Saulsman: Confidence is key, have it or learn to have it

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Throughout our many, many years of schooling, we have learned about the mighty mitochondria, the Pythagorean theorem and the development of the many nations of the world. We are tested on these subjects and given an explicit score to show our level of competence. This obsession over competence undermines the importance of a trait that facilitates the use of this knowledge. The people around us judge us on this trait subconsciously, and the effects of this judgment take subliminal roles in deciding how we make friends and how we land a job.

The personality trait I’m talking about is confidence, and we have been neglecting to teach the importance of it for a long time.

After reading the entirety of “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, I realized how people naturally and subconsciously respond to those who exude confidence. Think about your last job interview and the result. Did you hunch over with your arms crossed? Did you speak in a low, unsure voice? Did you get the job? Confidence plays a role in how we present ourselves, as presented in these stereotypical connotations of confidence. “The Confidence Code” helps illustrate how complex confidence really is.

According to Kay and Shipman, “Confidence is linked to doing.” Their definition of confidence strays away from what we typically think. We usually think of confident people as loud, outgoing and courageous. However, confidence doesn’t have to be any of these things. In fact, the mere act of doing, of committing an action, is not outwardly outgoing—nor is it outrageously courageous.

Kay and Shipman also delve into the genetics behind confidence, relaying that there is a legitimate reason as to why some individuals (men) tend to have it more than others (women). A study cited in the book unveiled that testosterone is linked with risk-taking. Risk-taking is directly associated with how confident people feel in their ability to succeed. Thus, Kay and Shipman argue that those with higher testosterone, or men, are genetically wired to have more confidence.

However, despite this seemingly unfair advantage, confidence, just like competence, can be learned. In fact, they provide an example I particularly resonate with in order to boost your levels.

In order to gain confidence, you need to learn to accept compliments. Self-deprecating, or being modest and critical of oneself, is only harmful to you and can provide no benefits. A study on the effect of social rewards on motor skills, performed in 2012, found that “praise, a social reward … boost[s] motor skill learning by increasing motivation, which leads to increased practice.” Thus, if compliments or praise are linked to action or doing, and doing is linked to confidence, then compliments are transitively linked to confidence.

Since reading this book, I have applied this advice to my life. When someone praised me for my honest comments at a retreat I attended this past weekend, I said, “Thank you!” instead of attributing these comments to something other than myself. In doing so, I walked away from the retreat feeling confident in my ability to speak and to be honest about certain trivial topics.

If you were not lucky enough to be born with the right amount of testosterone or the natural ability to light up a room when you walk into it, you can still learn confidence. I think it is important to assess yourself to really see how much confidence you have. If you tend to shy away from speaking your opinion or saying an answer despite how well you know the material, I urge you to take a leap of faith. This leap of faith will reward you with compliments or comments that can boost your confidence, or, by mere exposure, will allow you the confidence to take more and more leaps of faith.

Take action, and confidence will fall in shortly afterwards.