How to Be Confident and Improve Self Esteem with Practical Action Steps
There’s not much worse than being paralysed by the lack of confidence. I know because over the years it has struck me, more than once. Not just when I was growing up, and entering the adult world, but also later in life which meant re-learning how to be confident over again.
If like me you felt so self-conscious even walking down the street wondering what other people thought or seeing your friends effortlessly talk to anyone, while standing slightly behind or to the side just listening to conversations, too shy and reserved to join in.
Or being affected by ill health or a series of events that seem to knock you back making you think you’ll never achieve our goals in life.
Maybe you feel you just need to boost your confidence to speak to a potential mate or to feel more confident in yourself to make a career change and attend interviews without the horror of wondering what if I mess up?
I know how you feel because I felt the same way, wishing you could approach situations without the feeling of dread, fear, and frustrations, thinking will this ever change.
The answer is YES, it can and will change, you can make changes and learn how to be more confident as long as you commit to yourself. Many people have turned this around including myself which is why I’m sharing this information with you.
You’ll find steps below you can use to achieve more, overcome the lack of confidence, get to where you want to be, to fully enjoy life and have your brain working with you instead of against you.
This post will take you through the methods to tackle the root of low self-confidence and how to overcome it so that you can start applying them, building self-esteem and gaining confidence to start to improve your self-confidence.
It isn’t a quick fix or a single thing that will give you immediate confidence in yourself, rather it’s a combination of techniques that you can start using gradually at first, starting with whichever ones you feel most comfortable with and building on them.
You will need to make time and give yourself commitment daily which will create new habits in your daily life. The average time for a new habit to be created is around 30 days so remember that as you implement these confidence-building exercises.
How to Be More Confident in Your Actions
One of the best ways to improve self-confidence is to act as if you already have confidence.
What I mean by this is to observe other people that you consider to already be confident and watch how they act. Watch how they hold themselves, how they walk, how they interact with other people and take some ideas from what they already do.
For example, when they walk down the street, do they look at the ground or do they look ahead? Many people, including me before I learned this, walked with our heads down looking at the floor, to avoid eye contact with other people.
Do they walk calmly or fast?
What looks more confident to you?
There will be times when we are all in a hurry and need to get somewhere fast but for the majority of the time try walking a bit slower, take your time and take in your surroundings, you’ll appear and feel calmer and more confident.
Find a Role Model
Ideally, find someone you respect and emulate their actions; a role model. Better still, if there’s someone you can confide in, they can help you directly, being a mentor for you - explaining the advantages of how they act as they do it.
I’m not saying copy exactly what your role model does because we don’t want to be carbon copies of someone nor become someone we are not. Take the basic principles and use them with your personality.
A role model or mentor won’t always be around, so something I found to work well in any situation is to ask myself, “How would Dave act in this situation”? Normally because it’s someone I’ve observed or know reasonably well, I can visualize or imagine what that person would do. By the way, they might not be called Dave...!
Having Confident Body Language
How’s your body language around other people?
Do you have open body language?
What I mean by this, is do you have your arms crossed which can be a sign of closed body language and subconsciously telling people to stay away.
This all needs to be taken in context with the situation. If it’s a freezing winter’s day and you’re cold then having crossed arms to keep warm is acceptable and probably common.
Having more open body language invites people to approach us, than having a closed-off look that tells people to stay away and avoid us
In social situations making and keeping eye contact with those around you or in a conversation with, shows you’re interested in what they’re saying, without, of course, starring at them the entire time.
It’s good to take glances away to break the continuous eye contact which then takes it away from being weird.
Talking to other people, I would speak too quietly or mumble because I wasn’t confident in myself or in what I was saying to the other person.
As my self-image improved, I raised the volume and learned to believe in the value of what I was saying. So, if you whisper or think you mumble take action on this too.
When we have a real interest in other people and genuinely care about what they’re saying with positive feedback and questions we don’t even think about how we are being perceived.
Remember when speaking with others;
When meeting people and shaking hands have you ever noticed people that shake hands so loosely that it feels like a ‘wet fish’? This can be a sign of low confidence or being non-committal.
Always make sure to shake someone’s hand firmly but not so hard that it hurts them or you’re trying to win an “I can squeeze the hardest” competition.
