I don’t have a lot of confidence in myself, though most people would never know it.
I walk with my head held high, a nonchalant attitude, and like I belong wherever I am. But my swagger betrays my real feelings.
I used to pride myself on being very hard to read. I was able to fool most of the people most of the time, therefore eliminating feelings of vulnerability (kind of, but not really).
Until the last ten years or so, you could look at me and have no idea what I was thinking or feeling. And you certainly wouldn’t think I felt inadequate, incompetent, and afraid.
That’s what depression will do to you.
IT’S ALL AN ACT
Since my big depressive breakdown in 2005, it’s been practically impossible for me to hide what I’m feeling. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I have a big heart, I’ve even been known to tear up during commercials.
There’s no more mystery to me. In a way, that’s good. But at the same time, I liked having that armor available.
The only thing I’m able to do now that belies what I’m thinking and feeling is looking like I belong. For the most part, if I’m at a social gathering, or waiting for someone at a coffee shop, or walking in a part of town I’ve never been in before, I project confidence.
I may be terrified about going to a party, or afraid my coffee date won’t show up, or nervous about walking in a questionable part of town, but you’d never know. You gotta look like you know you belong there.
Confidence, for me, does not come naturally. For some, it does – but not for me. I pretend to have it, and a little bit of that does rub off on me. But as for actual, real confidence? I have little.
But I’m working on it.
PROJECTING CONFIDENCE EVEN IF YOU’RE DEPRESSED
My life has been ruled by fear ever since I can remember, which really sucks. I’m actually pretty good at several things: English and writing, a few sports, baking, music. One might think that someone who’s “got the goods” (so to speak) has it made. What’s to worry about, right?
I’m one of those people who has unnaturally high expectations of myself. Call it perfectionism if you like. I call it a curse. I know there is no such thing as perfect, and yet I strive for it so much that I don’t even pursue some projects because I know I can’t meet my own standards.
I know I’m not alone in this. Chances are, you’re a perfectionist, too. Or maybe you have a little OCD going on and need things done a certain way, and if they can’t be, it’s enough to drive you crazy.
There are strategies you can employ to help develop your confidence, even if you’re not in the best of moods, even if you’re feeling incompetent. Some call it “Fake it ‘til you make it,” which is perfect for our purposes.
When I’m confronted with a nerve-wracking situation, this is what I try to do:
- Walk with purpose.
- Keep my head held high.
- Make eye contact with people.
- People who judge you? Fuck ’em.
- Use people’s names in conversation once in a while.
- Laugh at myself (“I meant to do that!”).
- Practice decent posture.
- Share my opinions and thoughts if I can, but I do it tactfully. Never be rude.
- Always give a firm handshake and a smile when meeting someone.
- Take things in stride (be “cool”).
Now, on really low self-esteem days, this is much harder to do. In fact, on those days, I don’t leave the house if I don’t have to.
But sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Those are the days I’m more likely to look down or pretend to be occupied while walking, I avoid eye contact, and it’s much harder to smile. Fortunately, I’m good at laughing at my own mistakes (like dropping something), I can still say a friendly “Hi” to the manager at Walgreens, and I can still stand up straight.
The hardest time to pretend to have confidence is when I’m feeling either quite down or really anxious, when I get that hole in my heart. At those times, it’s hard to even walk because my natural inclination is to curl up in the fetal position and protect myself.
So I’m not perfect at it.
WHAT FAKING CONFIDENCE CAN DO FOR YOU
I have found that people are more receptive to me if I project confidence. They seem especially impressed if I use their name in conversation. For instance, I just met someone a couple days ago through a friend. We shook hands and a short conversation ensued. As we were parting, I said, “Nice to meet you, [insert name here].”
People like to be noticed and remembered, and simply by including their names in a conversation or a greeting can make a good impression on them. Plus, it makes it look like you are confident enough to not flub their name.
When you project confidence, people notice. Instead of seeing someone playing on their phone and not paying attention to where they’re going, or seeing the sadness on your face and wondering what’s “wrong” with you, they see instead a person who knows what they want. A person with purpose.
It may not matter much to you what others think, especially strangers, but I do have a point, I promise.
At some point, you may have a job interview. You don’t want to walk in with your head down, cracking your knuckles, somber look on your face, do you? No! You want the interviewers and everyone else you meet to think you’ve got it goin’ on, even if you’re having a down day.
Or let’s say you’re meeting your significant other’s family or friends for the first time, understandably an anxiety-inducing situation. I doubt you want to come across as a Debbie Downer. Shake hands, smile, make eye contact!
You will be remembered as a confident, likeable go-getter, someone who is worthy of the person you’re with. That’s not to say you have to be a Chatty Cathy; people seem to be more understanding of introverts and shyness these days.
PRACTICE MAKES WHAT?
Remember, practice makes permanent! That list I made? Use it. Or make your own list of ways you can project confidence, even when you feel like shit. Make sure they are easy and simple, nothing complicated.
Believe me, I know the pitfalls of having no confidence and feeling completely incompetent. I’ve also gotten a taste of real, actual confidence over the last couple years, and it can be life-changing.
Even if you do have to fake it, fake it with all your might. There’s this physiological thing called neuroplasticity, which means that even though your brain might tend to run to a certain kind of thought (negative, rumination), when you practice a different kind of thought (positive, letting things go), your brain actually develops different pathways for your thoughts.
In other words, when you practice thinking positively and doing positive things, the deep ruts of negativity become unused and you develop new “ruts” going toward positive thoughts. Does that make any sense? I understand neuroplasticity, but it’s hard to explain. I find it fascinating, though, and was excited to learn about it from my old psychologist.
That’s why I say Practice Makes Permanent. The more you can replace the negative with the positive, the more natural it becomes. Positivity literally becomes ingrained as a habit. Isn’t that the coolest?
Confidence is hard to come by for a lot of us. Some days, it’s damn near impossible, and I get that. Boy, do I get that. To me, there’s no worse feeling than incompetence.
But there are ways to fake it, or pretend, that you have confidence. It’s not a cure-all, and it’s just not possible to do it every day if you feel like crap all the time. But if you give it a try, you may feel a little better about yourself. At least for five or ten minutes, and that counts.
Maybe you have your own ways of faking it, of coming across as confident rather than gloomy and depressed. That’s great! Use them, because they can help start building the new, healthier pathways in your brain.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Confidence is worth its weight in gold.
- There are ways to fake it even when you feel like shit.
- Others want to be around positive people, so give it a go.
- People who judge you? Fuck ‘em.
- Projecting confidence helps when you meet new people, even if it’s just an act.
- Feeling incompetent sucks the big one.
- Fake it ‘til you make it!
- Neuroplasticity is really cool and it gives me hope.
- YOU ROCK!