15 simple steps to confidence

Confidence - just as important as competence

Katie Byrne

Confidence is just as important as competence when it comes to achieving our goals. Here are some tips that will help you develop the skills needed to bolster your self-esteem.

Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle," wrote Virginia Woolf. "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure," wrote Mark Twain.

Confidence matters as much as competence on the road to success, but these two traits aren't always mutually exclusive. We all know competent people with little confidence and vice versa. Some think confidence is an elusive quality that people are born with. On the contrary, confidence, like competence, is a habit, not a gift. It is a skill that can be learned.

Confident people lead lifestyles that empower their sense of self-esteem. They assert themselves in the way they speak, move and dress. Here we list 15 ways to empower yourself, build confidence and bolster your sense of self-esteem.

1 Start a morning ritual

When we sleep past the alarm clock, we don't feel in control of how our day unfolds. Rushing leads to stress, anxiety and indecisiveness. Getting up just half an hour earlier in order to complete a morning ritual will empower your day. It gives you a chance to harness your thoughts and focus on what it is you would like to achieve. Use this time to do some light exercise, light a candle and meditate or write down your tasks for the day. Knowing that you have that half an hour each morning will make even the busiest days seem less daunting and help you stay cool, calm and collected for whatever lies ahead.

Deep breathing

2 Fake it until you make it

Why do some people seem more assured than others, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles? The answer is that they aren't more assured; they are just better at acting. Successful people know that you have to create the façade of confidence before you build the real thing. Sheryl Sandberg,

chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook, explored this topic in her bestselling book, Lean In.

"When I don't feel confident, one tactic I've learned is that it sometimes helps to fake it," she writes. "I discovered this when I was an aerobics instructor in the 1980s (which meant a silver leotard, leg warmers, and a shiny headband, all of which went perfectly with my big hair). Influenced by the gospel of Jane Fonda, aerobics also meant smiling solidly for a full hour. Some days, the smile came naturally. Other days, I was in a lousy mood and had to fake it. Yet after an hour of forced smiling, I often felt cheerful."

Countless studies back up Sandberg's 'fake it until you make it' hypothesis and prove that pretending to be confident and in control will eventually lead to the genuine article.

3 Red alert

Studies show that teams that wear red score 10pc more in sporting competitions than if they were wearing any other colour. Wear red if you want to be perceived as dominant and assertive, or in situations where you need a little pick-me-up.

4 Learn to complain effectively

The hairdresser cuts your hair shorter than anticipated, but you just smile and tip her a fiver. Your pasta was overcooked but you just nod when the waiter asks if everything is okay. The inability to offer criticism can slowly chip away at self-confidence. Complaining effectively is a skill, and it can be carried out with grace and diplomacy.

If you find it embarrassing, try the extraction method. Deliver the anesthetic by beginning with a compliment: "The service and the starters were excellent..." Pull the tooth: "But my pasta was overcooked." And then give them a lollypop: "It's a shame because the sauce was perfect."

Otherwise, always remember to stay calm, maintain eye contact and smile - complaining doesn't necessitate a grimace.

5 Prepare for setbacks

Everyone's confidence will take a knock at one point or another. The trick is to pick yourself up and dust yourself down as soon as possible. Dr Ivan Joseph, the athletic director and head coach of the varsity soccer team at Ryerson University, gave a popular TED Talk on 'The Skill of Self-Confidence' in which he suggested acknowledging the moments when your confidence is high and writing yourself a letter congratulating yourself on your achievements. This is your "brag sheet" and he recommends reading it to boost your self-esteem in the face of knock-backs.

"There are moments," explains Joseph, "and we'll all experience them in our career, in our life, in our job-hunting and in our relationships, when we are not feeling good about who and what and where we are."

Acknowledging when your confidence is high will prepare you for the moments when it's low.

6 Make mine a mocktail

Consider going alcohol-free at an upcoming social occasion. Often we can use alcohol as a crutch to lubricate social cohesion and give us Dutch courage. Socialising without alcohol has its challenges, but ultimately, it builds self-esteem and gives us the confidence to consider other lifestyle changes. The lack of a hangover helps too…


7 In good company

"Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence," said the late Vince Lombardi.

