Have you ever met someone who made a lot more money than you do but ranges somewhere between a complete idiot and somewhat less intelligent than you? More than likely, it has a lot to do with their confidence.
There was a study back in the early 2000s that led to the term “The Dunning-Kruger effect”. This effect is the tendency for less competent people to substantially overestimate their abilities. What they found is that the less competent people are, the more they overestimate their abilities—which doesn’t make much sense, but is true.
The fact is, confidence can get you far in life. When people are confident, when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are, they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior – like a lower vocal tone and a tendency to speak early and often in a calm, relaxed manner. Because they do a lot of things that make them look very confident in the eyes of others, whether they are good or not becomes irrelevant.
If confidence is not necessarily a by-product of competence, then why is confidence important? Well, because in any encounter the most confident person wins.
Perhaps the clearest, and most useful, definition of confidence is the one supplied by Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University, who has spent decades focused on the subject. He says that “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” Of course, other factors also contribute to action. If the action involves something scary, then we might also need courage. Or if it’s difficult, a strong will to persist might also be needed. But confidence is essential because it applies in more situations than other traits do. It is the factor that turns thoughts into judgments about what we are capable of and that then transforms those judgments into action.
It’s very simple when you think about it. Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, taking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed. So confidence accumulates—through hard work, through success, and even through failure.
On the flip side, the natural result of low confidence is inaction – which holds people back.
So, what if you aren’t inherently confident and what if you haven’t had a chance to build confidence through hard work, success, and failure? Well, sometimes, you have to fake it until you make it. Or, “fake it until you become it” as Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and TEDx speaker, likes to say.
According to Cuddy’s studies, confidence is not about how you feel, it’s about how you act. She believes that body language not only affects how others see us but it also changes how we see ourselves. So essentially, our thoughts and feelings are impacted by our own body language.
When looking at primate research she found that alphas, when tested, have higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol (created by stress) in their brain then the rest of the group. Which leads to the question, are alphas born that way or is it something they acquire when they become an alpha? What has been found is that when a non-alpha rises to the rank of alpha, their testosterone levels increase and cortisol levels decrease simply because their role changed and they begin to display alpha behavior. So, displaying the behavior causes the chemical changes that make it real.
I stated earlier that people who act more confident are seen as more confident and successful, even if they don’t know what they are doing. So, fake it until you become it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you fake confidence, you will feel more confident, which means people will see you as being confident, which makes you confident!
There are a lot of ways you can appear to be more confident. Making good eye contact and smiling, having a solid handshake, dressing the part, and taking up space are all ways to come across confidently. But one of my favorite ways is to practice Power Poses.
So, back to Amy Cuddy. Using the information about testosterone and cortisol levels in alphas, Cuddy hypothesized that using something called a Power Pose, even when you don’t feel confident, can change your testosterone and cortisol levels and therefore change your confidence level.
Power Poses are poses that people typically display when they are feeling particularly powerful, confident, or successful. For example, The Wonder Woman – which is standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips. Or, the Victory Pose – where you stand with your arms over your head in a “V” shape.
Cuddy’s experiments showed that the testosterone levels of participants increased and their cortisol levels decreased after holding a Power Pose.
You can test this yourself. Sit at your desk, slumped over and mumble, “I love my life.” Then do a Power Pose, smile, and let out a loud and powerful, “My life sucks.” Because there is a disconnect between your body language and what you are saying, your mind believes your body language, not the words.
How do we apply this to the real world? If you are going into a sales meeting or making a pitch to potential funders or partners, do you come into the room with your arms raised and then sit down at the table and put your feet up on it? No, of course not. But Cuddy’s research found that doing Power Poses ahead of time has the same affect.
Two minutes before going into a tough situation, whether there is a lot at stake or you are just nervous, pretend you are powerful by doing Power Poses. Go into a bathroom or shut the door to your office and be as big as you can be. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, square up your shoulders, smile, and strike a pose. And guess what? It works. Every time!
Have you ever tried Power Poses or have a good confidence story? Please share below. We’d love to learn from your experiences.