33 Ways To Build Unshakeable Confidence
Illustration by Mr Simon Landrein
Self-belief is like a shadow in the midday sun. Just as we think we’ve caught it, it can recede surprisingly quickly. Our self-confidence is having to deflect blows on an hourly basis. “With social media, for example, it’s impossible to escape negative comparisons,” says Dr Gary Wood, author of Confidence Karma: How To Become Confident And Help Others Feel Great Too. “It’s an orgy of not keeping up with the Joneses, but of wilfully crushing the Joneses underfoot at every given opportunity.”
Below is a road map to improve your self-confidence, designed by the coaches, trainers and psychologists who boost self-esteem for a living.
“We boost our own confidence as we build confidence in others,” Dr Gary Wood says. “Giving others an uplift with a compliment will give you and them a physiological and psychological boost, and they will perceive you as more confident and treat you as such, so you get a further boost. It becomes a positive-feedback loop.”
“Practise a power pose, with arms raised, chin up and chest out,” says Mr David Waters, a therapist and coach. “Emulating the posture of winners triggers a positive hormonal shift, reduces anxiety-producing cortisol and boosts confidence-enhancing testosterone.”
Find the right fit
“One of the challenges that a lot of people face is that they intertwine their identity with their work,” says Mr Simon Sinek, author of Find Your Why. Men tend to introduce themselves by their job title because they attach such status to it that when they lose that job or retire or change career, it can send confidence crashing. “I define myself by who I am – an optimist – not by what I do,” Sinek says.
“It helps to focus on connecting with people rather than the performance”
Connect to impress
“We often get the idea that confidence is about holding court, whereas it’s more to do with putting people at ease,” Wood says. “It helps to focus on connecting with people rather than focusing on the performance.” During an interview, for example, you should direct your energy towards establishing a connection with your interviewer instead of merely aiming to impress them.
Take a breath
“Lengthening your out-breath relative to your in-breath counteracts the fight-or-flight response,” Waters says. “This promotes calmness, quickly soothes racing thoughts and instils confidence.”
Stop chronic worrying
“Recognise that chronic worry, although a defence mechanism against feeling helpless and out of control, leads to excessive anxiety and stress that lower your self-confidence,” says Dr Nick Wignall, a clinical psychologist. “Learn to tolerate the discomfort of feeling helpless and accept that there are things you can’t control. This will free your mind and allow self-confidence to grow.”
“If we are doing better than others, we’re happy,” Wood says, talking about social media and self-esteem. “But if the comparisons are less fortunate, we’re not happy. Confidence needs to start with feeling comfortable in our own skin. This must come from inner attitudes. It will never come from outer social pressures.”
“When you experience a setback, take a moment to review and reframe”
Learn to say enough
“Curb negative internal dialogues using a powerful trigger word, such as ‘stop’ or ‘enough’,” Waters says. This cognitive behavioural therapy tip can immediately interrupt self-defeating thoughts and refocus the mind. “Saying these words out loud intensifies the effect, opens up new, more optimistic thought patterns and consequently enhances confidence.”
Don’t dwell on mistakes
“Instead, learn to accept feelings of guilt, regret and disappointment and stop using rumination as an escape,” Wignall says. “By building a healthier relationship with these difficult emotions, you can stop them from undermining your self-confidence.”
Write down your wants and needs
“Many of us ignore our deep desires due to various negative experiences, which leads to low self-confidence,” Wignall says. “Retrain your brain to value your desires by expressing yourself and pursuing your wants, however uncomfortable it may feel. This practice enhances self-confidence by demonstrating that you can accomplish difficult tasks, even when you’re uncertain.”
Even the smallest acts can empower you to push through and keep moving forward. Make your bed, make your breakfast, have a workout routine and create tangible projects that build towards your desired goal.
“When you experience a setback, take a moment to review and reframe,” says Major Sam McGrath, a neuro-linguistic programming coach and author of Be Para Fit. “This helps shift focus on results to a more positive perspective. For instance, if on your first attempt in an assessment you score two out of 10, the reframe encourages focus on the two correct answers and how to build on this success, not the eight incorrect ones.”
“Anchoring connects positive emotions to trigger points, so you can import a mental state from a past event when you need it the most,” McGrath says. “It works by remembering a time when you felt confident. The process of reimmersing yourself in a positive memory changes your state of mind. At the height of re-experiencing the feeling, you use a trigger point, for example squeezing the knuckle on your little finger hard, to anchor the desired feeling to a part of your body. You then use the trigger to create the feeling when you need it in the future.”
Upgrade your workout wardrobe
“Treat yourself to new training threads,” says Mr Joe Warner, editor-in-chief at Unfiltered Online. “What you wear impacts your mentality – scientists call it enclothed cognition – and when you wear fitted, fashionable and comfortable workout clothes, you’ll instantly feel more confident and ready to perform.”
Celebrate small wins
“Building unshakeable self-confidence comes not from external validation but from celebrating those small, daily wins that no one else sees,” Warner says. “Absolutely set a long-term goal, but break it down into smaller monthly, weekly and even daily targets so that winning each day, and believing in yourself, becomes second nature.”
Ask open questions
“Maintaining a fluid conversation, confidently, and in a way that helps others is all about asking open-ended questions that encourage more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response,” Wood says. “Queries that start with who, what, where or how can lead to more interesting discussions and show that you’re genuinely interested in the other person’s thoughts and feelings. This can significantly enhance your confidence and ease in small-talk situations.”
Challenge yourself to build your confidence. Learn a new language, master a style of cooking, join the taekwondo sessions at the gym and don’t be afraid of failing at first. Confidence is not based on your ability to succeed at a task, but your belief in your ability to succeed.
“Sports psychologists use visualisation as a highly effective tool for building confidence among athletes suffering a drop in form,” Warner says. “Rehearsing your golf swing or imagining yourself giving that best man’s speech can activate the same neural circuitry in the brain as doing it in reality. Whatever you’re not confident about doing, practise it a few times beforehand.”
“Dress as a more self-assured version of yourself, embodying that persona”
Paint a picture
Pick up a pencil and start drawing, grab some modelling clay or try your hand at pottery. A study of 39 people aged 18 to 59 published in the journal Arts & Health found that 73 per cent of those who took part in a 45-minute freestyle art session recorded an upswing in their feelings of self-esteem.
Start working out
Exercise can be a huge boost to your self-confidence. The American Psychological Association has noted through studies that working out regularly requires a commitment, and maintaining that commitment is an accomplishment. “Sticking to a new habit will make you feel more confident,” Warner says, “which increases as you spot physical improvements to your body and health.”
Be your alter ego
Consider how the singer Mr David Bowie transformed into Ziggy Stardust and exuded confidence that exceeded his usual reserve. Likewise, salespeople often adopt a persona to give themselves a confidence boost. Research published in the Social Psychology Quarterly showed that mixed martial arts fighters often adopt an intimidating persona to strike fear in their opponents. Amplify your confidence and stamina by adopting a powerful alter ego… occasionally.
Overhaul your wardrobe
“Wearing different clothes can prompt you to think or behave differently,” says Ms Hattie MacAndrews, a confidence and mindset coach. Columbia Business School research found that students who wore white lab coats that they believed belonged to doctors displayed more focus and mimicked doctor-like behaviour. “To boost confidence, dress as a more self-assured version of yourself, embodying that persona,” she says.
“A good-quality crisp white shirt is a guaranteed winner in the confidence stakes”
Shed your imposter syndrome
Impostor syndrome can make you discount your achievements and breed fear of being exposed as a fraud. “This insecurity stems from our tendency to recall failures more than successes,” says Ms Linda Gillham, a counsellor and director of healthy minds at Peppy Health. Regularly jotting down your accomplishments helps boost confidence by reinforcing a positive memory of your capabilities.
“Start using affirmations daily,” Gillham says. “Make sure they are relevant to you. For example, ‘I’ve got this,’ or ‘I feel confident.’ Even if at first you don’t believe them, research has shown the benefits of daily affirmations.”
Surround yourself with supporters
“Having positive influences around you, such as people who encourage and support you, can help you feel more confident,” says Mr Robert Kubaiko, a life coach. Spend time with people who inspire and encourage you, such as friends, family and mentors.
Try chanting “Om’
Research continues into the benefits of mindfulness, but along with anecdotal evidence of how meditating for a few minutes each day can elevate self-esteem, the co-founder of the meditation tool Headspace, Mr Andy Puddicombe, suggests you try this 10-minute session for yourself.
Raise your testosterone
Naturally increasing your testosterone, the hormone responsible for regulating sex drive, muscle mass and overall health, can boost your confidence, too. That’s according to a US study of 243 men selected to receive a dose of testosterone gel or placebo before taking a cognitive reflection test. The men who had had the testosterone boost responded to questions quickly with little or no self-doubt.
“A good-quality crisp white shirt, styled with a pair of jeans and a blazer, is always a guaranteed winner in the confidence stakes,” says the stylist Ms Nicky Hambleton-Jones. “Spend a bit more than you usually would on the white shirt and if you find one that works, buy three. Getting it tailored to fit, in terms of arms and around the waist, can make all the difference.”
“The first step is to stop judging ourselves by other people’s standards”
Level the playing field
“The first step towards better self-esteem is to stop judging ourselves by other people’s standards,” Wood says. “Or as the writer Quentin Crisp put it, ‘Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level.’ It’s a light-hearted way of saying, ‘Live to your own values.’ Work out what you stand for and set your goals to match.”
Keep it real
“All confidence is based on relaxation, not on the phoney reality-TV-showlike displays of dominating the space and holding court,” Wood says. “To improve confidence, create an everyday routine of doing things that relax you, so it becomes a habit and part of your physiological baseline. Make time for breathing exercises, walks in nature, listening to music, reading and hobbies. When we are stressed out, these are the first things we give up, but they are the very things that keep us grounded.”
“Understanding which colours work best for you can significantly enhance your self-confidence,” Hems says. Try on the same piece of clothing in different colours. “This will give you an idea of which shades work well against your skin tone. Wearing colours that flatter you will give you a natural confidence boost.”
Make your changes a habit
“Pretty much everyone experiences a confidence-crushing moment at one time or another,” Waters says. “But once you have these tools and you make them a habit, then stressful moments are no longer a problem. The body’s chemistry starts to change to our advantage. Cortisol, the anxiety-inducing hormone, ebbs away and we get confidence-boosting hits of testosterone, which helps us feel more capable and in control.”