Seven habits to build your confidence

To mark the launch of Psychologies' first book, Real Confidence, here are some easy, everyday ways to give your self-esteem a boost


Seven habits to build your confidence

1. Assess yourself

Instead of staying in the fogginess that is lack of confidence, take stock. Forget thinking you need confidence, instead focus on what is it you want and/or need to do? Any time you feel a bit wobbly and sense yourself falling into ‘I’m hopeless, I can’t do it’ territory, stop, detach yourself from your emotions and analyse where you are, where you need to be, and what you need to learn. Keep assessing yourself.

2. Keep learning

If you’re the type who’s always taking a course in something, you’re developing a six-pack confident brain. Regardless of what you want to become confident at, any learning has a spin-off effect. Instead of dwelling on a lack of confidence at work, say, take courses in something that interests you outside of work. The combination of pursuing a passion and engaging your brain in learning will give you a happier energy, and your confidence will spill out at work.

3. Develop your willpower

You may wonder about that person you know who lacks confidence yet is able to somehow achieve their goals. The answer is willpower. Rather than focusing on not having confidence, switch your thinking to how much you want something, why you want it, and what happens when you get it. As soon as you focus on willpower, you’ll identify what gets in the way. Let’s say you haven’t the confidence to go running, but really want to run a marathon to raise money for a charity that helped a loved one deal with a terrible illness. Focusing on your motivation for that will give you the willpower to start running and slowly work towards doing the marathon.

4. Talk about your positive experiences

Do you spend more time talking about how you made a mess of things or what you can’t do? Consider this a bad habit and switch to talking about something, anything, that was even a tiny achievement. Rather than going over and over how rubbish you are, talking about the process of trying and making small progress is a habit that will help you make greater progress. Let’s say you go to pieces in job interviews but you are getting lots of interviews. Look for what went well in each one. Maybe you managed not to go blank, maybe you smiled, maybe you remembered what you’re great at. Don’t even discuss what went wrong.

5. Tone down your worst thoughts

Being real in any area of life begins with self-awareness, and we began this article by suggesting you develop the habit of assessing yourself. Of course, being real means accepting how you feel. So if you feel terrible and your thoughts are terrible, that’s where you are. But you don’t have to stay there. In order to shift, get into the habit of toning down your worst thoughts. ‘I’m going to be a disaster when I pitch for business and then I’ll get the sack,’ can be toned down to ‘I’m not going to be brilliant, but my boss knows this is my first time and will make allowances.’

The basis of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is identifying the thought then working out if there is evidence that it is correct – has your boss told you you’ll be sacked if your presentation is rubbish? If you’ve never presented before, what evidence is there that you’ll be rubbish? Modifying your thoughts is way more manageable than a complete radical change.

6. Ditch thinking for doing

We’re not going to pretend that how anyone feels about themselves is going to change overnight or even within days. Confidence fluctuates and is affected by several factors, you’ll have wobbly moments – even days. This is when you need to get out of your head. As soon as you become aware of thinking too much, start doing anything. Absolutely any activity can help ignite confidence. Next time you start to feel yourself worrying about your career, say, go for a walk, clean the house, or do some gardening instead.

7. Adopt good posture

It’s not surprising that a 2009 study at Ohio State University found that people told to sit up straight felt better at what they were doing and were viewed as better than participants slumped over their desk. Posture is one of those things we tend to forget when we’re self-absorbed. Yet what we do with our bodies changes the chemistry in our brains – there’s ample science to back this.

Some of the most recent studies have been led by social psychologist Professor Amy Cuddy at Harvard Business School. What she and her colleagues found is that power poses (opening up our bodies rather than closing them down) change our hormones so we are less reactive to stress and more fired up with testosterone energy. This isn’t just about how others see us but, crucially, how we feel.

Just two minutes of opening up and stretching arms out (instead of sitting huddled up) before a job interview zaps tension and boosts confidence. Rather than trying to nervously change your posture during a stressful situation and feeling it’s weird and fake, develop the habit of becoming aware of your posture on a daily basis. Make a mental note to open up your body (even if you’re alone) as this shifts your mind towards becoming more confident. Cuddy’s findings confirm that just two minutes alters the brain chemistry, so if you can do this for just two minutes a day, that’s a powerful habit.

Ask yourself…

  • Which daily habits do you currently have that help you to feel confident?
  • Which daily habits can you admit make you feel bad about yourself?
  • Which new habit would make the most difference to your confidence?
  • What can you do that will help you develop the habit of thinking positively and confidently?

Real Confidence (Wiley, £9.99) is out now. 

Photograph: Corbis

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