Building Confidence

See also: Personal Development

Confidence is not something that can be learned like a set of rules; confidence is a state of mind. Positive thinking, practice, training, knowledge and talking to other people are all useful ways to help improve or boost your confidence levels.

Confidence comes from feelings of well-being, acceptance of your body and mind (self-esteem) and belief in your own ability, skills and experience. 

Low-confidence can be a result of many factors including: fear of the unknown, criticism, being unhappy with personal appearance (self-esteem), feeling unprepared, poor time-management, lack of knowledge and previous failures.

Confidence is not a static measure, our confidence to perform roles and tasks can increase and decrease; some days we may feel more confident than others.

This page provides practical advice about things that you can do to build your confidence.

Confidence and self-esteem are not the same thing, although they are often linked. Confidence is the term we use to describe how we feel about our ability to perform roles, functions and tasks. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves, the way we look, the way we think - whether or not we feel worthy or valued. People with low self-esteem often also suffer from generally low confidence, but people with good self-esteem can also have low confidence. It is also perfectly possible for people with low self-esteem to be very confident in some areas.

For more discussion see our page: What is Self-Esteem?.

Performing a role or completing a task confidently is not about not making mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, especially when doing something new. Confidence includes knowing what to do when mistakes come to light and therefore is also about problem solving and decision making.

Visit our sections on both Problem Solving and Decision Making for more information.

Ways to Improve Confidence

Planning and Preparation

People often feel less confident about new or potentially difficult situations. Perhaps the most important factor in developing confidence is planning and preparing for the unknown.

If you are applying for a new job for example, you would be wise to prepare for the interview. Plan what you would want to say in the interview and think about some of the questions that you may be asked.  Practise your answers with friends or colleagues and gain their feedback.

There are many other examples of planning for an interview, perhaps you should visit the hairdresser before you go. How are you going to travel to the interview, how long will the journey take? What should you wear? Take control of unknown situations the best you can, break down tasks into smaller sub-tasks and plan as many as you can.

Learning, Knowledge and Training

Learning and research can help us to feel more confident about our ability to handle situations, roles and tasks.

See our pages: What is Learning? and Lifelong Learning for more information.

Knowing what to expect and how and why things are done will add to your awareness and usually make you feel more prepared and ultimately more confident. Learning and gaining knowledge can sometimes make us feel less confident about our abilities to perform roles and tasks, when this happens we need to combine our knowledge with experience. By doing something we have learned a lot about we put theory to practice which develops confidence and adds to the learning and comprehension.

First-time parents to-be may well feel nervous and less than confident about having a baby. They are likely to buy books or visit websites which can offer advice and dispel some of the mysteries. They are also likely to talk to other parents to gain knowledge and understanding.

In the workplace, training may be provided for staff to teach them how to manage or work with new systems and procedures. During a period of organisational change this is particularly important as many people will naturally resist changes. However if those affected by the changes are given adequate information and training then such resistances can usually be minimised.

See our section: Study Skills, not just for students, learn how to learn more effectively.

Positive Thought

Positive thought can be a very powerful way of improving confidence.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

Helen Keller - Author, political activist, and lecturer. The first deaf and blind person to earn a BA degree in the US.

There is a lot of information about positive thinking both online and in print. The basic rules of positive thinking are to highlight your strengths and successes and learn from your weaknesses and mistakes. This is a lot easier than it sounds, we often dwell on things that we are not happy with from our past - making them into bigger issues than they need to be. These negative thoughts can be very damaging to confidence and your ability to achieve goals.

Try to recondition the way you think about your life:

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. Write a list of things that you are good at and things that you know need improvement. Discuss your list with friends and family, inevitably they will be able to add to the list. Celebrate and develop your strengths and find ways to improve or manage your weaknesses.
  • We all make mistakes. Don't think of your mistakes as negatives but rather as learning opportunities.
  • Accept compliments and compliment yourself. When you receive a compliment from somebody else, thank them and ask for more details; what exactly did they like? Recognise your own achievements and celebrate them by rewarding yourself and telling friends and family about them.
  • Use criticism as a learning experience. Everybody sees the world differently, from their own perspective, what works for one person may not work for another. Criticism is just the opinion of somebody else. Be assertive when receiving criticism, don't reply in a defensive way or let criticism lower your self-esteem. Listen to the criticism and make sure that you understand what is being said, use criticism as a way to learn and improve. See our page: Dealing with Criticism for more information.
  • Try to stay generally cheerful and have a positive outlook on life. Only complain or criticise when necessary and when you do, do so in a constructive way. Offer others compliments and congratulate them on their successes.

Talking to Others and Following Their Lead

Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.

Vince Lombardi - Successful American Football coach.

Generally people are attracted to confident people - confidence is one of the main characteristics of charisma. See our page: What is Charisma? for a full explanation.

Speaking to and being around people who are confident will usually help you to feel more confident. Learn from others who are successful in fulfilling the tasks and goals that you wish to achieve - let their confidence rub off on you. As you become more confident then offer help and advice, become a role-model for somebody less confident.


As we successfully complete tasks and goals, our confidence that we can complete the same and similar tasks again increases.

Gaining experience and taking the first step can, however, be very difficult. Often the thought of starting something new is worse than actually doing it, this is where preparation, learning and thinking positively can help. Break roles and tasks down into small achievable goals. Make each one of your goals fit SMART criteria. That is to make goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed.

Be Assertive

Being assertive means standing up for what you believe in and sticking to your principles.

Being assertive also means that you can change your mind if you believe it is the right thing to do, not because you are under pressure from somebody else. Assertiveness, confidence and self-esteem are all very closely linked - usually people become naturally more assertive as they develop their confidence.

See our Assertiveness section and Assertiveness Techniques page for more information.

Avoid Arrogance

Arrogance is detrimental to interpersonal relationships.

As your confidence grows and you become successful, avoid feeling or acting superior to others. Remember - nobody is perfect, there is always more that you can learn. Celebrate your strengths and successes and recognise your weaknesses and failures. Give others credit for their work - use compliments and praise sincerely. Be courteous and polite and show an interest in what others are doing, ask questions and get involved.

Admit to your mistakes and be prepared to laugh at yourself!

Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Learn more about emotional intelligence and how to effectively manage personal relationships at home, at work and socially.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.