When you’re heading into a high-stakes situation like a job interview or a big presentation, it can be easy to feel intimidated.
After all, your appearance and behaviour are about to be scrutinised, and the future of your career depends partly on this moment.
Fortunately, you don’t have to succumb to those feelings of powerlessness. A growing body of research suggests that there are plenty of easy ways to boost your confidence and, in turn, your performance.
We rounded up seven of those science-backed strategies, all of which can be done in just a few minutes.
1. Strike a power pose.
According to Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, our attitudes often follow from our behaviour. So adopting the body language of powerful people can make you feel powerful, too.
Cuddy has come up with a series of 'power poses' designed to increase your confidence. For example, the 'Wonder Woman' involves standing with your feet apart, hands on hips, and chin tilted upward. The 'Obama' (our name) involves resting your feet on the desk and placing your hands behind your head.
In a 2010 study, Cuddy and colleagues directed a group of students to display high-power poses and others to display low-power poses, like standing with their legs crossed and their arms wrapped around their body. The researchers found that the students who displayed high-power poses were more likely to take risks and showed increased levels of testosterone, a hormone associated with feelings of dominance.
3. Dress up.
Workplace attire is getting increasingly casual, but there may be benefits to going the formal route.
A study undertaken by Columbia University and California State University professors published earlier this year found that undergraduates who wore clothing they would wear to a job interview exhibited enhanced abstract processing. That means they had an easier time thinking broadly instead of getting caught up in details.
When the researchers controlled for feelings of power, those differences in abstract processing all but disappeared. The researchers concluded that wearing formal clothing makes people feel powerful, which in turn changes the way they think.
5. Spritz on a scent.
Simply knowing that you're wearing a new fragrance can make you act more confident, and even make you seem more attractive to other people.
In a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, researchers gave one group of male undergraduates a scented spray and another group an unscented spray. Over the next few days, the men who used the scented spray reported higher self-confidence.
The strange part? When a group of women were shown silent videos of the men, they found those who were wearing fragrance more attractive, even though they obviously couldn't smell them. The researchers determined that the men using the scented spray displayed more confident behaviour, which in turn made them more attractive.
6. Perform a personal ritual.
Maybe you've got a lucky pair of underwear or maybe you visit the same coffee shop before every big job interview.
Don't feel silly: Research suggests that rituals can decrease anxiety and increase confidence before high-pressure events.
In one 2010 experiment at the University of Cologne, for example, researchers recruited a group of university students to perform a memory task. Half were asked to bring a lucky charm to the experiment and half weren't. Results showed that students who brought their lucky charm performed better on the memory task, and that they reported feeling more confident in their abilities.
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