“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are
not.”– Denis Waitley.

Self-confidence is a trait that seems to make all the difference.

Have you ever noticed that you tend to gravitate toward people who have aura of charisma and self-confidence around them? Have you noticed that you become less attracted to somebody who is really good-looking but doesn’t have self-confidence?

It’s easy to pick up on someone’s vibe and decide whether they are fit for you in terms of friendship or relationships.

But this can also hurt people who are genuinely good but are not aware of the energy they exude to others. Some might unconsciously or unskillfully come across as bland, aggressive, passive, shy, or just complete downers, when they’re in fact talented, passionate, and intelligent. So it’s really important to learn how to master the energy of self-confidence to come across as authentically as you possibly can.

In this vein, I define self-confidence as the ability to handle one’s energy effectively and transmit it to others.

1. How to Build Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is a skill that one can learn and get better at through practice. Like any other skill, self-confidence comes more naturally to some than others, but there are techniques that you can use to help you harness that energy and improve that part of your personality.

Let me begin by saying that confidence is something you already possess…yes. You are born with its potentiality; just like you are born with the potentiality to be a musician, athlete, writer, artist, and pretty much anything you’re willing to work hard towards.

In fact, you can see glimmers of this in your day to day life. Have you noticed that you’re naturally confident with around your parents? Why are you able to look confident and talk with confidence with them and not with others? Why are you creative and spontaneous with your partner or best friend but not around strangers or at your work? The same goes for other things that you know are a part of your personality but that you don’t express. The issue isn’t about whether you can do these things, because you obviously can. It’s about why you aren’t allowing yourself to express your individuality and be yourself all the time and wherever you are.

Many factors influence people’s level of self-confidence, but what stops them from expressing it is, what I call, the fear of novelty. That’s the belief that acting out of the “ordinary” or inconsistently with the personality you’ve so far projected would elicit social disapproval. In particular, what holds you back from being confident is your fear of other people’s judgement of your novel behavior, and in turn you try to preserve your old ways to avoid that judgement.

This judgement arises because others have become accustomed to treating you in a certain way. If you are shy, people are used to treating you as the shy person in the group. If you lack self-esteem or have little self-confidence, that’s how everyone else knows how to relate to you. But if you change, others are required to change the way they relate to you and that takes work. Therefore, you are holding yourself back by letting others decide what is and what is not acceptable for you to do.

Before going further let’s summarize the main takeaway points:

  1. You already possess self-confidence somewhere in you.
  2. You haven’t learned how to harness that energy and express it to your advantage
  3. You haven’t changed because you fear social disapproval.

So what I want to do here is help you recognize that changing is completely okay and asserting yourself will in fact help you attract those that appreciate and share your values, but also repel those that don’t. You want to surround yourself with people who get it, and with those that allow you to grow and flourish.

So how do you go about training yourself to become more confident? Some say it’s through positive visualization and visualization exercises…

2. Do Visualization Exercises Work?

The problem with lack of confidence is the way it’s manifested in your body. It’s easy to know when someone is not confident. You can feel it and see it in the way a person carries him/herself. People who are shy, unsure of their answers, overthink their steps, seek approval, avoid taking risks or don’t speak up when they should are all instances of the nervous physical energy that accompanies the lack of self-confidence. These are all emotional obstructions that you experience in your body.

Accordingly, I believe that any program that aims at improving self-confidence must focus on what you show with your body, and not simply what you think in your mind.

That’s not to say that changing beliefs through visualization is not an important part of the transition… it is. But you can’t expect your body to become confident just by simply changing your beliefs. For example, if you were to believe that jumping across a river bank is within your ability, and you visualize this thought before you jump, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will in fact complete a successful jump. In fact, the over-emphasis on visualization at the expense of taking action is just silly. It under-prepares you for the challenge. Moreover, it’s ridiculous to think that you can make it to the other side simply by dreaming up your ability. A successful jump requires strong leg muscles, good timing, and hours of practice in addition to the mental rehearsal of seeing yourself jumping successfully.

The same goes for self-confidence: Overcoming shyness and becoming more self-confident is so much about the steps you take physically as well as mentally. Thus, a combined physical and mental approach is what we need.

