How to Build Confidence (Even if You’re Shy or Uncertain)

If you struggle with self-confidence, it can be difficult to try new things or make new friends. It can become a vicious cycle, where low confidence makes it hard to meet people or learn new skills, which then damages your confidence even more.

The good news is that your confidence can improve no matter how uncertain, shy, or timid you feel. Here’s our comprehensive guide to building your self-confidence.

Sections

  1. What is self-confidence?
  2. How to build confidence by changing your mindset
  3. How to adjust your social life to improve self-confidence
  4. How to become confident in your skills and abilities
  5. How to become more confident in your body
  6. Why is self-confidence important?
  7. Common questions

What is self-confidence?

Self-confidence (or self-belief) refers to how far you believe that you can cope well with a wide variety of different situations.[1] Having high self-confidence allows you to go into new or difficult situations and feel sure that you will be able to succeed.

Self-confidence isn’t all-or-nothing. You might be very self-confident in one area of life but lack confidence in others.[2] Researchers found different categories of self-confidence, such as social, academic, and romantic.[3]

How is self-confidence different from self-esteem?

Self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same. In psychology, self-confidence refers to how well you think you can deal with the world. Self-esteem refers to whether you see yourself as a good person who is worthy of love and respect.

Lots of people with low self-confidence also have low self-esteem, but you can have high confidence and low esteem, and vice versa.[4]

The good news is that it’s never too late to get more confidence. We’re going to look at the mental, social, practical, and physical aspects of building up your self-confidence.

How to build confidence by changing your mindset

Self-confidence is about how we see ourselves. We sometimes develop ways of thinking that make us feel less, rather than more, confident. Bad mindsets like these can make you more uncertain, shy, or timid.

Here is how you can improve your self-confidence by changing your mindset.

1. Practice positive self-talk

The way we speak to ourselves influences how we see ourselves.[23] We often accept our self-criticism without asking whether it’s justified, knocking our confidence.[24]

The first step towards positive self-talk is to monitor what you say to yourself. Try to pay attention to the language you use to (and about) yourself. Ask whether you would speak to a friend that way. There’s a great (but very emotional) video about saying our negative self-talk out loud here.

Try to be more positive in your self-talk. This isn’t about being fake or pretending to like things about yourself that you don’t. You’re trying to focus your attention on the positives about yourself.

2. Learn self-compassion

Self-compassion is linked to having positive self-talk, but it goes further. Self-compassion means understanding your weaknesses but being kind to yourself about them and avoiding critical feelings.[25][26]

Practice self-compassion. If you feel like you’re struggling, try telling yourself, “Things are hard right now. It’s OK that I’m finding this difficult.” If you make a mistake, tell yourself “I made a mistake, and that’s OK. I’ll try to put it right and learn from it. It doesn’t change who I am.”

3. Avoid dwelling on mistakes

“No such thing as time travel. Only live with what you’ve done, and try in the future to do what you’re happy to live with.” – Richard K. Morgan

It’s normal and helpful to think about our mistakes a little. Dwelling on things too much, though, can hurt your self-confidence.[27]

Rather than beating yourself up about past mistakes, focus on what you have learned. Try writing down three things that you would do differently to avoid the same mistake again. If you know that you’re better prepared this time, past mistakes can even help to boost your self-confidence.[28]

4. Manage your emotions

We often think of our emotions as things that “just are,” as if we can’t control them. How you think about your emotions can influence how you feel, and that can improve your self-confidence.[29]

Rather than trying to suppress painful emotions, try to accept them. Tell yourself, “I am feeling sad/angry/scared right now. That’s a normal emotion. I just need to be kind to myself and I will feel better soon.”

5. Take pride in your achievements

Taking pride in yourself and your achievements isn’t bad. It’s the opposite. Taking justified pride allows you to recognize and value the things you are good at.[30]

You might struggle to accept compliments or to accept that you are great at something.[31] Try to practice this, and it will get easier. Try listing your skills and accomplishments, or ask a friend to help if you can’t think of anything.

Practice accepting compliments as well. Try not to play down your achievements or describe yourself as “just lucky.” Instead, try saying “Thank you” and leaving it at that. If you want to challenge yourself and regain confidence, add “I worked really hard on it.”

6. Work on positive thinking

Thinking more positive thoughts can help to increase confidence. Positive thinking means directing your attention to the positive things that you know are true.[32] For example, saying “I’m going to come first” in a race you haven’t trained for will only set you up for disappointment. Instead, you might say, “Finishing this race will be a huge achievement” or “I’m going to do my best, and I can be proud of that.”

Address limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs are things you tell yourself that prevent you from trying and sap your confidence.[33] For example, if you believe that you’re bad at dancing, you might be scared to go to a dance class. If you believe that you always say the wrong thing, you might keep quiet in social spaces.

If you find yourself saying something negative that starts “I am bad at…” stop and ask yourself where that belief comes from. Ask what you would do if you were more assured. This is a great way to challenge those limiting beliefs and start to believe in yourself.