Confident people keep company with people with equally high self-esteem, people that inspire and motivate them. Elsewhere, mentorship helps people achieve their goals and recognise their potential.

Identify someone whose work you admire, or whose attitude you find inspiring, and don't be afraid to ask them for advice.

8 Stop saying sorry

It's the verbal tic of countless women, in particular, Irish women. We have a tendency to say sorry to acknowledge our presence and to interject or open a conversation. It's a disempowering habit that undermines our position and makes us appear less assertive.

In order to break the habit, you must learn to become a mindful communicator. Do you need to speak or would a smile or nod suffice? Otherwise, try adding new phrases to your vocabulary such as "Can I make a point?" and "Do you mind if I interject?" Empowered people only say sorry when they've done something wrong.

9 Silent treatment

Empowered people don't rush to fill the gaps in a conversation with mindless chit-chat. They have learnt to embrace silence and they don't feel the onus to steer verbal exchanges.

It takes practice, but eventually you'll learn that there are no awkward silences, only awkward people.

The silent treatment can be used to your advantage in an interview or negotiation scenario. Don't feel compelled to answer as soon as you are given an answer or an offer.

Stay silent - even just for a count of five - and the other party will naturally continue talking, often giving more information or a better offer.

10 Strike a pose

Posture affects self-esteem. Psychologists call this "embodied cognition" which, in layman's terms, means that the body influences the mind just as the mind influences the body. This can be as simple as sitting up straight rather than slouching at your desk to feel more assertive at work. Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, brought this phenomenon to the forefront in her popular TED talk 'Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are'. She discovered that adopting certain "power postures" for two minutes can increase testosterone, lower cortisol and make us more likely to cope in stressful situations.

She recommends the 'Wonder Woman' posture - hands on hips and legs slightly outstretched - but any "open and expansive" posture that "reflects power you already have or a victory you feel" is equally effective.

11 It's all about the bass

Bass-heavy music, like hip-hop, techno and heavy metal, makes people feel powerful and dominant and more likely to take risks according to a study in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science.

Another study, published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, found that those who listened to "high-power" bass-heavy songs, like 50 Cent's 'In Da Club' and Queen's 'We Will Rock You', felt more confident and powerful when going into interviews and meetings than those who listened to "low-power" music.

12 Pump iron

A strength-training program that includes heavy weights has both physical and psychological benefits. A study by McMaster University looked at how a 12-week strength-training program affected the body image of the participants. Alongside improved strength and lower body fat, the participants reported an overall better body image. As the saying goes: strong body, strong mind.

Pump iron - physical and psychological benefits

13 Breathe deeper

When the body is stressed, breathing becomes shallow and rapid. The quickest and easiest way to regain inner strength is to breathe deeper. Try "belly breathing", which means breathing with the help of the diaphragm muscle, which is located between the lungs and abdomen, rather than just with the upper part of the lungs. Imagine directing your breath past your chest and down into the belly and hold for a couple of seconds before you exhale. This breathing technique will instantly make you feel more assertive and capable.

14 Leave your comfort zone

"Get comfortable being uncomfortable" is the advice of Richard Machowicz, a 10-year veteran of the Navy SEALs and author of Unleash the Warrior Within.

Machowicz uses combat mentality as a metaphor for reaching goals and he reminds us that empowered people regularly leave their comfort zone by setting themselves challenges and pushing themselves further.

15 Mind your language

The language we use shapes the way we think and act. The first step is removing the words "I should" from your vocabulary and replacing them with "I can", "I will" and "I am". When we say "I should go to the gym tonight", we are burdening ourselves with obligation and setting ourselves up to fail. The sentence "I am going to the gym tonight" is empowered, assertive and geared to succeed.

Elsewhere, surround yourself with positive words and statements to prime your subconscious mind for success. Write down words that motivate and inspire you on your marker board, or anywhere in your visual environment, to constantly trigger your brain with positive associations. You could also consider changing a frequently used password to a word or statement that empowers you to succeed.