When you feel confident, the world is your oyster. You're going to a job interview, thinking you're going to nail it. On the morning of a big presentation, you're unusual to quit. You're sure he'll be dazzled by your charms on the first date.
But what if you're not blessed with intrinsically high self-esteem? Or over time, the losses have chipped away on your previously optimistic self? We're looking at four different strategies that you can use to improve your confidence, rewire your brain to think more optimistic, and learn how to fake it until you feel it.
Monitor Your Self-Talk With Self-Hypnosis
They say that confidence is a state of mind. If you believe in yourself, you are much more likely to achieve what you set out to achieve. But if you have a negative feedback loop going around in your head, you'll start to believe it.
"Your thoughts become your reality," explains Janine Rod, a Sydney-based psychologist, and hypnotherapist. "But you can re-program your beliefs and goals in order to be much more positive."
Self-hypnosis is a technique in which you give yourself a mental order or suggestion – can be an effective way to do this. If you have questions about an upcoming job interview, for example, Rod suggests that you practice the following procedure every night for the week leading up to your interview:
“List five positive attributions about yourself, along the lines of ‘I can achieve, I can be successful, I’m a great worker, I am prepared, I have the experience’ and so on. Take three deep breaths. On your third breath, as you breathe out, close your eyes and list the affirmations. Then take a deep breath and open your eyes and come back into your surroundings.”
You can continue your self-hypnosis techniques on the day of your interview in the waiting area, says Rod. “As you’re sitting in the waiting area, put your feet flat on the floor. Notice the sensation you have of your feet resting on the floor. Then say to yourself, ‘I am relaxed, I am in control and I can achieve.’ “This exercise is very grounding and centering,” he says. It’s also a practice you can incorporate into your day-to-day life to reset your inner dialogue.
Try to remember the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you. It makes you cringe all over again, right? Our memories, both positive and negative, are connected to powerful emotions and, according to Dr. Vesna Grubacevic, author of 'Stop Sabotaging Your Confidence', you can use them to boost your emotional state.
Dr. Grubacevic specializes in neurolinguistics programming (NLP), a technique that examines the relationship between mind, language, thinking, and actions to help create subconscious improvements and silence negative self-talk.
“In the past it’s likely you’ve had an experience where you’ve had a lot of confidence, such as playing a sport or doing a hobby,” she says. “If you remember times when you had confidence, then automatically that feeling of confidence will attach to that memory.”
It's not what's going on in your life that creates anxiety or makes you doubt yourself, but how you think about those events. This is at the core of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), says Dr. Monica O'Kelly, Director of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Australia.
“There are many thinking patterns that interfere with your wellbeing, such as thinking the worst or putting unrealistic demands on yourself to be perfect,” she says. “But there’s no evidence that anything bad is going to happen, and nobody’s perfect.” CBT helps you to stand back from your emotional response and look at a situation objectively, which can reduce your anxiety and promote better self-esteem.
One of the methods Kelly applies in her practice is the ‘five-column technique’, which she recommends you try at home if you’re faced with a situation that’s causing you stress or concern.
To perform this technique, divide a piece of paper into five columns and break them down as follows:
Column 1: Describe the situation that is causing you concern.
Column 2: Identify the negative feelings it is stirring up. Is it anxiety? Self-doubt? Fear of failure?
Column 3: Write down the thoughts that pop into your head when you think about the situation.
Column 4: Challenge those thoughts. Do you really believe them? Where is the evidence? What’s really the worst that can happen?
Column 5: Come up with more effective lines of thinking, such as, ‘I don’t have a crystal ball; I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future; I don’t have to be perfect; no matter what happens, I am worthwhile anyway’. By doing this, you flip your inner chatter from negative to positive and you’ll develop a more constructive way of thinking.
Your body language not only affects how others see you, but it also has a direct impact on how you feel about yourself. “If you’re sitting hunched over, you’re compressing your lungs and you can’t breathe properly,” says Rod. “If you pull your shoulders back, hold your head up high and open up your chest, you get more oxygen, which gives you more energy. When you’ve got more energy, you’ve got loads more motivation.”
On top of that, assuming a confident posture can actually change your brain chemistry. A 2010 US study found that striking a ‘power pose’ can actually increase your levels of testosterone, a hormone associated with confidence, and lower your levels of cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone that promotes feelings of anxiety.
Harvard University researcher Amy Cuddy, who has studied the link between body language and hormones, recommends striking the ‘Wonder Woman’ pose – feet planted in a wide stance, hands-on-hips, chin raised and chest up – for two minutes before going into any kind of high-stress situation. As Cuddy explains it: “When you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.”