If there’s one thing Donald Trump can teach us all, it’s the awesome power of self-confidence. No matter how smart or silly the guy sounds, his self-esteem never wavers. And that’s a big part of why people are attracted to him.
But most of us aren’t The Donald. Our self-regard is shakable. And research suggests everything from the way we visualize our goals to the stuff we say to ourselves can help or hurt our chances of success.
Here are six things you may be doing—or not doing—that tank your confidence, sap your willpower, or otherwise ruin the odds you’ll come out on top.
YOU VISUALIZE SUCCESS
The more you imagine the best-case scenario, the less likely you are to achieve it, finds research from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. When you visualize your dreams and aspirations coming true, you fool parts of your brain into believing you’ve achieved it. Relaxation chemicals then flood your system, and your enthusiasm to get shit done plummets, researchers say. Save the daydreams for after you’ve gotten your shit done, they suggest.
YOU TELL BUDDIES YOUR GOALS
Whether you’re fessing up to your friends or posting your goals on Facebook, advertising your ambitions knocks out your motivation to follow through on them, finds research from New York University. Telling people your grand plans gives you “a premature sense of accomplishment,” which torpedos your incentive to get after it, the study team says.
YOU SAY TO YOURSELF, ‘I CAN DO THIS’
Pumping yourself up with self-talk is a great way to stay energized, shows research from the University of Illinois. But only if you use second- and third-person pronouns. That means saying to yourself, “You got this.” Or, “Try harder, John.” When you speak to yourself in the first person—“I can handle this!”—you’re not creating any psychological distance between the voice in your head and yourself. And that distance is what makes self-talk effective, they say.
YOU AIM TOO HIGH
Ambition and hard work are good. Holding yourself to impossible standards is a recipe for failure, shows research from York St John University in the UK. The study team found guys who strive for “perfection” inevitably fall short of their own impossible standards. When that happens, their focus is shaken by worry, anxiousness, and self-doubt, which sends them spiraling into burnout. At the gym or at work, focus on achievable daily goals—not the big lifelong ambitions that can overwhelm you, the researchers suggest.
YOU CRAM IN WORK AT THE END OF THE DAY
Lots of research shows your willpower slowly erodes throughout the course of the day. By the evening hours, it’s all but spent. Rather than trying to cram an extra hour of work or exercise into the hour or two before you go to bed, hit the sack and get up earlier the next day. Studies suggest your ability to work in the afternoon won’t suffer if you get up an hour earlier. So you’re basically adding an extra 60 minutes of motivated, productive time to your morning. Just be sure you’re still getting 7-8 solid hours of sleep, even if that means sacking out an hour earlier at night.
YOU’RE TWEETING OR FACEBOOKING AT THE WRONG TIME
For many of us, social media has become a big part of work and self-promotion, not just a way to kill time. But if you’re posting in the a.m., you’re likely wasting your clever tweets and pithy posts, shows research from HubSpot, a Massachusetts-based research and marketing firm. People tend to spend more time on social in the afternoon, when work slows down and they lack the willpower to keep their noses to the grindstone. If you want maximum reach, post in the afternoons, the research suggests.
There’s that old expression “work smarter, not harder.” Follow these tips, and you can take your foot off the pedal without losing ground on your competitors or goals.