We’ve all come across those special people who ooze natural confidence and strength. Whether they’re a member of your work or friend circle, these individuals carry themselves with grace, they have excellent eye contact, a firm handshake, and they speak with conviction. You may have previously envied their ability to work a room, and wondered how you could build your confidence to the same level. The truth is, it takes practice. (And no, it doesn’t come from practice walking in our favorite six-inch heels— although that can certainly help.) It comes from investing in ourselves. But don’t take our word for it. We asked mental health experts how we can all build our confidence step-by-step, and ensure we’re ready to take on the world.
What Is Confidence?
In general, confidence has to do with how well a person feels “solid” within themselves, and how much they trust in their own qualities or abilities, explains Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist. “Having confidence means that you believe in and feel emotionally secure about yourself. It means you have healthy self-esteem and a sense of self,” she continues. “Confidence involves feeling self-assured in an unassuming way, rather than being pretentious or arrogant about your characteristics or abilities.”
Why Does Confidence Matter?
Simply put, confidence positively affects every area of our life, including work, relationships, and our physical and mental health, says Kristi Coppa, founder of Wondergrade. Our confidence reminds us that not only can we make goals, we can also meet them. So no matter if we’re working toward getting a promotion at work, making healthier food choices, maintaining a self-care routine, or choosing a life partner, we can trust ourselves. What a beautiful thing.
Confidence also helps when things don’t turn out as expected. “When failure or mistakes happen, confident people are more likely to look at the situation positively, learn from their mistakes, and move forward,” Coppa continues. “This ability to adapt to setbacks allows confident people to pursue higher reaching goals and remain open to changes in the environment or situation.”
Also, while everyone experiences periods of sadness and bouts of anxiety, those who are confident are better equipped to push past these feelings. “When fears do arrive, confident people typically can calm fearful thoughts with positive self-talk and are less likely to ruminate on worries,” Coppa says. “This allows confident people to move through anxiety and difficulty, and cope with challenging emotions more positively. Confidence is associated with almost every aspect of a fulfilling and satisfying life.”
How Can I Build Confidence?
First, give yourself a break. Having a killer sense of confidence doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it blooms from practice, patience, and continuously trying to be your own greatest fan. Here’s a look at some ways you can begin to strengthen your self-esteem.
Invest in your natural skills. Do you have a knack for interior design? Perhaps you can read through contracts without breaking a sweat (or Googling for an answer!) Maybe you’re an amazing chef, a talented writer, or an artist in the making. To build confidence, start by honing in on your innate skills and work to improve them, Dr. Thomas suggests. This could mean taking a class, investing in a coach or mentor, opening up a side hustle, or other activities that challenge your skillset.
Accept your emotions. Remember, having confidence doesn’t mean you won’t experience fear or anxiety. Rather, it means that when fear and anxieties arise, you don’t let them discourage you from completing the task, explains Janette Marsac, a licensed master social worker. “Acknowledge all emotions that come up. You don’t have to entertain them for long or give them much attention, but it is important to recognize their existence,” she continues. “Confidence means you can handle any emotional outcome.”
An effective way to work through your feelings is to get curious about them. As you experience self-doubt, monitor how your body feels and the types of thoughts that are running through your mind, suggests Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation advisor. “When we don’t feel confident, these emotions and thoughts will arise, and can sometimes make us feel worse about ourselves. We may also feel paralyzed by fear of failing and feel stuck,” he explains. “Curiosity can help us slow down and teach us that sometimes a thought is just a thought and an emotion is just an emotion that can rise and fall in intensity.”
Track what’s going well. As humans, we tend to zero in on our shortcomings rather than celebrating our achievements. Also, we are often too critical of what’s considered a ‘win.’ While most of us would say getting a raise is a biggie, we might also be tempted to say that making it through a week without hitting snooze is insignificant. But it’s not! That’s why it’s important to track all of your accomplishments, no matter how large or small, so you have data points that boost your self-esteem, according to Joanna Lovering, an executive presence coach and the founder of Copper + Rise. You can call this a ‘What’s Working & Wins,’ record, an ‘Accomplishment Journal,’ or whatever you’d like.
“Take ten minutes out of your Friday to log anything that went well that week,” she shares. “It can be anything: ‘I triumphed over that presentation I’ve been working on for three months!’ counts just as much as ‘I had a lovely lunch with my CEO.’ Anything that confirms your worth and significance.”
Stop couching your statements. In her practice, Lovering says women tend to soften their statements so they’ll come across as more likable and easy-going. Phrases like “Just wondering if…” “…but I’m new at this,” or “You know what I mean?” are prime examples.
“When we do this, we’re taking power away from ourselves and handing it over to the other person on a silver platter, as though we need the other person to validate us,” she continues. “Noticing when we say this type of disqualifying language and eliminating it will help you come off in a better light to everyone in the room.”
Rephrase your self-talk. All day, every day, we have an inner dialogue running. While this is a natural, normal human practice that we should embrace, we also have to take an in-depth look at how we’re speaking to ourselves. We will never (ever) build confidence if we’re constantly talking down to ourselves. If you notice yourself using scolding or overly critical words with yourself, try to switch up your repertoire to encouraging and life-affirming phrases, Coppa suggests.
“If we want to grow in confidence, we must train our brains to look for positive qualities in ourselves and our situation and turn that into positive self-talk,” she says. “Write down commonly used positive self-talk and post them around your house and workspace. Set aside time each day to recite and practice saying these positive phrases until they naturally become part of your self-talk.”
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