Confidence is found in feeling-states. Remaining grounded, non-reactive and inclusive will help you navigate the most challenging of social situations.
Probably no other concept or word in the realm of dating advice has been misunderstood more than “confidence.” Guys looking to improve their social lives often speak of it as though it were a secret ingredient in a recipe: they say “I need more confidence”, as if they need it to complete their mole sauce or their barbecued chicken. Most haven’t stopped to consider the meaning of the term at all; or if they have, they’re only thinking ahead to what “having more confidence” will get them.
The truth is that, while confidence is important, it’s usually not important in the way most people think it is.
“Confidence” is defined in the dictionary as “a feeling of trust in a person or thing.” Self-confidence (which is what most people mean when they use the term in a dating context) is the word that’s used when that feeling of trust applies to oneself. The term covers a wide range of feeling states; some of these are useful to have in a dating context; others not so much. Two very different states distinguish this term and explain why I believe one state to be useful, and the other not.
In general, inauthentic confidence is what happens when an insecure man tries to overcompensate for his insecurities. The classic cliche is the guy who drives a fancy, expensive sports car in order to compensate for certain shortgivings. But it can be any behavior not grounded in a man’s knowledge of his own abilities and limitations.
What it looks like. Walk into any singles bar early enough on a Friday or Saturday night, and you’ll find plenty of examples of inauthentic confidence. The guy who displays inauthentic confidence is trying too hard to impress others. He’s the guy whose voice is just a little too loud for the room. He’s the guy weaving information about his net worth awkwardly into the conversation. Or he’s the guy who talks too much about himself, never stopping to ask his listener about themselves. The worst is the guy who thinks that putting down others will make a good impression. He quickly finds out that cracking jokes at other people’s expenses actually makes others think less of him. If he does it too much, eventually it will be impossible for him to find anyone willing to tolerate him at all.
What it feels like. The feelings that come with displays of inauthentic confidence, like most behaviors, are different for everyone. The one quality, though, that all forms of inauthentic confidence have in common is a preoccupation with outcome. Sometimes the person really believes that his behavior will get him what he wants. Other times he’s clearly engaged in acts of desperation that he knows will fail. Either way, he’s missing the moment, missing his experience with the other person, and thinking about crossing off another item on his agenda. Whether his agenda is to get a woman into bed, to get her number, or simply to get into a conversation, he’s focused on a specific goal. It goes without saying that most women, if they pick up on it, find this conversational quality tiresome. They will quickly look for a reason to exit a conversation if they’re feeling like a bit player in a scripted TV series.
On the other hand, women will sometimes overlook this behavior, if a man has other things going for him. But it’s important to understand that when a man succeeds with a woman after showing up like this, it’s in spite of this inauthentic form of confidence, not because of it.
Like inauthentic confidence, genuine confidence describes a lot of different feeling states. In general, confident behavior has the following three qualities:
1) It is grounded in a man’s self-knowledge of his own abilities and limitations.
2) It is nonreactive.
3) It is not dependent on outcome.
What it looks like. The confident man has certain physical attributes no matter where in the world you find him. In most cultures, usually he’s displaying an open front and making strong eye-contact. His speech is also slower than you’d expect and lower in pitch. Even his movements are generally slow and purposeful. If someone accidentally spills a drink on him or intentionally insults him, he’s not quick to react, but he also doesn’t ignore it. He’ll consider his options, then slowly and purposefully get the attention of whoever is involved.
What it feels like. You’re in a state of genuine confidence if you’re in a state of what I call alert relaxation. You’re aware of your surroundings and responding appropriately to whatever is going on in your environment, but you’re also relaxed and nonreactive. You’re having fun wherever you may be. It doesn’t feel like you’re making effort to socialize or to impress anyone. You have nothing to prove. If you feel safe physically, know in your heart that nothing bad can happen to you here, and are focused on offering value to others you might be interacting with, you are genuinely confident.
How to experience genuine confidence in social situations. There are a lot of things you can do to add value to any social situation. The best and most honest is to create an awesome life for yourself that others will want to be a part of. After you’ve done that, here are two techniques that may add value to your interactions:
1) Remember to breathe. The value of this practice is so useful, it can hardly be overstated. Your belly should be expanding on the inhale; on the exhale, it should be moving inward, towards your spine. Just doing this enough for it to become a habit will help you relax and become more confident in social situations.
2) Relate in some way to everyone in the room. Remembering that you belong also means making room for others who also belong. Don’t neglect anyone. Introducing yourself to everyone in the room may not be possible or desirable, but acknowledging the presence of everyone else in the room and displaying a healthy curiosity towards everyone will help you be seen also. It will orient you and ground you. If it’s more than you can handle to take on the whole room, start with a 5-foot radius. Then expand your awareness to 15 feet, 20 feet, and so on.
My point is that confidence is found not in behaviors but in feeling-states, although the outward behaviors are what most people notice. Being grounded, non-reactive, inclusive, and remembering to breathe will help you navigate even the most challenging of social situations.
Unedited Photo: Flickr/Steve wilson