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7. Live your values

Living according to your values can help you to build your core confidence. This is a deep form of confidence that doesn’t rely on anyone else telling you that you have done well.

This will sometimes mean that you have to set boundaries for what you consider acceptable behavior. For example, if a friend is rude behind someone’s back, you might need to tell them that you don’t find that OK. It may feel difficult at that moment, but knowing that you stick up for what you believe in helps you gain self-confidence over the long term.

8. Stop saying sorry

Apologizing when you’re in the wrong is an important skill, but saying sorry shouldn’t be a default part of your sentences. Removing default apologies can give you a more confident communication style.

Try taking a single day and noticing how many times you say sorry to someone, out loud, in an email, or with a hand gesture. Ask yourself how many of those times were actually the result of you doing something wrong. Most people will find that they’ve apologized for something that wasn’t their fault (such as someone else walking into them) more often than they’d realized.[34]

If you struggle to stop apologizing by default, try reminding yourself that you are trying to be more mindful in your apologies which can make them more meaningful.

9. Don’t worry about arrogance

Some people sabotage their self-confidence to avoid being arrogant. In fact, most arrogant people don’t have lots of self-confidence.[35]

Building up your self-confidence makes it easier for you to appreciate and acknowledge others’ strengths, and it helps you to accept your own weaknesses.[36] This is a healthy way to avoid arrogance.

How to adjust your social life to improve self-confidence

However independent we would like to be, we are still social creatures. Our self-confidence is influenced by the way the people around us see us and treat us.[37] Here are some ways to adjust your social life to build self-confidence.

1. Find your community

Being around people who put you down or laugh at you saps your confidence. Being around people who treat you well can help you feel confident and improve your sense of self-worth.[38]

Some find having an online community where they feel accepted and respected has a positive influence on their self-confidence offline as well.[39]

2. Spend time with people

Being left alone too long can lead you to focus on negative thoughts about yourself.[40] Spending time with people you like can give you a reality check on your self-perception, which can build up your self-confidence and your self-esteem.[41]

If you’re not feeling confident, it can be difficult to arrange spending time with other people. Your lack of self-love might leave you worrying about being rejected. Volunteering opportunities can help, letting you know that you’re helping someone else and boosting your confidence in a social setting.

Try to ensure that the people you share your time with also share your values. Spending time with people who don’t share your core values can be exhausting and stressful and can leave you doubting yourself.

3. Learn to be comfortable alone

Although being around others can help build your confidence, it’s also important to be comfortable alone. If confidence is about learning to trust yourself, spending time alone teaches you that you are enough, all by yourself.

Spending time alone gives you a chance to find out what you enjoy and what you are good at. Try going to art galleries, restaurants, or the cinema alone as confidence-building exercises. It might feel strange at first because we often see these as social activities, but you might start to feel more independent and confident in yourself.

4. Avoid being a people-pleaser

People-pleasing is when you change how you act to prioritize someone else’s feelings.[42] This is often because you are trying to secure their approval and validation. Using external approval instead of true self-confidence leaves you vulnerable.

If you think you might be a people-pleaser, practice saying “no” when people ask you to do something. This is the first step to enforcing your boundaries. You can also check out our article on how to avoid being treated like a doormat.

How to become confident in your skills and abilities

Self-confidence is about learning to trust yourself and knowing that you can deal with anything life throws at you. Here are some practical confidence-building activities.

1. Try something scary

Trying something scary helps you to realize just how much you are capable of achieving, which can help your self-confidence to grow quickly.

What counts as trying something scary will be different for everyone. If you’re shy, for example, going to a party might count as doing something scary. For someone else, it might be going to the cinema alone or taking a boxing class.

How you approach your scary experience matters. Remember that overcoming your nerves and trying new things is an achievement all by itself. If you take a dance class, for example, it’s OK to fail at some of the steps. Focus on the achievement of moving out of your comfort zone and learning a new skill, rather than being a perfectionist about how well you did that skill.

2. Be prepared

There’s a good reason that the Scout motto is “Be prepared.” Knowing that you’ve thought about what you are doing and have made careful preparations helps give you a sense of confidence.[43]

Think about stressful situations that you’re likely to find yourself in, such as having your car break down or needing to give a presentation at work. What can you do to prepare for those? Even if you can’t fix your car, knowing that your phone is charged and you can call AAA can help your confidence. Practicing your presentation proves that you can give a good presentation and gives you confidence in your public speaking.

Try thinking about times when you might lack confidence and make a plan to help you prepare.

3. Set yourself goals

Achieving challenging but realistic goals can be a great way to boost your confidence. Try using the SMART acronym to make sure you will know when you’ve achieved your goals.[44]

Lots of people with low self-confidence find it hard to set themselves achievable goals because they are comparing themselves with others. Choose goals that speak to you and that challenge you. Writing your goals down or sharing them with others can help you achieve them.

How to become more confident in your body

We’ve left the physical aspects of self-confidence until last. Many people tell themselves that they will be confident when they have lost weight, built muscle, or changed their appearance.

