Confidence is the double-edged sword of dating advice. It’s a classic catch-22: everyone is told that confidence is sexy, but if you don’t have it in the first place, it’s difficult to get it. Everyone tells you “just be more confident”, which is just about as useful as saying “You can fly! Just throw yourself at the ground and miss!”
Gaining genuine confidence can be a time-consuming process; you’re having to divest yourself of negative, self-limiting beliefs while carving out the areas of your life that bring you joy and add value to your life, and learning how to overcome your fears. But while this is a great way to improve your life in the long-term, it can feel as though it’s just one more thing that keeps success in dating at a distance.
Which is why I advise learning how to fake it until you make it. Learning how to project confidence – even if you don’t feel it – can help you become more attractive… and help you build genuine confidence in the process.
What Confidence Isn’t
Now, many people will tell you that faking confidence – or any aspect of your life, really – is a bad idea. And to a certain extent, they’re not wrong; more often than not, when people try to fake confidence, they end up missing confidence entirely and hitting arrogance instead. The problem is that they assume “not giving a fuck” is the same as confidence. While confident people aren’t worried about what other people think, the “I Just Don’t Give A Fuck” attitude tends to swerve into narcissism and self-absorption instead.
Confidence isn’t about being the biggest swinging dick in the room. It’s not about swagger, attitude or making noise about how big and badass you are.
Think of an impending bar fight. On the one hand, you have the loud, obnoxious jerk thumping his chest, making threats and yelling “come at me bro!” On the other hand, you have someone standing quietly, with his arms crossed and giving the loudmouth a flat stare. Out of these two, who would you think is the more confident of the two?
Someone who makes a lot of noise about themselves is trying to puff themselves up. It’s a way of compensating for feeling insecure; you make a production and try to convince other people to buy into it. This is part of why negging is a played-out gimmick; it’s attempting to convince others of value you don’t actually have by trying to bring down someone else’s.
Real confidence isn’t braggadocio, it’s belief in yourself and in your worth. It’s quiet power and strength, not swag and noise. These are the traits you want to emulate, not acting like you’re trying to start beef with Rick Ross on your first mixtape.
The Body Rules The Mind
The first step in projecting confidence – even when you’re not feeling it – is to adopt confident body language. In fact, just physically acting more confident can actually improve your real confidence.
As much as we like to talk about “mind over matter” and how our brains rule everything about our bodies, the opposite is, in fact, true. Our bodies have a much stronger influence over our moods and emotions than previously assumed. Our brains tend to react to the feedback from our bodies and then back-fill the rationale afterwards. For example: one of the techniques for controlling panic attacks is to regulate your breathing; when you control your breath, you hyper-oxygenate your blood and slow your heart rate. As your heart rate slows, your brain reacts to the feedback from your body; it’s experiencing fewer fear symptoms and decides that it’s not actually afraid after all. Psychologists have conducted studies that found forcing facial muscles into a Duchenne smile actually promotes feelings of happiness and positivity while promoting faster recovery from stressful situations.
The same principles apply to controlling your body language. When you’re slumped over, you’re indicating that you feel as though you’re worth less… and your brain will respond appropriately. Stand up straight, however, and you will find your mood changes noticeably.
So you need to adopt the body language of someone who is confident.
The first step is to straighten up. Your posture is an important part of body language. A hunched stance with your shoulders pulled in is a sign of low self-confidence. Tall people are sometimes especially bad about this; they try to minimize their height by slouching. Instead, you want to stand up straight with your shoulders back. You don’t want to be ramrod straight; you’re trying to project confidence, not stand at attention like your drill sergeant is eyeballing you.
A simple trick for improving your posture is to imagine an invisible thread attached to the crown of your head, just above your spine. Let it gently pull you upward as your arms hang relaxed at your sides. Bring your shoulders back until your deltoids are in line with your collar bone, but not too far back. You don’t want to go from “confident” to “pushing your chest out” or squeezing your shoulder blades together. Don’t hunch your shoulders up around your ears or let your head pitch forward; you end up looking goofy, like you’re trying to do an imitation of a vulture. Position your feet so that they’re roughly shoulder-width apart and keep your weight distributed evenly between them. If you’re going to lean, lean at the waist, rather than at your stomach or back; keep your spine as straight as you can. You’re going to have to practice holding this posture; years of hunching over computer keyboards and slouching in chairs will have trained you to curl in on yourself.
This posture makes you look much more confident and self-assured; you’re showing that you’re unafraid to take up space or to let people notice you. People with low self-confidence curl up on themselves. They slouch and hunch over because they’re trying to present as small a profile as possible. They curl up because they’re afraid to occupy space for fear of inconveniencing others.
When you’re standing, let your hands hang down by your sides. Crossing your arms or holding your arms in front of your body are signs of feeling closed off and defensive; I’ve lost track of how many guys – myself included – tend to hold their drinks across their torso as though they’re holding Captain America’s shield in front of them. Let your arms relax and dangle; you’ll seem more open and inviting to others.
Posture and body language matter when you’re sitting, as well. Don’t hunch up; keep your spine straight and your shoulders back. Let your chest expand and stretch your arms out and lengthen your legs. Don’t sprawl over a chair but don’t be afraid to take up space. Let yourself lean back instead of forward; you want to present an air of ease and relaxation rather than tensed muscles and nervous energy.
