How to Instantly Build Confidence, Backed By Science.

tightrope confidence

Confidence. Can it be developed?

It’s one of the most desirable traits when it comes to finding a partner, one of the most desirable traits when it comes to employment, and a hell of a way to make a positive first impression.

I’m sure you can conjure up someone you think of as “confident.”

  • James Bond’s uncanny ability to stay calm, cool, and collected under pressure, and then utter a perfectly timed and witty catchphrase.
  • That female friend of yours who can strike up a conversation with anybody and everybody, making them feel like they’ve found a new best friend within minutes.
  • Your buddy who has quickly advanced through a company, and just seems to have “it.”

Whether you’re young or old, gay or straight, male or female, human or cyborg, confidence will make your life better!

Can confidence be built, or is it outside of our control?

Today, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about confidence, and how you can quickly implement a few tactics to kickstart your leveling up.

what is confidence?

Steve Fitness Skeptic Goggles

Before I dig into how to improve your confidence, I want to talk about what it really is. 

I’m NOT talking about the guy who focuses on building six-pack abs and big biceps, who attends seduction classes, follows word-for-word scripts and approach techniques to hit on people, makes sure to get a pump before walking out the door. This dude often lacks a base level of confidence and self-respect, and is approaching confidence building from the wrong angle; his strategy is a house of cards to cover up a level of insecurity.

Real confidence is about being true to who you are (and being excited about it!). Think of your friend who acts completely differently depending on who she might be trying to impress, even if the person they’re pretending to be doesn’t line up with who they really are (or want to be).

The late Mitch Hedberg said it best: “If you stand in the meat section at the grocery store long enough, you start to get mad at turkeys. There’s turkey ham, turkey bologna, turkey pastrami. Someone needs to tell the turkey, ‘man, just be yourself.’”

So, we want to practice the type of confidence that is built around knowing who you are as a person and understanding what’s important – like Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation, one of the greatest characters on one of the best shows out there.

Ron is confident without being cocky. He has inner confidence and strength that guides his choice of words and decision-making. He doesn’t care what people think of him, and as a result of this people are drawn to that confidence in a way no imposter could ever achieve.

Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec, on the other hand is the antithesis of this.

He’s chasing tactics to be ‘confident’ but for the wrong reasons:

Ron’s quiet confidence and steadfast conviction to who he is as a person makes him great, and why the racoon hat works for him when it failed as a tactic for Tom.

In the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, this is the type of confidence we seek: not necessarily changing who we are to impress people, but rather staying true to who we are as we level up our lives. We are all works in progress, but we also need to have self-respect: that we are worthy as partners, friends, co-workers, and people. We accept where we’re at currently, but we work every day on self-improvement.

As Henry Rollins says: “I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect.”

So, while we level up, we can use the tactics in this article to enhance ourselves and make sure we are presenting our best possible selves to the real world. I want you to think about the type of confidence you’re trying to develop, even if you don’t have it quite yet:

The quiet confidence of somebody who commands respect?

The boisterous person that walks in the room and instantly everybody wants to become best friends with?

The lovable goofball that doesn’t take herself too seriously?

Once we know the type of person we’re working towards becoming, we can apply the information below to help us level up until we reach that goal.

Stand up straight, get big, Move confidently!

personality

Did you know that sitting a certain way for just a few minutes before a date or interview can greatly boost your chances of success in the encounter?

How crazy is that!? Seriously. Just by changing your posture you can physiologically develop more confidence within minutes. That’s right. Not just “appear” more confident, but actually BE more confident, based on how you are standing or sitting.

That’s like a free power-up!

How we are treated and how how we treat ourselves is mostly dependent on our non-verbal communication – how we stand, how we walk, how we look, and so on. Once we understand these things, we can hack our body language to improve our confidence subconsciously.

As Amy Cuddy points out in her TED Talk, our bodies can literally change our minds:

What Amy is saying: if you are trying to become more confident instantly, adopting a power pose for just a few seconds can change how you feel and act.

By adopting a power pose before entering a tense situation, you will subconsciously adjust how your brain responds. As the aforementioned study points out: 

“High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern.

In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes.”

Another study in the European Journal of Psychology examined people’s self-confidence based on posture:

The applicants who were slumped over had lower self-confidence, as expressed by their answers, than those who sat up straight. This research shows that whether you sit up straight at your desk or slump in your chair impacts the chemicals produced in your brain, which, in turn, affect what goes on in your mind.

So how do we use this to our advantage? Before you enter any situation when you need confidence and courage (going out to a bar, asking for a raise, asking somebody out over the phone)…adapt a power pose for a few moments beforehand!

Here are some examples of power poses that you can use throughout the night, before you go out, and when you want to openly display your confidence:

  • Hands raised above head in victory pose
  • Hands on hips like Superman or Wonder Woman
  • Legs crossed, hands behind head
  • Sprawled out across a seat

Strike these poses and set yourself up to succeed. Practice in a stairwell, in your cubicle, in a bathroom stall, or while looking in a mirror; just do it whenever you need a quick burst of confidence before entering the challenging situation.

take pride in your appearance

tie

In addition to how we stand and walk, how we dress can drastically influence our levels of confidence as well.

Yup. How you dress can ACTUALLY boost how confident you are, in addition to how people will treat you (which in turn then affects your confidence even further!)

Two things happen when you wear clothes that present you in the best possible light:

  • You treat yourself differently, and become more confident in the right clothing.
  • You will be treated differently by people. Jaywalk while wearing a suit, for example, and people will be 350% more likely to follow you than if you wore a t-shirt.

So, by putting on the right kind (or properly fitting clothing), we can change how we view ourselves, in addition to how others view us: setting us up doubly for a confidence super boost.

As pointed out in a recent New York Times article, studies have shown that you can trick your brain based on what you are wearing, which is referred to as “enclothed cognition.” When you dress in a certain way, you can trick your brain into changing how you react to certain situations, or adjust how much confidence you have.

What about how other people treat you? I can hear you thinking (I have superpowers): “I just wear what’s comfortable, and if people judge me for it, that’s their problem.” We’ve all said the above when we’ve been treated in a way we’re not happy about, or when somebody didn’t take the time to get to know us. As nerds, it’s like it’s built into our DNA: “how dare that person not respect me for me, regardless of my appearance.”

The truth: 99.9999% of people will never get to know the real you. They can only go off what they see and subconsciously process that about you within fractions of a second. So, being more confident starts by dressing the part, and how you dress can affect the outcome of an interaction:

Experiments have shown that women who dress in a masculine fashion during a job interview are more likely to be hired, and a teaching assistant who wears formal clothes is perceived as more intelligent than one who dresses more casually.”

So how does one start to dress better, to get both benefits of changing how you view yourself and how others view you? Guys – if you’ve ever worn a perfectly tailored suit for a wedding, or ladies, a dress that made you feel like a superstar, you know what I mean.

Depending on your style, that might be dressing like a musician, or in a suit, or in jeans and a tee shirt – it comes down to fit and how good YOU feel in those clothes! After all:

“What about suits and ties? “If you associate those clothes with power and confidence, it’s going to have a huge impact [on subconsciously making you act more powerful and confident],” he says. “But for some people, wearing suits makes them feel like a phony, as Holden Caulfield would say. So it’s really about what the symbolic meaning of the clothes is to the person.”

So, it all comes back to YOU being YOU, and dressing in a way that accentuates that. Dress the part for the type of confidence you WANT to exude, and your body will respond in kind.

Making a Great First Impression

Level Up Social Skills

Okay! We’ve prepared, but now we’re going out into the wild!

Social interaction can be a HUGE challenge for many, and even the most confident looking person can fall apart as soon as they encounter another human. So how can we set ourselves up to win before we even start to speak?

Here are the two most important tips, backed by science, that will make you appear more confident and can help you on dates, interviews, or any other social interaction:

1) Smile, fool! People will respond to the emotions you project. If you are projecting “I am happy and fun,” they will subconsciously want to be happy too. The best way to trick your brain into being happy and fun is to start with a smile. As this study and this study point out, smiling can make you happier, and change how you think and feel about yourself.

2) Eye contact. This is challenging, as it makes most people feel incredibly awkward. Do you walk around looking down at the ground, avoiding eye contact with others? Or if you happen to lock eyes with somebody, do you quickly look away? Most of us do these things automatically, and it screams “I am insecure.” As you’re developing confidence, really focus on maintaining eye contact with people, as it can certainly affect how you are treated.