Changing your appearance rarely has a big impact on your self-confidence,[45] but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make changes if you think they will help. Here are our top ideas for feeling more confident in your body.

1. Dress well

It can be difficult to feel confident when you are worried about your appearance. You don’t need to always look your best, but wearing something you look good in can help with stressful situations, such as during an interview.[46]

If you’re not sure what styles will work best for you, consider trying out a personal shopper. They are experienced in recognizing what styles will look good on you and will take your personal preferences into account.

2. Hit the gym

You don’t need to be buff to have confidence, but starting a gym habit can help you to feel better about yourself. Not only will regular exercise improve your physical appearance, but exercise has also been shown to lead to improvements in your emotional wellbeing, including self-confidence.[47]

Starting a new exercise regime often gives you more energy, which makes it easier to feel confident. Sticking to a routine can also build your self-confidence when you see the results of your efforts.

3. Eat well

You might be surprised at the effect your diet has on your mood, energy levels, and self-confidence.[48]

When you think about what you eat, you usually make food that is tasty and nutritious. This can help to remind you that it’s worth taking care of yourself, which improves your self-esteem and confidence.

You may also not fully appreciate how much effort it takes to improve your self-confidence. Working on your feelings takes a lot of energy. You might make more progress if you are getting good quality food and feel more energetic.

4. Get enough (good) sleep

Anyone who has struggled with emotional difficulties will be familiar with being lectured about the importance of getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, it’s really important advice. Poor sleep really does lead to lower self-confidence.[49]

Rather than following generic advice, try to understand what works best for you. The quality of your sleep is more important than the duration.[50] Caffeine and alcohol can both lead to lower quality sleep, so it’s best to avoid them before bed. If you struggle to sleep because your mind feels “busy,” try keeping a notebook by your bed. Writing down your thoughts can help your mind relax.[51]

5. Have confident body language

When it comes to confident body language, you really can fake it till you make it. When you look more confident, other people will treat you as if you are confident. As you become used to being treated as a confident person, you may find that your confidence improves surprisingly quickly.

Confident body language is open, where you stand tall, make eye contact, and smile. For detailed advice, check out our article on how to have confident body language.

Why is self-confidence important?

There are lots of benefits to improving your self-confidence. Here are some of the main ones.

1. Self-confidence improves motivation

Self-confidence can make it easier for you to avoid procrastination and help you remain motivated until you complete a task.[5] It reduces your fear of failure and can help you to see challenging tasks as exciting rather than stressful.[6]

2. Self-confidence improves your job prospects

Researchers found that people with higher self-confidence gain higher-paid jobs, even when their underlying abilities are taken into account.[7] People with high confidence at work were happy to take on more challenging roles with more responsibility, leading to better salaries and job satisfaction.[8]

3. Self-confidence boosts mental health

Improving self-confidence is key to many mental health treatments, including for schizophrenia and psychosis,[9] depression,[10] and anxiety.[11] People treated for mental health issues often report that recovery wouldn’t be possible without improving their self-confidence.[12]

4. Self-confidence improves physical health

Having higher self-confidence can improve your physical health as well. People with high self-confidence have better oral health,[13] physical fitness,[14] fewer headaches,[14] and are less likely to smoke.[15]

5. Self-confidence makes your social life easier

Being more self-confident can help you to have a more enjoyable social life. Confident people find it easier to have conversations with strangers and talk about more personal topics.[16] Believing in yourself also makes it easier to be decisive and take responsibility. Confident people typically have better communication skills.[17]

Why do I have low self-confidence?

Having low self-confidence shouldn’t become something else to berate yourself for. There are many reasons that you might have lost self-confidence or never built confidence in yourself in the first place. Focus on increasing your self-confidence because it will make your life more enjoyable, not because it’s something you should do.

We’re not born with Self-confidence. We learn it by overcoming challenges.[18] Critical parents often don’t acknowledge a child’s successes and point out that they didn’t achieve things perfectly. This makes it difficult to learn self-confidence.[19]

Overprotective parents can also make it hard to develop confidence. If you are always protected from failing, you will never learn how well you can succeed.[20][21]

Although we learn about self-confidence in childhood, it is constantly evolving.[22] Abusive friendships or relationships, a bad boss, or a change in life circumstances such as redundancy or becoming a parent can all knock your confidence.

Common questions

What is a confident person?

The main characteristics of confident people are that they believe they can face any challenges they face in life. They approach new or difficult situations with the assumption that they will be OK. Some people are only confident in some areas of life and not confident in others.

How can I build confidence as a woman?

Build your confidence as a woman by facing achievable challenges, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and committing to taking care of yourself. Improving your appearance can provide a temporary boost to your self-confidence, but try not to rely on this for the basis of your confidence.

How can I build confidence as a man?

You can build your confidence as a man by paying attention to your achievements, setting and achieving goals, and learning new skills. Increasing your exercise and spending time with supportive people can also help.

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Natalie Watkins writes about socializing for SocialSelf. She holds a B.A. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, an M.S.c. in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience from the University of London, and is currently in her final year of an MSc in Integrative Counselling at the University of Northampton.

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