Sometimes, it seems as though being self-confident is the first step towards achieving (almost) anything you want. All you have to do is believe in yourself, we're told. With that said, most of us wish it were that simple. The dictionary definition of this elusive quality mentions trusting in our "own abilities and judgment." As a therapist, I tell clients to think of this as a process, as a series of small steps -- that if taken together have a cumulative power. Hint: Don't expect to achieve a high level of confidence overnight. Here are some of my favorite small steps to get you started.
1. Next time you are out on a date, choose the restaurant and/or movie instead of letting your date do it.
2. For every negative thought think four positive ones -- keep track. Negative thought: I can't believe I made that stupid remark at lunch. Positive thought: I handled that sticky situation pretty well.
3. Walk through a crowded fancy restaurant to use the bathroom. Hold your head up high, and walk as if you owned the place.
4. Over-prepare for an interview or a presentation. Practice speaking in front of a mirror, a friend or a family member. Record yourself on your phone and play it back. How do you sound? Avoid allowing your voice to rise at the end of declarative sentences. Watch out for "likes" and "ums."
5. Talk to a fellow shopper while picking out vegetables at your local grocery store. Consciously do this at least twice a week.
6. If someone makes a sexist, racist, homophobic or discriminatory comment, channel Emma Stone and ask, calmly and clearly: "What do you mean?" Don't argue, just bring the topic into the open.
7. Do something that's totally out of character. For example, if you never wear hats... buy a hat! If you usually dress in black, go for cobalt blue or purple. If you dislike parties, go anyway -- you never know what might happen. And if nothing happens, so what? You can at least give yourself credit for trying!
8. Maybe you believe you're all thumbs and could never learn how to knit. Try it anyway. Or maybe you've always thought you were a klutz. Try a dance class. Just make sure that whatever you do, it is outside your comfort zone. Stick with it until you get better at it -- nothing is more satisfying than mastering something you believed you couldn't.
9. Make a date with yourself. Go out to a new restaurant, or an old favorite, in your neighborhood and treat yourself to dinner. Or be really radical, and take a solo weekend trip to a city you've never visited, alone.
10. Tell your mother (or your aunt or your married friends) to stop asking you when you're getting married. You don't have to answer to anyone unless you feel like it. As for that dating advice you get from the older generation, it might not be right for today. Times have changed and not everyone realizes that.
11. Be a daredevil; take a risk! Try something a little "out there" and physically demanding. Can you imagine sky diving or wind surfing? Try the new climbing wall at the gym. Why not? Other people do it and so can you.
12. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Hike, swim, ride a bike, try out a new jogging path. Vary your exercise routine whenever possible.
13. At the office, take credit for work that you do as part of a team. Often, women hesitate to claim their contributions because they think they're being aggressive or self-serving. That's ridiculous: Take your time in the spotlight. And if something goes wrong on a team project, try not blaming yourself and see how that feels!
14. Watching a movie on Netflix with your boyfriend? Suggest one in the category of "strong female characters." You've watched plenty of sports programs with him, right?
15. Consciously avoid procrastination at home or at work. It's usually due to perfectionism or anxiety about not being good enough. Line up what you have to do and get it done.
By Sonya Rhodes, PhD and Susan Schneider, authors of The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match, How Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling.