Confidence is one of the most valuable traits a person can have. Confident people are literally more attractive. As scientists have found, something as simple as a placebo in cologne is enough to make people feel more self-assured.
In and of itself, this is good news. The mere act of believing in your own value drastically alters your own behavior, from your body language to your attitude, making you more appealing to others with only slight changes.
The problem is that it’s incredibly hard to be confident when you don’t feel it already. The disconnect between the goal – being confident – and where you are now – decidedly not confident – is immense. It’s easy to say “just be confident” or “women love confident men” or something equally banal. It’s like suggesting that flying is easy; all you have to do is throw yourself at the ground and miss.
But the people who are the most confident aren’t the ones who started that way. They developed their confidence over time. Here’s how you can get the same results they have.
Being Confident Is About Learning, Not Success
One of the key mistakes that people make when they want to develop their confidence is that they look to achievements. Achievements, after all, are something you can point to. Of course your confidence is justified, look at all that you’ve done!
Unfortunately, the problem with this outlook is that it’s incredibly external. It’s not confidence so much as external validation; you’re asking others to justify your belief in yourself. That’s pretty much the opposite of being confident. It relies on others – or your perception of how others think – to dictate whether or not you’re “allowed” to feel confident.
At the same time, confidence isn’t about not making mistakes or never having doubts. Questioning yourself isn’t a lack of confidence; in fact, confident people regularly question their abilities or decisions. Confidence is about having a realistic idea of what you can and can’t do. You can be self-assured in your ability to do something and still acknowledge that you have room to improve.
This is why, if you want to be more confident, you want to focus on your ability to learn and improve. Success or failure are misleading. After all, you can succeed despite yourself or make no mistakes and still fail. Focusing on your progress and your ability to improve, on the other hand is showing that you’ve grown. As frustrating as it may be, even a failure that comes after hard work is something to be proud of. You may not have succeeded, but if you can learn from those mistakes then you’ll have something to be proud of. Just as importantly, failure or setbacks won’t destroy your confidence; they’ll just be a bump on the road.
Speaking of which…
Focus on the Small Victories
Something that trips people up about confidence is that they put too much emphasis on major achievements. It’s hard enough to feel confident as it is. Looking at some massive objective or goal can sap what little confidence you have. It’s just too much. It’s impossible. You’ll never make it.
And therein lies the mistake. Learning to be confident isn’t about one big accomplishment or some amazing goal, it’s about the little things you did that got you there.
When you focus on that one goal, whether it’s running a marathon, climbing a mountain or even just getting a relationship, you end up fighting against your own ambitions. It just takes something you long for and turns it into this monumental thing full of dire importance and meaning. It looms so large in your imagination that it goes from being something you want, to something you dread. Every day that you’re not able to conquer it is another day that reinforces just how much of a loser you are.
But there’s really no goal out there – no matter how monumental or banal – that isn’t comprised of lots of little goals along the way. Shifting your attention from your one massive ambition to lots of little ones may sound a hell of a lot like “lower your standards”1, but taking those small victories get you to the bigger ones.
See, it’s really goddamn easy to give up when you look at something massive. Yeah, you may look at the idea of trying to write a novel with a mixture of resignation and constant internal screaming. But writing, say, 200 words? That’s easy. A thousand words? Still doable. A short story? Easy peasy. A novella? Yeah, that’s probably reasonable. But get those under your belt and suddenly that first draft isn’t looking so bad, now is it? Same with running or lifting weights; yeah, you’re not going to be doing an Iron Man any time soon, but you can probably manage a couple trips around the block. A little later on, you might be able to run a mile without stopping and praying for the sweet release of death. And then you’ve hit your first 5k and suddenly doing longer distances don’t seem quite as unreasonable.
All of those small, achievable victories give your confidence a boost. You see what you’ve managed to achieve so far, which puts that next step within your reach.
But while you’re at it…
You Have To See It To Believe It
There’s a lot of controversy about things like visualization. The idea that you can “imagine” your way to success is the sort of thing that gets tossed around in incredibly smug memes about dreamers vs. doers and “vision boards” and the like. There’s a certain temptation to portray the dreamers as folks who are all talk while the doers are the ones who put in the ass-in-the-chair time.
