The Confidence Code: Summary & Review

the confidence code book cover

The Confidence Code explores the impact of confidence on life’s achievements, career success, and personal satisfaction.
Albeit it focuses on women, and why women lack confidence compared to men, it’s a great read for men as well. Finally, the book also offers advice on how readers can increase their confidence.

Bullet Summary

  • Confidence definition: confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action
  • Men, on average, have more confidence than women
  • Women tend to lose confidence when there is a stereotype against them
  • Confidence is very important for life success
  • Confidence is partly inborn and partly nurture, but you can work on it and increase it


About the Authors: Claire Shipman is a regular contributor to “Good Morning America” and other national broadcasts for ABC News. Katty Kay is the anchor of BBC World News America

Confidence Turns Wishes Into Realities by Allowing You to Take Action

When you don’t have confidence in yourself, you don’t take action. And when you don’t take action, you give up any possibility that will you ever achieve your dreams and goals.

A lack of confidence, hence, means that you are less likely to take action.
As someone said: you miss all the shots you don’t take. And people who lack confidence don’t take shots.

When you have confidence instead, it means that you believe enough in yourself to take action. And guess what, taking action gives you at least a chance. And, often, even when you fail, you will find out that more action will eventually get you closer to the final goal.

Other Inhibitors of Action

There are other factors that can stand between us and action, like a lack of motivation, or procrastination.

But if we assume that we want something, say the authors, then the only inhibitor is a lack of belief in our ability to succeed.

The Experiment Proving Confidence Matters for Success

Zachary Estes experiment asked both women and men to have a go at a stereotypically male task: solving a series of spatial skill puzzles. 
Men scored far higher than women. 
But why did they score higher? Women scored lower because they hadn’t even tried to answer all questions and left many of them empty.
Estes ran the experiment again and asked women to at least try to answer all questions. Result? When women tried to answer all questions their scores were as good as the men’s scores.

This test shows that a lack of confidence can have strong and negative real-life impacts when they result in inaction.
And it shows that a lack of confidence can lead to poorer results independently of skills, when compared to a group of more confident individuals who take their shots.

Confidence Cousins’: self-esteem, optimism, self-compassion, self-efficacy

  • Self-esteem: more stable and more pervasive than confidence, and it’s an invaluable buffer for withstanding setbacks. In my opinion, self-esteem is more important than confidence
  • Optimism: it’s a sense that everything will work out
  • Self-Compassion: accepting that sometimes we will not win, that sometimes we will fail, and that sometimes it’s even OK to be average, provides us with a safety net to try things out. If we fail, it’s OK, it’s part of the human experience
  • Self-efficacy: the “tough, get-it done” member of the family

Courage might also be thought of as a cousin of confidence. It’s most helpful when we are new to a task and we need to take those first, terrifying steps.

Confidence Is Important for Success

Anderson’s research devised a test to measure confidence and excessive confidence.
At the end of the semester, the most confident individuals, including the ones that scored wrong answers because of overconfidence, were also the most popular.

My Note: you can’t say that confidence is more important than competence-based on that paper
The authors jumped to the conclusion based on that single paper that confidence is more important than competence for success.

But that’s a big stretch. 
If they had said social success, then it would have been more appropriate. But based on that single paper, you cannot say that “confidence matters more than competence”.

Some of Plomin’s research seems on twins suggested that self-perceived ability rating, which can be considered a measure of confidence, was more important in academic achievement than IQ.

Confidence is Partly Nature, Partly Nurture, And You Can Partly Work At It

How much confidence you have is partially programmed in your gene.
Some researchers say it’s 50%, like the big five personality traits.
But some other researchers disagree, saying that facets of the big five are less genetically programmed. Traits like confidence, they say, are probably 25% inherited.

The way you have been raised can also partially influence confidence, for example, if you have been raised with a growth mindset.
The good news if you’re not naturally high in confidence, is that you can also work at it.


More Wisdom

  • A slight tilt towards overconfidence is preferred 
  • We dislike women who talk a lot, but we also actively expect men to dominate conversation
  • Perfectionism is a confidence killer: it inhibits action and achievement
  • Suppress the siren call of praise: praise and flattery are addictive, you end up basing your self-worth on what others think of you, and you pay an emotional (and physical) price
  • When men are the majority, women speak 75% less. Read here why


On positive thinking:

There’s power and science in positive thinking

On a third way to be confident for women, without trying to be aggressive men:

We’re saying that there’s a third way. We don’t always have to speak first; we can listen, and incorporate what others say, and perhaps even rely on colleagues to help make our point. We can pass credit around, and we can avoid alienating potential enemies. We can speak calmly but carry a smart message. One that will be heard. Confidence, for many of us, can even be quiet. Any of that might be the way confident behavior looks for women. 


  • Sometimes confuses courage / drive with confidence?

The authors say:

And, let’s be honest, neither the beckoning of a comfortable couch nor a lack of motivation is likely to be what stops us from speaking out at confrontational moments or from cold-calling a potential client to pitch a sale. Confidence is all that matters there.

I think that beating the fear of cold-calling is overcome more through personal drive and courage, than confidence.
I had very little confidence in my first cold calls, but I did them because I just wanted to do it, in spite of the fear. And I couldn’t have stood the idea of me not doing it.

  • You can’t say that confidence matters more than competence

The authors make the case early in the book that “confidence matters more than competence for success”.
Based on the one paper they justified their assertion on, it seemed an inappropriate conclusion to me.

  • (Slightly) playing down results to make men and women sound more similar?

Write the authors:

Women thought they got 5.8 out of 10 right, men 7.1. And how did they actually perform? Their average was almost the same—women got 7.5 out of 10 and men 7.9.

0.4 of difference is not “almost the same” on a scale of 0 to 10.
That can be especially significant if we are talking about curve-distribution differences, since those differences will be huge at the tails.

That being said, the general point the authors wanted to make stands: women tend to underestimate themselves more than women do.


  • Great overview on confidence, spanning lots of studies and interviewing many experts
  • Many concrete tips: contrary to some ill-informed reviews online, there are a ton of concrete and applicable advice, including for parents


I thoroughly enjoyed “The Confidence Code” and I learned a lot from it.

I used some of this information both for my Power Univesity (lessons for women and the workplace), and for my “Ultimate Power” ebook. And when I use a book for my work, that’s the biggest compliment I can give to an author.

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