The neurobiologist oversaw one of the largest financial turnarounds in academic medicine.
On a scale of one to ten, how confident are you?
In a recent survey, 12-year-old girls tended to average around an 8 when responding. But 14-year-old girls answered with an average of 6.
This is when the “confidence gap” opens between girls and boys. Journalists Claire Shipman and Katty Kay have written about the confidence gap between men and women and how it shapes our work and our culture. In their new book, The Confidence Code for Girls (for which they commissioned the study cited above), Shipman and Kay look into why this gap forms, and what can be done about it.
Read an excerpt below.
Read an excerpt from "The Confidence Code for Girls"
What is confidence, anyway?
Well, here’s the basic, scientific definition: Confidence is what turns our thoughts into action.
You can also think of it like a math formula: Thoughts + Confidence = Action
Or picture a chemistry set, with thoughts in one beaker and confidence in another. Combine them and, POOF! You get exciting, explosive action.
Confidence is what you use to help you do anything that seems hard, scary, or impossible. We’re not necessarily talking about extreme actions like jumping off a cliff. (Or maybe we are, as long as you have a hang glider or parachute!) Confidence is what gives you a boost for everyday challenges as well.
Imagine Confidence as a tiny, powerful coach inside your mind helping you do all the things you want to do. “I know you’re thinking you can’t put your hand up in class today, but come on, I’ve seen you do it a million times before. Ignore those nerves and just throw your hand up there. You can do it.”
Girls of Action have the most exciting lives ever. Why? Think about it: You can sit there and worry and watch things happening out in the world. Or you can jump in and be part of the fun, creating adventures and success by exploring and doing.
You want to try out for a team, even if you’re not so sure how good you are? Confidence will give you a boost. You want to write a blog and tell the whole world what you think, even though you worry you don’t have interesting thoughts? Confidence is key for that, too. You want to be yourself, even if that self is totally different from all the other kids? Confidence makes it happen. You want to dye your hair or shave your head, skip dresses and wear what you want? Confidence . . . well, you know the rest.
MAKING MORE CONFIDENCE: THE BIG PICTURE
At this point, it should be pretty clear what confidence is and why it matters so much. And you’re probably thinking: Duh, it’s obviously great. But what if I don’t exactly have buckets of confidence sitting around, for that moment I want to try something? What if I want to try out for the debate team, and all I can think about is people staring at me, and I don’t want to get off my couch? Well, that’s why knowing how to make it is so important.
Scientists have studied people’s genetics and behavior for years. They now believe that while we’re each born with some confidence, we can always make more. And here are the basic mechanics of doing that: when you take action, especially when you do something even slightly risky, you not only use confidence, but you also end up creating more!
Imagine some gears in your head. Confidence is the grease that helps you turn those gears of your thoughts and generate action. And the fabulous result? That action generates more confidence, for next time.
Action is fundamental to making your Confidence Code. Let’s say you get up, try out for debate, and don’t say the smartest things at the first session. You prepare a bit more for the next session. You get on the team as an alternate, take it seriously, and eventually make the team as a full member. That kind of process is what really builds up your confidence supply: all that trying, risking, messing up, struggling, and eventually getting good at something. Creating confidence is less about the result—the success or winning. It’s more about the doing. You’d be much more likely to try out for other things now, since you have some confidence stored away. Try it and see.
But we’d be kidding if we told you that the doing is super easy. How do you deal with the butterflies, the wanting to throw up, the feeling that you’d rather stay in bed or hide in your closet or sit glued to that couch? How do you take that critical first step toward being a Girl of Action, toward building a confidence stockpile when you don’t already have extra confidence to get the process going? Well, you have to RISK IT.
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