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Get more confidence – psychological tips for wallflowers

14. March 2016 in
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A little less doubt, a little more action? If that is what you’re looking for in yourself, you should work on your confidence. This text will provide you with science-based tips on how to get there.

In our last article, we tried to better understand what confidence is. We found that, from a psychological point of view, it has two main aspects. These are:

  • Self-esteem is the worth people see in themselves. Science has found that it is very clearly linked to happiness and slightly correlates with job performance. However, there is no proof yet that self-esteem causes happiness and job performance.
  • Self-efficacy is the belief that you’re able to reach certain goals. Research shows that more self-efficacy lets people set and reach higher goals and perform better in different areas of their life.

Now, it is time to tackle the essential: How can you get more confidence?


How to get more confidence: Strengthen your self-efficacy and self-esteem

The first question is: Which form of confidence would you like to improve? If you want to be more confident in your own abilities and, thus, reach more ambitious goals, you should concentrate on your self-efficacy. If you feel you have a problem with your self-worth and self-image, you should work on your self-esteem. If all of that seems too much of a hassle, you should learn to fake confidence.

Boost your self-efficacy

We’re going to start off with self-efficacy – the belief in your abilities – because it is easier to increase. Also, working on this aspect of confidence leads to quicker results.

The research of Albert Bandura – the “father of self-efficacy” – found four ways to strengthen the belief in your abilities.

1. Try and succeed. The most important way to boost your self-efficacy is through experiencing success. The important prerequisite? You have to try. If you want to get more confidence about speaking up in meetings, get out of your comfort zone and just do it. Of course, good preparation never hurts your success. And success – seeing that you can do it – is exactly what strengthens your self-efficacy. Next time, speaking up might already feel easier.
What if you just can’t get yourself to do that? In that case, start with a different challenge. You’ve learned that self-efficacy can be generalized. Why don’t you develop some elsewhere? For example, by finding out that you can indeed speak up in a theater play. Or conquer mountains even if you never thought you could. The self-efficacy you generate hiking or acting, will finally influence your confidence in other areas of your life.

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2. Watch someone succeed. It’s not as effective as doing it yourself. But seeing that someone else can do it also boosts your self-efficacy. The person should, however, be similar to you in order to evoke the feeling: If they can do it, I can, too. Put into practice this means: Connect yourself! Talk to people who are in a similar situation, facing similar challenges. Finding out that (and how) they mastered them, will help you gather confidence.

3. Get encouragement. Being told by others that you can do it, can improve your self-efficacy. However, this effect is rather weak. Unfortunately, it works very well the other way around. Being told that you’re bad at something can significantly decrease your self-efficacy.

4. Reinterpret your body signals. Listening to the body often helps. However, sometimes you should listen to it critically. Especially, if your self-efficacy is low. Let’s get back to the example of not daring to speak up in meetings. Imagine you’re in a meeting, preparing yourself to say something. And then you feel fear. Your heart starts racing. Your hands get sweaty. You’ll interpret these signals like this: I just can’t do it. And then you won’t say anything. There it is: chance missed!
We don’t generally advise you to ignore the warning signal of your body, but in cases like this it can make sense. Accept that the negative feelings are there. But tell yourself that this doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you’re nervous. Nothing more.

Improve your self-esteem

Let’s move on to self-esteem – or the worth you see in yourself. As said, self-esteem is a relatively stable trait and not that easy to change. It is all about how you assess and judge yourself. Therefore, as a first step, it can help to have a look into the mind of more confident people. What makes them so self-assured?

In short: They are great at tricking themselves.

Actually, most people show a number of biases about themselves. They are convinced that they are better than average. This applies especially if they’ve got no clue at all. Also, confident people have the tendency to explain events in a way that sheds good light on them. If they fail a test, it was just super difficult. If they ace it, it must’ve been due to their intelligence. This is called the self-serving bias. While people with high self-esteem like to take credit for their successes and blame failure on the circumstances, it tends to work the other way around for depressed people and those with low self-esteem. For them a passed test is pure luck. A failed one, however, proof of their stupidity.  In other words: Confident people see themselves through rose-colored glasses. And they like what they see! People with low self-esteem, however, don’t have those glasses – or they even got some in a murky grey.

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So, first of all: You have to understand that your brain doesn’t always create an adequate explanation for the world around you. Your self-image might be built on distorted information. The same applies, by the way, to overconfident people. It just feels nicer for them.

The next step is more difficult: You need to find out more about those distortions and learn to see when they occur. Maybe you’ll find out that you do belittle your successes and inflate your failures. Then you should consciously countersteer and direct your attention to the positive about yourself that you tend to overlook. This process isn’t easy. If you really find yourself struggling, it might make sense to get professional help.

You want a short-term solution?

All this sounds like a lot of work and you were actually just looking for a quick hack?  Well, there is one: Fake it.

You might not only convince others of your confidence but also yourself! Research has shown that when people were advised to act as if they were confident, they really had more self-esteem afterwards.

If you want to learn more about how you can fake confidence, you should check out our upcoming article on that topic.



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Susanne Krause

About the Author

Susanne Krause
Researcher and author. As a graduate of psychology and philosophy as well as an experienced journalist, she knows not only where to find the information but also how to put it into words best.

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