As Art of Manliness points out in this article on Eye Contact: “Numerous studies have shown that people who make higher-levels of eye contact with others are perceived as being:

  • More dominant and powerful
  • More warm and personable
  • More attractive and likeable
  • More qualified, skilled, competent, and valuable
  • More trustworthy, honest, and sincere
  • More confident and emotionally stable

If you’re on a date or having an intense conversation with a boss, maintaining eye contact is a huge part of exuding strength, confidence, and self-respect.”

Try it today. While walking down the street, maintain eye contact with strangers as you walk by them. If they look at you, despite everything in your brain telling you to turn away, maintain your gaze! Try a smile, a brief head nod, and continue on your way.

Also, don’t forget to blink. You’re welcome 🙂

Fake it ’til you become it.

Jump

Along with everything above, there’s one last thing we can to do build confidence: Fake it!

There are many different kinds of confidence – think about the characters or people that you admire or people you respect and would like to emulate. Start by identifying the person you’d like to be more like, and emulate them.

As Derek Halpern, founder of Social Triggers, explains in this following video, ask yourself “how would a confident person act in this situation?” And then, act how that person would act.

It’s okay if it feels weird or it’s not how you would normally act – you’re acting. Like a scientist testing a hypothesis, you’re merely trying things out. This can help remove a lot of the fear of rejection or awkward situations:

Derek is a friend of mine, and I’ve witnessed him take over a room in New York City within five minutes simply through his actions, mannerisms, and voice; it was hilarious and inspiring. After he did this in multiple locations within an hour, I knew he had the code cracked…but I also know from our conversations that Derek wasn’t born confident – it was a skill he actively built and worked on over the years to improve.

I realize this might sound counterintuitive to what I’ve been explaining: how can faking it improve ACTUAL confidence (aka the true confidence we seek)? Just as how we stand or dress can physiologically change our brains, adopting certain “confident” traits can also physiologically change our brains – allowing us to exude the very confidence we’re trying to build! Just remember we are embodying and emulating the positive traits of the confident and charismatic people, and using those things to present our best selves.

I want you to try the following TODAY:

1) Wear clothes today that you feel DAMN good in, that fit your body type.

2) Before you head out in the wild, strike a power pose for 2 minutes.

3) When you walk, do so tall and proudly.

4) The next stranger you see (or coffee shop barista, waitress, receptionist, whoever), work on maintaining eye contact while smiling.

And then report back on how you were treated or how people responded compared to how you are normally treated! Did you carry yourself differently? If you who used to be shy and have actively improved your social confidence, do you have any tips for your fellow socially awkward Rebels?

-Steve

PS: Almost 2,000 Rebels joined Nerd Fitness Yoga last week, and it’s been awesome seeing so many people get started with yoga for the first time. If you missed out, take the free flexibility challenge and we’ll be opening doors again later on in 2015!

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photo source: walking on air: ryan claussen, Danbo’s Life: Carlo Ciccarelli, personality: vic

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50 thoughts on “How to Instantly Build Confidence, Backed By Science.

  1. Great article Steve. In a former life I lost 100 lbs. Every pound I lost my confidence grew. But even after all these years sometimes my confidence needs a little boost. I’ve noticed even little things can make a difference in your mental game. I’ll echo your comments about taking pride in your appearance. When I look good I always feel good. Cheers

  2. Thanks for the shout out Steve. I should also mention one more thing that people would find interesting… i’m also introverted.

  3. Actually that isn’t that surprising. Introvert/extrovert really has very little to do how much you enjoy social interactions or the degree of social interactions. It has more do with where do you get your “energy” from. I about introverted as a person can be but I do a ton of public speaking for work and I think I am pretty good at it. It’s just after doing it, I am drained. I find time alone in my office or time working just one person to be way more energizing and boosting of creativity.

  4. When I started working on cruise ships at the age of 20 I was painfully shy, even though I didn’t realise I was as bad as I was. I couldn’t get up the courage to speak in front of my training class of 20 or so. A few years later I had gotten trained in advanced treatments, moved to a much bigger ship, been promoted to assistant manager with management in sight & was doing weekly, high revenue seminars for over 100 people, all things I had been petrified of. I just faked it until I made it. By pretending to be confident & just going for whatever it was that I had in mind (the worst they can say is no, right?) eventually those things that had been intimidating because less and less so.

