What is confidence? How do we get it? Why have I lost it?
Where are my trousers?
These are all really important questions that we must deal with throughout our lives but sometimes it can be tricky coming up with a suitable answer.
Confidence is fragile. It comes and goes when it wants and it can reduce even the strongest of people into quivering wrecks. You can ‘fake it until you make it’ but this isn’t true confidence. It’s just papering over the cracks and eventually people will begin to see through it.
For example, Mike Tyson gave the impression that he was the baddest man on the planet but inside he was just a little boy who would often cry before a big fight. He learnt how to channel this fear into aggression, which is one of the reasons why he was so explosive in his early career.
He used to win fights before the bell had even rung because mentally, his opponents believed they were about to fight a machine. A great example of how one man’s fake confidence would reduce another man’s actual confidence. Eventually his future opponents would see through this persona and his intimidation tactics stopped working.
Simply, faking confidence doesn’t work in the long run.
As with every life situation, both real and imaginary, the key is always to accept and embrace it, not to push it away in the hope it doesn’t return. It always does and it often comes back stronger than before.
This is why I have collected a few ‘confidence hacks’ that I have used over the years to both improve myself as a person and to grow some balls in the process.
So here are 3 confidence hacks that will hopefully kill your inner shyness and allow you to hopefully become the person you see in your mind’s eye.
1. Use baby steps to desensitise yourself
A lot of self-help books and so called ‘gurus’ often tell their readers to ‘feel the fear, but do it anyway’. This is fine in principle but in reality it’s as helpful as telling someone with depression to ‘snap out of it’.
It makes no sense.
You can’t suddenly start bench pressing 300lbs if you have never stepped foot inside a gym, so you start off with a light weight and gradually build yourself up, getting progressively stronger until you’re throwing the barbell across the room like a horny Gorilla.
Until 2007 I was terrified of approaching women. Oddly the more alcohol I drank, the more nervous I would get. Looking across the bar, I would spot a cute blonde and for a split second, I was James Bond. I was cool, smooth and confident.
That was until the point when I started to consider the prospect of actually speaking to her for real.
Then I would realise how socially inept I really was. This is the reality for a lot of men, most men actually. It’s a crippling fear of being shot down in flames and being the object of laughter and mockery from all those present.
When you’ve been single for as long as I had, you eventually reach a tipping point when enough is enough. I devised a plan; I would set out a series of steps to gradually desensitise myself to the horrors of speaking to women I found attractive.
I caught the bus into town and proceeded to visit as many clothing stores as I could find and upon seeing a cute shop assistant, walk up to her and ask her a question. That’s it. That’s step 1.
After doing this several times I would up the ante a little by trying to change the topic from finding a pair of jeans to literally anything else. It was scary trying to transition from the thing she is being paid to do (helping me as a customer) to actually engaging in a conversation about something completely non work related.
But I did it.
Step 3 – try to make her laugh, flirt a little. Probably the hardest step as it was the first time my brain would have to contend with the possibility of a negative reaction.
But I did it.
Step 4 would be to stop a girl in the street and ask her for directions or an opinion on where to go for a certain activity. ‘Hey, excuse me a second, do you know where I can find a good shoe store around here?’
It’s simple and it’s more practice for the brain to get used to approaching cute women.
Once I started to incorporate these methods into the bars and nightclubs (along with the help of a few beers) I found it a lot easier to talk to women. But this would have been virtually impossible for me if I hadn’t broken it down into smaller, more manageable steps first.
You can use this method for anything that terrifies you.
Does the thought public speaking reduce you to tears? Maybe start chatting on the phone whilst on the bus.
Are you afraid of going on a rollercoaster? Head to the local funfair and ride the merry-go-round.
Do you find it difficult saying no to friends and family? Start by assertively (and politely) saying no to cold callers and sales agents.
Simple but effective!
2. Go back to the future
I use to be a bit of a wimp in my younger days. Always being punched, kicked and bullied by those scary looking kids who were looking to indulge their budding psychopathic tendencies. I remember one such occasion when this boy grabbed me from behind and tried to wrestle me into the ground. I struggled to keep my balance and by some stroke of luck, I managed to swivel round and escape his clutches before I hit the deck.