Remember to stand up straight rather than slouching with the shoulders hunched up. Not only will this make you feel and appear with more confidence but also prevent some of those aches and pains at the end of the day
When we’re stressed it can be easy to slouch our bodies, hang our heads and our breathing can become shallow. Being aware of this means we can alter our position, straighten our backs and shoulders, take deeper breaths, this will help you feel better and you’ll start to gain more self-confidence.
Smile more, it makes us feel happier and helps communicate warmth and confidence to others. Smiling is also known to reduce stress and make people feel more comfortable. Just a small smile or grin is fine, just remember to keep it genuine.
It’s easy to attempt too much at once, so my advice would be to use one or two of these ideas at a time and after using them regularly, add another one or two to build them up. We want to prevent ‘overload’ here which can then cause inaction if we try too many things at once.
Try not to over-analyze or overthink your body language. As you appear and feel better about yourself, in time with practicing these techniques, your confidence will grow, and this along with your posture will become natural.
People feel more confident when they’re dressed well and are groomed. This will also come across well to the people we deal with, that we take pride in our appearance. First impressions DO count.
Shower or bath every day ensuring our hygiene is taken care of and wear clothes that are presentable for the day. There’s no need to wear a suit every day if our work doesn’t require it, wear comfortable clean clothes rather than old, dirty clothes with holes in.
Don’t feel the need to go out spending on new outfits, I’m sure most of us have suitable clothing for most occasions. However, if you need new clothes, think about taking someone with you so you can get their opinion on different outfits and what best suits you.
Make sure you tend to your hair daily and if necessary, take a trip to the salon or barbers.
Equally as important is our oral hygiene so ensuring our teeth are brushed daily, we want those smiles to be the best they can.
How Do We Talk to Ourselves?
This is one of the most important areas of self-development, confidence and self-esteem in the long term. This builds our self image.
What we say to ourselves internally has such a dramatic effect on our actions because of our thoughts and feelings.
Right now, you may be thinking, “I don’t talk to myself”, you just did. Everyone does it and I thought the same thing at first.
Shad Helmstetter covers this very well in his book “What To Say When You Talk To Yourself”, which I read back in 1998 and still refer to it today.
- Programming create Beliefs
- Beliefs create Attitudes
- Attitudes create Feelings
- Feelings create Behavior
He states that our programming (what we say to ourselves, our internal dialogue) leads to what we believe to be true, which shapes our attitudes and therefore dictates our feelings which in turn leads us to our behavior and how we act.
Our programming is where it all starts. We have to change the internal words we tell ourselves to improve or gain more confidence.
We need to counteract our negative thoughts with several positive ones, which will, in time become our go-to, thought process. Again, it’s all about creating new habits consciously so that we re-program our sub-conscious which improves our overall mental self-image of ourselves
There are several ways we can do this
Focus on solutions much more so than the problem. It’s very easy to dwell on the negative things that happen to us but learning to look for solutions will be much more productive and will encourage us to take action to resolve the situation we’re trying to recover from.
Visualize Positivity & Confidence
Another way is to start noticing some of the negative thoughts we have and actively changing them. Wherever possible when a negative thought comes up, we need to replace it with a positive one and repeat it several times.
Focus on that positive thought, notice how you feel better when thinking about positive thoughts than the negative ones.
Start thinking about and visualizing some of the things you want to change. For example, if we want more friends or better relationships with family then visualize this happening.
You’ll notice after you practice these more positive thoughts and positive outcomes, that things improve as our minds find ways to make things happen and make the best of situations. It’s about our thoughts being more focused on the positive and replacement habits occurring.
So instead of being sat in a group of people and thinking this isn’t comfortable or wanting to be somewhere else, - as I have in the past, by changing my thoughts and visualizing a more enjoyable conversation and time with these people, opens our minds up to the more positive and the outcome is more positive and enjoyable.
It can also be easy to wallow in a bunch of negative thoughts like;
- I’ve got no friends
- I’m not good looking enough
- Relationships don’t work for me
- I don’t enjoy my work
By replacing negative thoughts with their opposite (even if they aren’t true yet) we focus our minds on finding solutions which in turn helps us to take actions that will get us what we want.
Just a side note here, try experimenting with asking questions in our thoughts, such as;
- “What would it be like to have xx more friends?”
- “How would I feel enjoying my work every day”?
because our minds are more inclined to seek solutions to questions more so than purely giving it statements.
It can be helpful to keep a diary and write down the negative thoughts we have which will encourage you to find an opposite or more positive thought to replace it with.
