When people talk about confidence, they’re usually (whether they realize it or not) referring to “Social Confidence.” The ability to walk into a room and not be nervous. To be comfortable in your own skin. To talk naturally, flow smoothly from one topic to the next, and make friends effortlessly. At its core social confidence is knowing that you can talk to anyone and build a connection.
It’s what we all want right? That’s why thousands of books have been written about it. And why every woman and man says they’re attracted to (you guessed it) "confidence."
So how do we find this elusive, so-called confidence? Search online and you’ll find some terrible advice. “Look in the mirror and smile! Strike confident poses! Think positive!” If only it were that easy.
Listen, I’m all for techniques and shortcuts. But the truth is 99% of the advice out there is bad. There’s little evidence, or in fact, conflicting evidence that techniques like these work for shy people.
Enough is enough.
Let’s stand conventional wisdom on its head,and get to the real problem. Starting first with common mistakes you should avoid.
Mistake #1: Trying to FEEL confident
Confidence is not an emotion that you feel. It’s a state of mind. Most people don’t realize this. So they chase confidence as a good feeling, and end up doing this:
The result is a vicious cycle driven by feelings. For example, let’s say you’re getting ready for a party. You know important people will be there so you start to feel nervous. Naturally, you try to get rid of those bad feelings and focus on good, happy feelings. In other words, you look for feelings of confidence. This creates what I call “fake confidence” because it’s all based on feelings. Inevitably, your confident feelings falter as you stumble your way through conversations. Each stutter chips away at your “confidence,” and you go home feeling like a failure. So naturally, we try to make ourselves feel better again. We’re focused on feeling more confident, even when they’re not actually confident.
Does that sound familiar?
That’s why popular advice like “power posing” don’t work. The idea is to feel confident by mimicking confident body language. Sounds like a good idea. There’s even a fancy scientific explanation about hormones and cortisol levels. But turns out, this is bad advice that actually hurts people. In fact, if you have low confidence, it has the opposite effect! Trying to feel confident doesn’t work. According to Joseph Cesario, MSU associate professor of psychology, “Feeling powerful may feel good, but on its own does not translate into powerful or effective behaviors.”
Chasing feelings is like eating junk food before a marathon. It feels good at first, but there’s no real nutrition to sustain you. And ultimately it burns out, leading to failure. True confidence doesn’t waver, because it’s a way of thinking, not a feeling.
Mistake #2: Focusing on positive affirmations
This is a really popular technique taught by the biggest gurus in self-help. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you're awesome. Do this 5 times a day, and make sure to smile. The idea is that if you repeat positive things to yourself over and over, then your mind will start to believe it.
There's little science that support this. Just like power posing, studies have shown that positive self-affirmation make people with low self-esteem feel worse. In other words, it actually backfires on the people who need it most. How insane is that!
Positive affirmations don’t work because they don’t work on a deep level. If deep down inside you believe you’re an “awkward loser,” no amount of positive affirmations will change that. In fact, repeating positive affirmations will create an inner battle. Let’s say you’re terrible at cooking. Every time you repeat “I’m a great cook!” your subconscious will immediately respond with “that’s not true!” It’s the same cringe you feel when you receive compliment that isn’t true. It’s called cognitive dissonance and our brains don’t like it.
Your subconscious brain can’t be fooled that easily. It won’t work if these positive affirmations are the opposite of deep-rooted beliefs. You end up swinging back and forth between extremes thoughts like, “I'm awesome, I can do this!” to “I’m a failure, I suck.” The result is you end up feeling worse than when you started
Mistake #3: Improving looks and achievements
Logically this makes sense. Look more attractive? Get more confidence. Make more money? Get more confidence. This is how many people try to build their confidence. By pursuing looks and achievement. Of course people will like me if I’m rich, beautiful and succesful right?
The problem is that your looks and achievements are conditional. In other words they're not lasting. And even if you’re unbelievably attractive or great at something, there's always someone who's better and more attractive than you. Or what if you suddenly lose it all? What happens after that? Do you lose all your confidence?
You'll never become socially confident by focusing on becoming better than others. There will always be someone who's better than you. And even if you achieve a lot, and become awesome, if you're perfectly honest with yourself you still suck in many areas. It's a game you'll never win.
True Social Confidence
Social confidence is knowing you can talk to anyone and build a connection.
And here’s the truth. It doesn’t come from what you feel, look, or achieve. It doesn’t come from what others think of you -- or even what you think of yourself. It’s a mindset. And knowing where to focus.
True social confidence comes from focusing on others, not yourself
When you worry about how you look or feel, you’re self-focused and can’t pay attention to others. Because your attention is turned inwards, you become less socially engaged. When we focus too much on ourselves -- what we say, how people perceive us, how interesting we are -- this increases our anxiety and lowers our confidence. But if you shift your focus onto others, you’ll be more perceptive and far more socially confident.
Focus On Others
Remember, a key reason you lack confidence is because you doubt yourself. You filter things because you don't want to make a mistake, or say something stupid. You worry what others might think. All of this is caused by too much self-focus.
Instead, even though it seems counterintuitive, you must focus less on yourself. And focus more on others. This is the little-known secret to confidence that nobody talks about. If you want to love yourself more, begin by thinking of yourself less. Just like there’s incredible pleasure when you watch movies and escape into other worlds, there’s incredible freedom when you immerse yourself in the lives of others, instead of dwelling on your own issues.
When you focus on others, that’s when you become confident. This completely changes the game. It's crazy. You get out of your head and stop living inside your thoughts. No longer are you searching for ways to boost your ego, or stop those nervous feelings. It just starts to happen. It's crazy how this works.
Now I’m not saying don’t think highly of yourself. Of course you’re special, amazing and beautiful. Nothing wrong with telling yourself that. But if you want to become truly confident and know deep down that you can connect with others, the only way is to focus on others.
Now we have to be careful. When I say focus on others, I don’t mean focus on how they treat you. Or react to you. Or what they’re thinking about you. That just ends up being a sneaky, twisted way of thinking about ourselves.
Therefore, the best thing is to focus on others by helping them. A study from British Columbia found that “being busy with acts of kindness” can help people reduce their social anxiety. By focusing on helping others, this countered fears of rejection and lowered levels of stress and anxiety. And at the same time, made room for more positive thoughts and observations. In the end, participants in the study actually found that people responded more positively to them than they expected.