Do you have friends who can walk up to someone at a party and they’d instantly hit it off? These are the people who often get free drinks, invites to cool events, and make new friends whenever they go out.
Meanwhile, there are people who feel anxious in almost every social encounter. Their first day on a job, a big company meeting, and even a housewarming party all make them feel vulnerable and unsure of themselves.
Questions like the following often spring to mind during these events:
- “What will I say?”
- “Who do I talk to?”
will I do if there’s an awkward silence?”
While social awkwardness is common, it’s not a lifetime thing. You can learn how to build self-confidence that doesn’t feel forced or unnatural. You can still be yourself and have the self-confidence to try new things, meet new people, and all the benefits that come with a confident aura.
What is confidence? Self-confidence is often used interchangeably with self-esteem, self-belief and sometimes with self-efficacy. Before you go through the rest of this tutorial, it’s important you understand the difference among these terms.
Self-confidence is trusting your own abilities, capacities, and judgment. Self-confident people know they can rise up to the task at hand.
We see confidence in others based on how they talk and act. Think of the confident people you know, you can’t drill inside their brains to know what they think of themselves but you think they’re confident anyway because of how they portray themselves to the world.
Self-esteem, on the other hand, includes what you feel about yourself—not just your thoughts and actions. According to Psychology Today, “Esteem” comes from the Latin word “aestimare” that means “to appraise or estimate.” A healthy self-esteem means having the ability to cope with your life, which partly comes from being competent in what you do and a sense of approval from people that matter to you.
Self-efficacy, based on Bandura’s Theory is like self confidence in the sense that it’s built on your belief that you've got the power to affect your life for the better. People who feel like they don’t have control of their future because of external circumstances, bad luck, or some other reason, have low self-efficacy. The difference is self-confidence isn’t limited to future hope; it’s also linked to previous experiences because self-confidence is often acquired through previous successes or mastery of a certain subject.
It’s all interconnected. The way I see it is, first you start building self-confidence and once you've got that you’ll feel more in control of your life and destiny (self-efficacy). After that, you’ll eventually build a life and self-image where because you’re not just acting confident on the outside, you actually like yourself who you are.
It’s a long journey to get there, so let’s get on with the first step: building self-confidence that feels authentic to your personality.
The first step to improving your self-confidence is taking stock of how others perceive you. Confidence is subjective, what feels like confidence to you may look flaky or arrogant to others or it could be the complete opposite. There are things you might be communicating with your body language you’re not even aware of. What’s considered as confident also differs per culture, that’s why it’s important you get other people’s opinion to get a baseline of where you are and what you need to improve.
Find Out How Confident You Appear to Others
Here are three ways you can find out whether others view you as being self-confident.
- Ask "What are three adjectives you would use to describe me?" Make it clear you’re not fishing for a compliment. Are these adjectives consistent with how you see yourself? Is confident or a similar adjective one of those words?
- Go through previous recommendations and performance reviews you’ve received. Find comments about how you relate to others, if you speak up in meetings, or if you’ve ever shown initiative in leading a new project or presentation, as all these are signs of self-confidence at work.
- Compare your actions in the table below, which are you more likely to exhibit?
Doing what you feel is right even if others criticize you
Acting based on what you think will win your peers and manager’s approval
The ability to take calculated risks
Staying in your comfort zone for fear of failure and rejection
Knowing how to accept compliments graciously
Downplaying or ignoring compliments
Owning up to your mistakes
Passing blame, or covering it up until you can fix them
Evaluate Current Strengths and Problem Areas
Now that you've got a good idea of how others perceive your confidence level, it’s time to take stock of your strengths and areas of improvement so you can formulate a plan that takes this into account.
Write your top 10 achievements in life in an “achievement log,” this could be anything you’ve done for yourself, your career, your business, or even your friends. Look at this as a warm-up exercise and confidence booster in one. What you write here will also get the juices rolling, so you can easily recall how you’ve handled the situations listed below.
The topics below are often associated with healthy self-confidence. Can you honestly say you’re comfortable doing these things? Can you do them without feeling awkward? If not, what do you think is holding you back?
- Making small talk
- Meeting someone new
- Group conversations where you don’t know everyone
- Dressing up
- Hosting a party
- Negotiating a salary
- Delegating a task
- Giving and accepting feedback
- Asking for a raise
- Standing up to authority
- Accepting compliments
- Public speaking
Put all your notes about this in a well-formatted document, preferably with a column noting your confidence level on a one to ten scale, and another column for notes on why you think that area is a challenge.
All the items above gauge your confidence level on a situational level. Using a SWOT Analysis and different personality tests found online can give you a birds-eye-view level of your strengths and weaknesses.
- SWOT analysis (from the LivePlan blog)
- Self-esteem test (from Psychology Today)
- Rosenberg Self-esteem scale (from Open Pyschometrics.org)
You can also learn more about conducting a SWOT analysis in this tutorial:
Compare the results with your 1-10 confidence-level assessments on the situations listed above. Do they match or are there differences? To keep things simple, just focus on items the test and your personal assessment both show as an area for improvement.
If you've got more than five areas of improvement, prioritize them according to which is easiest to accomplish so you can start with that. This way, you can easily get a quick win, giving you a confidence boost in the process. Score!
Set Goals to Improve Your Confidence
Now that you know which aspects you want to improve, it’s time to set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals that'll build your self-confidence.
