“Have confidence!” is one of the most essential pieces of advice you’ll receive in life that makes no sense if you’ve never done it. You know what confident people look like, the advantages they get, and that it’s something worth emulating. How do you get there though?
What is Confidence Anyway?
In the purest sense, confidence is knowing what you’re good at, the value you provide and acting in a way that conveys that to others. Contrast this with arrogance, which typically involves believing you are better in a particular area than you are. Low self-esteem involves believing you’re less valuable than you think. The closer your self-assessment is to that reality in the middle, and the more you behave accordingly, the closer you are to displaying healthy confidence.
Why does this definition matter? Because if you want to raise your confidence to a level that helps (rather than harms) you, it’s important to know what you’re aiming for. Blindly thinking positive won’t necessarily help, and it’s possible to go too far. In some cases, the latter is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Namely, it’s when someone overestimates their own abilities, displaying more confidence than their skill level deserves.
What Does it Matter?
Confidence is one of those traits that can become an ethereal ideal that we all think is good, but ask us to point to the specific reasons why anyone should want it, and we can only point to vague hypotheticals. Fortunately, science has our back. Here are just a few ways that tangibly improving your own self-confidence manifests in real-world benefits:
Confidence Can Be More Important Romantically Than Physical Attractiveness
A study published by the International Journal of Cosmetic Science showed that giving men some cologne improved their confidence enough to be rated as visibly more attractive in photographs. Similarly, researchers at Webster University found something as simple as a confident, direct smile from a woman was enough to catch the attention of a potential date.
The importance of confidence in romantic relationships doesn’t end at the dating phase either. Research published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that men in particular can have a tendency to feel worse about themselves or their relationship when their partner has a higher level of success. Of course, the moral there shouldn’t be that women should succeed less, but rather that men must work harder on improving their own confidence level.
Confidence Early In Life Can Mean Upwards Mobility at Work
It shouldn’t be a surprise that being more confident at work can mean more promotions. However, a pilot study at the University of Melbourne found some correlation between confidence levels as early as primary school and success in the workplace as adults.
This doesn’t just apply to the workplace either. A study by the University of Texas showed that students who received some expression of confidence in their ability — even while receiving criticism — performed better later on than those who were simply told to aim for higher standards.
Even Being Overly Confident Has Its Benefits
The Univerisity of Edinburgh and the University of California-San Diego found that in a standoff over a particular resource, unless you were sure you’d lose the fight, and as long as what you’re fighting for had value, being overconfident was most often to result in success. Even if you weren’t right, being confident can help you get what you want.
The Real Things You Can Actually Do to Improve Confidence
Talking about confidence is about as useful as explaining quantum mechanics via interpretive dance. It takes a minute to understand the difference between confidence and arrogance. If you have a confidence problem, what can you actually do about it? “Be better” isn’t practical advice, so what can you do to practise?
Work out: The effects of working out on your confidence are so overwhelming that it can’t be understated. When you exercise, your body releases a cocktail of endorphins that make you feel pretty good. When you’re done, you have tangible proof that you’ve done something constructive and everything in your body is programmed to second that response. If you keep at it long-term, the results of a healthier body become more and more visible.
Research how to dress better: If you’ve never taken steps to assess and improve your wardrobe, you may not realise the dramatic effect it can have on your confidence level. Everything from the style of your shirts to the colour of your glasses frames affects how people view you. When how you appear is in sync with how you want people to view you, confidence can easily follow.
Learn power poses: Much of how our mind works can be affected by what our body is doing. Ohio State University has done research that standing in certain positions — such as with outstretched arms or fists in the air — can increase testosterone levels and help us feel more confident.
Explain something you understand well. Everyone has something they understand on an above average level. Maybe you have intricate knowledge of UPS shipping paths. Maybe you have some deep insight into which type of 401k will get you the best return on your investment. Maybe you know something about football that I couldn’t even pretend to give an example for.
Giving someone a primer on a topic that you’re knowledgeable about is a quick way to get the confidence juices flowing. You know your territory, you’re in a position of relative power (you know something they don’t), and being able to articulate it proves you have value. Some topics might be difficult to find someone to sit down and listen to you, but if you’re having trouble in person, you can contribute to any number of forums seeking the helpful advice of strangers (like our own comments!).
Enter competitions you can do well in: I know what you’re thinking. “How will beating people who aren’t as good as me make me feel better?” Well, for starters, you’re already thinking like a winner if you can even ask that question. However, the snowball effect that comes from winning can lead to even more confidence down the road. Remember what we said earlier about elementary school students’ confidence level affecting their job prospects?
This is a concept that gets touched on in the book Outliers, where it’s explained that young hockey players who were born in the first half of the year were more likely to succeed than players in the last half of the year. Why? Because January 1 was the cutoff date for the age-class. A player who turned 10 on January 2 would play alongside someone who wouldn’t turn 10 for 11 more months. While this didn’t guarantee success, (and in fact, as you approach the NHL, the trend almost completely reverses) being in a group that is slightly less prepared for competition than you are can not only boost your confidence and prepare you for higher echelons, it can result in more people paying attention to your skill level (which only feeds confidence even more). It’s important to note that this particular method doesn’t necessarily mean you have to beat other people. The goal is to do something that validates your skills from an external source.
Fix things you don’t like about yourself: As much as might hurt to say, sometimes the problem isn’t your attitude or your emotions. Sometimes you need to change some things. This doesn’t have to mean you’re a bad person or not good at things, but it does mean that if you want to be more confident in a particular area, the best way to do so is to get better. Feel crappy because you can’t play the guitar? Practise. Do conversations about politics or economics make you feel unintelligent? Read up about it. Ask for help, even. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know something, but pretending you do when you don’t won’t help your confidence.
Underneath it all, most of this tricks all center around one theme: making you feel better about doing things you’re good at or who you are. There’s no surefire pattern that will make you 100 per cent confident overnight, but it can pay off if you work at it.
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