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The Science of Confidence in "The Confidence Code"

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Written by journalists Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, The Confidence Code is a self-help book, of sorts, that takes a journalistic approach in presenting scientifically backed ideas about what it means to have confidence. This book is centered around confidence in women in particular, exploring the confidence disparity between men and women, especially in the workplace but also how confidence is expressed as we grow up. However, Shipman and Kay pack the narrative full of helpful advice and eye-opening study results about confidence that would benefit anybody and everybody, not just women. Throughout the book, they cite the quotes and stories of numerous women in power — female CEOs of large corporations, female political leaders, professional athletes — as well as the studies and comments of various university professors of psychology, research psychologists, and neuroscientists. Through a series of different angles on confidence, the book illustrates the situations and ways in which women more often second-guess themselves while men are generally more comfortable in asserting themselves, being ambitious, and “shooting their shot,” even if it doesn’t end up working out.

The book also pulls back and presents an incredibly interesting series of what Shipman and Kay call “the cousins of confidence,” clarifying how qualities such as “optimism,” “self-esteem,” and “self-efficacy” actually differ from and work alongside confidence. Among these was “self-compassion,” which I personally found to be the most impactful. Self-compassion, as put by Shipman and Kay, is being kind to yourself for your failures: taking the tools of empathy that you know how to apply to others and applying them to yourself. This way, you can ease the impact of a failure and not be discouraged from trying something again, which preserves confidence. The book wraps it all up by delving into how confidence can be developed in children as they grow up, strongly advocating a “growth mindset” by praising effort instead of talent and living by process-based mastery instead of results-based mastery. By striving for perfection, Shipman and Kay argue, one may never reach the success they wish to achieve. “Perfection is the enemy of good. It’s almost the enemy of confidence,” they write, drawing a contrast between viewing struggle as an indicator of lack of skill and viewing it as an opportunity. They even advocate for the “fake it til you make it” mindset, but not in those exact terms. Shipman and Katty urge the reader to “Do one small brave thing, and then the next one will be easier, and soon confidence will flow.”

This book changed my entire outlook on what it means to have self-confidence, to be a confident person in the face of any situation, and to harness my ambitions in ways that are to my advantage. I am mostly an enthusiastic peruser of fiction, so I was, in fact, not readily willing to embark on this book. A self-help book? I thought. Pfft, those can’t ACTUALLY be real. But The Confidence Code showed me just how wrong I was, not only about self-help books, but about my preexisting perceptions of confidence. Before reading this book, I wasn’t even actively aware that the confidence gap between men and women was so large, and The Confidence Code opened my eyes not only to how, as a woman, I can move through my future with success and self-assurance, but also to how the way I’ve been tackling different scenes life up until this moment has influenced the ways in which I think, act, speak, live. Being able not only to have but to maintain confidence as we move through life is crucial to our success and, much more importantly, our mental health and self-image. I highly recommend The Confidence Code to everyone, even those who aren’t female, even those who believe themselves to be confident individuals. Delve into the biopsychology and philosophy of confidence, and you’ll emerge a changed person.

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