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We all want to feel more confident. We often feel that a lack of confidence is all that's holding us back.
Being present in yourself, trying to put your best foot forward and give off positive body language is simple in theory, but learning how to be confident internally takes work. Writer and broadcaster Laura Barton created a BBC Radio 4 series, The Confidence Trick (opens in new tab) in 2017.
"I’m a much more confident person than I was when I made that series," she says, explaining it's a matter of maintenance at this point, like training a muscle. "I am constantly doing things to increase my confidence—whether that's saying yes to things or, just as importantly, no to things."
Getting to a point of maintenance has been a challenge for Laura. "I've spent much of my life really frustrated by myself and my inability to ask for what I want or what I need because, I suppose, on some level, I wonder whether I'm actually worthy of those things."
Worth is what it all comes down to. It's believing that you have worth exactly as you are. "Not perfect, not better than anyone, but worthwhile," says psychologist Aimee Daramus.
At very low points, Laura found it hard to speak in meetings, walk across an office, go into a shop, a bar, a party, to spend money on herself, or wear anything noticeable, "because, fundamentally, I didn't feel I had the right to take up space," she says. "It's been an exhausting way to live."
"These days I live in something more like a state of confidence," she says, "that I can build that muscle."
So how do you improve your own confidence? Experts who study the topic and help people learn how to be more confident offer woman&home some practical tips.
How to be more confident
1. Get to know yourself and what you really want
Laura says that therapy has been one of the greatest gifts in her life. "I have an amazing therapist who has helped me develop stronger boundaries, and who routinely reminds me that I am enough."
Seeking help from a psychotherapist isn't necessarily accessible for everyone, nor is it the only way to delve deeper into yourself. Practicing meditation, mindfulness, and reconnecting with your body via physical activity can help too.
2. Stop seeking approval from others
Living your life for others' approval can annihilate anybody's confidence. Aimee says, "If you‘re defined by others, you‘re not defining yourself or running your own life."
Taking agency and control over your own existence means no longer feeling crushed under the weight of meeting the standards of others, or the idea of your only worth being via pleasing others.
"Confidence is believing that you have worth exactly as you are," says Aimee. "Not perfect, not better than anyone, but worthwhile. It also means that you believe that you‘ll find a way to meet goals and overcome obstacles."
3. Take up space
Patsy Rodenburg OBE (opens in new tab), has become a world expert in teaching voice, speech, and presentation skills to individuals and companies across both corporate and creative industries. "If you're not confident, people won't listen to you," she says, and she should know as the author of many books on the topic. Her latest book The Woman’s Voice, out in February 2023, includes guidance that she's learned throughout her extensive career. Sadly, she says low confidence is something she sees often in women, "it's really hard for women, I see it all the time."
"You can just see it," she says. "They're looking down at the floor, making themselves smaller. When it's their turn to speak during a presentation they're speaking before they even reach the stage, and it's far too fast."
She says there are ways to train yourself to be more confident and, "feel you have the right to be there."
Patsy offers four 'tricks' that she implements in her teachings.
- Find your presence—Look out at the world. For example, imagine you're doing a presentation at work. Look at the people in the audience. Look at them in the eyes when you walk in and take your time before you begin.
- Breathe—you need to breathe low into your stomach, inhale deeply and slowly. There are countless breathing techniques for anxiety that can help you get used to controlling your breath.
- Stance—Stand with your feet forward, your knees not locked, your shoulders loose and relaxed, and your weight in the ball of your foot and your toes. Patsy says that even doing this sitting down at a desk will help you feel grounded.
- Project your voice—Send your voice up and out. If you look up, slightly above your eye-line, this means that you're naturally allowing the voice to travel farther.
- Practice—all of the above methods are transferable to realms far beyond work presentations—and can help you in how you navigate every part of your life. Patsy suggests reading a book out loud at home, speaking slowly, allowing yourself time.
4. Change your mental relationship with failures
Catherine Tinsley (opens in new tab) is a professor of management at Georgetown University and director of the university's Women’s Leadership Institute.
Siting one field study she and her colleagues had undertaken, she said, "women increased their self-confidence when they changed the mental relationship they had with failures."
It all came down to reframing failure as evidence that they had tried. Those who considered that, "any failure is just one step further on the road to eventual success, enjoyed a boost in self-confidence," she explains.
