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April 20, 2015

Even if you're on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, intimidated by those peering down at you from above, there's a way to boost your confidence and help you perform better so that you can climb up past them faster: affirmations.

A new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people in low positions of power may perform better by using self-affirmations to calm their nerves.

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"You should reflect on things that you know are good about yourself," said lead researcher Sonia Kang, an assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the University of Toronto, in a press release. "Anyone has the potential to do really well. It's how you respond under pressure that makes a key difference."

The researchers conducted three role-playing experiments, splitting 282 people between them. The study found that those assigned high-power roles, such as job recruiters or salespeople, tended to succeed under pressure over their lower-power partners assigned to roles like job candidates and consumers. The last experiment had a special twist, though: Before the competition, half the participants wrote for five minutes about their most important negotiating skill, while the other half wrote about their least important negotiating skill. The low power players who wrote highly positive self-affirmations performed significantly better in negotiating than the others.

In other words, self-affirmations seemed to reduce the power gap between the two positions.

"Anytime you have low expectations for your performance, you tend to sink down and meet those low expectations," said Kang. "Self-affirmation is a way to neutralize that threat."

Writing down a self-affirmation may be more effective than just thinking it, but both methods can help, she explained. And, for all the self-doubters out there, simply writing or thinking about your family or other positive life circumstances, even if they don't have high stakes, also work to boost confidence and performance. Just show yourself a little love and it'll go a long way.

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