And to be fair: that’s true. There are many, many people who are – to get Texan as fuck for a second – all hat and no cattle. There will always be people who spend more time imagining themselves realizing their dreams than actually doing it.
But the point of visualizing your goal – seeing not just the end result but how you’re going to get there – is an important part of being confident. See, it’s not about the feel-good rewards that come with succeeding, it’s about developing and maintaining the will and motivation to push through the hard times. It doesn’t matter what it is that you want to do – there will always be moments when your willpower will be at it’s last ebb and you’ll feel like you’ve been beaten with a bag of nickles. Being able to imagine your goal and see yourself getting there is part of what gives you that last surge, that moment where you push through the pain and go just a little further, do a little more than you believed you could.
Just remember: it’s not just about imagining that you’ve crossed that finish line – metaphorical or otherwise. You have to picture the struggle too. Visualizing the pitfalls, the risks and, critically, how you’ll overcome them is important too. That’s how you build up the motivation to keep pushing yourself.
Speaking of which:
Find Your Team. Find the Right Team.
Learning to be more confident isn’t a solo gig. The people you surround yourself with play a much bigger role in who you are than folks realize. There’s a quote I see tossed around a lot: “You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with most”. As much as I don’t trust advice that can be boiled down to a bumper sticker, it’s actually pretty accurate. Your environment – including the people you spend time with – controls more of your life than you may realize. No matter how much of a rugged individualist you may see yourself as being, your friends influence you in ways you may never realize.
Emotions are contagious. So are attitudes. So, for that matter, is confidence. If you’re surrounded by people who aren’t confident, you’re going to have a hard time being more confident yourself. Sometimes this can be a case of crabs-in-the-bucket – everyone’s busy pulling everyone else back down whenever someone starts climbing out. Watching one friend grow and change can be intimidating, and it’s easier to drag them back to your level than it is to confront your own failures. Other times, it may be that they’re invested in the idea that life is immutable and there’s no point in trying to do better. Or, it could just be that you have shitty friends.
On the other hand, having friends who are confident, who have your back and who believe in you is huge when it comes to self-improvement. Having people to look up to and emulate can be huge when you want to do better. They’re a walking, talking representation of what you could be, and that can be inspiring as hell.
Just as importantly, however, is how confident and supportive friends will push you. When your friends believe in you and want you to do better, they’re not going to accept your half-assing it; they’re going to want the whole ass. They know you have the capability to deliver more than you have been. Having all of these people you love and trust pushing you on, telling you that you can do more and do it better because they know you have it in you? That’s inspiring as hell.
Just as importantly: you may not accept your own capabilities. But when people you trust are telling you that you’re awesome and they know you have it in you to be even more awesome? You’re going to believe it.
Faking It Counts
Let’s go back to that study I mentioned earlier because it’s kind of bugfuck nuts.
Researchers told their subjects that they were testing an experimental cologne that would make them smell amazing. Some of the participants got an anti-microbial spray that would reduce body odor. Others got an inert substance. Women viewed headshots of the participants, then would watch a 15 second video of the men introducing themselves to an attractive female researcher. There was no difference in their dress, in their hairstyle or their physical features between the photograph and the video.
To a man, everyone who was sprayed acted much more confident… and all of them were seen by women as being more attractive than men who hadn’t received the spray. It was quite literally all in their heads. They believed that they smelled better, which meant that they behaved accordingly and had immediate results.
Think about that for a second. An inert body spray – literally water – created enough of a mental shift in people that women could pick it up in less time than it takes to watch an Instagram video. It’s like mad science.
This can be important because sometimes your confidence needs a kickstart. Yeah, I’m not a fan of magic feathers, but having a lucky hat/shirt/shoes/watch that gives you a confidence boost can be amazingly helpful, especially when you’re starting out. Learning to fake it until you make it is a completely valid approach… as long as you’re learning to actually make it. The point of a lucky charm or placebo that gives you a confidence boost isn’t to serve as a substitute to true improvement, it’s to help you realize that learning and growing is possible. As cliche as it is, all a placebo does is prove that you had the power within you all along. You’re just finding a way to help you tap into it until you’re ready.
Remember: nobody is born supremely confident. Some develop it without trying. Lots of folks are faking it.
But everybody can learn. Reach within yourself, find your inner strength. It’s there within you already. You just have to learn to unlock it.
- or “give up and pick something achievable”, for that matter [↩]