Is low confidence holding you back in life? Many of us think that confidence is something you either have or don’t have, but the reality is that self-confidence is a skill that can be cultivated. In fact, the word confidence comes from the Latin word fiducia, which means “to trust”. So, having confidence literally means having trust in yourself and in your ability to handle a given situation. But how can you increase the level of trust you have in yourself? Here’s how to feel more confident, according to science.
How to feel more confident in 5 steps
Adopt an alter ego
There’s a reason so many superstar celebrities adopt an alter ego when performing – it helps them play the role of a confident superstar better (because they are just human underneath it all). We’ve seen Beyonce become Sasha Fierce when strutting on the stage, Eminem (Marshall Mathers) morph into Slim Shady when performing darker tracks and Nicki Minaj refer to herself as Chun-Li (a character from the Street Fighter video games) in her songs.
It may sound a little extreme, but acting like your confident alter ego is a quick way to start feeling more confident, and most importantly, experiencing the benefits of being more confident.
Researchers explored this theory in the book Leadership in Science and Technology and found that having an alter ego really can affect how you see yourself. They specifically looked at online alter egos (known as avatars) and they noticed that people psychologically took on the characteristics of their avatar. For example, people who had good-looking avatars felt more attractive in real life.
Action: So, how can you create your own alter ego and use it to feel more confident? Try these four steps.
- Think of someone you aspire to be like – pick a person you know in real life rather than a celebrity.
- Bring a picture of them to mind and pick three things about them that makes you know they are confident.
- Make the picture more vivid by tuning into specific details – how do they dress, how do they hold themselves, what mannerisms do they have, how do they speak?
- The next time you are going into a situation you feel requires more confidence than you have, pretend you’re in a film and you’re playing the role of that person. You don’t have to emulate the person fully, but pick the three things you identified as making them seem confident and copy these things.
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Change the way you hold yourself
Think about the confident people you admire. How do they present themselves? Do they shrink in the corner, make no eye contact, stare at the floor and essentially create the impression that they are taking up space?
Likable celebrities like Barack Obama, Will Smith and Beyonce ooze confident without arrogance, and they do so by holding their head up, smiling and power posing (that’s adopting a powerful posture, such as standing with your hands on your hips and your feet spaced well apart). But this isn’t pseudoscience, research published in the journal Physiological Science suggests that carrying yourself in a confident way can affect how you feel about yourself.
So, try it right now. Stand up, put your feet together, hunch your back and pull your shoulder in towards your chest, and look at the floor. Hold this for five seconds.
Then spread your feet shoulder-width distance apart, pull your shoulders back and down (so your shoulder blades come together), raise your head and look straight ahead. How do you feel in comparison to the previous posture? More confident, right?
Action: Every time you catch yourself adopting a shrinking pose make an effort to correct this. Do it often enough and you’ll notice you feel more confident.
Make eye contact
Holding yourself in a confident posture is a good way to start looking and feeling more confident, but it’s useless without working on your eye contact habits. Do you feel uncomfortable looking people in the eye?
Take a moment now to figure out the specific situations in which eye contact feels awkward. Is it with strangers or do you avoid eye contact with people you know too? What about when you’re speaking — do you prefer to gaze at your feet or up at the ceiling instead of at the person you’re speaking to?
Making eye contact is the quickest way to establish trust and likeability, and to assert yourself. If you make people feel like they like and trust you, and that you know what you’re talking about, they will respond to you favourably, which in turn will instantly make you feel more confident.
You don’t have to take our word for it, research published in the journal Image and Vision Computing found that powerful and influential people tend to give and receive more eye contact than others.
Action: Make sure you look at anyone you’re talking to in the eye. To avoid making too much eye contact (which can be intimidating) look away whenever there’s a pause in the conversation. If you find it too awkward to look directly into someone’s eyes, look at the top of their nose instead – they won’t be able to tell the difference.
Use decisive language
Have you noticed that confident people speak in a way that makes you believe they know what they’re talking about? Half of the time, they’re making things up, but you never know because they use decisive language.
So, what is decisive language.
“I think, maybe that possibly he may not be too happy with you, but I could be wrong, I don’t know” = indecisive language.
“It looks like he’s not very happy with you” = decisive language.
As you can see, the first sentence oozes lack of confidence and is also a little confusing. The second sentence is direct and clear.
When speaking decisively you should avoid:
- using lots of filler words (like, basically, erm)
- using lots of cautious, non-committal words (like possibly, maybe)
- apologising for speaking
Action: It’s important to find a balance, as there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. This means you shouldn’t follow these rules blindly. Always listen to the words you’re saying out loud. Decisive language should be clear but not cause offence.
It’s often said that competence breeds confidence, and it’s true. Think about when you first drove on your own after passing your driving test. It’s likely that you were a nervous wreck. You probably drove really cautiously out of fear of getting into an accident or annoying everyone else on the road. But flash forward to now and it’s likely that you’re a completely different person on the road. The difference between you then and now is your confidence in your driving ability — and that confidence has come from gaining enough driving experience to trust that you can drive safely.
The same is true for any other situation you feel unconfident in. The only way to become more confident is to do that thing over and over again. Remember what we said at the start of this article — confidence means having trust in your ability to handle a specific situation.
Action: Avoid the temptation to put off doing things that intimidate you until you’re more confident. Instead, pick one activity you’ve been putting off until you’re ready and commit to doing it today. And don’t just commit in your head, do so externally. For example, if you want to speak up more at work, email your boss and offer to make a presentation at an upcoming meeting.
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