Does Gender Impact Confidence?

If a common complaint I heard in a women’s conference I attended and the questions I get from women during my presentations on confidence are any indication, there is a dramatic difference in confidence between the genders.

Woman’s perspective

During the women’s conference, the participants regularly bemoaned the fact that “men fake it ’til they make it, while women shy away from opportunities even when they have superior backgrounds and experience.”

In virtually every confidence program I do, a woman in the audience asks “Why is it that my daughter doesn’t display the same level of confidence as my son?”

The implication in both of these situations is that men and boys overestimate their capabilities while women discount them.  If this were true, if it was purely genetic, then we’d have no hope of leveling the playing field.  I don’t believe that’s the case.  Let’s explore an alternative explanation…one that offers an opportunity to dramatically increase confidence in women and their daughters.

Sidebar

Before we move onto an alternative explanation, let’s remind ourselves that what I’m writing is a generalization.  I know men and boys who heavily discount their abilities and women and girls who are powerhouses.

The alternative explanation and approach that I’m about to offer works equally well for both genders.  It’s just that their is a consensus that what I’ve described above is more common in women and girls than men and boys.

An alternative

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have hard data to support my belief…that it comes purely from observation.

What I’ve observed is that men and women, boys and girls, draw their confidence from different realms.  Women and girls tend to rely on their background and experience for their confidence.  Even then, as noted above, they tend to discount their capabilities.

Men and boys tend to draw their confidence from their ability to learn and adapt.  So while they don’t necessarily have the background or experience to do something, they know from past experience that they were able to produce results even when they didn’t have any background or experience.

These two, very different perceptions explain why men and boys “fake it ’til they make it” while women and girls hesitate to take on new challenges.  The good news is that we can overcome these natural tendencies. Neuroscientists’ studies have demonstrated that we all possess the ability to rewire our brains to overcome our “natural” thought processes.

For our kids

Whether it’s a daughter or son who is hesitant to take on new challenges, you can help them retrain their minds to focus on their ability to learn and adapt instead of their experience.

Here are the steps needed to help them retrain their minds:

  1. Don’t TELL them that they’re better, brighter, more talented than they think…they won’t believe you.
  2. ASK them to recall a time when they tackled something they doubted they could handle, yet were successful in doing so.
  3. ASK them why they think they were able to do that…keep asking until they realize that it was their ability to learn and adapt…if they become frustrated with the exercise, ASK them whether they think it was their ability to learn and adapt that enabled them to be successful.
  4. ASK them if there was ever a time when they faced a situation in which they had no background or experience and failed to produce a result…when we’re truly honest with ourselves, we realize that we always find a way to deal with any situation we face.
  5. SUGGEST to them that whenever they experience doubt, and they will for the rest of their lives, to remind themselves that they always found a way to deal with anything that’s come their way and that they will be able to do so again.

These steps, repeated frequently, will develop new neural pathways in the brains so strong that this will become their new way of thinking.  They’ll replace the doubt and hesitancy with the confidence they need to move forward regardless of their background or experience.

By the way, you can accelerate their learning and their confidence in this ability if they observe the same behavior in you.  The more confidence you have in yourself, the more confidence they’ll have in their abilities.  Kids mimic their parents’ and educators’ behaviors.

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