  5. Great article, Steve, but I have a question. As you said, dressing well helps with confidence, but how do you guard yourself for overdressing? I mean, a suit does the best, but going to a college class in your tailor-fit suit might be a bit overkill. This means you’ll have to resort to t-shirts and such. I’m guessing you’ll stick to clothes that fit you well in terms of form, but what about the combination of colors and such. I’m pretty much fashion blind (as my sisters have often despaired about, every time I chose to wear denim pants with a denim blouse, or stuff like that). Do you have a simple system for people like me?

  6. Yes, I read Quiet too. The point is, I rather do anything in the world other than what Steve just described :-).

  7. That is true. We can all make ourselves do things that out of our nature. Sometimes, heck, frequently, it’s a good thing.

  8. I’m not Steve, but one of the ways I have read (and occasionally tried, with interesting effects) would be to calibrate this by dressing *just* a bit nicer than the occasion requires. Since your sisters seem to have an opinion on this, why not ask them to find you some outfits that fit that description? I’m thinking at an occasion where everyone’s dressed in T-shirts, shorts and sandals, wear a casual button-down, shorts and “nicer” sandals, along with a piece of interesting jewelry (like a watch or a bracelet)….this lets you customize your look to your personality as well. Hope that helps.

  9. Another great article to remind us how confidence plays a huge role in fitness. It takes confidence to workout at the gym, practice pilates, barre, or go to yoga classes, and eat healthier. Learning to smile more and have patience too. Thanks Steve!

  10. Outstanding post Steve – I can attest to this that confidence can be fostered and built one step at a time. Extra awesome when you get rolling it builds momentum!

  11. Great post, Steve! Something I have struggled with for a long time. Since I moved into Chicago I have worked on smiling while walking down the street as well as making eye contact and saying hi or giving a nod to people walking down the street. It’s amazing how many people instantly look away or never even look up while walking.

  12. GREAT article!! Although I am not faithfully following the Paleo diet, I am trying to eat much more healthy by cutting out as many carbs and “snacks” as possible, along with eating more fruits and veggies. This article gives a lot of food for thought and some very good advice!

  13. Very nice post, I think a lot of us can truly benefit from this.

    One thing had me puzzled though – no Barney Stinson reference in the dress section?

  14. Good article. Confidence is a thing I had to learn, and it becomes a virtuous circle, confidence breeds success, which in turn breeds more confidence. I also agree strongly with being yourself. While I am often at odds with prevailing trends, I can still command respect, and put my differences out there. And sometimes, life throws unexpected challenges that I just have to stand up and take on, like the times I was asked to present a community radio program solo at short notice.

    One piece of advice I would like to add a caveat to is eye contact. A higher proportion of nerds (than the average population) are on the autism spectrum. For many of these people, eye contact is at best distracting, at worst, physically painful. For some (like me), it is possible to fudge it. However, there are still a lot of other ways to project confidence.

  15. Great article Steve! I’ll do my best to work this area. I am one of those people that look down while walking, hardly ever sit up straight, and hardly comment in my college classes. I never realized that something simple as sitting up straight or walking with your head up high makes you feel confident. Its something I will really need to work on.

    Also is there an article here in nerdfitness that talks about commitment? I can really use a link please.

  16. This is a good article, but I have a strange twist to my question. I have mastered the great majority in my work self, and know the things in your article work! Yet somehow my private, personal “home” self struggles with this so immensely! Especially when it comes to situations I perceive myself vulnerable, and thus self conscious, in (ie. Working out in the same space as coworkers – and it’s unavoidable). Any suggestions for getting past that?

  17. As someone who was bullied through school and has spent years and years trying to rebuild my confidence and self-worth, this article certainly has some good points that I will be trying.
    But I also want to give out a small warning to my fellow rebels:
    In this article and in Derek’s video it sounds easy to build your confidence in this way, and depending on who you are, it might be, but if you’re anything like me it will NOT come easy. It will be hard work, and it WILL take a long time.
    I’m not saying this to discourage you, I’m saying this to tell you that you shouldn’t give up if it seems like you’re not getting anywhere, even though you’re using all of these great tips. It will be a long road (I’m still on it, so I don’t know how long), but I’m sure that it’s worth it.

  18. The other thing to remember is eye contact is extremely culturally bound. It’s considered normal, ok, and even good in cultures that originate from Europe and areas close, think Roman or Greek colonization. I have engaged with some cultures where eye contact is about the most disrespectful thing you can do.

