and findings in the process, this article aims to bring awareness to the issue of self-confidence in women within our society.
Lack of Self Efficacy Equals Lack of Self Esteem
With Self Efficacy being defined as one’s belief in their skills and attributes, whilst Self Esteem is a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities and in turn the confidence and satisfaction in oneself (Merriam-Webster.com, 2015) the connection between the two is an obvious, yet intriguing one. Belief and Respect are two very powerful words and when examining at their meanings in closer detail, a genuine link between the two can be identified, and it can be argued with some confidence that one cannot exist without the other. If you believe you can successfully complete a particular task, it is clear that you possess the confidence to do so. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between self-efficacy and our habitual routines or general habits. This may take the form of small actions, such as setting realistic goals and little daily rituals to practice consistency, and can result in an increase one’s feeling of achievement and self-confidence levels. Following this line of thought, if ‘practice makes perfect’, then routines and habitual practice should result in success, and, in turn, self-confidence. Thus, the link between self-efficacy and self-confidence is established.
A professional athlete training for the Olympic Games, whatever the sport may be, remains energized and motivated due to their desire to win a Gold Medal. They also implement habitual routines that keep them focused, increase their belief in their skills and attributes, and create an increase in confidence and satisfaction levels. Confidence cannot be increased without belief. One doesn’t work without the other. In addition, confidence and belief can also be enhanced through the support of a coach who assists them in developing their training and improving their skills.
A woman reentering the workforce after having a career break to have children may face reduced belief in her abilities within a corporate environment. She might believe that her skill level is no longer appropriate, that she will not be accepted, and that she doesn’t belong. Her appearance may be a source of anxiety and doubt. Will the company recognize and support her change in life priorities? All of this lack of belief that her attributes will overcome any negativity has a detrimental effect on her Self Confidence levels. Without belief in herself, the woman’s confidence will go into a downward spiral. Without Self-Efficacy, she has no Self-Confidence. The correlation between the two becomes clear.
However, having noted the above Case Studies, are the Olympic athlete and the working mother pre-disposed to possess confidence, or a lack of it? Do genetics have an influence on Self-Confidence?
Is Self Confidence Genetically Coded?
The question as to whether genetics affect confidence has puzzled many therapists, physiologists, mothers, fathers and coaches for years. Is your Confidence level a result of your genes or is it a consequence of socialization and your environment? We would all like to believe that if we give unconditional love and affection to our children as they grow up, they will naturally become confident human beings as they progress into adulthood. If this is the case, why is it that some of those children who have a loving family and friends still have issues with their Confidence and Self-Esteem as adults? Is there a genetic component as well?
In his 2009 article ‘Self-Confidence: Nature or Nurture?’ Ray Williams discusses the ongoing debate of genetics versus environment in regard their respective influences on Self-Confidence. Until now, research has suggested that an individual’s Self-Confidence is based on their upbringing and other environmental factors. In his article, however, Williams details a study conducted with more than 3700 pairs of identical and fraternal twins between the ages of seven and ten years as participants (Williams, 2009). Comparing generically identical twins to non-identical siblings allowed scientists to sort out the relative contributions of genes and the environment. Based on the results highlighted within the article, and contrary to accepted wisdom, they found that children’s self-confidence is heavily influenced by heredity components (Williams, 2009). This information and conclusion within this research has shaken the world of those who were in support of the theory that environment is the main contributor when it comes to an individual’s levels of Self-Confidence.
Williams’ findings were also supported in an April 2014 Business Insider article by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman titled ‘Why Some People Are Genetically Wired to Be More Confident’. The article examined the assertion that Self-Confidence levels are partially encoded into our genes, and that it is readily accessible to those who have higher levels of it in their genetic makeup. Those who possess this genetic confidence can be identified by the unshakeable faith that they have in their own abilities, and their strong belief in their own success (Kay and Shipman, 2014).
Robert Plomin, a renowned behavioural geneticist, whose previous research in regard to twins and confidence is discussed in the Kay and Shipman article, has noted that a connection between genetics and confidence does exist, and that as much as fifty percent of one’s confidence level could be a result of their genetic makeup (Kay and Shipman, 2014). Having said this, if fifty percent of confidence is due to genetics, this means that the other half of an individual’s confidence has been brought about by their environment. Thus, although it appears that Self-Confidence is more heavily influenced by genetics than previously perceived, the fact that it may contribute to only half of a person’s confidence levels leaves the age-old Nature versus Nurture debate in regard to confidence remains alive and well.
