The science of being confident

June 29, 2016

Before we start, I’d like you to whip up a matcha green tea latte, grab a $100 Kikki K stationary set for note taking and settle down on a tie-dye yoga mat that probably cost you your life savings and first born child.


Kidding. This isn’t a 'Bree Van de Kamp goes Vogue’ style of self help article. This is some real shit that is actually helpful and doesn’t require a hipster level aesthetic to pull off. No offence if you like fancy yoga mats.


Self confidence is something that lots of us struggle with, at least from time to time. Maybe your boss had a go at you for something that you didn’t do,  maybe you didn’t perform well on an exam, or your weird uncle started a racist tirade at the family BBQ (not again).




In life there is no sure way to avoid circumstances that bruise your confidence. However, there is a foolproof way to bring confidence back up - and that, my friends, is to make science your bitch. You read that right; science and confidence go hand in metaphorical hand.


Just by adopting the 5 handy hints listed below you can utilise science to help you feel like a bad ass  once again.


1.    The Power Pose

When we’re not feeling so confident, we tend to retreat into ourselves and adopt what Amy Cuddy refers to as ‘low power poses’. This takes the form of hunching shoulders, avoiding eye contact, touching the neck protectively and so on.


Conversely, when we are feeling confident we adopt ‘high power poses’, like the ‘Superman’ or ‘Wonder Woman’ pose. We become more open, stand up taller and generally look more dominant.


So what happens, then, if we take on high power poses intentionally? According to Cuddy’s research, adopting one of these poses for just two minutes can see testosterone levels increase by 20 per cent, and cortisol levels decrease by 25 per cent. In basic terms, you feel more like Beyonce and less like Michelle.


This can be really beneficial if you’re about to enter a high stress situation - maybe a job interview, or family BBQ with aforementioned racist uncle. While it’s not super practical to do this in an interview (in fact I’d recommend against it), just taking two minutes to yourself, maybe in a bathroom or empty hallway, can positively alter the outcome and have you feeling confident and comfortable.


2. Visualisation

Visualisation and mental rehearsal are some of the oldest tricks in the confidence trade, because they work. They are used widely in sport psychology for athletes seeking to improve their mental and physical game and can by used by you too.


As Maggie Warrel explains, doing this can activate the same neural circuitry in the brain as actually doing something. By imagining yourself doing/saying whatever it is you want to, your confidence in achieving this can grow and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.


The folks at Whole Science explain 5 easy ways to make science and visualisation your bitch. These include:

•       Thinking of a time you were previously very confident

•       Visual Mental Rehearsal

•       Thinking about someone you know who is really confident, and mimic their physiology

•       Eliminating self doubt through autosuggestion; i.e. repeating positive affirmations to yourself throughout the day

•       Increasing self esteem by focusing on appreciation; for example, seeing yourself positively through the eyes of someone you take on a date


Doing these things daily, maybe before you go to sleep or first thing in the morning, can work wonders for your confidence. Science says so.



3. Just say ‘Fuck it!’

Confidence can be totally undermined when we convince ourselves that we are incapable of success, and thus shouldn’t bother trying. In other words, the fear of failure outweighs the plight of perseverance. As confidence grows from perceived and actual success, this is a catch 22. 


Solution? Just say ‘Fuck it’! Of course this sounds easy and often is not, especially if you’re someone who is perpetually put off by the possibility of failure.


The main thing is to step outside of your comfort zone, and achieve what scientists refer to as ‘optimal anxiety’. This is where success really flourishes and confidence grows . When we have just enough anxiety to encourage us to try new, the magic happens.


Doing this consistently can get you used to the idea of letting go, striving for new things and taking healthy risks to grow your confidence. According to the experts at Huffington post, taking risks helps to overcome a fear of failure  is they key ingredient to pursuing a life of confidence outside of your comfort zone.


Maybe you will enrol in a new course, stop putting off that first date or dye your hair bright blue - whatever works for you.


4. Slap on some red lipstick

The classic red lip. Whether it’s Marilyn Munroe-esc, or more akin to Miranda Sings, the science remains the same: red lips make for a bad ass and confident ‘tude. As Tania Hussain says, “it’s a beauty product that’s as much a state of mind as it is a cosmetic accent”.


According to Psychologies, red lipstick instigates confidence because as you accessorise your face with crimson, your draw attention to your mouth and also to your words.


An experiment undertaken by Mandy Lehto saw Emma, a healthcare worker, wearing red lipstick everyday for a week. The results? Emma explains that while at first she was unsure, she has now fallen in love with the red lip, she feels more confident at work and in meetings and feels like her lips make an entrance. To quote the lipstick convert, “red lipstick gave me that nudge to be braver” - and who doesn’t want that?


This is probably the easiest handy hint to achieve, ladies and gents. Just grab yourself a red lippy, and a liner if you wish and away you go.




5. Take a Selfie

Taking selfies is some serious, new age, confidence boosting stuff. While baby-boomers laugh at our narcissism and ‘laziness’ as they sit in their mortgage-free houses and bat their eyelids at Malcolm Turnbull, we can post as many selfies as we like, knowing full well that self appreciation is important and not all that self-absorbed.


According to Courtney Seiter, humans currently take almost one trillion photos a year. Many of these are selfies with almost 300 million Instagram photos tagged with ‘selfie’ in 2015 alone.


In a TODAY/AOL body image survey, results showed that 41% of adult women agreed that selfies and other online photos of themselves increased their confidence. This figure is even higher for teenage girls, some of the biggest users of selfie-sharing platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. A whopping 65% said that seeing their selfies on social media was a confidence boost, and 40% of all teens admitted that social media helps them present their best face to the world.


So when you’re feeling your best, whip out your phone, snap a selfie, and post away. As Kim K would say, "Selfies till I die."


There you have it people - the 5 easiest and scientifically proven ways to help your confidence grow and aid you in achieving your goals. To reiterate, this does not require weird expensive green beverages or colourful yoga mats - purely your brain and your body, with a few cosmetics and electronics thrown in for good measure.


May your every day be filled with confidence, red lippy and #kickinggoals.


Emma Shipley is a blogger, feminist, chocolate enthusiast and lipstick lover. Interests include starting political arguments at the dinner table and only looking on the clearance rack. She is worth 100 cents in the dollar.


Images: Alex Jack


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