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9 Things You Can Do to Feel More Confident

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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. 

4. Meditate

“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. 

6. Gossip

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.”

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
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Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]

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