Confident woman

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When dealing with new situations—giving a presentation in class, hanging out with new people, trying out for the soccer team—confidence is often the last thing we feel. The good news? Science says we don’t actually need to feel confident to be confident.

“Our nonverbal [signals] govern how we think and feel about ourselves,” says Dr. Amy J. C. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School in Massachusetts who studies the impact of body language on confidence. According to her findings, people who exhibit self-assured body language (i.e., standing in expansive postures) end up feeling more powerful, which can have lasting positive effects on their mood and how they feel about themselves (Psychological Science, 2018). Though her original research on “power posing” was labeled controversial, Dr. Cuddy recently published a large-scale review of 55 studies that provides further evidence to support her theory.

So, next time you need a confidence boost, try spending a couple minutes in a Wonder Woman-like pose with your feet spread apart, hands on your hips, and chin lifted toward the ceiling.

Check out Dr. Cuddy’s TED Talk on power posing.

How to appear confident

Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t born with this innate sense of certainty. Confidence is developed from the thoughts we think and the actions we take. We don’t necessarily develop confidence from our abilities to succeed at something, but rather our beliefs in our ability to succeed.

“Having confidence takes practice—sometimes you have to play mind games to get it started,” says Dr. Scyatta A. Wallace, a professor of psychology at St. John’s University in New York. “Often if you don’t feel confident, it’s because your mind is going back to other times when things didn’t work out or you thought you did something wrong or weird. To get confidence, you have to trick your mind into thinking you’re all right.”

You’re reading that right: Confidence can be faked first and felt second. (So the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it” may have some validity after all.)

Confident boy standing in front of students

“Everyone wants to do better. Sometimes you don’t know how to do something, so you just fake it. It can be weird to put on a ‘mask,’ but it can help you to do things you would never think of doing without it.”
—Samantha, senior, Millbury, Massachusetts

Keep these confidence boosters in mind next time you need it.

1. Make a list of the skills, traits, and accomplishments you bring to the table.

Are you exceptionally good at making study guides to help your study group? Are you a master map reader and can help direct your friends to the restaurant you’re going to? Examine your own strengths. How can they be applied here? For example:

Two column chart: My skills, traits, & accomplishments vs. How to use. Row 1: I’m easy to talk to aligns with How to use: relax and focus on listening to other people Row 2: I’m patient. aligns with How to use: Take time to breathe and calm my nerves. Row 3: I’m passionate about my schoolwork aligns with How to use: When speaking with a college admissions advisor, convey my interest and excitement. Row 4: I really love music aligns with How to use: Use a comment about what say is playing to break the ice.

2. Remember that you’re your own harshest critic.

Others are unlikely to notice all the little things you’re dwelling on. Plus, ruminating on the negative is one of the biggest causes of stress and can contribute to depression and anxiety, suggests a 2013 study published in PLoS ONE.

3. Picture yourself succeeding.

“Visualize yourself doing things with confidence,” says Dr. Wallace. Studies show this works. TD Bank conducted a survey of more than 1,100 people and 500 business owners and found that those who created vision boards or images of their goals were more confident about achieving them.

Ask yourself: What does success in this instance look and feel like? How can you get there? “I imagine myself on my very best day and choose to transform into that person when I step out the door in the morning,” says Meagan, a senior in Boulder, Colorado.

“Everyone feels insecure at times, but that feeling doesn't mean that you’re incapable.”4. Refrain from negative self-talk and comparing yourself to others.

Comparisons are futile. There will always be someone who’s better at something than we are. Strive to do your best, not be “the best.”

“Everyone feels insecure at times, but that feeling doesn’t mean that you’re incapable. Do the work, practice, and be prepared. Confidence will show up in time,” says Helene, a student in Newark, Delaware.

5. Think of something that made you confident.

“Try to remember a time when you felt like you were hyped and excited about something you did—feel how it felt then and bring that same feeling to what you’re doing now,” Dr. Wallace says. Remembering when you’ve excelled in the past can give you a boost now.

6. Give yourself a pep talk.

“Things like, ‘I’m going to rock this presentation’ or ‘I’m going to have fun and meet new people at this event’ can help,” says Dr. Wallace.

“Look at yourself in the mirror and talk yourself up, or write good things about yourself and read them out loud—it totally helps,” says Gideon, a student in Monticello, Arkansas.

7. Smile.

It sounds weird, but smiling—even when you’re not necessarily happy—can help you feel better by slowing your body’s response to stress in a tense situation, according to a study in Psychological Science.

“Getting myself to smile can sometimes convince me that I’m competent and ready for any challenge. It allows me to de-stress, which puts off a confident and carefree vibe,” says Tyson*, a student in Farmington, Connecticut.

Remember that confidence is often learned, not innate. “It’s normal to not feel confident,” says Dr. Wallace. “The key is to take your time practicing feeling confident in some part of your life. As you start to feel better, you’ll have that confidence to take on other areas where you can practice these tips.”

*Name changed

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Article sources

Amy Cuddy, PhD, professor and researcher, Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Scyatta A. Wallace, PhD, professor of psychology, St. John’s University, New York.
Cuddy, Amy J. C. (2012). Your body language shapes who you are. TED Talk. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html

Cuddy, A. J., Schultz, S. J., & Fosse, N. E. (2018). P-curving a more comprehensive body of research on postural feedback reveals clear evidential value for power-posing effects: Reply to Simmons and Simonsohn (2017). Psychological Science, 29(4), 656–666.

Kinderman, P., Schwannauer, M., Pontin, E., & Tai, S. (2013). Psychological processes mediate the impact of familial risk, social circumstances and life events on mental health. PLoS ONE, 8(10), e76564. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0076564

Kraft, T. L., & Pressman, S. D. (2012). Grin and bear it: The influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response. Psychological Science, 23(11), 1372–1378. doi: 10.1177/0956797612445312. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23012270

TD Bank. (2016, January 20). Visualizing goals influences financial health and happiness, study finds. Retrieved from https://newscenter.td.com/us/en/news/2016/visualizing-goals-influences-financial-health-and-happiness-study-finds