It’s no secret that when we feel our best we perform at our fullest potential. So the question then is, how do we optimize for positive self-thoughts? Success and accomplishment look like obvious answers, but there is a precursor to both: confidence.

When we feel like the best version of the person we know we are, we relate to ourselves on a higher level and begin to operate from a place of empowerment. We’re able to exert influence over ourselves and others, resulting in increased productivity, trustworthiness, leadership, and innovation.

Our relationship to clothing and the image it helps us portray, is a vital tool in developing our confident sense of self. It is what we use to create inner and outer congruency, where the skills and personality we possess match the external person we show the world.

Selecting a wardrobe that enables us to feel empowered while authentically representing who we are, sends the message to ourselves and to others that we are powerful and ready to perform.

Unfortunately for many of us, our clothing can often have an adverse impact, bringing with it feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and sometimes even shame. We feel uncomfortable directing our attention to what we deem as superficial qualities, or unsure of what might be better suited for us, so rather than using clothing to our strategic advantage we begin to resent it.

The importance of personal style is that when used correctly, it enhances our experience of feeling powerful, comfortable in our own skin, and above all else confident. It has much less to do with the stylistic components themselves, but rather the impact they cause on performance and perception.

If we want to improve the profound strength of our influence, how can we take the confusion out of clothing in order to use it to build our strength?

Give Up Your Fixation with Numbers

Far too often, people get hung up on a certain clothing size as a personal benchmark of where they feel they should be in life. “I was an 8 before the baby”……”My waist was a 30 in college”. Measuring their current clothing size against a number from their past brings with it immediate feelings of guilt but fails to encompass the whole picture.

For starters, as we age our bodies change. That’s just part of the process. The metamorphosis is due in part to several factors completely out of our control, often not necessarily causing a dramatic shift in our weight but a change in how our body shape looks (and feels).

Typically, the amount of fat we carry increases with age, while muscle mass, lean tissue and total body water decrease. As our bodies change, so too does the way clothing fits us.

Making matters even more complicated, the sizes of today’s brands are inconsistent, next to impossible to follow, and no longer based on a set of standard measurements. What’s considered an 8 in one brand is a 6 in another, as certain marketers actively aim to size down (known as “vanity sizing”) in an effort to evoke positive feelings around wearing smaller sizes.

When it comes to numbers, the only relevant factor is selecting the one that fits, regardless of what the size says on the label. Items that sit properly, without having to be pulled, pinched and stretched throughout the day, act as an extension of our body rather than an uncomfortable ‘costume’ we wear because we’re trying to hold on to a measurement from out past.

Stop Using Clothing as Something to Hide Behind

As our bodies change, we may find ourselves failing to fully recognize the reflection we see in the mirror. While the aging process is a gradual one, it can often feel like we wake up one day to find ourselves inhabiting a shell that no longer looks like the one we’ve known.

For some people, this shift comes with acceptance and appreciation for all the abundant gifts our bodies provide. But for others it can trigger feelings of disapproval and failure, sometimes even leading to distorted views of our physical shape and size. At the height of the body positivity movement, we experience shame in the fact that we struggle to to find gratitude for what we know to be a blessing.

When we feel uncomfortable in our bodies, a common reaction is often to try and hide or mask our form, hoping we’ll go unnoticed or at the very least able to conceal what we’ve deemed as a problematic.

We start by choosing oversized shirts and pants, eventually moving into longer sweaters and jackets, all in an effort to make ourselves less visible. This quick-fix ‘solution’ creates a subconscious disservice to the way we carry ourselves by reinforcing the mentality that we’re less than worthy. Our minds inadvertently restrict us from taking as many risks, asserting opinions, and commanding as much of our available power. When we wish to not be seen, we begin to act accordingly.

Instead of letting our narrative around body image control us, we must work to become more empowered by using clothing to our advantage. We can start by researching our body type and learning to dress for it accordingly, as well as making a commitment to wearing only the items in our closets that generate positive thoughts. When we feel good about the image we’re putting forward, the desire to hide subsides and we’re able to perform at a more optimal level.

Don’t Feel Obligated to Follow Trends

The life span of a fashion trend is tightening and condensing, where the period of time between it’s appearance and disappearance is faster than ever. From introduction and adoption to peak and eventual rejection, a trend is generally around for as little as one season. This means that if our goal is to keep up with what’s in, we’re going to be buying and replacing our clothing at a relatively steady pace.

Most of today’s fashion trends are designed to make noise on social media, often in hopes of becoming the ‘it’ item amongst popular influencers. Brands determine that if their presence is repetitive enough, they can drive us to make a shift in our preferences by igniting our fear of not keeping up with what’s relevant. Unfortunately, something that’s popular on Instagram doesn’t always translate for real-life working men and women looking to buy clothing that fits their lifestyle and unique personal aesthetic.

When we wear items according to what’s in style, we’re adopting a look because someone deemed it fashionable at a given moment – not because it feels organic to who we are. Just like clothing that doesn’t fit our body shape, this can create a disconnect between our internal and external selves, causing us to feel like an imposter wearing someone else’s clothing.

Rather than selecting items based on what we see on our timeline, we should always opt for pieces that are true to our authenticity. This might mean passing on skinny jeans when we’re told they’re a must, or opting out of a sky high stilettos when we know that loafers are more of our speed. When we choose to wear clothing that feels true to who we are, it shifts the way we operate and perform throughout the day.

Create an Action Plan

One of the biggest obstacles in attaining empowerment, is the failure to have a clear course of action. This is just as true with regards to our personal style as it is in other areas of our lives such as business, health and child rearing.

Building a framework for how to achieve a goal helps eliminate decision fatigue, something we all have a lot of. It is the exhaustion we feel when we use brain power to make mundane choices like when to answer emails or what to bring for lunch. When it comes to our image however, we often don’t have the mental bandwidth left to put a structure in place for how we want to dress, so rather than choosing clothing with intention we do so at random.

When we fail to actively put care into our wardrobe, we give up control of the impression we make on others, and more importantly on the way we see ourselves. Rather than feeling confident, assertive and put-together, we may end up relating to our external image as completely disconnected from our internal selves.

Committing to an action plan doesn’t require us to become overnight style-savants or develop a real interest in fashion. Empowering ourselves through clothing means that we identify where our weaknesses are, get clear on how we want to be perceived in our personal and professional lives, and put strategies in place to ensure we’re always choosing to get dressed in a way that makes us feel like our most powerful selves.

This may look as simple as setting aside a 20 minutes each week to search for inspiration from people we look up to, learning about our body type and how to most flatter it, or knowing when to ask for help from someone who sees us through an unbiased lens.

An action plan means getting started and taking the first step – knowing where we want to go and putting tools in place to reach our goals.

Our clothing plays a minor role in the story of who we are but it carries a strong influence over the way we relate to ourselves and how we’re perceived by others. When we learn to use it to our advantage, it becomes one of the many tools in our strategy kit that builds our impact.