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These tips sound like they’ll help us be more confident, right?
“Fake it til you make it by playing the role of a confident person, such as a movie actor.”
Wrong! If you’re a self-conscious person or have social anxiety, those tips can actually make you more nervous.
Because they make you focus on yourself.
If you already have skeptical self-thoughts, like “What will people think of me?” and “People think I’m weird”, these thoughts will naturally become stronger the more you focus on yourself.
So in an ironic turn of events, these confidence exercises make some of us more self-conscious, more nervous and – less confident.
However, for people who’ve been able to curb their skeptical self-thoughts, faking self-confidence can work great. It’s just that it usually doesn’t work for those of us who need it the most (1, 2).
Read more: How to not be nervous around people.
Therefore, we need another tactic that works no matter our starting point.
For us self-conscious people to be more confident, we need to focus AWAY from us rather than ON us
Maybe you’ve heard me talk about the OFC-method before. That method is based on a study (3), participants had to sit down and make conversation with a stranger.
Half the participants were told to focus their full attention on the conversation. The other half were told to focus on themselves (How they came off, etc)
It turned out that that the MORE nervous people had described themselves before the test, the more effective it was to focus outward.
In the OFC-method, I talked about how to focus outward. But how do you do this in practice?
Whenever you feel self-conscious in a conversation, ask yourself (in your head) questions about whatever the person is talking about.
Let’s say someone mentions volunteering at a dog shelter. When you focus on what someone’s talking about, you’ll notice that you’ll soon be able to come up with a lot of questions.
- What was it like at the shelter?
- What’s her favorite kind of dog?
- Has she volunteered before?
- How was she able to work without pay?
- Would she recommend it?
- Was there any downside?
- How many dogs were there?
If you’re, say, at a mingle with a lot of people in the room, you can ask yourself questions about any one of them.
- What might that person work with?
- What’s that person interested in?
- How’s that person feeling right now? (Stressed, happy, calm, frustrated, sad?)
This ability to come up with questions (I call it “cultivating an interest in people”) is one of the most powerful social abilities you can learn.
[I also think you might be interested in reading my rankings of the best books on self-confidence over here.]
There are 2 reasons why this works:
- It forces your brain to focus outwards instead of being self-conscious
- It makes it easier to come up with things to say and get to know people
You see, if you’re good at asking yourself interesting questions about people, you’ll be able to fire off some of those questions when they fit the conversation.
Have you ever tried faking confidence? Have you tried focusing outwards? Let me know in the comments what happened!
1: Body posture effects on self-evaluation: A self-validation approach
2: The Ergonomics of Dishonesty: The Effect of Incidental Posture on Stealing, Cheating, and Traffic Violations
3: The effect of attentional focus on social anxiety