With my heart racing and my pants turning brown, I would hear those immortal words that most of us hear at least once in our childhood;
‘What have you been saying about me?’
Now, this was playground code for ‘I want to beat you into a bloody pulp’. I knew this and the 50 or so people forming a circle around us knew this too.
They smelt blood and in their eyes I was merely a fuller clothed (and far skinnier) Maximus Decimus Meridius – sent into gladiatorial combat with an angry Tiger and no means of escape.
Luckily for me the bell had already gone for the end of break time. Thank you double-science – you hold a special place in my heart. But here’s the thing…
Even though this boy was the same age as me (14), he was a little taller and far scarier but at the end of the day, he was still a relatively skinny kid. I was petrified at the time but a few years later I looked back on that situation and it struck me how silly it was to be so scared of him.
Let me put it another way.
Imagine I could ‘Quantum Leap’ back into my 14 year old body but still retain my current brain. Would I be scared? Hell no!
Yes, I would be 5 inches shorter and 4 stone lighter but my perception would remain that of a 32 year old, 5ft 11 and 13 stone man.
That is the essence of confidence. Believing and behaving like you own the situation.
Look back to any moment in your past where you felt scared or cowered in the presence of a dominating person. If you went back to that time would you still be as scared? I doubt it.
So the next time you feel a lack of confidence or are intimidated by someone – think to the future and imagine yourself looking back to the current moment and laughing at yourself for being so silly.
It genuinely works.
3. Visualise everything first
Do you know the difference between reality and fantasy? I don’t. It’s probably why I have crazy ideas and refuse to take part in the ‘real world’. I’m not the only one though. Anybody who has ever achieved anything worth talking about lives in this strange grey area between fantasy and reality.
Ideas are not born in the real world – they are a figment of our imagination. They are created and brought to life through extensive visualising until the time comes for the moment of truth and we can actually test them out for real.
We can all create whatever reality we set out for ourselves by simply visualising it first.
In our minds we can conquer any fear, become anyone we want, achieve our dreams and allow our natural flair to shine.
It has often been considered that the brain cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy. World class golfers stand still for a few seconds, playing out the next shot in their minds before they even attempt to swing the club for real.
Olympic 100m gold medallist Linford Christie was well known for his trance like state before a race. He would visualise himself exploding out of the starting blocks, driving through the first 30 metres, extending his body, powering into the lead before dipping at the finish line to claim victory.
He knew that if he played it out perfectly in his mind, all he had to do was follow the plan and everything would be fine.
America’s greatest Olympian, Michael Phelps, has been using visualisation techniques since he was 12 years old to prepare his body and mind for the demands of top class competition. His mother would talk him through various relaxation techniques before asking him to ‘play the videotape’ of his perfect race in his mind.
These athletes understand that by training the brain to embrace success, it is far more likely to continue the habit when the serious stuff begins. On the other hand, and what is far more interesting for those of us who lack confidence, visualisation is key to hacking our brains into being able to handle whatever life throws our way.
Just as a group of salespeople may practice ‘throwing negs’ at each other to train themselves to respond better to customer objections, we can use various visualising techniques to help us increase our confidence and composure.
Let’s say that you are planning on asking someone out on a date. You’re understandably shitting bricks at the thought and you have no idea if you’ll be able to go through with it.
This is where visualisation works wonders.
Turn off any distractions, lie down on your bed and begin by closing your eyes and systematically relaxing all of your body parts. Start with the feet and work your way up to your torso, then your hands, arms, chest, neck and face.
Spend a couple of minutes doing this and once you feel like you are comfortable, slowly count down from 50 in your mind. It helps if you can picture these numbers as bright and as colourful as possible.
Slow down your breathing as you do this. Breathe through your stomach, feel it rise and fall with every number.
As you reach zero you should be, essentially, self-hypnotised. That is your mind is as clear as it can possibly be and it is in a very suggestible state.
Now picture yourself in a realistic scenario with this person. Feel the air on your skin, hear the sounds, see as many colours as you can. You will be surprised at the level of detail in your mind’s eye.
