Straight talk time: confidence is sexy.
Someone who lacks confidence – even if he looks like a GQ cover model – is going to be considerably less attractive than someone who may not have perfect facial features but does have abundant self-esteem. This isn’t just “rah rah self-esteem” feel-good bullshit; confidence actually alters how people see you. In a study published by the International Journal of Cosmetic Science researchers found that raising men’s confidence – in this case, via the placebo effect triggered by giving men a new cologne – made them visibly more attractive as rated by a panel of women who viewed them on video. Their facial structure was less important their body language, posture and behavior.
The problem however, is that it’s very easy to get it wrong. All too often, we rely on a form of false confidence – over-inflating our sense of self-worth irrespective of reality, trying to artificially inflate it by “being alpha” or just plain “positive thinking”‘; as a result, we end up wildly overestimating our abilities or value. Other times we end up sabotaging ourselves, draining away our self-esteem and leaving us feeling horrible about ourselves no matter how much work we put in.
So how do we quit undermining ourselves and build a genuine sense of confidence and self-esteem?
Confidence Isn’t Competence
The first step is to understand what confidence is… and what it isn’t. We treat confidence like a magical cure-all for your dating ills, that if you believe in yourself hard enough then everyone else will fall in line, carried away by the strength of your belief. Other times, we see confidence as being the ultimate performance enhancement drug – believe in yourself and you’ll succeed! Except… it doesn’t work like that. Anyone who’s had a beer too many in an attempt to build up their courage to talk to the hottie at the bar may feel more confident… but there’s also a distinct decline in skill and judgement as well.
The problem is that confidence doesn’t correlate with performance. In fact, most of us know people who are confident despite their lack of skill – known as the Dunning-Krueger effect; you can be confident to the point of delusion, but if you don’t have the skills to back it up, you end up looking like an idiot at best and arrogant at worst. Similarly, competence doesn’t correlate with confidence; in fact, people who are skilled are often less confident, mistakenly believing that their skill level is average at best and that others are as good as they are, if not better.
Being confident helps, but it doesn’t give you skill where you didn’t have it before. What confidence does is give you the ability to gain the skill, which in turn helps boost your confidence.
See, confidence is about will and belief. It’s not in the belief that success is inevitable but that it’s achievable. Confidence isn’t about believing that you’re perfect, it’s about understanding that you’re not and working to improve yourself. Developing your confidence means being willing to invest in yourself and to strive for it, even in the face of failure. Being confident is what gives you the strength to get back up when you’ve been knocked down and try again, because you know that you can work hard and do better each time… which actually leads us to the next step:
This one is tough for a lot of people, but it’s key for developing your confidence: you have to learn to redefine how you see failure. We let our failures dominate us; we beat ourselves up over all the times we could’ve done things better and keep ourselves up at night with constant bouts of “I could have done this better. I should have taken this opportunity.” It’s one of the insidious ways that we actually sabotage our confidence: we tie all of our previous failures to our sense of self-esteem and use that as the marker of our value. As a result, we’re even more keenly aware of the potential for failure and it looms ever larger in our minds.
Back in the early days of my transformation, one bad blow-out from a woman was all it would take to absolutely sink my night. Getting rejected would devastate my confidence for the entire evening; every other approach I’d make that night would be colored by the idea that I was a failure, that I was only going to get rejected again. Not surprisingly: I’d do horribly for the rest of the evening, which would just make me feel worse and worse until I would finally call it quits and go home pissed at the world and, most importantly, myself. It might take days before I could bring myself to go out and try again.
When failure is something to be feared or dreaded, it takes up significant real-estate in our heads and it starts to affect everything we do… especially when we associate failure with our own self-worth. We get less concerned with succeeding than we do with not failing. That, in turn, makes us less likely to actually attempt something and when we do, we’re already anticipating the failure rather than the success. It’s the centipede’s dilemma: we get so overcome with thinking about all the ways things can screw up that we can’t do things that were otherwise second-nature to us. The more you fear failure, the more likely you are to choke when the pressure is on.
But when you embrace failure and separate it from your sense of self-esteem, it can be liberating. Failing at something doesn’t mean that you are a failure, it means that something you tried didn’t work out… and you can do better next time. It’s not easy; you have to consciously reframe the situation and remind yourself that failing is how you learn and has nothing to do with your worth as a person. But over time, it becomes natural, even instinctual – which means you fear failure less and can respond to it better – which is a mark of confidence.
Take The Small Victories to Get The Large One
One mistake that a lot of people make that ruins their confidence is that they set their sights too high and try to take on too much at once. More often than not we overestimate the impact of our screw-ups, so we need something even more impressive to compensate. We get so caught up in trying to prove we’re not a loser after all that we pick some absurd or insane goal under the idea that this will somehow count against our past failures. I see this all the time in people who are trying to get better at dating: they’re so used to being the One Who Isn’t Good With Girls that they focus like lasers on the end result of “getting any woman I want”. But all this does is make every night’s practice an exercise in frustration and misery and serves to highlight just how far away the goal still is. And to make it worse: it completely obscures the victories you do achieve.
