Sit up—and look up
Amy Cuddy, a social psychology professor at Harvard Business School in Massachusetts who has given one of the most popular TED talks ever (it’s already been viewed more than 33 million times), knows self-confidence. In her research, she’s discovered that positioning our bodies to occupy more space can elevate our testosterone levels and lower cortisol levels, a combination that raises self-confidence. Sit up straight in your chair: This alone will make you feel like you’re in command. While this may seem like a teeny-tiny change, it can have big rewards since most of us spend much of our day seated. If possible at work, she suggests hanging pictures on the wall at a height that will cause you to look up. In general, doing anything that makes you expand your posture will signal your body—and brain—that you are a powerful and capable individual. Check out these other meaningful ways to use body language.
Do the ‘Wonder Woman’ or the ‘Wall Street’
Cuddy’s best known power pose is to stand with hands on hips, also called the Wonder Woman. Another power move: Sit, put your feet up on a desk or table, interlace your hands, and place them behind your head with elbows pointing out (you’ve probably seen this move in antiperspirant commercials—I think of it as the Wall Street). Note: In order to get any benefit and gain more self-confidence, you must hold a pose for two minutes. (To read more about Cuddy’s research, check out her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.) These are things confident people would never do so you shouldn’t either.
Ease up on yourself
While some motivational speakers may swear that complimenting yourself every morning in the bathroom mirror will boost your self-confidence, it won’t. Instead, try the counterintuitive advice of blogger and student of human behavior Eric Barker. “Stop lying to yourself that you’re so awesome,” he writes. “Instead, focus on forgiving yourself when you’re not.” He came up with this after exploring the work of Kristin Neff, PhD, a professor in educational psychology at UT Austin and a compassion expert. As she writes in her book Self-Compassion, “When our sense of self-worth stems from being a human being intrinsically worthy of respect—rather than being contingent on obtaining certain ideals—our sense of self-worth is much less easily shaken.” She brings up one study in which subjects were instructed to imagine either being on a sports team and blowing a big game or acting in a play and blanking on lines, and asked how they’d feel if these incidents happened to them. People with more self-compassion “were less likely to feel humiliated or incompetent, or to take it too personally,” she writes. The next time you catch yourself making a mistake—because that’s what all humans do—follow Barker’s recommendation: Practice the Golden Rule in reverse, or, as he puts it, “Treat yourself the kind way you often treat others.” This is how you can build self-esteem in your kids.