One way to make a good first impression is to go into a situation with your chin up, head held high, exuding confidence. New research says we judge how confident others are in just .2 seconds, and if you’re feeling weak or insecure, your voice will give you away almost immediately. Here, a few scientifically proven ways to boost your self-esteem.
1. Get bigger
In nature, one way to assert dominance is by becoming physically larger than an opponent. Alpha personalities stand up, stretch out, make themselves big to scare off others, and according to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, this rings true for humans. Her research suggests that, even if you’re not naturally aggressive or confident, by assuming a “power pose”—like stretching your arms out or standing with your hands on your hips—for just two minutes, you can trick yourself into feeling more confident. “Power poses” boost your testosterone and reduce cortisol (“the stress hormone”), she claims. Recent research disputes Cuddy’s findings regarding hormones, but supports her theory that power poses influence how confident we feel. “Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, try doing this, in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors,” Cuddy says. “That's what you want to do.”
2. Wear cologne or perfume
You might want to consider spritzing on some fragrance the next time you want to impress. In one study, researchers gave two groups of men identical aerosol cans, some filled with odorless substances, others filled with fragrance and “antimicrobial agents,” the same stuff that targets odor-causing bacteria in some deodorants. The cologne-covered men showed improved confidence, and as a result, were rated as more attractive by women who viewed them in video clips. "This effect highlights the flexible nature of self-esteem to respond to rapid changes in one's own physical traits through the use of artificial cosmetic products,” the study says. “An individual's personal odour and the perfume product chosen may thus influence both self-perception and impressions formed by others."
3. Work out
As if you needed another reason to get to the gym. Research suggests exercise, even a little bit of it, can convince you that you look better. “This is an important study because it shows that doing virtually any type of exercise, on a regular basis, can help people feel better about their bodies,” said Kathleen Martin Ginis, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
“Meditation ... means ‘silence of mind’ which brings positive cognitive and affective changes in the personality,” write the authors of a 2008 study that examined how meditation impacted the self-esteem of a group of student-teachers. At the outset, the researchers expected meditation would have no impact at all, but their findings turned that hypothesis on its head. Meditation improves “psychological functioning like self-esteem, concentration, decision making power, intelligence, memory,” they write. “It helps to remove negative emotions, anxiety, complexes (inferiority or superiority) as it makes the mind silent. This change helps to increase trust in the abilities and good qualities of the self, i.e. self confidence.”
5. Get superstitious
Got a lucky shirt or a rabbit’s foot? Put it to good use when you need a boost. Research from the University of Cologne suggests just indulging in superstitious tendencies can improve performance in certain skills, not because they actually attract luck, but because they make us feel more confident. In one study, volunteers who had their “lucky charm” nearby performed better at memory games and actually set higher goals for themselves. In fact, just wishing someone luck provides a small boost in confidence and improves performance.
Those of you who can’t resist the urge to talk about someone behind their back are in luck: One study says gossiping does good things for your self-esteem. But there’s a catch—you have to say nice things. In the study, 140 men and women were asked to talk about a fictional character, either positively or negatively. According to Dr. Jennifer Cole from Staffordshire University, those who said positive things saw a 5 percent boost in self-esteem.
"Gossiping is usually seen as a bad thing,” Cole said. “Our findings suggest some forms of gossiping—particularly of the type where people praise others—could be linked with some desirable outcomes for the gossiper despite the fact that gossipers are not generally approved of."
7. Blast some bass
If you want to feel more powerful and confident, science says you should listen to music that has loud bass levels. In one study, researchers manipulated bass levels in music and “found that those who listened to the heavy-bass music reported more feelings of power.” It’s no wonder athletes blast jams to pump themselves up before a game. Researchers think “high-power” music with a strong bass evokes a sense of power, which we internalize. And even though they controlled for lyrics and found they have no impact on how the song makes us feel, researchers say Queen's "We Will Rock You" is one of the most powerful songs.
8. Think of your most powerful moments
It seems just recalling a time when you felt strong can make you seem more powerful to outsiders. This research involved two groups: One was asked to think of a time they felt very powerful, another when they felt powerless. They were then asked to either write a job application letter or participate in an interview for business school admission. According to the study, the independent judges “significantly preferred the written and face-to-face interview performance of powerful applicants to that of powerless.”
9. Check out your Facebook wall
If you’re feeling low, try opening Facebook and browsing your own profile. Some 2010 research found that college students who looked at their own Facebook wall, or posted a profile update, showed increased self-esteem afterwards. Why? Your Facebook page has been tailored—by you—to display what you think is your best self. It seems that getting a reminder of this positive image can provide an extra confidence boost. "For many people, there's an automatic assumption that the Internet is bad,” said Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication at Cornell University, and a co-author of the study. “This is one of the first studies to show that there's a psychological benefit of Facebook.”