12 MIN READ

How to Build Self-Confidence

Preparing Yourself for Success

Self-confident people seem at ease with themselves and their work. They invite trust and inspire confidence in others. These are all attractive characteristics to have.

But it's not always easy to be confident in yourself, particularly if you're naturally self-critical or if other people put you down. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to increase and maintain your self-confidence.

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

This article explains what self-confidence is and why it matters. We'll explore how to believe in yourself and how to project this belief to others, so that you can be more effective and happier in your life and work.

Note:

People who are self-confident perform better at work, so it's important to nurture your team members' self-confidence, too. Our article, How to Build Confidence in Others, discusses how you can do this for co-workers or even your boss.

What Is Self-Confidence – and Why Is It Important?

Self-confidence means trusting in your own judgment, capacities and abilities. [1] It's about valuing yourself and feeling worthy, regardless of any imperfections or what others may believe about you.

Self-efficacy and self-esteem are often used interchangeably with self-confidence. But they are subtly different.

We gain a sense of self-efficacy when we see ourselves mastering skills and achieving goals. This encourages us to believe that, if we learn and work hard in a particular area, we'll succeed. [2] It's this type of confidence that leads people to accept difficult challenges and keep going in the face of setbacks.

Self-esteem is a more general sense that we can cope with what's going on in our lives, and that we have a right to be happy.

Also, self-esteem comes, in part, from the feeling that the people around us approve of us. We may or may not be able to control this, and if we experience a lot of criticism or rejection from others, our self-esteem can easily suffer unless we support it in other ways.

Confidence and Behavior

Take a look at the table below, which compares confident behavior with behavior that's associated with low self-confidence. Which thoughts or actions do you recognize in yourself?

Confident Behavior Behavior Associated With Low Self-Confidence
Doing what you believe to be right, even if others mock or criticize you for it. Governing your behavior based on what other people think.
Being willing to take risks and to go the extra mile to achieve better things. Staying in your comfort zone, fearing failure, and avoiding risk.
Admitting your mistakes and learning from them. Working hard to cover up mistakes and hoping that you can fix the problem before anyone notices.
Waiting for others to congratulate you on your accomplishments. Extolling your own virtues as often as possible to as many people as possible.
Accepting compliments graciously. "Thanks, I really worked hard on that prospectus. I'm pleased you recognize my efforts." Dismissing compliments offhandedly. "Oh, that prospectus was nothing, really. Anyone could have done it."

As these examples show, low self-confidence can be self-destructive, and may manifest itself as negativity.

Self-confident people are generally more positive – they value themselves and trust their judgment. But they also acknowledge their failures and mistakes, and learn from them.

Tip:

Take our short quiz to find out how self-confident you are right now. You'll also discover ways to improve your confidence levels by building self-efficacy.

Why Self-Confidence Matters

Self-confidence is vital in almost every aspect of our lives, yet many people struggle to find it. Sadly, this can become a vicious cycle: people who lack self-confidence are less likely to achieve the success that could give them more confidence.

For example, you may not be inclined to back a project that's pitched by someone who's visibly nervous, fumbling, or constantly apologizing. On the other hand, you're persuaded by someone who speaks clearly, holds their head high, and answers questions with assurance.

Confident people inspire confidence in others: their audience, their co-workers, their bosses, their customers, and their friends. And gaining the confidence of others is one of the key ways to succeed. In the following sections, we'll see how you can do this.

How to Appear More Confident to Others

Picture anyone you know that you think of as highly confident – what characteristics do they have that make you think this? It's most likely one or more of these things:

  • the way they speak (tone, how they project their voice, words),
  • their energy and enthusiasm,
  • how expert or knowledgeable they are about something.

You can show self-confidence in your behavior, your body language, and in what you say and how you say it.

Projecting a positive image to others can help you to improve your self-confidence. It's not simply a matter of "faking it" – if you project with confidence, others are more likely to respond well, and this positive feedback will help you to believe in yourself.

Body Language

When we feel anxious, at meetings for instance, we tend to make ourselves smaller by slouching, hunching our shoulders, and bowing our heads. Simply sitting up straight can make you feel less stressed and more assertive.

If you're presenting, spreading your hands apart with palms slightly toward your audience shows openness and a willingness to share ideas.

Tip:

Read our article, Body Language, for further tips on looking – and feeling – more confident.

Face-to-Face Communication

People with low self-confidence often find it difficult to make a good first impression – whether they're meeting a client, addressing a meeting, or giving a presentation. You may be shy or unsure of yourself, but you can take immediate steps to appear more confident.

