How To Be More Confident

Posted March 7, 2017, by Vivien Luu

Struggle with self-confidence and asserting yourself at work? Don’t let that hold you back! Here are five simple habits you can develop to build your self-confidence, improve your self-esteem and become a more confident version of yourself. 

Let’s be honest.

Nobody is born confident. Well… nobody except Beyoncé that is. 

For the rest of us – myself included – feeling (and genuinely being) more confident is an everyday struggle. I never used to care. Until the best manager I ever had told me something that stuck:

You lack confidence. It’s the one thing holding you back.

And she was right. I wasn’t being taken seriously at work. My ideas weren’t being heard. And none of my projects were being prioritised. A lack of assertiveness was killing my career.

So I did what anyone else would do. I devoured a Costco-sized bag of chips (#worthit #dontjudgeme) and Googled the shiitake out of ‘How to be more confident.’

Unsurprisingly, Google failed me. So I took matters into my own hands.

I got advice from experts, people I admired and read up on scientific studies. The tips they gave me Changed. My. Life.

It was like switching off the mute button.

I started getting pulled into more meetings, people sought out my opinion, and my projects started getting off the ground.

So what did I do? Of all the advice I got, these were the 5 simplest habits that had the biggest impact on my confidence. 

1. I Stopped Apologising 

Over-apologising is your worst enemy. It undermines your authority and makes you seem unsure of yourself – even if you’re not.

Worse still – you’re probably guilty of it without even realising it.

I used to apologise for everything. And I mean everything. I’d apologise for wanting to speak in a meeting, for being sick, for correcting people when they spelt my name wrong.

I was a serial offender.

Until this Tumblr post caught my eye:

Try swapping out ’sorry’ for ’thank you’

It was such a simple and elegant solution!

So I started swapping out ‘sorry’ for ‘thank you’.

Old me: Sorry for the late response.
New me: Thanks for being so patient with this.

Non-assertive me: I’m sorry I forgot to make those edits to my article.
Assertive me: Thanks for pointing that out! I’ll be sure to make those edits. 

2. I Opened Up My Body Language 

‘When our body language is confident and open,’ says body language expert Amy Cuddy, ‘other people respond… unconsciously reinforcing not only their perception of us but also our perception of ourselves.’

In a nutshell, if you act confident, people around you will think you’re confident, and you’ll feel more confident too.

How do we make this happen?

According to the experts, you should:

  • Sit up straight and stand tall.
  • Keep your chin and head up – confident people seldom look down at the table or the ground.
  • Make frequent eye contact when you’re talking.
  • Use hand gestures with open palms whenever you speak – open palms are an ancient display of truth and honesty. 

3. I Stopped Avoiding Those Difficult Work Conversations 

You know the ones I’m talking about – those work conversations that are super awkward or just downright difficult to have.

I’d been putting off quite a few of these chats. I made up all sorts of excuses – that it wasn’t that bad, that I was blowing things out of proportion – but the truth is, I was afraid of how I’d come across – or that I wouldn’t be able to assert myself.

So I bit the bullet. I scheduled a chat with my boss about my salary, and a catch up with my manager to push back on some additional projects that I’d ‘inherited’.

The results?

I walked out of both conversations feeling incredible. My boss and manager listened and I came across as…that’s right you guessed it – more confident.

They both respected me for being proactive, for openly discussing issues I was having, and for being someone who was unafraid to speak up.

So stop putting off those difficult conversations. Trust me, you’ll feel a whole lot better afterwards, and who knows – you might even earn yourself a raise!

4. I Dressed The Part 

I hate to say it, but what you wear matters.

Every study I could get my hands on told me what I absolutely didn’t want to hear – that I needed to make more of an effort with what I wore to work everyday.


Because people are judge-y. And no, that’s not me saying it. That’s what science says!

Trust me, as someone who thinks ‘doing’ her hair is putting it up in a bun, and would never sacrifice a sleep-in for having perfect (or any) mascara, I wish it weren’t true.

But the fact is, how you present yourself at work says a lot about who you are, how seriously you take yourself, and can even influence how focused and competent you are at work.

All the science points to the fact that clothes can be very powerful. So I couldn’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t be using this to my advantage.

So I started to:

  • Dress more formally, particularly if I had any meetings or negotiations to sit in on. Even though I work in a fairly casual office, I realised that generally, people who dress up, move up. So goodbye tees, hello blazers!
  • Wear make-up to work every day. Research suggests that women who wore makeup were perceived as more prestigious and more dominant.
  • Add creative tweaks to my outfits. A study found that when you slightly deviate from the norm (e.g. wearing a red bow tie at a black tie event), you are perceived as being powerful enough to ignore the rules.

5. I Started Saying No 

No is a powerful word.

It’s also a word that’s exceptionally hard to say if you’re anything like me, and hate disappointing others.

But the problem is, when you say yes to every task, meeting, project and donut thrown your way – you burn out. Trust me. Oh, and you put on 5kg (eep!)

The reality is, there are only so many hours in a day. And I realised I was better off doing an AWESOME job on four projects, rather than a half-baked job on eight. Pushing back on things I didn’t have time for was by far the most empowering habit I picked up.

It gave me time to do some seriously great work (which in turn, did wonders for confidence), and my managers began to respect my schedule. They also had more confidence in my ability to deliver projects to deadline.

So learn to say no. Trust me. This simple two-letter word will empower you in so many ways.

All in all, this was one of my better life experiments.

Way better than ‘I can eat 1kg of vegetables every day’ or ‘I’m going to write a fantasy trilogy this year – during my lunch breaks.' 

I got a cooler wardrobe, my salary went up and honestly, I feel different – like a slightly more centred, authentic and empowered version of the person I was 12 months ago.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, these 5 habits changed my life. I hope they do for you too! 

Vivien Luu
Vivien Luu

Viv is a writer who enjoys researching and writing about creativity, how the human mind works, and neuro processes. She values creativity above all else and admires people who pursue their career dreams, no matter the sacrifice. In her spare time, she binges on HBO shows and epic fantasy novels.

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