How to Build Your Confidence (And Why It Matters)
"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, or low self-esteem which involves believing you're less valuable than you think. The close 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
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, in those situations, 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 practice?
Research how to dress better:
Learn power poses:
Explain something you understand well.
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 1st was the cutoff date for the age-class. A player who turned ten on January 2nd would play alongside someone who wouldn't turn 10 for eleven 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:
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% confident overnight, but if you work at it, it can pay off.