How to Be More Confident

You don’t need to wear sky-high stilettos to feel 10 feet tall. Instead, try these smart assertiveness-building strategies on for size—courtesy of a gutsy panel of experts, including a former police sergeant and a neurosurgeon.

  • Lindsy Van Gelder; additional reporting by Julia Edelstein

1. Practice Eye Contact…

People often think self-defense classes teach only how to physically fight back against a predator. But the practice is also about becoming empowered. One way to do that is to project assertiveness with your body language. With people you converse with frequently, make it a habit to look at them directly in the eye and maintain your gaze while you’re talking. This simple move shows that you’re not weak and that you’re engaged, and it’s the first step to becoming less passive in the rest of your life. Keep it up and, with each interaction, you’ll gain a little more confidence.

Steve Kardian is a former police sergeant and the founder of Defend University, in Thornwood, New York, which certifies self-defense–training instructors nationwide.

2. …and Curb Your Nervous Tics

When you’re uneasy, your body often betrays you with actions that reveal your true feelings. Pulling your hair into a ponytail repeatedly or twisting a few strands between your fingers indicates that you might be skeptical of your own abilities. Talking too fast exposes your uncertainty, too. (These habits also detract from what you say.) Instead, walk or sit upright with your shoulders back, arms uncrossed, and head up. You’ll appear confident to others and, as a result, feel that way yourself.

James A. Cohen is an associate professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, in New York City.