Confidence makes you happy and successful, and how much you have is totally within your control. Here's how to build it up—no matter your starting point.

By Mirel Ketchiff
January 29, 2018
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Photo: Tempura/Getty Images

To get what you want-at work, in the gym, in your life-it's crucial to have confidence, something we've all learned through experience. But the degree to which that mind-set matters when driving your success may surprise you. "Confidence is on par with competence when it comes to achievement," says Cameron Paul Anderson, Ph.D., a professor in the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. When you feel good about yourself, you are willing to take risks and better able to rebound from setbacks. You also think more creatively and push yourself harder, he says.

Confidence even helps you harness the positive power of stress, according to research from the University of Chicago. People who are unsure of themselves are more likely to see symptoms of tension (like sweaty palms) as signs that they're about to fail, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Confident people aren't bogged down by that kind of negativity and can reap the benefits of the stress response (like sharper thinking) and perform better under pressure. (Here's exactly how to turn stress into positive energy.)

"Genetics account for up to 34 percent of confidence," Anderson says-but you control the other two-thirds. How confident you feel is based on calculations your brain makes by weighing factors like past experiences against traits like optimism. Improving your confidence means mastering that equation. These tips will help.

Heed the Power

People who have what experts call "growth mind-sets"-the belief that anyone can become good at something, regardless of their initial skill level-tend to be more confident than those who think skills are innate, Anderson says. A growth mind-set incites you to move past failures and take more encouragement from success. To adopt this positive-thinking style, Anderson suggests paying attention to small wins. "These will build your belief in your abilities, so when you're confronted with more difficult tasks, you'll feel more self-assured," he says. Celebrating those minor achievements also helps you see all your progress as you work toward a goal. (Use these tips to boost your fitness and conquer any workout challenge.)

Build Your Mental Strength

Working out is one of the most powerful things you can do to increase confidence, says Louisa Jewell, the author of Wire Your Brain for Confidence: The Science of Conquering Self-Doubt. "When you exercise, your brain receives messages from your body that say, I'm strong and capable. I can lift heavy things and run long distances," she explains. Exercise releases energizing, mood-boosting endorphins, relieves tension, and distracts you from negative thoughts, says Oili Kettunen, Ph.D., an expert in health exercise at the Sport Institute of Finland in Vierumäki. To benefit, do at least 180 minutes of exercise a week, or 30 to 40 minutes five days a week, she says. And work out in the morning if you can possibly swing it. "The lasting sense of accomplishment you get will influence your behavior all day," Jewell says.

Power Up with Yoga

Certain yoga poses may help you build confidence, according to new research in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Mountain pose (standing with your legs together and your spine and chest lifted) and eagle pose (standing with your arms raised to shoulder height and crossed in front of the chest) boost energy and feelings of empowerment. Why? Other research shows yoga may stimulate the vagus nerve-a cranial nerve that runs from the brain to the abdomen-which in turn increases stamina, well-being, and self-esteem, says study author Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, Ph.D. The changes were evident after just two minutes, she adds. Her advice: "Do yoga regularly. It may have long-lasting benefits. It can affect the central nervous system in a profound, enduring way to improve energy and build confidence." (Start with this yoga breathing technique that builds confidence.)

Rewrite Your Story

People create narratives about their abilities, says Jewell. "That's when you tell yourself, I'm not the CrossFit type, or I'm terrified of public speaking," she explains. But you have the power to redefine how you self-categorize to blow past those mental barriers. (Here's why you should try something new.)

Start with the way you talk to yourself. When you're thinking about an area of your life that triggers self-doubt, use third-person pronouns: "Jennifer is nervous" instead of "I'm nervous," researchers from the University of Buffalo suggest. It sounds silly, but it works: People who used the technique before giving a speech felt more positive about their performance than those who didn't. Third-person thinking may create a sense of distance between you and whatever is igniting your insecurity. It lets you reinvent yourself as someone more accomplished.

Watch Yourself Win

When you imagine or visualize yourself doing something, your brain reacts as if you were really doing it, research from the University of Washington shows. That helps when you're training for a specific event, like running a race or giving a wedding toast. But certain visualization exercises also help increase your overall self-esteem. Start by picturing a situation where you feel most confident, suggests Mandy Lehto, Ph.D., a personal coach. Make the scenario as specific as possible. How are you standing? What are you wearing? Do this for a couple of minutes once or twice a day, Lehto says. It works because it lets you practice feeling self-assured, strengthening the brain circuits that tell you you're prepared and capable. After awhile, you'll be able to draw on those positive feelings whenever you need them.


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