Here's How to Boost Your Self-Esteem and Be More Confident

Confidence is a skill you can master at any stage.

Imagine what you could do if you were a little bit more confident. Or how about a lot more confident? It's not just you—lack of confidence holds more people back than you might realize. Chances are, the people who appear truly confident have had to work on their self-assuredness at some point in life, in one area or another (and if not, they're one of the few lucky ones!).

"Confidence is a measure of our faith in our own abilities," says Tess Brigham, MFT, BCC, a psychotherapist, career and certified life coach, and public speaker. "It usually comes from successful experiences. People struggle with confidence because in order to create these successful experiences they have to take action in some way." We're often afraid to take action due to fear of failure, and so starts the vicious cycle.

Anyone at any age can struggle with—and work on—their confidence. But Brigham says her female clients come to her more often than her male clients with confidence issues like impostor syndrome in the workplace. "Women tend to worry a lot more about how they're coming across to other people," she says. "Instead of trusting their instincts and speaking up, they tend to wait until they're 100 percent sure of what they want to say, and then the moment passes." Naturally, young people also tend to lack confidence, since, as Brigham says, "knowledge is great, but nothing beats experience: Confidence comes from taking actions and having experiences, so age does matter."

Fortunately self confidence is a quality you can learn and practice. In fact, it's more like a skill or a muscle you can build. From life-changing mental tricks to empowering physical cues, these helpful strategies can help you build up self-esteem and be more confident.

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Start Small

"The more you do something and the more experience you get, the more confident you'll become; and the more confident you become, the more you'll be able to take action," Brigham says. "Starting out is always the hardest part, so always create goals that are small and doable. You want to create actionable steps you know you can accomplish because it'll help you create forward momentum."

Start by engaging in activities where you already have confidence in your abilities, suggests Sherry Benton, PhD, ABPP, a psychologist and the founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect. "This puts you in a thought pattern called 'flow,' where self-consciousness disappears and you're completely absorbed. Find something that puts you in the zone and gives you a sense of pride in your accomplishments."

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Notice Confidence-Draining Thoughts

"Boosting confidence and self-esteem is really about the relationship you have with yourself and the running dialogue you have in your head," Brigham explains. "Start by becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings, and start to address how you see yourself and patterns of negative thinking."

Awareness and acknowledgement of self-deprecating thoughts and speech patterns is step one. "Notice how you speak to yourself. Stop labeling yourself as 'stupid' or a 'loser,'" Brigham says. "Find a different way to speak to yourself or at least stop yourself when you recognize you're being mean to yourself."

Take stock of your surroundings, too: "Start noticing what people or activities increase your negative thinking and make changes accordingly," she adds (i.e., social media, unhealthy relationships, and so on).

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Retrain Your Brain

"When you feed yourself a steady stream of self-doubt and imagined failure, these thoughts become more automatic and hardwired in your brain," Benton says. In order to become more confident, you must not only notice the bad thoughts, but then actively cultivate more positive, confident ones. "This process takes time and practice," Benton says, but "work on it daily, and eventually, you'll create new neural pathways and these (new, better) thoughts can become more automatic—you're essentially rewiring your brain to make yourself feel more confident."

Benton recommends repeating feel-good phrases everyday that really resonate with you. Positive affirmations, she says, can alter your subconscious. At the start of each day, for example, say to yourself: "I am ready to take on the day ahead," or "I am smart and capable."

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Surround Yourself With Inspiration

Benton recommends writing down quotes or messages that inspire you and displaying them somewhere easy to spot. "Build a playlist of songs that lift your spirits and bring you joy, then regardless of your mood, choose to listen to this playlist—don't listen to music that brings you down and affirms your negative feelings," she says. "Studies have shown that music can fend off depression, lower your cortisol levels, and lead to positive moods and increased emotional regulation."

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Visualize Past Successes

Brigham recommends zeroing in on times in your life when you "felt really calm, in control, and like [you] were in the zone" or "killing it." It's what she calls a "success review": Visualize a time when you felt proud and sure of yourself. What was the circumstance? What did you do to get to that place? Who was with you?

"You gave an amazing speech, you nailed a presentation, you wrote an essay you loved—it's different for everyone—but a moment in time when you felt your best," she says. "Then go back in time and embody that moment again. This is a great thing to do before a presentation or job interview to boost your confidence."

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Change Your Understanding of "Failure"

Fear of failure is one of the ultimate confidence killers. Start to let go of binary, all-or-nothing standards: the belief that you can only either be perfect or fail. "This is called negative perfectionism," says Benton. "If you're trying to live up to unrealistic standards, all experiences result in perfection or failure, which leads you to see yourself as an inadequate failure all the time."

Instead of setting yourself up to fail with the impossible goal to be perfect at all times, set goals that are very achievable and within your control. Brigham suggests making your goal simply to take action—not to achieve a positive outcome. "Taking action is within your control, what happens after you take action (the overall outcome) is out of your control," says Brigham. "In order to build your confidence muscles you have to start by redefining failure for yourself and learning to let go of the outcome."

