When it comes to building self-confidence, perception is everything. The way you view yourself has a huge impact on how others will ultimately perceive you. There may be some factors beyond your control when it comes to the confidence game, but you're in the driver's seat, holding the keys to your public persona.
You've probably seen the dynamic executive who manages to be commanding even though he has a slight lisp or a bald spot the size of Miami, or the woman who isn't all that attractive but still manages to exude a kind of self-assurance that makes her seem much more alluring than she actually is. These are both examples of mind over matter, where individuals have managed to turn their nervous energy and drive into a personal magnetism that influences others. It may not be as powerful as charisma, but self-confidence helps build a bridge between you and those around you.
Self-confidence is a powerful characteristic to cultivate, but when your hands sweat every time you have to speak up during the Monday morning meeting or walk into a crowded room, it can be difficult to control your racing thoughts, much less your breathing or your two left feet. On the next pages, we'll take a look at five ways you can bulk up your mental muscles to meet the challenges inherent in many common social interactions. If the idea that almost everyone gets nervous in some social setting isn't much of a comfort, these tips are for you.
5: Be Resilient
No one is perfect the first time out, but often self-confidence teeters on a mountain of goals and expectations. If you get rattled when you aren't the best at something or when things don't go according to plan, you'll always be at the mercy of factors you can't control. The American Psychological Association suggests that one of the best attributes to develop for dealing with stress, anxiety and adversity is resilience, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. When you're resilient, your self-confidence isn't a function of your performance, and that's a very liberating way to live [source: American Psychological Association].
Resilience is natural to the human condition. The trick is to recognize that you aren't defined by one foul up -- or even two or three. Self-confident people are on a journey of self-discovery. They're curious and embrace new challenges because they have realistic expectations and aren't keeping score.
When life doesn't quite turn out the way you expect it will or want it to, give yourself a little wiggle room. The more you reward yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new instead of bashing yourself for a less-than-stellar performance, the easier it will be to tackle the next challenge with confidence.
4: Be Optimistic
Whether it's in business or personal relationships, optimism is a powerful force, and it doesn't take much of an investment. Although the growing focus on an optimistic lifestyle popularized by Tony Robbin's book "The Secret" has its detractors, the way you think about your life could still help mold the future, or at least your perception of it. The old joke about the little girl being confronted with a pile of manure on her birthday only to gleefully assume that her present has to be a pony may not be such a bad recipe for a satisfying existence. If you expect the worst, it's hard to be confident about yourself or the future.
Try the power of positive thinking the next time you face a personal challenge to see if your outlook has an impact on the way you meet the challenge or even the way you perceive it afterward. Remember, holding the good thought or putting a positive spin on events doesn't cost a dime.
3: Be Prepared
Whatever your personal style happens to be, use it to help strategize your actions and enhance your self-confidence. If pinpoint planning doesn't give you performance anxiety, prep work, like knowing the route to a new job before your first day, could mean the difference between arriving frazzled and defeated or calm and ready to punch in. The same goes for things like getting a good night's sleep, eating (or not eating) before that big interview, or studying in plenty of time for the big test.
Good preparation can involve the old adage practice makes perfect, too. Just because you're a lousy cook, driver or public speaker doesn't mean you won't improve with a little training and practice. It's human nature to stick with the things you're good at, but don't give up on other interesting activities, skills or experiences because you can't hit the ball out of the park your first time at bat. Be willing to practice and prepare. It can be a life-changer.
2: Be a Risk Taker
When you lack confidence, it's easier to stay with the familiar. Real confidence-boosting power comes from tackling something new, though. You may not succeed right away, but when you do, the experience is liberating. Many people never achieve their full potential -- not because the opportunities aren't out there, but because they're afraid to risk failure. Think of it this way: If you aren't taking risks, you aren't growing as a person. When you fail at a new challenge, it's a sign you're getting somewhere. It's one more mistake you won't make again.
There's an extra added bonus, too. Developing self-confidence is a process, and once you've worked through the fear of failing, it gets easier. You know you'll survive the humiliation of revealing your imperfect self, and you'll begin to realize that a few initial failures are a small price to pay for learning and experiencing new things.
1: Take a Walk Around the Block
Walking and other forms of moderate exercise can help reduce anxiety and elevate mood in a number of ways. Exercise increases body temperature, which helps you feel calmer and more in control. It also releases endorphins that make you feel happier and more relaxed. It's a one-two punch that's yours compliments of a quick 10-minute walk around the parking lot before a big meeting or a morning jog before that important presentation. Just about any physical activity that gets you up moving around has at least some benefit.
Exercise can help increase your confidence level by helping to distract your thoughts and get your brain working on other puzzles and challenges, too. Sometimes anticipating a big moment, like asking a girl for a date or preparing for a job interview, can ratchet up the tension -- in a very bad way. The increased adrenalin and racing thoughts may work against you, especially if you've finished all the necessary strategizing and have moved into a self-defeating, disaster anticipation mode. Take a walk around the block or perform some quick yoga moves. You'll feel calmer and may even come up with some last-minute ideas before the big moment.
Lots More Information
- How to Build Confidence Before a Date
- How to Be Happy With Yourself
- 5 Signs You're Not Happy
- 5 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Being Happy
- Cambridge University Press. "Building Self Confidence." (9/6/11). http://www.cambridge.org/other_files/downloads/esl/ventures/pdf/Ventures-TransitionsSBU02.pdf
- Edberg, Henrik. "How to Build Self Confidence: 6 Essential and Timeless Tips." 7/13/10. (9/7/11). http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2009/02/20/how-to-build-self-confidence/
- Ellin, Abby. "Seeking a Cure for Optimism." New York Times. 10/30/09. (9/6/11). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/fashion/31positive.html
- Gallo, Amy. "How to Build Confidence." Harvard Business Review. 4/29/11. http://blogs.hbr.org/hmu/2011/04/how-to-build-confidence.html?cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-management_tip-_-tip072711&referral=00203&utm_source=newsletter_management_tip&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tip072711
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- Suddath, Claire. "Q & A Kathryn Stockett, Author of The Help." 11/11/09. (9/7/11). http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1937562,00.html
- Weisul, Kimberly. "The Power of Optimism." 2/24/11. (9/6/11). http://www.bnet.com/blog/business-research/the-power-of-optimism/898