How to Become More Confident, in Both Mindset and Behavior
Confidence, or the lack of it, is in many ways a learned behavior.
Posted March 27, 2023 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
- The process of increasing one's confidence requires patience and perseverance.
- Preparing for challenging situations beforehand can increase one's confidence.
- Connecting with people often increases confidence because confidence is a relational process.
Confidence is both a mindset and a behavior. Yet other people cannot determine our internal mindset; they can only guess at our confidence level based on our behavior.
Most of us have heard the oft-repeated advice to "be confident" but may hear few practical strategies to put that advice into practice. It's not particularly helpful to hear experts espousing the importance of confidence without providing actionable steps that we can take to build and leverage our confidence.
Still, the importance of confidence cannot be overstated; the majority of people are attracted to confidence because it is interpreted as courageous. In this article, I will share some tips that could help with both the psychological and behavioral aspects of confidence.
First, mindset often leads to behavior. If you have a confident mental foundation, your behaviors are more likely to follow suit, leading you to come across as a more congruent person (more on that later). In his book Pattern and Growth in Personality, psychologist Gordon Allport persuasively argued that our values guide our behaviors, meaning that our behaviors are the external manifestations of that which we value internally.
It often takes great introspection to increase internal confidence, and extensive practice to increase behavioral confidence. As you work on improving your mindset, it can be useful to “fake it till you make it,” since most people will assess your confidence based solely on your behavior. Until we align our values and behaviors, we can proceed as if they were already aligned.
Second, projection is reality. The persona you adopt in front of other people, the experiences you create with them, the “third space” you immerse them in—all are projections into the social reality. According to a review published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, social projection is the process by which people present a persona in the social world, which leads other people to form a judgment about them, whether positive or negative. Projection is therefore the input whereas judgment is the output.
If you have not been especially confident for most of your life, then projecting a confident person might initially be a challenge. This is normal, and due to our inherent resistance to change. Instead of surrendering to that resistance, you can anticipate it and prepare countervailing strategies. And since we can only focus on our own projection, we should aim not to ruminate on the perception of others because it lies beyond our control.
Third, preparation is king. Perhaps the most important element of achieving confidence is preparation. If you have an interview, a date, or an important event, prepare well. Have a friend with whom to rehearse your script and from whom to solicit honest feedback on your performance and how it might be improved. Confidence is a relational experience, so the input of others is important.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the mere act of preparation tends to increase confidence. This is because preparedness in one domain leads to psychological changes in other domains, which are often associated with readiness to engage in actions. This thereby increases one's confidence to practice the desired behaviors.
Fourth, focus on forming genuine connections. Humans are social animals, and social science research clearly highlights how our emotions, beliefs, and behaviors shape and are shaped by our social milieux. Chances are that if you struggle with confidence, you also have difficulties connecting with people. Yet making an effort to foster genuine connections, even just one or two, could help give you the confidence you need to reach out and connect further.
Fifth, aim not for perfection, but for congruence. Humans are fallible, and it's possible to engage in confident behaviors that are both positive and negative. Congruence is different than perfection. If you feel nervous about behaving more confidently, acknowledge that with transparency and vulnerability. Confidence is not having certainty at all times; instead, confidence is embracing uncertainty and being comfortable with it. In other words, confidence is about leading certain actions even—or especially—amid uncertainty.
When we are faced with complexity and uncertainty, we may shy away from the situation altogether. But confident people are able to jump into the complexity with the belief that they can resolve any challenges that come their way. Therefore, confidence is a set of behaviors stemming from solid belief. It is at the intersection of mindset and actions that congruent and confident behavior emerges.
Confidence is a learned behavior. As we grow, we often receive limiting socialization that constrains our ability to project a confident persona. Becoming confident, therefore, often necessitates unlearning negative behaviors and re-learning positive ones.
I argue that confidence includes four dimensions—projection, preparation, connection, and congruence—all of which are interconnected: an improvement in one is likely to improve the others.
And remember to be patient: The process of building genuine confidence takes time.