You Can (Quickly) Train Yourself to Be More Confident
With 2016 coming to a close (I know, where the heck did the year go?) and 2017 looming ahead, it makes sense to start thinking about New Year's resolutions. Some of us take the concept of the New Year's resolution very seriously. Some of us think it's a joke. But I think everyone—whether formally or casually —reflects on a year gone by and examines what can be done better during our next trip around the sun.
Harvard University social scientist Amy Cuddy doesn't think you need a whole lifetime, a whole year or even a whole day to reach a goal of self-improvement. Cuddy's area of expertise is presence (she's even written a book about it)—the ability to focus on a challenging task at hand without letting your brain whirl out of control with negative self-talk and assumptions about what others are thinking. (Something I would argue is a pretty universal struggle.) And in Cuddy's opinion, presence is something you can get by setting a five-minute goal for yourself.
"Stop thinking about it as a big, permanent life goal you’re going to get to," said Cuddy, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, in an interview for Harvard. "It’s something that you can have tomorrow, it’s something you already had."
The key to presence, Cuddy thinks, is confidence—the ability to ignore or stop the voices in our heads that try talk over us as we deliver a presentation to our class or boss, for example.
“Presence is your knowledge of and ability to access your most authentic self—your core values, your best talents and abilities, your expertise—and to really bring it forth when you need to, which is usually when we’re least likely to be able to do it,” she said. “The meta-analyzing we do of other people’s reactions to us: That’s the downfall. It takes us completely out of the moment in terms of the thoughts we’re having, but it also really mucks up the gears in our brain.”
Have you ever been so stressed out during a big thing at work (or in your personal life, for that matter) that later you can't remember exactly what you said or what others said in response? When all this noise is going on inside our heads, our memories and capacity to listen to what's really being said actually take a hit.
But when your realize your internal dialogue is getting out of control, rather than admitting defeat, try this instead—strike a powerful pose. No, really.
While it's hard to think yourself into confidence in the moment, especially when you're freaking out on the inside, changing your posture to take up more space—standing up straighter, gesturing assertively, placing your hands on your hips—can reset your brain and communicate to your audience that you really believe in what you're saying (and in yourself). Changing your body is the easiest and quickest way to change the course of your thoughts and improve presence, Cuddy said.
"What it’s doing is allowing people to be in the moment instead of worrying about what might happen next or what they did a second before or what this person thinks of me,” she said. “And that’s, in a way, what personal power really is. It’s the ability to really bring yourself and absolutely be there and fully engaged, and not be stuck in some worry cycle.”
So, the next time you're up for a salary increase and want to make a pitch for a big raise, challenge yourself to reflect your worth in your posture.
"Every time you face a challenging situation, like taking a test… or going on a job interview… or having a difficult conversation with someone you care about, try to be a little more present that time; it will become easier and easier," Cuddy said. "It tricks your brain into being safe and comfortable and confident, and that allows you to be in the moment."