Confidence building is a tricky business because naturally confident people don’t really understand people who aren’t naturally confident. ‘Just be more confident!’ isn’t helpful advice for people who feel like they’re going to hurl everytime they walk into a room full of strangers or have to give a presentation at work.
I also question the validity of the claim that there are ‘naturally confident’ people. I’ve never struggled much with confidence building and I think it has to do with the fact that I was a really chubby child and teenager. I was never celebrated for being an attractive little girl so I learnt pretty quickly that I had to earn my gold stars in other ways by being funny, smart and useful. The things that no one can take away from you. I’m average sized now but that changes all the time and it’s always stayed with me how precarious physical attractiveness is. I try every day not to tie my self-worth to how thin I am, what my skin looks like or whether or not I have a good haircut. Humans look different every single day and I don’t reckon we’d get anything done if we let the reflection in the mirror affect whether or not we go out and grab the day by the balls, so to speak. None of this means I’m ‘naturally confident’. It means I work hard at making sure I’m a pleasant, useful and contributing member of society. That’s my way of confidence building and to be honest, it really bloody works. If I’m at a dinner with a bunch of people I’ve never met before, the people I talk about enthusiastically afterwards are the funny, interesting, kind or thoughtful people. The good news? It’s so much easier to be funny, interesting, kind or thoughtful than it is to be super-model beautiful (of which about 1% of the world’s population is thought to be). Isn’t that a lovely thought?
You must separate your general feelings of confidence from your perception of your own physical appearance. I can remember going to a friend’s wedding years ago and feeling really fat and gross and I look back on the photos now and I think I look incredible, which just proves that whatever I think about myself, it’s always just in my own head. Always tie your confidence to what you are, not what you look like. I know it’s easier said than done, so here are a few tips that might help you feel more confident than you are.
Confidence Building: How To Feel Awesome About Yourself
1. Concentrate on body language
Body language is something that tends to get ignored in social situations. I used to be a teacher so I’ve trained myself over the years to give good body language (kids are geniuses – they can pick a bad attitude just from the way you’re walking) but it’s something anyone can learn. Key points – stand up straight, hands out of pockets, make eye contact, don’t fold your arms or put obstacles between yourself and the person you’re talking you. Bad body language can kill a first impression so make sure you keep it at the front of your mind. It sounds super self-centred but if I’m feeling a bit shy I’ll say ‘I own this room.’ to myself. There’s nothing like channelling a little bit of Don Draper to give you an extra confidence boost. Rituals are also proven to help with confidence levels – so if you’re nervous for a presentation or when meeting new people, try a power pose. Standing with your hands on your hips, or your hands clasped behind your head, gives your body the illusion of calm confidence. I’ve tried this before speaking gigs and it really works. Just duck to the bathroom for some privacy and give it a go. Your body sends subtle signals to your brain all day. It’s much harder to concentrate when you’re slumped down in your chair at work so you sit up straight to give yourself an energy boost to get your work done. The same applies with confidence building. If you’ve got your head ducked down and your arms folded across your chest, you’re not going to feel confident. I’m not asking you to stand like Superman with a flowing cape and a machine blowing wind through your hair (although that be extremely cool), just unclench and open up your body. It will make a huge difference. Hot tip: Keep reminding yourself to relax and open up your body. I’m a fairly confident person and even I’ll end up in a weird standing pretzel knot if I’m feeling uncomfortable. Every now and then, remind yourself to check your body language when you’re in public spaces.
2. Make the person you’re talking to feel like the best human in the world
This is the easiest and most effective way to make someone like you (and consequently nail your own confidence building) – let them talk about themselves and act like it’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever heard. I’m pretty lucky because I actually really enjoy hearing people’s life stories (seriously, I only have to get someone mildly drunk before they start telling me all their family history and secrets. I think I have a safe face or something.) but even if you don’t like listening to other people, just pretend that you do. Everyone likes to talk about themselves and it’s the easiest way to make people feel good, which is a sure fire way of confidence building in yourself. It’s a great distraction if you’re feeling insecure – just concentrate on making someone else feel great. It works every time. It also takes the pressure off you having to make conversation. Just keep on asking questions, most people will be delighted to answer them.
3. Back yourself
Never make shit up. The difference between someone who is confident and someone who is talking a whole lot of B.S is that the first person has done their research and the second person just likes the sound of their own voice. I cannot stress how important preparation is. If I prepare, everything is easier. Presentations, travel, cooking, writing – preparation is the key to confidence. Think about the last time you felt totally out of your depth and be honest about how much preparation you did leading up to that moment. Did you rush through the preparation of a presentation at work and then did an average job of it? Did you not read the recipe properly before cooking dinner and left an ingredient out for a dinner party you were hosting? Planning and preparation are key for confidence building. Think about how much more relaxed you are when you’re all packed and ready to go to the airport, instead of having to pack at the last minute and wondering whether you remembered to grab your computer charger.
