2015 Summit

How to rewire your brain to cultivate self confidence

In a discussion about the science behind self-esteem, presented by Dove on Friday morning at the Women in The World Summit, panelists addressed society’s failure to support self-assuredness in young women and promote body-positive imagery. But they also focused on solutions: recent research that demonstrates, scientifically, that we can cultivate self-confidence.

“Women are not taught to be self confident,” said neuroscience expert and NYU professor Dr. Stacie Grossman Bloom. “But we can teach ourselves.”

Through mental stimulation exercises like envisioning success and engaging the reward centers of our brains, Dr. Bloom explained, “we can actually rewire our synaptic system.”

This rewiring involves choosing to seek out “contrary imagery” as an alternative to the “white skinny women” who dominate commercial culture and warp our idea of beauty.

“I just didn’t see myself reflected anywhere,” recalled actress Thandie Newton: being bi-racial left her feeling isolated when she was growing up in an all-white community. “I was a spirited, happy kid, but I was the only brown kid for miles.”

For Newton, acting and dance provided the foundation for her self-confidence re-education.

Gabi Gregg, founder of gabifresh.com – a refined, body-positive style blog that showcases plus size fashion and lifestyle – discovered her path through the on line body confidence movement.

“That’s the first time in my life that I realized I could choose beautiful.”

Dr. Renee Engeln, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, referenced a Dove survey finding that 66% of women cited confidence as the top attribute of beauty. She also suggested that women could occasionally be complicit in steering the conversation toward the superficial.

“Step away from the mirror,” she urged. “We have other things to talk about.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is independent of and separate from any views of The New York Times.