04/14/2015 12:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Ways to Take Your Confidence Into Your Own Hands

We live in a world where mass media, gender inequality and a strong culture of bullying can make us feel, for moments or days, like we should be better-looking, smarter, more popular versions of ourselves. So, it's easy to blame external factors like advertisements, degrading lyrics, Instagram and other people for our own feelings of inadequacy.

But the truth is that each of us can have a greater, stronger, longer-lasting effect on our self-esteem than the cultural influences -- negative or positive -- we encounter. How? True confidence actually grows from adopting various self-esteem-boosting habits over time. Here are some of the best ways to take your confidence into your own hands:

  1. Fuel your body with nutrition, exercise and sleep. First, good nutrition, sleep and workout habits help stabilize and lift your mood, naturally making you feel happier and better about yourself. Second, these habits give rise to the mental clarity and strength needed to really fulfill your potential and achieve your goals (see #2). Finally, consistent self-care also has implications for your appearance (you might find your skin clearer or your muscles more toned), and while feeling attractive isn't enough on its own to make you feel awesome all the time, it doesn't hurt.
  2. Set some goals and achieve them. It's OK to start small. This is a super important one. Numerous studies have confirmed that personal accomplishments are significant building blocks of confidence. Why? Because the positive feelings associated with overcoming a challenge or achieving a goal (acing a test, running your first 5k, even starting your own non-profit) make you feel good in the short term, while also giving you the courage to pursue other confidence-building opportunities in the long term. It's a big cycle of overcoming challenges and feeling successful. See how that works?
  3. Surround yourself with the right friends. We've all encountered bullies, been excluded and felt generally concerned about whether we're "good enough." Make sure you're hanging out with the right crowd, one made up of accepting peers and supportive mentors. The freedom to be yourself is enough on its own to make you feel better about yourself. Having trouble finding friends at school? If you're feeling left out or bullied, try researching volunteer opportunities, jobs or other extra-curricular activities that will allow you to find your people. They're out there.
  4. Balance your "media diet." As we mentioned above, and as non-profits like SPARK Movement or The Representation Project remind us, popular media can undermine your self-esteem. But this doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite guilty pleasures. While you may want to cut out certain magazines or shows altogether, simply being aware of the potential negative impacts of certain shows and images, limiting your intake of damaging media and making an effort to bring more uplifting and informational media into your life can lessen some of media's harming effects.
  5. Change your attitude. Low confidence is often connected to false, negative beliefs about yourself and your place in the world. You may think you are unlucky or that you will never be popular. These thoughts may seem like facts, but not all thoughts are true. Learning to think more positively will help you put negative thoughts in perspective and improve your attitude. Tools including affirmations, visualizations and therapy can help. If you are having trouble changing your outlook, talk to a parent, doctor or school counselor.

What makes you feel amazing? Share your own confidence-boosting tips in the comments!

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