Engage in conversation and when it feels right, ask this person on a date. Your subconscious mind will control their response based on the subtle clues that it will have picked up over time. But as this is your fantasy, you are free to feel confident and in control of the situation.
Once this scenario has played itself out, run through it several more times – practice using different words and phrases. Visualise them saying yes, no and maybe. Test as many variables out as you can – but each time you are confident and in control – you know what to say and how to say it.
If you do this every day for a week you will actually be training your brain for this scenario. When the time comes to ask this person out for real, you will feel far more in control because as far as your brain is concerned, you’ve done this 50 times already.
Confidence is merely a result of experiencing success. If you can hack your brain to believe that is already has experienced success then you will feel more confident.
It’s only logical.
Don’t believe me? Try it and see!
Have you tried out any of these hacks in the past? Did they work? Let me know in the comments or alternatively, try them out today and let me know how you got on.
Solid tips here. Gradually working your way towards breaking new ground is exactly how to do it. Going full sprint from ground zero will either make you cower in fear or do things half-assed. You’ve got to build that momentum, but the most important step is getting started, anywhere!
Vincent recently posted..The Single Most Importance Piece of Advice You’ll Ever Hear
You got it right there, momentum is key to anything. The good thing about the baby steps plan is that you almost don’t notice how far you go with it because each stage is only slightly harder than the one previous. Before long you’ve gathered some great momentum and you’ve gained confidence in yourself as well as the thing you’re trying to accomplish.
My definition of confidence is quite similar to yours: Comfortably doing things that used to make you uncomfortable. Obviously that comes from positive experiences.
I had a very similar journey when it comes to talking to girls. I didn’t feel remotely confident until I worked my way up the ladder and repeatedly did things that scared me. It’s amazing how far you can progress in a short period of time when you break down goals into little pieces.
Your visualization exercise is really interesting man. I’ve never heard of visualization done like that before but it sounds really solid.
Kevin Cole recently posted..How To Quit Your Job & Start A New Life (Remastered)
Yeh, that visualisation technique came from my NLP learning days years ago. It was one of the few aspects of NLP that I didn’t find weird and useless.
Talking to girls is a great way to fully utilise the smaller goals theory – largely because it’s one of the few things we can do at any time to drastically improve our confidence. Thanks for dropping by!
I’m not sure I want to give off the impression of a horny gorilla, but I definitely need to start working out again. I remember when I just wanted to get to 1 pull up. Now I can do more than that as a standard without training.
Definitely start small.. and then claw and crawl until you get to where you want to be. I would say that helping people out is a cool way to gain confidence. If you see someone in need of directions, or they’er taking photos one by one, just walk up and offer to help. It helps you realize that strangers are less hostile than you think.. and it’s a great way to start small that works.
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Ahh pull ups.. the bane of my life! I can dip all day long but when it comes to the over-arm pull up my strength turns to that of a leper. I can just about do 6 but the strain it puts on my elbows means I can’t do any more sets that day. It sucks.
Of course, the photo helping technique. I used to do this all the time in bars.. it’s amazing how well it gets you into a conversation with people and you’re right, it leaves you feeling great afterwards. Simple yet effective.
Confidence is like happiness in some respects
A figment of Disneyish glossing over of a more dissectable matter, discipline and time put in. There is no question of confidence for those who slave over their craft; fatigue is the reward that banishes such prejaculative fuss, and dedication to the path is the picture speaking a thousand words that no fool can hope to drown out with regale of the minutes of his mediocrity. And for the favor of what calibre female pray tell, in the midst of what manner of adventure herself to engender such foolish overture…
A good question is what to keep in mind when starting or starting over so as not to be overwhelmed by the prospect of all trials that stand between oneself and the dawn of ones indispensability to the fellowship all crave.
I didn’t like the Tyson metaphor. His confidence was byproduct of his domination which was testament to his draconian training measures which were instilled in him as often they are by a prudent trainer who made sure he understood he would be just another bum if he wasn’t the first to taste the ice of the per dawn time.
That Tyson metaphor still holds true because he did feel intense fear before his early fights. The way he channeled it into his fighting style was extremely effective and his opponents had no idea what was going on inside his head. Perhaps if they did, they wouldn’t have been so easily intimidated. But also that fear did help shape his incredible technique and single mindedness in training.