You might think doing this is overkill for something as simple as improving your ability to make small talk but in reality, goal-setting is one of the secrets of people confident in their ability to make things happen.
Imagine when you’re trying to cook a new recipe. You don’t just chop the ingredients and throw it all in the pan then hope it turns out okay, right? You look for a recipe and follow it to a T. The same process applies when you’re learning to improve your confidence.
The tutorial below will guide you through the process of setting goals. Just don’t get too excited and go for the big things right away. Go for smaller, manageable things and use that to build on your success.
Build Self-Confidence by Practicing the Basics
Walk before you run. The skills listed below are the foundation of self-confidence, which will come in handy later on later when you’re aspiring for bigger goals that require a confident attitude, such as getting a date or applying for a promotion.
1. Change Your Body Language
Research from Ohio State University shows that standing tall and putting your hands in your hips ala Superman improves your confidence. But if that’s a tad too much for you, just stand tall and pull your shoulders back so you’re not hunching. That simple act gives the impression that you’re confident.
Look at the person you’re talking to, not their shoes or their surroundings.
Slow down when you’re talking. Not only will people understand you better, talking in a clear and well-paced manner makes people feel like you’re confident in what you’re saying. Just imagine how you feel when Morgan Freeman says something, you just can’t help but believe him.
Watch the TED Talks video clip below from Amy Cuddy for more information on the power of
2. Dress Smart
Nice clothes, shoes, and accessories add to a person’s confidence. You just have to be careful in observing the right dress code so you’re not overdressed. Suits and business outfits, while internationally accepted as a symbol of formality and class, aren’t always the wardrobe of choice for all environments. For instance, some businesses prefer casual attire so you might need to tone it down and just stick with a classic polo and nice shoes.
Style your hair. Practice good personal hygiene. All these little add up, both in making you feel better about your confidence and in improving other people’s first impression.
3. Manage Your Mental Attitude
Ruminating over negative thoughts wreaks havoc on your self-confidence. Everyone has doubts about their skills, looks, clothes, and personality—you’re not alone. Some just handle it better than others.
One way to stop negative thoughts is to question the little voice in your head that keeps nagging you. Next time it bashes you for being a failure, ask yourself, “Is there concrete evidence of that?” Look for evidence that supports or denies these thoughts.
Even if there is evidence to support that you failed—or whatever negative trait that’s bothering you—dig deep inside you to find evidence to the contrary. I’m sure there are times when you’ve succeeded, you just forgot about them. Recall the good that you’ve done in the past.
4. Stop Comparing Yourself
Don’t believe everything you see on social media, it's just a “highlight reel” of people’s lives. They only show the good times—the fancy food, the new car, the exotic vacations. Behind all that glamour even the people with the most dazzling smiles have struggles you don’t know about.
Don’t believe me? Ask your friends. Ask them how things are at their work, relationships, or finances. Some of them, especially your real friends, will readily tell you about their troubles.
Even if you think some of your friends are leading better lives, despite their problems, you shouldn’t compare yourself to them because you’re on different paths. You might have the same degree and even the same job, but you’re still different persons with different histories, challenges, and goals. You can’t make an accurate and direct comparison between the two.
5. Create Personal Boundaries
Say no to whoever makes you feel bad, uncomfortable, or unhappy. Assert authority over your time and energy. Don’t just say yes when someone asks you for help when you’ve got somewhere to go. The more you practice saying no to things you don’t want to do, the more confident you’ll feel about yourself.
6. Learn Everything You can about Your Profession
Serena Williams can confidently swing a racket. Chef Gordon Ramsey can confidently cook a delicious steak. Like those two legends, the coworker you admire who’s always suave and confident in meetings knows what they are doing because they took the time to study their field.
I know knowing everything in your field is a tall order, one that'll take years to accomplish so work on this little by little. Sign-up for a course related to your job, read a book or find a mentor to show you the ropes.
Your self-confidence will soar once you've got the foundational skills down pat. But don’t stop there; stretch yourself a little by taking on practical challenges that exercise your newfound self-confidence.
You can go through these tasks chronologically, or cherry-pick the ones that'll have the biggest impact on your life.
- Negotiate a raise
- Ask your credit card provider to waive some fees (from NerdWallet)
- Ask for a discount at your favorite cafe, just because
- Ask your crush on a date
- Negotiate your car insurance or other regular payment
- Give a toast at the next wedding you attend
- Make a new friend at an event near you
- Negotiating a mortgage, car, or any big purchase (from Quoted)
- Approach a group you don’t know in an event and talk to them
- Learn a new skill you’ve always wanted to learn but were afraid to try (i.e. flairtending, scuba diving, trapeze flying, speaking French, painting)
- Negotiate your rental lease
- Reach out to someone you admire, like a book author, event speaker, or a potential mentor
Start Benefitting From Greater Self-Confidence Today
Like me, you may find yourself in uncomfortable situations as you’re learning how to become more confident. It’s nerve-wracking to put yourself out there. You might be second guessing yourself, afraid that you’ll do or say something to embarrass yourself.
Don’t worry; in most cases no one will notice that you’re unsure of yourself.
For one, people aren’t mind readers, and in reality, many of them are too busy worrying about how they come across. Just keep building on your self-confidence using the tips above until you reach the point where you don’t have to think about them too much.