The Confidence Collapse: Don’t Let It Happen to You

Ladies, are we undergoing some sort of collective “confidence collapse”? Ann Cuddy

Maybe you’ve noticed what I have lately: So many grownup women — in meetings, on the street, wherever — hold their bodies in a way that fails to exude the confidence of their experience. It’s not our words but our body language: Too many of us seem to make ourselves smaller when speaking, as though we’re trying to fade into the background.

What’s behind this loss of self-assurance?

Any person, male or female, can lose confidence at any age. After 50, however, a flood of life shocks can suck the energy right out of our souls: The loss of a job, upheavals in a long-term relationship, financial hardships and empty nests are just a few of the big challenges that often befall us. (Sometimes merely worrying about our looks as we age can undermine our composure.)

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A confidence expert much in the news of late is Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy (above), whose academic research reveals that we can become more confident simply by looking that way. This is not a case of “Fake it ’til you make it,” Cuddy stresses. Instead it’s “Fake it ’til you become it,” with the “it” being “confident.”

Cuddy demonstrates one way to do just that in a video that has become the second most popular TED Talk ever: You stand as tall as you possibly can, with your back held ramrod straight. This power pose, Cuddy’s research shows, can increase the body’s production of confidence-boosting testosterone, making you appear more powerful to those around you.

My own Damascus Road moment came four years ago when I resolved to walk into the spotlight to promote my first book, The Best of Everything After 50. “Wobble” into the spotlight was more like it: I was petrified by the mere thought of TV appearances and live talks. And when I contemplated revealing to the world my insecurities about turning 50, my formerly ample confidence reserves started to drop.

My body language during this time telegraphed how I was feeling. I sat in ways that brought all body parts inward. I stood in a way that let the other person appear more powerful than me. Not good.

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Then came word that Ann Curry, anchor of the Today show, wanted to do a segment on my book. This was my opportunity to represent women over 50 on national television, and I didn’t want to blow it! I knew I had to take action, so I practiced, practiced, practiced: I practiced standing tall, head up, shoulders wide; I practiced my key talking points over and over again in the mirror; and I practiced deep breathing to keep my voice from sounding shaky. By the time I waltzed (not wavered) onto the Today set, I was able to tell myself, “I can do this!” And I did.BHG on Today

The segment — which you can watch here — was deemed a success: Books sold and more TV appearances ensued. I appreciate those results, but what I treasure most from the experience is that I was able to get back something that I thought I had lost forever — confidence.

For more tips on how a few small changes can give you a big boost in self-assurance, take a look at this short video:


 

Remember, we can’t control getting older, but we can control how we do it.

I’d love to hear from you! Leave your questions and ideas about living your best life in the comments section below. Or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or my blog on AARP.org.
 
Photos: TED, Best of Everything After 50

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