It’s within our control to change things we aren’t happy with which beats the feelings we have when thinking of all the negative things.
Rather than thinking “I’ve got no friends”, we can start imagining what it would be like and how it would feel having plenty of friends and taking action to venture out more.
Join some sports club if sports are your thing.
There are loads of clubs in almost all areas for pretty much anything you can think of. A simple search online will bring them up.
The thought of “Not being good looking enough” is due to negative thinking and comparing to other people which is something that damages self-confidence.
Stop comparing to other people. There’s always going to be people better and worse off than ourselves.
If the truth were known, we would be surprised just how many people are affected by low confidence, including many of the people we would consider to be outgoing and confident.
Everyone has knock backs and have dealt with lower self-confidence in periods of their lives.
Recognize the Good
As you’re reading this, I’m guessing you may have or are experiencing much of what I have been through, with our minds focusing on the worst, about situations and about ourselves.
What I’ve learned is to rather than focus on the worst that could happen, why not focus on the good things can happen, which in turn helps with the motivation to take action.
Also, thinking and replaying negative experiences in our heads, from our past, is only contributing towards the ‘programing’ of our minds.
This is forcing our brains to believe those worst experiences will always happen, believing it will reoccur again and again when we go through similar situations.
Recognizing the good positive things helps with our internal dialogue. We need to re-train our brains to see and recognize all the good things, however small, which in turn will change our internal overall image of ourselves.
Using a notepad or diary write down 3 things daily that you achieved, completed or happy about. Feel good about these accomplishments. Appreciate the wins and recognize the progress we make.
Write down all the positive attributes you have and the good things in your past. Remember and note down what other people have complimented you on. It could’ve been a kind gesture or something you were good at.
Keep adding to this list and read it daily
Certainly, with past good experiences, one point to make. If you can remember how good you felt at the time of your achievements, and feel them again, this will reinforce and help much more with re-programming your brain as it will tie it in with those good feelings.
Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen immediately, keep practicing. In my journey, I found it hard to look for the good because of all the years my brain was ’trained’ to see the negative everywhere.
Even when I started this I forgot or neglected to see the good in myself and be kinder to myself. To see the good I had done in my life so far.
Take the time to notice and feel the positive things during your day.
Focus on and remember if someone said hello or were friendly to you, rather than thinking and dwelling on the individual that may have ignored us when we said hello to them.
I found this video – How to Take in The Good - very helpful from Rick Hanson where he explains how we can boost the positive experiences and feelings, which in turn will build confidence. The video is part of the Science of a Meaningful Life Series.
Pessimistic or Optimistic?
More recently the term cognitive bias is used to describe the way many of us seem to dwell on and mainly recognise the negative thoughts and seem to interpret ambiguous statements or situations into the negative.
This is also where we hold onto those thoughts and allow them to influence future events and thought patterns.
Cognitive Bias Modification Therapy (CBMT) can be used via computers or even smartphone apps that reprogram these harmful thought patterns.
Professor Elaine Fox, a leading psychologist and neuroscientist in emotions and Research Professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford is featured in a BBC Horizon program called The Truth about Personality, presented by medical journalist Michael Mosley.
In this, Elaine uses Cognitive Bias Modification to alter Michael’s pessimistic outlook with the computer program which you can access here for your own use.
There’s also an online tool to test your own Cognitive Bias here which will give you a general idea & level of optimism or pessimism.
Keep a note of your scores of the cognitive bias tool so you can compare later.
Michael went away for 7 weeks and completed CBM and meditation for a minimum of three times a week. When he came back to the lab the results were remarkable. He also states that he felt much calmer
Further reading about pessimism and optimism:
Be Kind To Yourself
It’s so easy to beat ourselves up for not having or achieving things in our lives, and for me, I’ve recently had to re-learn and remember to be more kind to myself.
Along with recognizing the small wins, I accomplish on a daily basis; I’ve once again learned to stop beating myself up and accept much of frustration and sometimes anger at the things I can’t change as they’re simply out of my control.
- Why did that happen?
- Why did that person say that?
- What did they mean exactly?
- Why do I have these health issues?
Try not reacting or dwelling on negative things and instead try looking at it from another angle, for example; someone being rude or giving poor service in a store, I used to look at that as a personal attack but it wasn’t.
People are so focused on themselves that they act or react grumpy or rude at times for their own reasons, not to attack us.
