Confidence Is Sexy
o   a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
‘I wish I could do that’ I thought, watching another teenage guy dancing. ‘You wish you could dance?’ I asked myself. ‘No – I wish I could get myself to try.’ I was at a retreat with about 200 other 14 – 18-year-olds, about half of which were girls. Being fifteen, I was nervous, and I envied this guy because he was dancing. See, the guy I was watching wasn’t dancing particularly well, he wasn’t really, you know, good at it. Yet I still admired that he was dancing in front of a group of people, because he was doing it with confidence. Simply put – confidence is sexy.
Many of us have heard that confidence makes us more attractive, better at our job or sport, or even happier. In this post I will outline three ways you can increase your confidence, depending on how long you have to build your confidence – whether it is months or minutes. I will also include a specific set of steps I have developed to complete for each of these approaches. For those want to go directly to the exercises, they are at the bottom of the post.
The first approach to increase confidence in a task is to practice. The heart of confidence is certainty, and when a task is familiar to us we become more certain of our actions, that is to say, more confident. A 2001 study1 by Charles Pribyl, James Keaten, and Masahiro Sakamoto, and a 1991 study2 by Paul Paese and
Janet Sniezek each involve a group practicing a task, the first study showing decreased anxiety, and in the second study showing increased confidence, independently of actual task performance. What this means is that even when they did not get better, the subjects of the test felt more confident after practice. Knowing this, we can practice whatever we want to feel more confident in knowing that simply the act of practicing will make us more comfortable with it.
The second approach is mental practice, or imagery. This approach mimics actual practice as described above, and lets us become more familiar with the situation we are preparing for even when we are not able to actually practice what we want to do, for example on the day of a competition, or in the morning before an important interview. The most effective for performance is specifically imagery of success, or Mastery Imagery. This kind of imagery allows us to become more familiar with the feelings of being in a situation, which helps us to feel more confident. An example of this approach is shown in a study by Eva Monsma and Lynnette Overby (2004)3. This study tracks ballet dancers completing auditions, and finds that ballet dancers who use imagery of themselves succeeding, or Mastery Imagery, have more confidence and better chances of success than dancers that use other imagery or no imagery. The study also found that the dancers using Mastery Imagery were the more experienced dancers, and those with a history of past successes.
The third approach I will discuss is positive self-talk. Self-talk simply refers to what you say to yourself, and positive self-talk is telling yourself positive things, such as encouragement. And example of how positive self-talk affects confidence can be found in this article by Dennis Landin & Edward Hebert, published online in 20084. The article discusses a protocol of short and simple positive self-talk applied to tennis players, and how the players reported that this intervention improved their confidence and performance. Furthermore, this article5 on suggests that using your own name in self-talk can make it even more effective.
Practicing for Confidence exercise:
The first technique, as I discussed above, is to practice the task in which you hope to improve your confidence. However in this case we are going to step beyond simply going through the motions. For this exercise give yourself a bit more time than you usually would to complete the given task. Then, go through the steps you would normally take, but slow down, and focus on what you are feeling as you are doing this. It is not important to change how you feel, rather all you are trying to do is acknowledge whatever emotion is coming about as you go through the task. Once you have completed the task, focus on one thing you feel you did well, and say it out loud to yourself – ‘Corwin, in that practice interview, you made good eye contact.’
To continue building confidence, continue practicing this task as often as three times a week. Ideally, leave one day between times that you practice in this way.
Mastery Imagery exercise:
For this exercise you will imagine yourself in three different moments. The first moment will be starting out your task successfully – walking up to the podium to give a speech, or stepping onto the track for a runner, for example. The second moment will be in the middle of the task, when something is difficult and you overcome it – when someone asks a hard question of you as a speaker, or running on the track and overcoming the competitor ahead of you to take first place. The third moment will be completing it successfully – concluding your speech, hearing the applause, and walking calmly off stage, or running across the finish line in first place.
For each of these moments, set a timer for one minute and develop the clearest mental image you can of this moment during that minute. When the timer goes off, stop, relax, and then go to the next moment. Go through the whole set of three moments three times, with a 30 second – 2 minute break between sets.
Once you have completed this set of mental practice, go back to your normal routine, whether you are practicing or competing, and try to keep those images in mind as you begin to perform the task you were preparing for.
Positive Self-Talk exercise:
This exercise is different from the two listed above in that you can start using it in the middle of the task, if you are familiar with the steps. There are three parts to this exercise, and it will work best if all three are used together.
a)    Find an element of the task that you are confident about. It does not matter what this is, or how small – it can be as little as deciding that you are happy with the way you picked up your pen, or put on your shoes.
b)   Tell yourself, using your name, that you did that part well. For example, let’s say I am in a job interview. My first statement might be ‘Corwin, good job with that  handshake.’
a)    Decide on a reason you did the first thing well, based on your actions or choices.
b)   Tell yourself why you did it well. ‘Corwin, you had a good handshake because you have been practicing shaking hands well.’ It does not matter how big or small your action is, as long as you recognize that it is good because of something you did, something you can be proud of.
a)    Find one more part of the task that you think you can do, but you are not sure, for example answering the first question without hesitating or mumbling.
b)   Tell yourself you will succeed at that part of the task. ‘Corwin, you can answer this question clearly. You got this, you can do it.’ You can reference the last thing you did well in this part. ‘Corwin, you just had a great handshake – you did that, you can do the next thing, you can answer this question.’
Thank you for reading my first post, please check back soon!
1 – Pribyl, C. B., Keaten, J. and Sakamoto, M. (2001), The effectiveness of a skills-based program in reducing public speaking anxiety.Japanese Psychological Research, 43: 148–155. doi:10.1111/1468-5884.t01-1-00171
2 – Paul W Paese, Janet A Sniezek, Influences on the appropriateness of confidence in judgment: Practice, effort, information, and decision-making, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 48, Issue 1, 1991, Pages 100-130, ISSN 0749-5978,
3 – Monsma, Eva, and Lynnette, Overby, The Relationship Between Imagery and
Competitive Anxiety in Ballet Auditions Journal of dance medicine & science: official publication of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science 8(1):11-18 · March 2004
4 – Landin, Dennis, & Hebert, Edward The influence of self-talk on the performance of skilled female tennis players Journal of Applied Sport Psychology Pages 263-282 Published online: 14 Jan 2008

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