Women grow more confident as the years go by, but there are always ways we boost our ‘can do’ further, simply by making small changes.
You may have felt low in confidence when you hit your early 50s. Many women do. In fact, around that age, women often report feeling invisible and even dismissed by society.
After that, though? It just keeps getting better. According to figures from Zenger Folkman, a research and training organisation, in her mid-40s a woman’s confidence is reasonably high. It often dips in the low to mid-50s, and then it jumps from age 60.
Isn’t it great to think the older we get, the more invincible we feel? Even better, with just a few small tweaks and changes to our way of thinking, we can truly feel this is the time of our lives.
Turning perceptions on their head
Believing in yourself sounds like a cliché, but it’s quite incredible the difference it can make — and interestingly, many women say that the aspects of their personality they had once thought of as a hindrance turn out to be the things that give them most confidence later in life.
Perhaps you’ve always felt too “stubborn”, which now you view as determination instead. You may have thought of yourself as opinionated in a negative way (and perhaps others affirmed that), but as you age, you might pride yourself on your well thought-out points of view, enjoying the challenge of a dinner party discussion or book group. The key to enjoying your virtues and vices is exactly this — to find the positives in what makes you, you. So if you’ve always viewed yourself as having strong opinions about how the country should be run, for example, sign up for local political party activities or perhaps even consider putting yourself forward as a councillor or MP.
If you’ve always been a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to grammar, offer your services as a proofreader for university students writing their dissertations. Find ways to use your unique idiosyncrasies to a positive end. Not only will you enjoy seeing the fruits of your labours, but you’ll gain new confidence in who you are.
Tristan Lee, the Gorgeousness Coach (tristanlee.com), works with clients teaching them lifestyle choices to give them even greater confidence and an inner and outer “glow”. He recommends the following affirmations… “I am a magnificent work in progress”, “I am learning to accept myself as perfect in my imperfections”, “I’m open to exploring how to take amazing care of myself both inside and out”.
You might be wondering how effective these affirmations will really be and you may even feel a bit daft saying them out loud at first, but it’s proven to work for some people. Tristan says because your thoughts dictate your actions they do really help. They encourage you to try new things and give you a different outlook on your day.
It’s important to consider how you word your affirmations, however. Research has found that a simple line such as “I am a loveable person” can backfire when your own self-esteem interferes and makes you feel worse when the affirmation doesn’t seem to work.
However, a brain imaging study published in medical journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that self-affirmation of the kind described by Lee, where you encourage your brain to focus on things you value in your life, produces activity in the brain’s reward centres — helping to improve wellbeing in the study’s participants.
Perhaps even more interesting was that the researchers also found increased brain activity when study participants applied their self-affirmation thoughts to the future. So, for example, rather than thinking, “I’m overweight and so unfit”, the participants were provided with self-affirming messages such as, “Moving more will help to prevent me getting heart disease later in life”. Not convinced? Try it and you might just find you get a boost.
Stand tall, be tall
The way you feel about your body obviously plays a big part in how confident you feel, but you don’t need to have a perfect or even fit body to use your physique to give your ego a boost. You can change how confident you feel by simply adjusting your posture.
Researchers from Ohio State University found that sitting up straight in your chair is enough to give you more confidence and self-belief. The research involved participants who were assessed on their qualifications or suitability, in terms of personality or skills, and revealed that those who were asked to sit up straight, pushing their chest out, were more confident than those who slouched.
“People assume their confidence is coming from their own thoughts,” says co-author of the study psychology Professor Richard Petty. “But posture also affects what they’re thinking.”
Step into the limelight
You may feel as though your chance to shine was way back when, and now that you’re passing through midlife and beyond, it’s not your time to be centre of attention. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Women are often conditioned into believing it’s unfeminine to take centre stage,” says Tristan. “They often focus on their lack of ability, whereas men can exaggerate theirs.
“The key is that being seen and heard is the right of all of us and that an affirmation such as, ‘I’m becoming more comfortable and confident taking centre stage’ can be enormously beneficial. We become what we repeatedly say to ourselves, so let’s choose our words wisely.”
If you aren’t working full-time any more, surely now is a great time to think about trying those pastimes that have always appealed but you’ve never had time for, like joining that local campaigning group or choir.
Incredibly, accepting and highlighting your skills and talents could even make you richer. Research from Ohio State University found that having high confidence in maths ability compared to low confidence resulted in the equivalent of having around £60,000 more in income per year. This was true regardless of the actual ability in maths an individual displayed.
This, say the researchers, could be because those who underestimate their abilities then refrain from furthering their skills or utilising them, allowing them to dwindle. Don’t let that be you — if you’ve always known, in your heart, that you’re a lovely singer, a careful grammarian or have green fingers, embrace it, use that skill and enjoy it. Let yourself be the expert, enjoy sharing your knowledge and skill, and watch your confidence grow. Because if not now, when?