4. Get things done
Set goals and work towards achieving them. It might be to run 5km without stopping, save $5000 for a holiday or start a podcast. Feelings breed on feelings which is why it’s so easy to get stuck in a funk when you’re feeling like crap. Once you feel bad, those bad feelings seek out other bad feelings and then they gang up all your other lovely feelings and give them wedgies behind the bike shed. The good news is that this works with positive feelings too. The endorphin rush you get from achieving something is so powerful that it makes you want more of it. Think about it. How often have you seen one of your mates on Facebook train for a 5km run and then never ever do another 5km run? I’m sure it happens but most of the time those people will complete a 5km run and will then train for a 10km run, then a half marathon and keep on achieving. The confidence you build from achieving your goals seeps into all other areas of your life. Think about your mate who recently got a promotion they worked really hard to get… were they just glowing, happy and unbelievably pleasant to be around? You answered yes right? It doesn’t even have to be anything huge, even just cleaning out your garage or finally getting around to volunteering like you always said you were going to. This week, set a goal and go about figuring out how to achieve it. It’s a domino effect, you just need to knock over the first brick.
5. Don’t fear failure
Fear of failure is one of the biggest confidence killers on the planet. I understand – I struggled with fear of failure for years. What if no one likes that blog post? What if I accidentally wrote something offensive? What if the brand doesn’t like that sponsored post? What if no one listens to my podcast? What if I audition for that play and I don’t get in? The answer to all of these questions is ‘Who cares?’. So what if you go for that job and you don’t get it? What are you going to lose by starting that boot camp and not finishing it? What’s going to happen if you ask out that guy/girl and they say no? Are you going to self-combust? Unlikely. Failure is uncomfortable, no one likes it but unfortunately, it’s something we have to learn to deal with. I recently read this article that explains this theory perfectly.
A pottery teacher split her class in half and told one half of the class that they could submit one pot into the end of year pottery competition. They could plan and research as much as they liked but they could only make one pot for the whole semester. She told the second half of the class that they could submit one pot into the end of year pottery competition but they can make as many pots as they liked and enter the best one.
The result? All the winning pots came from the class that made many pots. The pots from the one-pot only group all sucked, despite the research and planning.
The lesson here? It’s not quantity over quality, it’s that quantity leads to quality. Keep doing things, keep practising things and never fear failure. You might apply for 20 jobs before you get your dream gig and those 20 ‘failed’ interviews are what got you there. If you went straight to the dream interview without going for 20 average interviews, you might not have got the dream job.
Embrace failure because you don’t get far without it. Caveat: Planning and research are excellent, definitely do those things too but don’t let planning and research stop your progress or prevent you from practicing.
6. Stand up for yourself
If you have the facts and you’ve done the research, be confident in your knowledge. Here’s a rather trite but still important example. I was at a Harry Potter pub trivia night and I was on a table with some people I didn’t know very well. The guy writing down the answers just kept writing down what he thought was correct without consulting the team (and to be fair, most of the time he was right) but when the quiz master asked ‘What house is Luna Lovegood in?’ he wrote ‘Gryffindor’. I got his attention and said ‘No, she’s in Ravenclaw.‘ he totally dismissed me. I put my foot down and said ‘She’s in Ravenclaw. That’s why she knows about Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem and that’s why she’s friends with the Grey Lady, the ghost of Ravenclaw.’ The other teammates made him change it and of course, I was right. When you know you’re right, stand up for yourself. Especially when you can prove you’re right. And always when it comes to Harry Potter.
7. Focus on wellness
Confession? I once spoke at a conference with a raging hangover. It wasn’t just a regular hangover, it was a proper week-long bender style hangover. I’d prepared very well for it and it was totally fine (in fact I got invited back to speak again the following year) but I felt awful. I hadn’t exercised in a week, I’d been living off hotel food and I’d been giving the booze way too much of a nudge in the previous week. When I’m eating well, getting plenty of sleep and prioritising exercise, it totally changes the way I feel about everything I do. No one else would have noticed a difference in my presentation but I noticed how different it felt to other presentations I’ve given. Besides being extremely beneficial to your health in general, exercising can help with memory retention, improve focus and helps manage stress. Sounds like a potent cocktail for confidence building right?
Here’s some other resources that might be helpful…