5 Things Anyone Can Do to Be More Self-Confident

A new book tells women how to boost their self-assurance, but the advice is good for men, too.

I just listened to one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever heard on NPR with Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know.”

The interview and book are about women and self-confidence, but the advice I heard on the program applies to everybody, IMHO. Here are the takeaways:

1. Strive for excellent imperfection.

According to the authors, women have a tendency to feel bad if they don’t do everything–from how they look to how they parent to how they talk–perfectly. As a result, they sometimes fail to take risks lest they fall short.

In my experience, though, it’s not just women who feel this way. I’ve known plenty of men who are absolutely obsessed with never looking foolish. Heck, I have that tendency myself, which is why I never try to ski, even though I live in NH.

Regardless of your gender, perfectionism is the enemy of self confidence because if you’re trying to be perfect you’ll always find yourself lacking. Instead, try to be excellent or even outstanding–which means falling flat sometimes.

2. Don’t apologize before the fact.

Some women, argue the authors, have a habit of saying “I’m sorry” when expressing an opinion or taking action. In the interview, they said that the automatic “I’m sorry” was intended to make the listener feel more comfortable.

I respectfully disagree. I think that people who apologize for doing normal stuff are doing it to make themselves feel better. People (women and men alike) are protecting their self-esteem in case the other person gets upset.

However, to be successful in business you need to offend people. Sometimes, you even need to step on (or at least over) other people to get to where you want to go. That’s just the way it is.

Rather than preemptively apologize, take the action that needs doing, say the thing that needs saying and then apologize after, if and when it becomes clear that an apology is appropriate.

3. Stop turning statements into questions?

The interview spent 10 minutes or so discussing the habit that some women have of adding a little uptick at the end of each sentence, whether it’s a question or not.

While women reportedly do this irritating uptick more than men, I’ve heard plenty of men do it, and it really flushes their credibility down the toilet, too.

It doesn’t really matter, though, who’s doing it. The verbal uptick is just a bad habit, similar to the “uhhhh…” pause or peppering your speech with “like” or “you know.”

To break this (or any other) verbal habit, cultivate the ability to listen to yourself as you’re speaking. Pause before saying something, form the gist of what you want to say, and then deliver it as a statement or a question. Not some weird hybrid of the two.

4. Ignore “mansplaining” (and “womansplaining”).

While may be ironic that I’m writing this, mansplaining is the irritating habit that some men have of telling women what to do based upon analytical bullsh*t.

The flip side to this is when women tell men what they should be feeling and how they should be communicating those feelings, based on some psychological bullsh*t.

What’s funny about this is that men do a lot of mansplaining when talking to other men and it’s just as annoying. I’ll bet the same thing is true of womansplaining among women.

The net effect of all this genderizing is to leech your self-confidence by treating your gender as if it’s determinate of your behavior. But that’s utter nonsense.

Specific differences between individuals of either gender is almost always far greater than the general difference between men and women. Put another way, men and women alike are from Venus and Mars.

What’s important is your behavior–not whether it falls into some preconceived notion of how somebody of your gender should or shouldn’t behave.

5. Cultivate your overconfidence.

It turns out that successful people of both genders tend to overestimate what they can accomplish and the value of their contributions. As long as your overconfidence is grounded in the possible, it’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

Being overconfident means saying “yes” to stuff that you’ve never done before. It means being “dumb enough” to really believe you can start your own business and make it successful. Without overconfidence, people don’t stretch themselves.

I have to admit that, previous to hearing this interview, I never understood the value of overconfidence. I always thought that it’s important to know your capabilities and how to apply them most effectively.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every accomplishment in my life for which I’m actually proud emerged from me being unrealistic. My writing career is a perfect example.

Everybody I knew told me that I was crazy when I left the cushy corporate world to write freelance full-time. However, I was so cockeyed optimistic about it that I was absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do.

In retrospect, though, it was crazy. Most freelancers struggle for a couple of years and give up or eek a living out of rewriting marketing brochures. And that was before the entire newspaper and magazine business collapsed.

When I look at my friends (men and women), it’s the ones who overestimate themselves that always seem to be doing something exciting or achieving something big. Think of it this way: When you’re over-confident, being self-confident is automatic.

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