With genetics not providing a definitive answer to the question of the origins of confidence, can the difference between genders come to the rescue, as it were?
Is there a Self Confidence Level Difference When Comparing Genders?
As we have now discovered through research findings that confidence is fifty percent genetic with the remaining fifty percent being the result of environmental factors, we will move on to the debate as to whether confidence levels differ between genders.
The difference between men and women, in the context of levels of confidence, is merely one of the areas of difference between genders which has been regularly documented. Men are perceived to be naturally more confident and possess less self-doubt than women in their ability to successfully perform tasks, however, is masculine confidence genuine, or simply a veneer which allows them to ensure that their self-doubt doesn’t prevent them from reaching their goals? Another Katty Kay and Claire Shipman article, ‘The Confidence Gap’, explores this notion, and finds some truth to it.
They suggest that men even lean towards overconfidence to boost their own sense of entitlement to that job, promotion, car or whatever it is they desire (Kay and Shipman, 2014).
Therefore, it is not only genetics which plays an important part in the development of Self-Confidence, but being a man seems to provide one with a head start in terms of Self-Esteem and confidence.
The question as to why some women, even in progressive, contemporary society, continue to lack Self-Confidence turned my attention towards my own working environment. When speaking with female colleagues in my workplace, it is interesting to observe that most of the women I know through working with my Human Resource clients doubt themselves and their abilities within their current job role. When asked whether they plan to apply for a promotion, most of them hesitate and explain that they don’t believe they have the required experience.
‘The Confidence Gap’ by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman reinforced the information I had gleaned from my working environment, and supported the fact that lack of Self-Confidence is holding women back in the contemporary workplace. The article also highlighted the still prevalent gap in levels of confidence between the genders. I tested this theory again while reading the article, by way of asking male colleagues at this particular workplace whether they would be applying for a promotion this year, and the majority confidently confirmed without hesitation that they would be doing so. This response confirmed that, even within my own place of work, when comparing genders, the difference in confidence levels is obvious and disappointing.
How are women, then, to achieve Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence in the face of potential genetic disadvantages and a clear gender imbalance?
How Can Coaching Support and Increase Self-Confidence Levels?
Those who suffer from a lack of Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence constantly ask themselves how they can change those embedded behaviors, actions, and beliefs that keep their confidence levels so low. The answer is that a coach can prove invaluable in supporting positive behavioral patterns and assisting the changing of negative mindsets, in order to first increase, and then maintain higher levels of confidence.
Fifteen years ago I had personally never encountered the term ‘coach’ outside of its use on sports television channels and the like. Now, in 2015, having a coach is imperative if you desire personal growth, the achievement of goals and general success.
In today’s competitive and individualistic society, it is no wonder that we are beaten down and our own confidence levels suffer so much. The concept and meaning of coaching eschews the competitive in favour of focusing on the needs of the individual client. A coach is trained to listen and work with their client, and to assist by supporting and enhancing skills which the client already possesses. In enabling them to move forward and achieve their goals, a coach will ideally guide a client towards an increased sense of self-belief and reframe the limiting perspectives that keep them mired.
So how can a coach provide support in building Self-Confidence levels, and how is it possible to utilize this Self-Confidence in normal, everyday life? Some questions which may be initially explored in order to build confidence are:
- Where are you now?
- On a scale of 1 - 10, how confident are you in your own abilities as a colleague, wife or mother?
- Where would you prefer that number to be?
- How do you want to get there?
In conjunction with these questions, a coach can guide their client through the five steps detailed below, to start increasing the client’s confidence.
Retrain Your Thoughts
Retraining your thought process may sound easy, and you are probably thinking to yourself, “I can do this”. Many people already use positive affirmation, and this does work, to some extent, however, those same internal voices of doubt in regard to decisions ideas and actions can reveal themselves at any moment. Those doubting thoughts may be a reaction to comments you have received from friends or a colleague, and which make you think twice about what you’ve said or done. These feelings of self doubt and negative thinking are embedded within us, and, whilst they may not completely disappear, we may be able to retrain our mind to be aware of and freely acknowledge those thoughts, as well as possess the ability to spin them on their head in order to create a more positive voice. Having said this, it is important to recognize words that can trigger both negative and positive internal reaction. Examples of negative words are ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘don’t’, ‘shouldn’t’, whilst examples of positive words which can replace negative ones include ‘can’, ‘will’, ‘have’, ‘able’ and ‘YES’! Simple tweaking of words is the key to turning a negative thought to a positive one, and whilst this is certainly a learned skill, and will take some time to master, it is definitely one worth persevering with.