They were probably just having a bad day or they may have recently had some bad news, the point is that it is unlikely that person set out to be rude to me, and if they did, then they just have some growing to do!
Imagine being cut up on the road.
How often have we all got mad about that and believed they done it on purpose? If that was the case, did they park by the roadside just waiting for us to come along so they could quickly pull out and cut us up? Of course not.
It’s about knowing I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances. Yes, there are certain things I just can’t do right now, but I’m doing something on a daily basis.
So, I focus on and feel good about these daily small wins, rather than what I can’t or haven’t achieved that was putting me under pressure.
Be as optimistic as possible, look for the good in situations and opportunity in circumstances.
The result is being more relaxed which in turn helps become more confident.
Another way to look at it is how would you speak to a friend or relative?
We wouldn’t verbally beat them up about all the things they haven’t done, we would congratulate them on the things they have done and help them accordingly – and that’s the same way we should treat ourselves.
I used to shrug off compliments or say things like “it was nothing” because I didn’t have the confidence to believe totally in myself or my efforts at the time.
Now it’s much easier and I simply acknowledge the compliment and say “Thank You” or “You’re Welcome” and if the occasion is right, look for something to genuinely compliment the other person on.
Of course, as you start to practice these methods, you can also offer compliments to other people. Just something simple. Remembering to be genuine. So, if you like someone’s hat or whatever, just comment “nice hat”. What have you got to lose?
For most of us we carry around with us the past failures in our lives or to be more accurate - our interpretation of certain events that we believe didn’t go well.
If we look closer at many of the past events that we continue to replay over and over in our minds and tend to use as a measuring stick for how future events will turn out, we would find that our interpretation of many of these occasions was not very accurate.
Think about other people that have experienced similar things and being completely honest, did the situation look or seem as bad - as we consider our own to be?
We tend to have distorted images of ourselves and our experiences, known as our core beliefs.
Therefore, we are carrying around many thoughts that are simply not accurate.
On top of that, the length of time we consider other people to keep thinking about our considered failures simply isn’t true.
Other people are far more interested in themselves to keep going over what we may or may not have done before.
Try not to over value other people and de-value ourselves.
Even if we made some mistakes in the past, and who doesn’t? Whatever happened in the past does NOT shape our future.
Being kinder to ourselves isn’t just about not beating ourselves up when we think we haven’t done something, but also about taking time out for ourselves.
Go watch that new movie at the cinema or go for a walk along the beach, treat yourself kinder and if you can also link in rewards with small goals or wins that you’ve achieved then all the better.
Remember to do something for yourself every day. Why not try some new things for yourself? What do you enjoy doing that you aren’t doing? Try out some new hobbies, you may even surprise yourself and make some new friends.
Being a Perfectionist
Some of us link confidence with being perfectionists.
Waiting for the perfect time to do something or take action is rarely ever going to arrive.
Thinking “I’ll start that when I have ALL the information or knowledge” or “I’ll go out when I’m feeling more confident”…
We have to reverse these ideas around.
If we want to know how to be more confident, we have to experience more situations, to practice and get better. We aren’t going to build confidence sitting at home alone too worried to go out with other people or in social situations.
Likewise, waiting to take action, like changing jobs, going on a date or starting a business is simply procrastination normally due to our fears and lack of confidence.
I’m not saying go in blind to these things, but there is only a certain amount of preparation and information gathering we can do before we need to take action.
To improve self-confidence we need to confront our fears. Take action and take more risks. We need to accept failure does happen sometimes but how else do we expect to learn and get back on track, and find out what does and doesn’t work, for us?
Again, we can’t expect to get all the information necessary for any situation and have the complete ‘all clear’/green light to just go for it – problem-free.
The fears can often seem to be much bigger in our minds than in reality, and the longer we put things off, the worse these fears appear to be, which creates inaction.
I found this book to be helpful by Susan Jeffers; “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway”
If we can be accountable to someone else in whatever fear it is that we’re trying to overcome, that can only help, along with setting ourselves realistic small goals to achieve the steps along the way.
Remember growing up? I bet for most of us we just enjoyed life. We played and just got on with things to our heart's content and not giving things a second thought?
When we were children we didn’t live in our heads as many of us do as adults, second-guessing our thoughts and actions, wondering if what we’re doing or about to do will look or appear acceptable to those around us.
Why not simply enjoy life to the best of our ability?
