Why faking confidence can BACKFIRE and what to do instead

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These tips sound like they’ll help us be more confident, right?

“Be more confident by using a more confident body language (Made popular by Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk)

“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.

Why?

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.

For example:

  • 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:

  1. It forces your brain to focus outwards instead of being self-conscious
  2. 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!

References:
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

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13 thoughts on “Why faking confidence can BACKFIRE and what to do instead”

  1. My problem is when I join big clubs say a tennis club some people I instantly get a bad vibe off and tend to become very insecure around them , It seems to start with their face , I don’t know why their face makes me dislike them I also get the feeling they don’t like me just by the way they look at me , it’s hard I can be confident and outgoing with some people others I clam up it’s like
    Mutism , I wish I knew how to solve this problem as it messes up my social life , jobs and restrictes my life as it makes me very cautious in going out into the world ..

    Reply
  2. I feel like I’m a really boring person and no one’s interested in what I have to say. So I just avoid talking. I feel inferior to the people I’m talking with and mess up my words. Talking in a group is my worst nightmare. My heart rate goes up by a million times and nothing comes out of my mouth. And at the end of the day, I feel bad that I couldn’t interact with people. I then imagine my whole life filled with loneliness because I’m terrible at talking to people and making friends. A failure because I could never express myself even though I knew the answers. And I feel absolutely miserable

    Reply
  3. Hey David, I have been becoming better at social skills because of your amazing advices but whenever I have a good talk with my classmate, I feel delighted at once but that conversation just echoes in my mind and I just think about it again and again. Maybe, due to overthinking I just pressurize myself foo much that whenever I go to talk with that person again I feel..jittery and mess the conversation.

    Reply
  4. I feel nervous or socially anxious only when I feel the opposite group of people are more knowledgeable or pretending to be knowledgeable and are more smarter than me.

    Reply
  5. I have a job interview tomorrow. I am very nervous as I’m not good at small talk or talking with other people in general. I have this constant pressure that I’m not interesting enough. What do you suggest?

    Reply
    • Try using the technique described of focusing on the other person. And know that it’s okay to be nervous. By being okay with it, you prevent it from spiraling out of control and instead it can actually decrease.

      I also suggest you do a roleplay with a friend who can pretend to be your interviewer. That helps a lot.

      Reply
  6. Hey David, sometimes when I want to appear lively and friendly and confident, I end up being just jittery and awkward. Please advise me on how I can fix this.

    Reply
    • First of all, if you’re not usually super lively and confident, don’t try to fake being like that. Let it come naturally.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a higher energy level entering a conversation. Most people actually appreciate it, however if you feel that they’re not on that level in the conversation and don’t keep up, you can match their energy and way of talking more.

      How do you know you’re being akward by the way? Sometimes being akward is not about what you say, but how you actually SAY it. You can get away away with saying almost any stupid thing, even really otherwhise akward dialogue as long as you OWN IT. Show that what you just said doesn’t affect you. I see tons of people saying stupid things, behaving silly, goofy whatever. And they all have one thing in common. They don’t… excuse my language… give a fuck.

      Easier said than done, but practice and it will come.

      Reply
  7. This is sooo true. Whenever i try to be confident i start to be self conscious and its so hard to focus on the person im with or talking to. Thanks a Lot. “Fake it til’ you become it”!!

    Reply
  8. Do you have any advice for trying to appear confident in front of an audience? I just started singing in restaurants and pubs and the worst part is addressing the audience.
    Thx!
    Katie

    Reply

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