I once walked into a restroom and slapped myself in the face as hard as I could prior to a concert. Then I told myself that I worked too damned hard to eff it up. It worked. I actually had fun out there. I call my daydreams about playing the perfect concert fantasizing, but it is really a form of visualization. Marvy and fun post, Jamie!!!
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Indeed CJ, fantasising and visualising are the same thing. I regularly daydreamed about playing gigs and I believe it helped when the time came to perform for the first time. It’s just a shame the band I was in at the time wouldn’t fit the bout of headbanging that was struggling to get out!
That and my hair wasn’t long enough for it!
I love this! Baby steps are crucial – sometimes big leaps are paralysing because we spend so long thinking about how it just won’t work.
Often, it’s the thinking itself that’s dangerous. For me, I keep it down to three seconds (approaching people, that is). If I see someone I like, I HAVE to talk to them within 3 seconds, or not at all.
I’m competitive – so this works!
RAzwana recently posted..No Pause. No Rewind. No Fast Forward
Hey Razwana! I can’t recall the amount of times I would stare at a big goal and cower in fear at how far away it seemed. Baby steps are the way forward!
Ahh the old ‘3 second rule’ – engaging the legs and the mouth before the brain has a chance to figure out what’s going on. Always a great way to force yourself into a conversation!
“Throwing the barbell across the room like a horny gorilla” really got me, Jamie. I’m like a jack-o-lantern with a big, goofy smile over that.
I have never heard the Back to the Future technique and think that would be very useful. I have been in business for myself for six years and have a master’s degree. While I “know my stuff” and am usually very calm and sure of interacting with someone inquiring about my services, sometimes I get a bit keyed up for no reason. Now I will try this one out. I am quite sure I won’t remember this persons name in five years if we don’t work together. If we do, I will have been the right person for them. Thank you for this, Jamie!
Hey Tammy! The back to the future technique is something I came up with myself a few years ago. It just seemed silly that the scary people we have in our lives are merely reduced to ‘nothing’ people when we look back in the past. So why not have that viewpoint already?
You can do it now though. Just think back to someone intimidating or scary from your past and picture yourself in that position again. Would you be as afraid? I doubt it! 🙂
Thanks for your comment!!
Brilliant Jamie! Especially the one about baby steps to grow your confidence… Lately I’m discovering that progressing by baby steps work wonders in ANY area of life! Thank you, I’ll try to read you more often 😉
Nicolas Daudin recently posted..The 4 Arguments That Will Make You Change Your Spending Habits
Hey Nicolas, you’re right there! As Al Pacino said in ‘Any Given Sunday’ it’s all about inches! Thanks for dropping by!
This was an excellent post with some great advice. As someone who lacked confidence and had really low self-esteem when I was younger, creative visualisation has been one of the single best change techniques I have ever used. As you quite rightly said, we can be who we want in our imagination. And when we keep imagining that perfect me again again, and allow all the good feelings associated with the visualisation to flow throughout our body, we are literally programming ourselves to be that person.
Hiten recently posted..How to Tell If You Are Destined For Success
Hey, you have it spot on there. Visualisation is one of the things that most people seem to think as stupid or just ‘daydreaming’ but it is so effective. It’s great that you used this to overcome your confidence issues.
I like your analogy about ‘programming’ yourself as that’s exactly how it is. You are overriding your negative thoughts and memories with new ones (even if they don’t exist).
While the entire post was great, and all tips are fantastic, I really liked the first one. Probably because you used proper exercise progression as an example – and I have written about this.
In general though, it’s much easier to take ‘baby steps’. Trying to go from zero to 100 in anything causes resistance and disbelief – and since we create what we believe, it’s easier to ‘fool the brain’ doing it this way.
Whomever said life was supposed to be a struggle in which there was some reward at the end was on some bad drugs.
And they probably still can’t find their trousers. 😉
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Hi Dana! You’re right there. You’d have to be a mentalist to enjoy going from zero to 100 and I’m thinking not too many of those lack confidence anyway..
Trousers always have a habit of turning up though, don’t worry! 🙂