Holding yourself to impossible standards – being able to run a marathon when you’ve never run a mile, taking girls home every night when you’re barely able to hold a conversation with your classmates – is a great way to set yourself up for failure, no matter how much you may want it. The goal is just pants-shittingly, intimidatingly huge. And then when you do fail, it just reinforces the narrative that you’re no good, a loser, etc.
Instead, what you want to do is focus on incremental improvement, collecting the smaller victories and achievable goals. Ones that, critically, put you on the path to fulfilling your ambitions. It can be as simple as “stay in a conversation with a woman for 15 minutes” or “get one phone number”, “master that one stitch that I can never get right”, or “run five laps slightly faster than I did last week”. They don’t have to be large or impressive, but they do have to be an actual challenge… just attainable ones.
Is it as sexy as going from zero to hero in a 4 minute training montage while “Eye of the Tiger” is jamming over it all? No… but it does bring you ever closer to your goal. Reaching those small victories proves that you’re making quantifiable, measurable progress, which helps you see how much you’ve improved. And, more importantly, you get the satisfaction of having bested yet one more challenge, which helps boost your confidence enough to take on the next challenge, and then the next challenge and the one after that.
That’s how you accomplish your goals. And that’s how confidence is built.
We are all prone to a psychological phenomenon known as Negativity Bias; we give much greater psychological weight to negative or unpleasant feelings and thoughts than we do positive ones. Back in the days when we were tribal scavengers eking out survival on the savanna, dodging cave bears and terror birds, the negativity bias meant that we were hyper-aware of any potential dangers; after all, death lurked around every corner and crouched in the tall grass and thought we were both tantalizingly crunchy and chewy.
Unfortunately, that particular defense mechanism didn’t evolve away as we moved from the dangers of a hunter-gatherer society, to the relative security of an agricultural one, and then to the dominant position we currently maintain at the top of the food-chain; instead, it hangs around like a vestigial tail for our brains, leaving us unable to believe the good about ourselves but completely certain about the worst in us.
Because of this psychological quirk, it’s very easy to fall into patterns of recrimination and self-doubt, convincing yourself that you’re a worthless human being and letting your confidence drain out of you like pee out of a toddler.
Except you have the tools to stop it… by using your jerk-brain against itself. You see, it’s possible to do what’s known as metacognition, or awareness of our thinking and controlling it… and when you’re doing it right, you can actually short-circuit the negativity bias. You just have to doubt your doubts.
Scientists have found that questioning your doubts actually decreases them. You see, when we apply positive reinforcement to a thought or feeling – nodding along in agreement to somebody’s lecture, for example, we validate it and solidify its effects. So when we apply positive reinforcement to a negative thought – we can’t do something, we’re worthless, etc. – we make that thought stronger and more present in our minds. Similarly, if we apply negative reinforcement of a positive thought – shaking our head, say, over the idea that we’re going to get that hot barrista’s phone number, we decrease our certainty and confidence. However, negative reinforcement of a negative thought actually decreases the uncertainty and lack of confidence. Like an AI trying to divide by zero, negatively reinforcing a negative thought actually induces a paradox in our unconscious minds, making us less certain about the negativity… leaving us feeling more confident.
The reason why our doubts have so much validity is because we trust them. But by deliberately applying negative reinforcement – questioning our doubts, shaking our head at the visions of failure – we’re actually able to weaken their hold on us. When we’re facing down moments of doubt and feeling our confidence draining away, we need to question just why we’re so certain that we’re going to fail and why we should believe them (and shaking your head at the thought of failure; it’s goofy, but it works). Once you’ve broken that chain – weakening your certainty in your negative thoughts – then it’s time to make plans on how you will succeed.
Stand Up Straight
The last thing you need to do to stop sabotaging your confidence: fix your posture. Slouching, hunching your back and shoulders and otherwise folding in on yourself is a guaranteed way to feel like you’re lower than a snake’s ass in a drainage ditch.
You may notice that every time I talk about confidence and attractiveness, I always harp on posture. This is because the mind is ultimately ruled by the body. Just as the simple act of shaking your head can disrupt your feelings of doubt, scientists have found that the way you sit and stand completely alters how confident you feel. The act of standing up straighter and puffing your chest out actually increases your sense of self-worth and improves your mood. This is why so many business schools advocate taking “power poses” – posing with your fists on your hips like a superhero, for example – as a way of boosting your confidence and eliminating stress; you’re forcing your body into a more assertive and confident pose which directly affects your how your brain reacts.
This is the key to “fake it ’till you make it”: you’re not “pretending” to be confident, you’re adopting the body language and posture of someone who is confident… and in doing so, making yourself feel more positive and self-assured. This makes you look better and causes people to see you differently… helping you feel more confident. This isn’t some false bravado; this is genuine, sexy confidence… you just never knew you had it in you before.