What is your first reaction when someone gives you a compliment? Is it to sink in your chair a little lower, or even brush it off as nothing much in order to avoid feeling embarrassed or ‘singled out’. The next method by which you can increase your confidence is simply to accept those compliments coming from a colleague, friend, family, or even a complete stranger. It really does feel great when someone recognises your achievements. So the next time someone gives you a compliment, simply say “Thank you” and step into it with confidence.
Being present in the moment is often the best gift you can give to yourself. Staying truly cognisant of what is happening everyday will give you a sense of belonging and alignment. Living in the past with its damaging hindsight and never-ending ‘what if’s’ will only keep you stuck, prevent you from moving forward, and reduce your confidence in what is happening right now. As with Retraining Thoughts, this often sounds simple, but proves to actually be extremely difficult, as we are programmed to set goals for the future and focus on them. This is only natural; however, being in a constant state of looking forward can also lead to feeling overwhelmed, frazzled and completely disconnected with what is really important. It is necessary to ensure that the future does not take you away from those special moments in the present with family and friends. Deliberately indulging in a ‘technology free” day, where you don’t touch the iPhone, iPad, television, or any other piece of technology, and simply reconnect with things that are important can provide a balm for the soul. This will lift your joyfulness and in turn your confidence levels.
What is the real meaning of being grateful? Being grateful is about thankfulness, and showing kindness and appreciation to and for others. Practicing the art of being grateful will not only support you with increasing your confidence levels, but it will also support those who you connect with. This practice can be incorporated into your daily routine, either by writing down a few things that you are grateful for before you go to sleep in the evening, or thinking about what you are grateful for in your life first thing in the morning. You can also do this in a meditative state, visualizing all the people and things you appreciate in your life.
This practice is so important and will give you a sense of empowerment, which then, in turn, increases your confidence levels.
Live With Integrity
Integrity is such a powerful word, and making the practice of being honest with yourself and others one of the foundations of your life can boost your level of Self-Confidence. Standing up for what you believe in, and living in alignment with you values and belief without doubt, or fear of judgment from others, will make you feel like you can touch the sky. If you are unsure of what your values and beliefs are, then asking yourself whether you value honesty, trust, and good communication from others is a great place to start.
In order to better understand Self-Confidence, this article has explored various aspects of the concept. Whether it is a potential correlation between Self Efficacy and Self Esteem which possesses the ability to positively affect confidence levels through belief in skills and expertise, the suggestion that genetics and environment have an equal influence on the confidence levels of a given individual, or the debate as to male self-belief being responsible for the Self-Confidence of males being greater than that of females, it is clear that there are a number of various disparate reasons for possession of, or lack of, Self-Confidence. Having said this, if we, as women, are able to ignore any nay-sayers who may chip away at our Self-Esteem, and develop our belief in our ability to carry out the same tasks and achieve the same goals as anyone else, then there is literally nothing preventing us from increasing our levels of Self-Confidence, sustaining those increased levels, and, as a result, living bigger and more fulfilled lives. As stated by Erica Diamond, founder of womenonthefence.com and @GOTFMovement, “Self-Esteem and Confidence are not bad words, they’re important words. It takes a lot of work to get there, but it’s the foundation to thriving” (womenonthefence.com, 2015).
ICF.com, (2015). Welcome to ICF.COM. [online] Available at: <http://www.icf.com/>.
Kay, K. and Shipman, C. (2014). The Confidence Gap. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: <http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/04/the-confidence-gap/359815/>.
Kay, K. and Shipman, C. (2014). Why Some People Are Genetically Wired To Be More Confident. [online] Business Insider. Available at: <http://www.businessinsider.com/some-people-are-genetically-wired-to-be-confident-2014-4>.
Merriam-Webster.com, (2015). Definition of Self-Esteem. [online] Available at: <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-esteem>.
Williams, R. (2009). Self-Confidence: Nature or Nurture?. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/200907/self-confidence-nature-or-nurture>.
Womenonthefence.com, (2015). Women On The Fence Blog by Erica Diamond. [online] Available at: <http://womenonthefence.com/>.