Engaging with people is important, so maintain eye contact while you talk. This shows that you're interested in what the other person is saying, and that you're taking an active part in the conversation. Don't fidget or look away while the conversation continues, as this can make you appear distracted or anxious.

Build Expert Power

You are likely to appear (and feel) confident when you know what you're talking about. With a wealth of knowledge on a subject, you'll be more prepared to answer questions and speak on the spot.

If you lack confidence because of a gap in your expertise, work on finding out more information. Are there any relevant webinars or events you could attend? Is there a course you could take? Or perhaps you could find a mentor. See our article, Building Expert Power, for more tips on this.

Rebuilding Confidence at Work

Changes to the way they work and long periods away from work negatively impact many people's confidence. One study found that over a third of people returning to the workplace after a year or more away experience a loss of confidence in their own ability. [3] You might struggle to make your voice heard in meetings, or feel lost or isolated without the company of your colleagues while working from home, for example.

To address dips in confidence, first try to identify the cause of the problem. If you feel that there are tasks you can't do, it makes sense to improve your skills. Carry out a Personal SWOT Analysis to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then draw up an action plan to work on the areas where you're not so strong.

Other people's attitudes or behavior can contribute to your lack of confidence. You might feel that your co-workers make unfair assumptions about you. Maybe you're being bullied or are subject to microaggressions. If so, you need to call this behavior out.

You can use the Situation-Behavior-Impact Feedback Tool to make it clear to the person responsible that their behavior is harmful. If you don't feel safe talking to them, seek help from your line manager. If they're part of the problem, speak to a team member, HR, or an employee support network if you have one. Workplace bullying or discrimination is never acceptable in any situation.

People with low self-confidence often feel that they don't deserve to be happy, and that it's somehow justifiable for others to treat them badly. While the feeling may be very real, the belief is certainly not!

Three Ways to Build Your Confidence

While there are quick fixes to address acute issues with your self-confidence, building confidence in the long term requires making some changes to your lifestyle and forming robust plans. Here are three ways to do that:

1. Build Confident Habits

To develop and improve your self-esteem, aim to develop good habits – and break bad ones! Regular exercise and a healthy diet can dramatically improve your physical and mental health. And studies have shown that getting a good night's sleep is linked with increased optimism and self-esteem. [4]

Working on your personal branding can also help. If you project a positive image of your authentic self, you'll likely start to receive the positive feedback that's so important to your self-confidence.

2. Review Past Achievements

Your self-confidence will increase when you're able to say, "I can do this, and here's the evidence." As part of your Personal SWOT Analysis, you'll have identified things that you're good at, based on your past achievements.

List the 10 things that you're most proud of in an "achievement log." Then use them to make positive affirmations about what you can do. These statements are particularly powerful if you tend to undermine your confidence with negative self-talk.

Tip:

You can learn to identify and defeat any negative self-talk that's harming your self-confidence. See our article, Positive Thinking, Thought Awareness, and Rational Thinking, for more on this.

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3. Set Confidence-Boosting Goals

Setting and achieving goals – and seeing how far you've come – are key ways to develop self-confidence.

Use your Personal SWOT Analysis to set goals that play to your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and take advantage of your opportunities.

When you've identified the major goals you want to achieve, clarify the first steps you need to take. Make sure that they're small steps, taking no longer than an hour to do. This will get the ball rolling and improve your confidence through the achievement of appropriate goals.

Key Points

When you're self-confident, you trust your own judgment and abilities, and have a strong sense of self-worth and self-belief.

You can take immediate steps to project greater self-confidence and address the factors that dent it. You can then develop these short-term strategies into ways to build and maintain self-confidence in the future.

Developing good habits, reviewing past achievements, and setting yourself targeted goals will improve your self-esteem, and build and maintain your confidence for the long term.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (159)
  • Over a month ago Sarah_H wrote
    Hi Maverikk,

    I agree, putting the theory into practice is the real challenge! Perhaps you could just pick one aspect to boost your self-confidence and work on that until it becomes second nature. Then choose another and so on... It's amazing what small differences can make overall.

    Sarah
    MindTools Team
  • Over a month ago Maverikk wrote
    I'd like to agree with the above in theory, still yet to put it to the test!

    Thanks for the article!
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi cksheng,

    Thank you for that concise analysis. I agree with your perception, and find that confidence-building can often be the solution to the Imposter Syndrome.

    BillT
    Mind Tools Team
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