3. Taking Physical Action

I want to share with you two techniques that I learned in my acting and improv classes to help you increase your self-confidence: (1) The Meinser Technique, and (2) The Stanislavski System.

I studied the Meinser technique in my improv classes with one of Saturday Night Live (SNL) former actresses. This is a powerful technique because it helps actors “get out of their head” and be in the moment. This is premised on the idea that any internal dialogue about what to do or how to “act” will take away from the actor’s presence and charisma; something all actors want to avoid.

After practicing this technique for a few months, I was led to the paradoxical realization that charisma and self-confidence are connected with vulnerability.

Since there are no scripts, no routines, and no canned material to protect the actor, this vulnerability forces actors to “get out of their heads” and to create their characters pretty much on set and without preparation. They do so by relating to other actors in the scene. Because there is no script, actors’ shift their attention away from themselves and to what the other person is saying, wearing and doing, and they’re complementing that thing. This vulnerability, while first seems like a weakness, is a strength because it allows the actor to stop dwelling on internal thoughts and let his/her authenticity shine through on stage.

As a side note, top-tier business schools have experimented with improv acting to help their students become better sales people, marketers, and excellent presenters and they’ve been having great results. See the story by NPR.

So what can you learn from actors about being more confident in yourself?

  • The importance of observation skills.

You need to sharpen those as much as possible. Pay attention to details, colors, textures, shapes, smells etc. There is so much outside of you that’s worth of your attention. Ignore the noise in your head and become engaged with what’s going on around you.

So, if you’re afraid of speaking up during your meetings, then make sure you’re talkative and chat with people in that environment until it’s meeting time. Notice things about them or the meeting room or the office and spark up a quick chat. Think of it as a social warm-up. You will be surprised at how much easier it is to speak up when you have gotten comfortable with speaking to your colleagues beforehand. The same thing works if you’re interested in speaking with someone on a night out: talk to everyone; from your neighbor before you leave the house, to the cab driver, to people on the street, to the doorman. You can even call some people up on your way to the event. When you’re there, don’t just sit or stand with a drink in your hand. Talk to the bartender and the waitresses. Notice something about them or the place. Do whatever you can to establish a momentum. Also stay engaged with your friends if they’re out with you and just HAVE FUN. It’s surprisingly easy to chat up new people once you have that momentum.

When you act, act. But don’t let the thought step between you and the action.


4. Self-Confidence Exercises

  • Self-confidence exercise #1: Say One Thing a Day.

If speaking up is particularly challenging for you, then practice saying at least one thing a day; whether in a meeting, to a stranger (nice things of course), or in a classroom. It could be a question, a compliment, or a fun statement about pretty much anything that can get people to respond to you.

If you can get yourself to commit to doing this for 2 – 3 weeks, then I’m sure you’ll make at least one new friend, or have a date, or get a freebie from somewhere. Yes, it’s that simple. Get out there and talk to everyone.

  • Self-confidence exercise #2: The Stanislavski System.

The Stanislavski system was developed by the Russian actor and theater director Konstantin Stanislavski, and for many actors, this system had all the answers because it took a lot of the guess-work out of acting.

This Stanislavski’s system focuses on “affective memory,” or emotional recall. This is where you try to “bring to life” the needed emotion by drawing on your memory.

For example, if you need to show courage in a scene, you begin by recalling an experience where you acted courageously. Once you identify the emotional experience that best fits your need, say when you defended your bullied cousin, you must then manage to express yourself through using those exact emotions. When done correctly, this technique helps the actor project a realistic and believable courageousness to the given scenario quickly and precisely.

You can apply this technique to your self-confidence by recalling an instant in which you felt particularly confident. This step doesn’t have to be complicated. Feel free to recall any moment in your life, even your childhood. What matters is how clear, strong and crisp that emotion is. Once you’ve identified that emotion, you must make a conscious effort to lock in the feeling you brought to memory. I suggest that you take a deep breath in as you lock in that feeling. Slowly exhale and feel your body becoming empowered by that feeling.

Practice until you’ve gotten comfortable with it and test it out in your desired social and professional areas: whether it’s approaching a potential love interest, speaking up in meetings, standing up for yourself, and so on.

Let me know in the comments below which of the techniques you like better, and why? Happy trial and error!