I wasn't always a confident person: As a kid I wanted desperately to have a part in the musicals they put on at the local community center. Even though I had a decent singing voice, I'd psych myself out before every audition so by the time it was my turn, it was as if someone had found my volume button and turned my voice way, way down. Of course, that someone was me—I just didn't realize it.
Guts, moxie, chutzpah; whatever you choose to call it, it can't be bottled or bought. It has to be made, and it has to be made by you. It took me all of high school and most of college to learn that lesson, but I'm so grateful I finally did. Now when I want to do something, I go for it. Including trying out for musicals!
Along with a few strategies, the one thing I learned is that you have to keep practicing your confidence in order to maintain it. The old Carnegie Hall joke still cracks me up, but in this case, I'm not talking about singing, I'm talking about self-esteem. Just like singing, dancing, or any other skill, I had to keep up my confidence-boosting skills to become the brave and assertive self I am today.
Use these five strategies to boost your confidence. And remember, practice, practice, practice!
1. Say cheese. I decided to pursue acting when I was 37 years old. I was a little nervous when I went to have my headshots done. I knew that in the "mom" category, I'd be up against a lot of former models, so I was worried that my pictures wouldn't measure up. In the end, they turned out great. I highly recommend that every woman has her photo taken by a pro at least once in her life, whether she needs it for professional reasons or not. Seeing yourself in the best light, both literally and figuratively, is an amazing confidence booster.
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2. Do something daring. A few years ago my husband and I were vacationing in Miami. Half the women there clearly mistook South Beach for the French Riviera because they were sans bathing suit tops. I've always been a very modest person and had never even considered setting the girls free. Even though I was sure I'd die of embarrassment, I went for it. To my surprise, nothing terrible happened. But something wonderful did—my confidence shot up a notch or two. Finding out you don't spontaneously combust when outside your comfort zone gives you the courage to go there again and again.
3. Get physical. This past summer I tried whitewater kayaking for the first time on a trip to Montana. I wasn't sure I was up for the challenge physically—I'd had back surgery and hamstring repair surgery, but after discussing it with the guides, I decided that I would be safe giving it a try. Sometimes the only way to find out if you are capable of doing something is to just do it. If it doesn't work out, at least you'll know you tried. And if it does work out, you might just find a new passion. Either way, you'll gain confidence knowing that you are capable of facing a physical challenge and giving it your all.
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4. Straighten up. I'm a bit of a neat freak. Okay…I probably have borderline OCD. Whenever my house is messy, I feel out of control. And when I feel out of control, my confidence plummets. I've found that when I take the time to organize a few drawers or clear the piles from my desk, it makes me feel like I can accomplish anything. Give it a try and see if a little de-cluttering doesn't give you a boost of confidence too.
5. Be a copycat. In April's issue of SHAPE, I wrote about social mimicry. That's when we adopt the behaviors of the people we spend time with. For example, if I go out to dinner with a friend who orders dessert, you better believe I'm going to order it also. The good news is that we are just as likely to adopt positive behaviors as we are the negative ones. So if you have a friend who's super self critical, you may want to give her a rain check the next time she asks to hang out. Instead make plans with your friends who are confident. It stands to reason that you'll become more confident too.