If you feel like laughing out loud or enjoying something as you did when you were a child – go ahead, who cares what anyone else thinks. As long as we’re not hurting anyone around us.
Be More Active, Exercise
I’ve never been one to exercise, and by that, I mean doing sets of push-ups or going to the gym several times a week. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’d say that if you can do that type of exercise then great, go ahead and keep it up.
However, there was a time when I would see no one, stay indoors all the time and act rather reclusive. This did not have a good effect on my self-confidence and I realized if I wanted to improve my confidence, I had to venture out more.
Getting more exercise can simply be going for walks or taking trips to various stores rather than the usual closest one. If you can work in various places from a computer or laptop, why not venture to different coffee shops or libraries to do your work?
I would say it’s far more enjoyable and better for our inner confidence to be around other people wherever possible which will get us used to communicating with others’. See it as practicing many of the steps above.
If you’ve decided to improve your fitness and go for a walk or run, that is an accomplishment. When you work towards your fitness and health you feel good, which is worth doing.
These activities will give you a great sense of achievement.
The Power of Association
So much of our confidence and what we believe comes from where and how we spend our time. Think of our minds like a computer – what we put in is what we get out of it.
Good stuff in = good stuff out. And the reverse is also true.
If we spend our time with negative people who moan and groan about everything and how the world is so bad and against them, then that’s what we’re putting into our brains and will have a negative impact on us, as well as being draining.
Likewise, if we spend too much time taking in bad news stories from television, newspapers and in recent years more from the internet and social media then that’s what we’re feeding our minds with and won’t be able to help but produce negative stuff out.
There’s rather a large trend with social media currently with too many people, especially teenagers and young people, becoming obsessed with social media and comparing themselves with friends, some public figures who post inaccurate, airbrushed images of themselves online.
All this is doing is creating false expectations that many believe they should live up to in comparison.
Cut down the amount of time on social media and get yourself out and about more.
Listen to Music
It’s a fact that listening to upbeat music fires us up. Try listening to some of your favorite music tracks especially before work, an event or an occasion that you're worried about attending.
This is something I’ve been doing more and more. Putting some upbeat music on in the morning helps get me motivated and ready to take action whereas before this there were times I’d struggle to get moving.
5 Second Rule
When you have an idea about acting on something or a feeling, whether it’s going for a run or the gym, or working on a project, or even a thought of saying something in a conversation, we need to take action on that inclination within 5 seconds.
If we don’t, our brains will find numerous reasons why we shouldn’t do it. As time ticks by, the reasons for not doing it start to mount up in our mind and we end up taking no action at all.
You can read more about this from Mel Robbins
Give to those less fortunate than ourselves. That doesn’t always mean giving financially, although if you can that’s great. We can also give our time. Help someone in need, maybe it’s an elderly neighbor who doesn’t find it easy to get out, why not offer to do their shopping for them.
Not only doing something for charity or helping out where we can, will greatly benefit others’ but it will have a positive effect on our confidence and general wellbeing.
It’s a feeling of being useful and appreciated which in turn develops our self-confidence even more.
Now it’s over to you. It’s time to put some time aside and start implementing some of the steps above.
The best way is to start with just one or two things to work on and set a goal, whether that’s going out more, like a trip to the cinema, or joining a club. Speaking to just one person even if it’s “Hello” and build on that.
It depends where you are at this point, whether just starting or wanting to improve or gain more confidence.
Take your time and don’t put yourself under too much pressure. Think about some of the things you’ve been avoiding, but start small and don’t do too much at once, but do something.
Think of taking up an interest like fitness, possibly around other people. Not only will you be getting fitter and healthier but you’ll also feel good about yourself doing something worthwhile, which will give you a sense of achievement.
Remember, thinking about things is generally worse than the actual event, and for many of us, loss of confidence or low confidence could be down to falling out of practice of being with or around other people.
Like any skill we’ve learned, if we don’t do it for a long time, our ability and how well we do it will deteriorate. We need to get back into practice again and put ourselves out there.
There will be struggles, times of feeling low, but it’s a journey and nothing worthwhile is easy. Keep applying what you’ve learned here, daily and you will achieve the levels of confidence you want.
You’ve now got the steps to make a difference with your confidence and drastically improve it.
However, knowing how to be confident is only the first part. You need to put this knowledge into practice.
Show commitment to yourself and keep it up.
Please leave your comments below, I’d enjoy hearing about your progress, plus mention anything you would like to see added to this article.