I consider myself an introvert, and I was extremely shy growing up. This created issues for me because my parents moved each year, which meant a new school, bringing with it an unknown environment with new social rules and hierarchy. It felt like a never-ending battle to figure out how not to be the target of the insecure kids (a.k.a. bullies) and to find my protective tribe (a.k.a. friends). I spent most of my developmental years in fear. I was severely lacking in confidence and felt like an impostor most of the time.
As an adult, I’ve come to cherish those miserable days for the hard lessons that they taught me. I learned a tremendous amount about fear, courage, and the art of “faking it until you make it.”
That doesn’t mean that new situations and challenges are a piece of cake for me. Hell no! I still sometimes wish that I was an extrovert and “putting myself out there” would come more easily. I still feel fear but now I am able to step into a terrifying situation and continue to move forward by taking action.
Am I fearless? On the surface it may appear so. On the inside, however, I feel the fear; it’s alive and pulsing through my body. But I’ve learned to not let it take over, not let the fear ever get into the driver’s seat. I choose to let my courage drive this bus.
Confidence - the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
To have confidence is to have self-trust.
I now consider my confidence a huge asset. I may not know how a situation will turn out, but I trust myself to make the best of it and to bounce back if it doesn’t go as expected.
So how do you build more confidence? Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way, and new ones that I’ve recently begun practicing:
1. Get a Grip On Your Thoughts
Our brains are wired to worry and fear. The average human has 65,000 thoughts every day, and 85 to 90 percent of them are related to worry or fear. Back in the cave days this was important; it kept us alive and helped us to avoid being eaten by predators.
Today this survival mechanism is rarely productive and even prevents many of us from pursuing our dreams.
The first step is to be aware of your negative thoughts, then to work on consciously flipping them to more positive thoughts. Recognize the negative self-talk, stop it in its place, then replace it with a positive thought.
2. Stand Like a Super Hero in your “Power Pose”
Our bodies change our minds and our minds change our behavior and our behavior changes our outcomes. - Amy Cuddy, Harvard University social psychologist
We all know that body language (such as consistent eye contact, smiling, and a firm handshake) is hugely important during interpersonal relations.
Self-confidence can also be built by practicing good posture, even with no one else around.
Psychologist Amy Cuddy says, “Standing tall directly influences our biochemistry, increasing testosterone, decreasing cortisol, and generally making us feel dominant.” So, by pulling back your shoulders and putting your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman, or raising them up in the air like you just won the championship game, you can help yourself act and feel more powerful than you might with a more timid and drawn-in stance. The posing primes your brain to perform well.
3. Dress the Part
Dress for how you want to feel or the role that you want to have. A study by professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University showed that when research subjects wore a scientist’s or medical doctor’s white coat, they performed measurably better on a test.
Researcher Adam Galinsky says that their findings show that it’s not just the experience of wearing the clothes, but the symbolic meaning that the clothing holds for people. “If you associate those clothes with power and confidence, it’s going to have a huge impact. It reminds people that clothes aren’t just a device of perception, but a tool that can really affect how you perceive yourself.”
So, for your next presentation put on that power suit, for your next test wear a white lab coat, and for your next date… maybe try something that Lady Gaga (my idol of feminine confidence) would wear.
4. Rock Out!
Speaking of confident rock stars, a study published by The Society for Personality and Social Psychology found those who listened to “high-power”, or bass-heavy, music felt more confident and powerful when going into interviews and meetings.
“High-power” music includes tracks like 50 Cents’ “In Da Club,” Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready For This.”
So don’t hold back: rock out with a personal dance party before your next big challenge!
5. Take Risks
Confidence is a funny thing. You go out and do the thing you’re most terrified of, and the confidence comes afterwards. - Christopher Kaminski
It's often not a failure that destroys our confidence, it's not trying again once we’ve failed. According to Dare author Beck Blalock, “Once we get back up (after failing), we've learned what doesn't work and we can give it another try."
Along the same lines, if you never try anything new, then you’re not likely to feel confident trying something new.
Therefore, a good way to build confidence is to try to do something every day that is outside of your comfort zone – challenge yourself and push yourself without fear of failure. Soon you’ll learn either that failure isn’t so bad or “Damn, I can do this!” Either way - YOU WIN!
6. Choose your companions wisely
My final and, what I believe is, my most important tip is to ensure that the people in your life are life affirming rather than soul-sucking.
We all take cues from the people who we surround ourselves with. When you pick friends who make poor choices, you can easily get dragged down with them. When you choose people who inspire and challenge you to be better, you'll increase your chances of reaching your potential.
"Your outlook--negative or positive--will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with," according to Blalock.
Additionally, Harvard researchers conducted the longest ever study of happiness (over 75 years) to determine the key to a happy life, and they concluded that the most important factor was the quality of our relationships.
It’s not just about confidence, it’s also about being happy for the long term.
In conclusion, confidence is a practice - similar to meditation, eating healthy, exercising and getting adequate sleep – to be better at it, it has to be practiced consistently.
Confidence isn’t something that you suddenly feel, it accumulates over time with practice – constantly being maintained, stretched and repeated (but it gets a lot easier the more you practice). Some days you might fail. That’s ok, it’s all part of the process of learning. The good news is that each new day is a fresh start.
What does your first step towards practicing confidence look like? If you need help developing a plan, I’m here for you.