Assemble a confidence toolbox.
Carol Dweck, PhD—professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—says that a well-chosen array of objects can give you a major morale boost. (Provided you keep them hidden away "in a drawer or on a bookshelf," says Dweck, "so that when you come upon them or seek them out, their associations are still potent.") Here's what to include in your collection:
Proof that you can be bold.
Did you keep the phone number your now husband gave you—after you asked him out? Or the party hat you wore when you started a conga line at a friend's birthday bash? "Letting loose makes you feel assertive," says Dweck, so hang on to evidence that you know how to bust out of your shell.
A photo of those closest to you.
"Feeling loved is a source of strength," says Dweck—in part because it provides a social safety net: You're more likely to take a leap when you know there are people who will catch you if you fall.
A symbol of a new endeavor,
like a French-to-English dictionary if you're learning a language, or a snapshot if you're taking up photography. "You can derive confidence from the fact that you're pushing yourself," Dweck says.
A token of improvement.
Were you once hopeless at finishing crosswords, but now you're acing the Sunday edition? Or maybe you couldn't run a block six months ago but you just completed a 5K. If so, don't pitch that puzzle or your number from the race. Quantifiable achievements provide an instant jolt of self-esteem because they make it easy to measure progress.
A biography or magazine profile of your idol.
Dweck has her students research personal heroes to learn how they became successful. "The students get inspired because they see that everyone has setbacks," she says.
An invitation to an upcoming social event.
Reminders of future get-togethers bring to mind relationships with loved ones. And, says Dweck, "looking forward to something keeps you focused on good things to come."
A token from a time you were there for someone—
say, a thank-you note from a friend. "Contributing to another person's life boosts self-esteem, especially when it helps them make progress toward their own goals," says Dweck.
Next: 6 reasons to smile right now