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Then Let Yourself Fail

Step two of transforming your relationship with failure is to desensitize yourself to it. "Don't be too hard on yourself—allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them," Benton says.

"When people perform, things don't always go well. Maybe someone drops a cue or forgets a prop. Perhaps the audience doesn't laugh. But from those experiences, you can learn not to give failure so much power," says Brad Barton, a New York City–based, performer, writer, and improv instructor. "Sure, after a weak show you may feel a bit of a sting, but you're still walking, still breathing. Once you bomb a show a number of times, you'll know that you can survive it. Take that knowledge and use it to fortify yourself the next time you're faced with a big challenge, like a presentation at work."

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Do Not Compare Yourself to Others

Our tendency to see others as our foils or competition isn't a healthy or helpful way to gauge personal growth and success. "Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own personal journey," Brigham says. "I usually urge my clients to limit social media because it's really easy to go on it and compare yourself to other people and tear yourself down or judge where you are in your life."

In the same vein, having empathy is crucial—not only as a courtesy to others, but ironically for your own benefit. Anyone you compare yourself to—at work, on Instagram, in a magazine, in any facet of life—whose existence you let chip away at your own confidence, is going through their own private challenges. They might lack confidence in ways you can't see. Understanding that others are just as fallible as you are, albeit in different ways, is a reminder that helps level the playing field (so to speak) in your own mind.

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Ask Yourself "Why?"

Dig deeper into your motivations for wanting to be more confident and finally taking the steps to do so. "Focus on why you want to increase your self-confidence," Brigham says. "What kind of life do you want to live? How do you want to feel every day? Who do you want to surround yourself with? How do you want to spend your time? These questions are really important because they determine which areas of your life to focus on building that confidence muscle." In other words, identifying why you want to be more confident (the intention) can help you figure out how to be more confident (and actions).

RELATED: How to Be More Resilient: Tips for Building Resiliency

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Educate Yourself

Knowledge is confidence, while ignorance can breed insecurity—about what you don't know or haven't experienced. Pause and consider why you're not confident: Does your self-doubt stem from anxiety over your own ignorance or lack of experience (perceived or real)? Take matters into your own hands—jump in and learn. Learn by reading, learn by doing (take a course), learn by asking for help. No one can ever know everything, of course, so let that expectation go. But the more you can learn about a subject, a process, a set of skills that you feel behind on, the more confident you'll start to become, guaranteed.

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Project Confidence With Body Language

This is probably when the old "fake 'til you make it" adage will come to mind. But don't think of it as being fake—you're still supposed to be you, you're just exuding a more confident version of yourself to the world around you. First, work on body language, a tried-and-true way to boost confidence, Benton says. "Stand straight and relax your shoulders. Avoid placing your hands on your hips or crossing your arms, and resist the urge to fidget by playing with your hair, tapping your foot on the ground, or constantly shifting your bodyweight." Speak slowly and intentionally, and watch out for verbal crutches—these all detract from what you're saying.

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Practice Making Eye Contact

We can't talk about body language without mentioning the importance of eye contact. "One way to [become empowered] is to project assertiveness with your body language," confirms Steve Kardian, a former police sergeant and the founder of Defend University, which certifies self-defense–training instructors. "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 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."

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Psych Yourself Up With a Ritual

Take it from Anders Cohen, MD, the chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, and a former tennis pro and physician for the US Open Tennis Championships: Things come naturally when you're on autopilot and feeling good about yourself. "To bring yourself into this mind-set, create a routine to go through before an important event," he says. "For example, a tennis player might bounce a ball four times before each serve. And before every surgery, my assistant and I follow a regimen. It slows down our minds, and we get into a natural rhythm—making us better prepared to handle any situation confidently."

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Dress for Confidence

If you feel good physically, you'll feel good mentally. "Don't spend your days in outfits that make you uncomfortable, and don't punish yourself by wearing clothes that no longer fit," Benton says. "Start by taking an afternoon to go through your closet. Remove anything that you don't like. Then focus on building a wardrobe you're actually excited to wear. Clothing can positively impact your body image and self-esteem, so choose pieces that highlight what you love about yourself."

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Enlist Others to Help You

It's no secret that we're often our own worst critics. Sometimes you need the people who love, admire, respect, and depend on you the most to hype you up. "In some cultures, there's a practice described as the bestowing of blessings, in which one person stands inside a circle of her closest friends or allies Those on the outside share their wisdom with the person in the center," says Ivars Ozolins, a certified leadership coach and behavioral consultant based in Southern California. "When you need the confidence to do something new or difficult, adapt this model. Ask your friends to express why they believe you will succeed. It's simple enough, but because there is power in numbers, you'll feel energized and more prepared to tackle the task at hand."

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