Fans of Elizabeth Day's podcast and subsequent book How to Fail will be familiar with the stories of incredible success stories who've taken a few knocks along the way. Just like the song, however, they got back up again.
Getting back up again is what pushes you forward, even when the world tried to knock you down. Be it dating, work, starting a new project that goes belly up, trying and risking failure is a vulnerable act and, as Brene Brown says in The Call To Courage (opens in new tab), vulnerability is a measure of how brave you are.
So by implementing a mindset change and seeing any perceived failures as a part of your journey, you can see your self-confidence soar.
5. Build a support network
Women's Confidence (opens in new tab), a large global study to understand, measure, and increase women’s confidence, found that few women around the world actually feel extremely confident. One of their findings suggests that contrary to popular belief, "confidence is not a personal matter or an individual possession."
Their research indicated that it’s something that you, "receive, give and grow with others. There is strength in joining forces: increasing confidence is something collective."
Surround yourself with people who lift you up, not put you down. Choose those who give you energy, not sap yours away. In light of the shocking gender imbalance with regards to any number of issues, of which low confidence impairs, it's especially important to lift your fellow females up too.
This is evidenced in another study, published in the Harvard Review (opens in new tab), that found that women who communicate regularly with a female-dominated inner circle are more likely to succeed. So by lifting up fellow women, you're sure to feel the benefit.
What are the wider impacts of low self confidence in women?
Dr. Sabrina Romanoff (opens in new tab), a clinical psychologist, says, "low self-confidence could result in failed social relationships, difficulties maintaining romantic relationships, persistent feelings of exhaustion, depression, and isolation."
People with low self-confidence are more likely to have weak interpersonal ties and struggle when taking in feedback or ways to improve, she adds. "Because they might be more sensitive to criticism, they might struggle with perseverating over their perceived shortcomings instead of channeling their energy into improving. They are also more likely to take fewer risks and be indecisive when it comes to their personal and professional life."
Dr Romanoff explains, that if a person believes that they are competent, smart, and capable, others are much more likely to believe them. "By acting confident, people are more likely to appear credible, manage high-stress or pressured situations, make strong first impressions, and manage challenges," she says. "Confidence also attracts other people as you are more likely to make others feel comfortable and drawn to you."
Why is it important to build confidence?
Building confidence is vital in far more ways than you could possibly imagine, and it's vitally important in driving our motivation, resilience, and ultimate success.
Professor Catherine explains, "Confidence is critical for feeling good about who you are and what you do. Women have a right to feel good about who they are. We have seen firsthand how interconnected a woman's positive mental health is to her confidence and empowerment and her ability to experience joy from the inside out."
The professor explains that self-confidence can affect whether you make timely decisions and assert yourself; feel able to try new or difficult things; move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly.
"When we think of confidence, we can link it to empowerment," she explains. "Confidence is empowerment from within, and both are intrinsically linked to mental health with economic consequences."
Why is confidence especially important in women?
So we know now that it's not just about how you present yourself, but how you take up space and how the world views you.
In women, it's especially important. "Confidence is important in women because they tend to be taught from a young age to not take up too much space and to be humble," says Dr. Romanoff. "Many women have been socialized to not appear threatening, which manifests through assuming a self-conscious or modest position."
The psychologist says it all comes down to people judging a book by its cover, and that people accept what you project. "We are constantly taking shortcuts when it comes to learning about others and the quickest way we tend to make judgments is by gauging how a person treats themselves."
So women being taught to be small, not take up space, and god forbid show how brilliant they truly are has a wide and damaging impact. "This hurts them because they have been conditioned to prioritize relationships and appear non-threatening over and above showcasing just how capable they are," says Dr. Romanoff.
What’s the difference between self-esteem and confidence?
These two phrases, and the challenges they bring certainly have commonalities, but there is a difference between the two issues.
According to the University of Queensland (opens in new tab), "Self-esteem refers to whether you appreciate and value yourself. Your self-esteem develops and changes as a result of your life experiences and interactions with other people. Self-confidence is your belief in yourself and your abilities."
There's no doubt that one can feed into the other, but that works for tackling them as well—in that learning to increase one can have a positive influence on the other too.
Aoife is Junior News Editor at woman&home.
She's an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.
Formerly Aoife was a contributing writer at Bustle and her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica, EVOKE and her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.
Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.
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