Tips to increase your levels of confidence

Some people naturally exude confidence in everything they do (think Rihanna, Justin Trudeau or Neil deGrasse Tyson) while others get anxiety from even thinking about asking a neighbor to kindly pick up after their dog. Where does this confidence come from that gives people the ability to command a room full of people or voice their opinions even if they are unpopular?

Yes, being incredibly good looking and constantly receiving positive reinforcement might have something to do with it, but researcher Steve Suomi who studies the personality development of rhesus monkeys has found that 50% of a person’s shot at being confident is actually encoded into their genes before birth. Translation: when you’re born, your’re already either 50% more likely to be naturally confident or, well, not.  

Building on the theory that personality is biologically driven, Robert Plomin conducted a study on 15,000 identical and fraternal twins to debunk the popular belief that confidence is solely a result of experiences and environment. Plomin found that not only is confidence as genetically driven as IQ, but it is actually a better predictor for academic achievement than IQ.

Since confidence is linked to success, what should the 50% of us do who aren’t genetically blessed with high levels of self-esteem?

Below are some strategies to help build your confidence the “unnatural” way.

  • Believe in the power of your speech – what you say and how you say it holds more weight than you might think.  

Avoid “filler” words and self-deprecating phrases. For example, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I, um, like, think that’s like a really good idea.” You can literally hear the uncertainty blaring. When you speak clearly, concisely and with confidence, people will believe you know exactly what you’re talking about, even if you’re incredibly anxious on the inside about the sales pitch you’re faking it through. Stop saying “sorry” so much or asking if things are “OK”. If you cast doubt on yourself others will too. Self-consciousness is only visible to the outside world through our external behaviors, and speech is the biggest indicator (or betrayer) of how you are feeling internally.  

  • Exercise regularly, even if minimally.

A recent study found that physical activity leads to personality changes over time. Even small amounts of regular exercise is linked to higher levels of conscientiousness, extrovertedness, and positive emotions when compared to inactive individuals, all traits that are associated with success. So take the stairs instead of the escalator (or elevator if you’re feeling really brave), or do a 15 minute online yoga class every morning–you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas!

  • Create a “Pump Up” playlist

Research from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that power-inducing music led to increases in abstract thinking, feelings of control and levels of initiative. In the study, people who listened to empowering songs experienced more positive psychological and behavioral changes associated with high levels of confidence than the control group. In short, if you want to feel and even act more empowered and determined, build up your music library with strong songs that really get you jazzed.

  • Learn and practice “radical self-acceptance”.

Psychologist Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. founded the practice of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) with the goal of teaching individuals how to accept reality at face value. Radical acceptance the a component of DBT that helps people learn how to take the good with the bad without victimizing or blaming themselves. Radical self-acceptance is the application of this same practice but towards one’s self. If you learn how to love yourself fully, flaws and all, then you will be kinder to yourself when you’re having an off day and will forgive yourself quicker for making a mistake. When you accept yourself wholly, then insecurities and doubts will decrease, leaving space for self-confidence to blossom.

  • Align yourself with the right people

Half of your shot at being confident is in your genes, which leaves the other half up to your environment. Create a community around you that fosters positive growth and high levels of self-esteem. Find people who accept you for you and motivate and inspire you to be your best self. Ally yourself with conscientious go-getters whose positive energy is contagious. Soak it in and embody their own self-confidence. As Alexander Den Heijer once said, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”



Cover photo: artist unknown.