The Confidence Trap

Psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri shares her clinically proven advice for boosting your self-esteem—and, as a result, achieving your goals.

From Lauren:
Confidence is a hot topic for us #womenwhowork. Most articles say that we’re not confident enough and that overconfidence is the goal. Others insist that overconfidence gets us the “bitchy” or “difficult to work with” labels more quickly than we can make eye contact with our threatened male counterparts. In short, the self-assurance we get when we appreciate our abilities or qualities garners a lot of attention. Here’s the deal—while we account for over half of today’s workforce, women still assume only approximately 15% of CEO positions. It’s said that a major contributor to such underrepresentation in leadership roles is our lack of confidence. The Confidence Trap The confidence gap—the significant difference between confidence levels in males versus females—is well-documented, and research shows that confidence is as important as competence for success. Studies show that women underestimate their abilities while men tend to overestimate theirs and women report in surveys that they tend to apply for a promotion when they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men apply with 50%.

The problem is underrepresentation of more than half of the population, but the solution is not necessarily hustling up the confidence continuum. I suggest we, instead, shift our focus to self-esteem—confidence in our own worth or value. Many of the articles that delve into the confidence gap use the terms confidence and self-esteem interchangeably. While correlated, they’re not one and the same.

You can be confident in many areas—your skill sets, work ethic, intellect—and still, have very low self-esteem. While it would seem that overconfidence would have nothing to do with low self-esteem, my experience with working women (just like you!) tells me that both lack of confidence and overconfidence both positively correlate with low-self-esteem. Let me explain. It’s said that when one is overconfident, she misjudges her skill-sets, opinions, etc., resulting in a performance that is well below expectation. In my experience, many of us are at risk for bumping heads with the overconfidence barrier. And it’s not because we over-value ourselves (as if there is such a thing!). Instead, it comes back to the low level of self-esteem that keeps us from applying for leadership roles—the positions we’re qualified for, yet shy away from. Not going for it affects us in significant ways. It seems that when we take a lesser job—one that we can do with our eyes closed—and one that doesn’t interest or excite us—we subconsciously don’t give it what we’ve got. So our performance falls short of our capabilities.

We have a tendency to perform better in challenging situations than those that seem like a cake walk. For illustration’s sake, let’s take it back to the college days. How often did you put off completing the gym homework, because you had important work to do in physics and economics? The result—an A in physics, an A in economics, and a B in gym. The problem—physics, economics, and gym all factored into your overall GPA with the same 3 credit weight. Damn! But, if you recall—it was hard to make yourself do the gym work, because there was nothing reinforcing about completing it. Well, that’s what’s happening to us in the workplace.

To combat both underconfidence and overconfidence, let’s attend to our level of self esteem. This way, we’ll have the guts to apply for the challenging, exciting position that’s more in line with our skill-sets. In turn, we’ll perform at our best and have the performance reviews to prove it! Here’s how.

1. Manage your inner critic

Each of us has both positive and a negative thoughts, and those of us with low self-esteem have a negative thought voice or inner critic that can be vicious. Name the inner critic in an effort to externalize the negative thoughts (I call mine Stuck. Because if I continued to listen to it’s banter, I’d be just that—Stuck for life!). This way, you’ll no longer confuse those destructive thoughts as being a part of you and you can finally put them in perspective.

2. Think big

The comparison game gets you nowhere fast! You’ve got to remember that you are the only person with your unique set of skills, experiences, etc. There is no comparison. Worrying about measuring up to him or getting one step ahead of her is a self-destructive distraction from meeting your long-term goals. If it seems today that your goal is to be better than him and do it faster than her, you’re thinking very small. Start thinking big! That’s the only way for you to meet your individual potential.

3. Get familiar with your core beliefs

To get to the root of the judgments your inner critic plays on repeat, go to your core beliefs! We each have core beliefs about ourselves, other people, life in general and the future. Many times, hard-to-manage negative thoughts are fueled by a faulty core belief system. Get familiar with yours and when necessary, change them! You can choose what to believe.

4. Increase your power

Let’s take a look at your real self (who you are today) versus your ideal self (the person you want to become). Notice that the ideal version of you doesn’t have anything that the real version lacks. Instead, she simply doesn’t have any of the things that get in the real version’s way. To decrease the difference between the two, commit to taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Nurturing all aspects of you will get you in fighting shape.

5. Live your value

You can’t feel your value if you don’t treat yourself like you have it. Self-care is ultimately important to self-esteem. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you’ve increased self-esteem, your self care regimen will follow with ease. It works in the opposite way! Treat yourself as you would a loved one and you’ll become one (to yourself) in no time. Following these tips might seem like a part-time job in and of itself. But holding yourself in high regard isn’t only about landing the dream job; it’s about becoming your true self. Your true self recognizes her right to pick and choose career goals—and just about everything else, too!

For more from Dr. Lauren Hazzouri, read her recent columns on the site, follow her on Instagram or visit her online at

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