  19. This just came in handy in the best possible way. I bought a gym membership this week and I have my first meeting with the personal trainer today. As the “new place new people” anxiety was creeping in I started to freak out a bit. A few minutes of pretending I was Wonder Woman, giggling like a maniac, and the stress is gone. Thanks!!

  20. Nice article! I’ve seen the video on body language/power poses before, and it’s impressive what effect those things have!

    The advice about thinking about a confident person and what they would do is very solid. Teal Swan who talks about spiritual things says you can ask yourself “what would someone who loved themselves do?” for decisions in general and I think it applies and is very related to this as well.

  21. I prefer to err on the side of overdressed myself. If you find yourself overdressed in a situation just go with it. Try not to show that you feel overdressed and uncomfortable. Go with the fake it till you make it attitude. Assume that you are dress correctly for the occasion and everyone else is underdressed. Sit down or stand with correct posture, keep your head up and make some eye contact. Some people might think its a little odd but others will think you are awesome and you might even inspire them to set up their clothing game.

  22. I really like that this article focused on the idea of confidence. As a college student, I definitely realize the importance of developing confidence. Many people struggle with the idea of confidence, especially first year students. At the beginning of this school year, I had the privilege to work with the incoming students, and help them begin to feel comfortable in this new environment. Many of them were nervous when meeting new students, and were very quiet. The start of a friendship all begins with a smile and a bit of confidence. By the end of the week, the confidence of the students grew, and they became comfortable with college and their new surroundings. It is always hard trying something new, but with a little confidence the experience can be fun and exciting.

  23. I like how you described the people who lift 7 times a week and always have to get a pump before leaving the house.

    That kind of thinking is just a form of insecurity.

    I’ve gotten in crazy shape and I can tell everyone first hand that while it may give you a confidence boost, true confidence comes from inside.

    Once I realized that I’m a cool ass motherf****** and no one can tell me otherwise, is when I knew I’ve become truly confident.

    Oh meditation does wonders too.

  24. No where did I say it was easy. But a journey starts with a single step, and something like this actually helps you get over the fear of being judged, because everyone will judge you.

  25. Nice, concise summary of ways to boost confidence. It’s amazing how you can make small changes, like the power pose thing – and watch it snowball into more and more consonant decisions. It’s great!

    Good work, as always, Steve!

  26. I’m introverted too. Doesn’t mean you can’t be outgoing and confident- it just means being outgoing is mentally tiring, so you have to build up “social endurance,” of a sort.

  27. This is a great post with awesome strategy to back it up! It’s funny, when I first heard Amy Cuddy speak on the power of posture, I implemented a two minute power stance into my daily routine. I call it my Wonder Woman stance, and it’s helped me push through tough days at my desk, in the gym- wherever. Good stuff, Steve. 🙂

  28. Kickboxing does absolute wonders for my confidence.
    It’s also an empowering way to build strength and blow off steam! http://www.ufcgym.com offers amazing kickboxing classes, along with other exciting dance and martial arts options as well!

  29. You seem to contradict yourself. Isn’t dressing in an attempt to look pretty another way to hide your own insecurities? A truly confident person wouldn’t give a crap about what others think about his clothing.

  30. I loved this post. I have been trying to focus on myself and my social skills. I found a site thats just starting and it has to do with becoming less shy. Its first post was about body language, which I have has a huge effect of my confidence. Anyway I thought it was helpful and maybe it can help others. It was http://getouttayourshell.com.

  31. This is great advice, but misleading. If you don’t have confidence, how are you going to put on clothes you “feel DAMN good in”? The same for staring at a stranger.

  32. I struggle with eye contact, which probably makes me seem kinda creepy. But I’m also afraid that making a point of making eye contact also makes me look creepy.

  33. You make a lot of great points here. The “fake it ’till you make it” mantra is definitely a reliable source of potential confidence. I, myself, am an introvert and notice that my attitude really does shape my environment (to a certain extent). When I make an effort to consciously be more positive, I notice that opportunities and fun experiences seem to open themselves up to me from all areas of my life. Nice read. http://www.fitnessinterest.com/

  34. Yet another beautiful, information-loaded article. May I ask if there’s timeline defined in making eye contact so that it may be taken as a non-offending gesture?

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