On 8 March, at the workshop I delivered about the Imposter Syndrome one of the participants asked the question, why is it that many capable women feel a lack of confidence, and men seem to stroll through, sometimes without the necessary capabilities.
The conversation went on to discuss how we are neuroscientifically wired differently. My fascination with this topic has certainly been sparked. At another IWD events, I attended I met Ellen Ross.
Ellen is a neuroscience consultant and researcher for a global negotiation company. She teaches women how to use techniques developed through neuroscience research to negotiate better.
She can certainly talk about this much better than I can so I invited her to write for us here. Here is her article. Did I mention I find this subject fascinating?
I Feel Competent, Just Not Confident.
Research shows that confidence is just as important as competence for success at work – in fact in any area of life. That’s great news…or is it?
Extensive research has gone into investigating why there seems to be a confidence gap and how it affects professional outcomes. It has been found that men tend to overestimate their abilities while women underestimate theirs (Brend Major).
It has been proven by researchers that women tend to hold back when they are not 100% sure of the answers, whereas men overestimate their knowledge of any given situation. ‘Inaction is the natural result of low confidence. When women don’t act, when we hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. However, when we do act, even without choice, we perform. Further research goes on to confirm that women’s lack of confidence results in action, therefore a great loss in productivity and output for organisations.
‘Women were found to initiate a negotiation less often compared to men, are less likely to ask and demand, and are more likely to set lower goals’ – Kolb 2009
Fortunately, neuroscience offers not only an explanation but also a solution. The beauty of practical neuroscience is understanding how we are wired and what chemical pathways are influencing our behaviour, so we can alter them. We can produce confidence naturally and create new neural pathways so this behaviour becomes instinctive and easier in the future.
All we need to do is give you a D.O.S.E of confidence.
D- Dopamine: a neurotransmitter associated with rewards, specifically with the expectation of a reward over actually obtaining the reward itself. Our brain will actively seek out dopamine. Give into your brains cravings and reward it with an endogenous release of dopamine before your next meeting.
You can easily manipulate the release of dopamine by setting yourself goals that are broken down and achievable. The act of crossing them off your list gives you a huge spike and floods your body with energy and excitement to continue on your goal.
‘Through my education, I didn’t just develop skills, I didn’t just develop the ability to learn, but I developed confidence.’ – Michelle Obama
O -Oxytocin; is a brain chemical that acts both as a neurotransmitter and as a hormone. As a neurotransmitter, it communicates within the brain and as a hormone, it signals systems throughout the entire body to reward certain behaviours.
Oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘relationship’ hormone. It creates and maintains relationships through social bonds and trust.
Women [create oxytocin] naturally, and don’t give themselves credit for. Oxytocin is created, for example, when by asking others questions about themselves, by making eye contact, by hugging.
S -Serotonin; As a neurotransmitter, serotonin relays signals between neurons regulating their intensity. It regulates mood and social behaviour. if you’re in a good mood thank your serotonin, if you’re in a bad mood then blame it! It’s estimated that 90% of the body’s serotonin is made in your gut, which scientists are now calling our second brain. Although this is a new discovery we have long been told to trust our ‘gut feeling’.
Serotonin plays a vital part in helping us feel confident. Levels will significantly increase and flow through our body when we feel respected and important. Women produce 52% less serotonin than men. There are ways to help raise the levels, such as the visualisation techniques employed by professional elite athletes to help them towards their goals. Or recalling past successes. The brain does not distinguish between imagination and reality.
E – Endorphins; A hormonal compound that is made by the body in response to pain or extreme physical exertion. Upon it’s release we experience feelings of euphoria or natural highs, you may recognises the runner’s high. We can increase the release of endorphins before meetings by going for a run or a workout at the gym. Or indeed through meditation, which has been known to produce the same amounts as exercise.
Confidence is something we can all struggle with at times. Lack of confidence isn’t always a bad thing as it’s a clear indication that we are pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and taking on new challenges, but this can affect our performance if we let it control us.
Counterbalance any absence of confidence with your new understanding of your biological makeup and self-prescribe your prescription of D.O.S.E.
You can find the full version of this article, as well as a biography of the writer here.