While you’re working on your posture, be sure to control your movements as well. Avoid shifting your weight from side to side. If you’re having a hard time keeping from fidgeting, then lean up against something; looking relaxed is a sign of confidence. Similarly, you want to slow yourself down and move with deliberation. Confident people move with purpose and resolve. Short, jerky movements scream “nervousness” and insecurity. If you talk with your hands, make your gestures slower and more graceful, rather than quick and choppy. If you have a hard time keeping your arms from flopping around, tuck your thumbs into your pants pockets; it’s better than looking twitchy.
When you walk, walk slowly as though you never rush for anything. You have all the time in the world; you’re not darting from cover to cover like a rat scurrying around the edges of a party trying not to be seen. You want people to notice you because you’re just that cool.
Enjoy The Silence
Now that we’ve improved your body language, it’s time to work on your jaws.
One thing almost every guy needs to do is to learn how to speak slower. I’m no exception; the more worked up or enthused I get on a topic, the faster I talk. My mouth tries to keep up with my brain until, inevitably, I either sound like I’m doing a bad Speedy Gonzalez imitiation or I end up tripping over my dick and saying something awkward and embarrassing. Even when you’re confident in what you have to say, speaking too quickly reads as nervousness and makes it seem as though you’re trying to get your idea out before someone has a chance to cut you off. So slow your roll. Not too slowly, mind you. You… don’t… want to… speak… like… the Swamp Thing. You want to speak calmly and with precision.
Similarly, you want to embrace the power of not saying anything if you don’t need to. Silence can be a powerful tool. Nervous people throw words in the air like verbal flack. Being willing to not say anything can be amazingly sexy. Look at Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive – his deliberate silence reads as power. It makes less confident men more afraid and women more intrigued by him.
There will be lulls in any conversation; how everyone feels about it depends on how you react to it. If you accept it as natural and no big deal, it can be a companionable silence. If you get nervous and twitchy, it will make her nervous and twitchy, too… and the last thing you want to do is make other people feel uncomfortable.
Use Your Face
Expressing confidence isn’t a matter of being as stone-faced as an Easter Island Moai. In fact, confident people are actually some of the most facially expressive people around. The difference is that they use their facial expressions deliberately, rather than mugging desperately or trying to maintain their poker-faces. Confident people own their emotions. They’re willing to express them openly because they aren’t afraid of what other people think about them. They’re willing to be vulnerable and let people know exactly how they feel without shame or embarrassment.
To start with, you want to make strong eye-contact. Eyes are the window to the soul, and your eyes can be a powerful tool… if you know how to use them properly. Confident people aren’t afraid to meet people’s gazes; in fact, they’ll deliberately seek it out. If you’re talking to someone and your eyes are darting around, you’re telling her that either you’re nervous as hell or that you couldn’t give a six-legged rat’s ass about what she has to say. At the same time, you don’t want to just stare; holding eye contact too long is a sign of agression and can freak people out. When you’re talking to someone, meet their eyes for the count of three1, then deliberately break the connection by looking to the side for a second, then reengage. By doing this, you’re letting them know you’re interested, but also aware of their comfort; deliberately breaking the gaze then looking back is a way of resetting somebody’s comfort while conveying your interest. Don’t let your eyes dart around; as with your other movements, you want to move with deliberation.
Don’t be afraid to let people catch you looking at them. Being interested in someone is nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re looking at someone and they notice, give them a smile before slowly turning away.
While you’re at it: smile more. Give people a nice, big toothy smile that actually crinkles the corner of your eyes. A friendly smile says a lot – it tells other people that you like them and that you’re confident enough to let them know. The stereotype of the “handsome, dark, brooding stranger” is only romantic in gothic novels. In reality, it reads as “sullen” or “angry” rather than attractive.
Use the Feedback Loop
The value of “fake it ’til you make it” is that it becomes a positive feedback loop that can help you build genuine confidence.
The secret to being a more confident person is that fear + survival = confidence. Faking that sense of confidence puts you in a position to actually challenge your fears… and then to reap the rewards that can help bolster your real sense of confidence and self-esteem. Mastering your body language provides the physical feedback that tells your brain that you are, in fact, confident; your brain, in turn, floods you with a sense of well-being and self-assurance, helping assuage your fears. That kick from your endocrine system helps give you the impetus to actually approach the people you’re interested in, and portraying confidence helps them perceive you more positively and react to you accordingly.
The more positive feedback you get from other people helps you face your fears of rejection and reinforces your feeling of self-worth… which helps give you the realization that you are an awesome person with lots to offer.
Moreover, the more you practice portraying confidence, the more it will become a part of your day to day existence. Over time, your more confident body language and expressiveness will become a part of who you are rather than an act you put on, which will make you more attractive to others.
And then one day you’ll wake up to realize that you quit “faking” it a while ago.
And you’ll realize… it’s because you made it.
Do you have questions about how to get better at dating? Join me on Monday, July 8th for a LIVE Q&A from 3-4 PM EST with Lifehacker.com!
- If you have to fake it, look at the bridge of their nose, their filtrum or their chin [↩]