Closing the Confidence Gap

Mrs. Y and Mr. X are a successful couple with a young child. I worked with them as their personal trainer and life coach. Mr. X is a little overweight, Mrs. Y is skinny.

Mr. X is quite talkative on the topic of his past athletic achievements, especially when the workout gets challenging. Mrs. Y is quiet -- she grits her teeth and gets the job done.

Mr. X often looks to Mrs. Y for validation and encouragement during our sessions. Mrs. Y provides it, all the while wrangling their young child. She doesn't beg for affirmation. She performs each exercise without taking a break to regale me with tales of yesteryear's sporting prowess.

After our sessions, Mr. X will often be self-congratulatory. Mrs. Y, on the other hand, will consistently offer something along the lines of, "I wish I had done better, I really want to get stronger," even though she has outperformed her husband sans unnecessary drama.

This behavior is a pattern. Mrs. Y often feels she should have achieved more. In contrast Mr. X's typical perception is that he has performed at his peak, even though I make a point to identify the many times he deflected pushing past his pain barrier with conversation.

On our most recent session, as soon as Mr. X broke into a light sweat, he started boasting about a halcyon period in his youth when he cycled for college. Mrs. Y, after an admirable effort, held up her tiny muscled arms and said, "I really hate how they jiggle." They didn't.

Both, however, are slightly delusional in their self-awareness: Mr. X is often too generous about his performance and Mrs. Y is often too hard on herself.

Sadly, Mrs. Y's low opinion of her prowess is a common trait among my female clients. I find women tend to judge themselves far too harshly and congratulate themselves far too little. But they deserve to feel proud about a work ethic and mental toughness that is more often than not exemplary. Low self-esteem among women is all too prevalent, yet unsurprising when you take a look at the glaring misogyny inherent in modern culture.

There are double standards that promote low self-confidence in women everywhere. Taylor Swift, a radiant, positive young talent who crafts addictive pop anthems with effortless abandon, is judged on a completely different set of standards than her male peers. She can date who she wants to, but because she is a woman, she is scrutinized unfairly. If Taylor was a Todd, her dating life would be celebrated. She'd be up there with that delightful cad George Clooney.

Society is still sexist. Less so than it was, say, 30 years ago? Sure. But our evolution as a species is a painfully slow one. Women are told that they are worth less for performing the same job. They are bombarded with images that promote sexual objectification. Even the right to decide what a women wants to do with her own body is still, inexcusably, brought up for debate by men.

Let's not forget that women are clearly better citizens! Look at the statistics when it comes to crime alone. It is men who are lagging in terms of their social progress. According to certain theories, males are largely driven by a biological desire to prove that they are worthy mates. I would take this theory further and suggest that in their primitive subconscious, men want women to have a low sense of self-worth as it gives them psychological leverage in their quest for procreation. It is easier for a man to manipulate a woman who is low on self-confidence. Basically, patriarchal society acts like a jerk of a boyfriend.

From the superb article, "Closing the Confidence Gap" by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, I found the following example telling: Hewlett-Packard discovered that their female employees would only apply for a promotion if they fulfilled 100% of the criteria, while men went for it if they could meet a mere 60% of a jobs requirements. In other words, a man will believe he is competent regardless of the factual level of his abilities. Therefore, with his slightly delusional perception of himself, a male is more prone to take action and to go for that promotion.

Self-confidence, therefore, is a matter of perception, and the good news is that if one does not have it naturally, it can be developed. For the truth is this: If you are a woman, you are probably more competent than you give yourself credit for.

Just as when working out our bodies become stronger, self-confidence grows, thus perpetuating more confidence as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. There is plasticity in the human brain, and a more confident female population is an achievable goal -- certainly if Mrs. Y is anything to go by.

A mental tool that Mrs.Y found useful was to take a belief (i.e, "that I do not deserve to ask for a raise"), and write down the possible consequences of living with that belief for a year. She would then do the exact same thing for the polar opposite belief. This quick visualization generates a tangible feeling of confidence and provides her brain with some psychological leverage to practical take steps forward.

Mrs. Y is taking actions despite what her brain would have her believe. There is a newfound bounce in her step. Confidence is moving her forward.

I am aware that I am a man giving suggestions to women, but I also believe in feminism sincerely, and that confident women will help us collectively stride into a more evolved society.