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Want More Joy in Your Life?

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Pure joy - 19/07/2009
As a middle-aged English man, talking about joy doesn’t come easy.

Get me talking about the latest box-set, the new Marvel movie or that new place in town with horrible service, and I’m as comfortable as an old shoe.

Talking about joy on the other hand, well, it’s just not part of the middle-aged English guy lexicon, you know? I hear the word, and my brain starts figuring out whether it’s more appropriate to wretch or sneer.

Joy just sounds so goddamn fluffy; the kind of stuff that Princess castles and kittens’ kisses are made of.

But you know something?

Life without joy isn’t more than surviving.

The joyful moments are the ones that make life burst open with colour and music, and without them everything’s just kind of grey and monotone.

You know what I’m talking about. Those ruts and grooves you slip into that make everything comfortable and predictable. Those times when nothing really seems to be wrong, but you’re bored and yearning for a little spice. Those moments when you wonder whether your life will keep on coasting along or if you’ll ever end up truly happy.

The Joyless Silo

I worked with a guy in London recently, who came to me because he found life joyless.

He’d done well professionally and was highly regarded by his peers, but having grappled with depression in his past he explained to me that he never really felt like he could be himself, and that he felt disconnected from life.

He’d become a joyless silo, isolated by doing everything that’s expected of him to a high standard, appearing to fit in while not feeling as though he belongs, and seeming to have a good life despite feeling distant from the things that make him feel good about himself and his life.

He had to be strong. He had to be successful. He had to deliver against expectations.

The walls he’d built around his heart and soul did 2 things. They allowed him to stay in control, keep meeting expectations and keep surviving. And they made sure that who he was ten-thousand feet down inside couldn’t be hurt.

For him, being vulnerable meant losing control, feeling lost and appearing weak, and he had zero confidence in his ability to do anything other than be in control and be strong.

That, he’d learned, was what kept him safe.

But while those walls did a great job of keeping vulnerability out and keeping him “safe”, they also made it impossible to experience joy.

Joy without vulnerability is pretence

You can’t experience joy without also experiencing vulnerability.

Joy is a letting go. It’s a release of expectations and a consent to uncertainty that cannot truly happen without softening into vulnerability right here, right now.

It’s the feeling of being vulnerable – of feeling as though the real you could be hurt, judged or rejected – and the surrounding fear that maybe you’re not good enough after all, that fuels people to become joyless silos.

Those people who appear to experience joy while also staying in control and working to ensure certainty of circumstance are just faking it. They wear a fixed grin, work to gain approval, and project the appearance of ease and joy because that’s their version of fitting in, delivering against expectations and being successful.

They’re just as scared as you and I, but they’d rather maintain the pretence than admit their fear of vulnerability to themselves.

Real joy, can only be experienced while releasing yourself wholly to the moment.

Confidence as foundation…

Being vulnerable is as scary as it gets.

It terrifies the crap out of me, and, I suspect, you too.

But having learned what I’ve learned and experienced what life is like without joy, I know which way I’m leaning.

The good news, my friend, is that all my work in natural self-confidence is the very thing that makes it okay to be vulnerable.

Confidence is the foundation for joy.

  • It’s knowing that your value isn’t dependent on the approval, validation or recognition you get from fitting in.
  • It’s knowing that the things that matter to you are real and plenty.
  • It’s knowing that you can choose your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour, regardless of what happens.
  • It’s knowing that you’re enough and whole and don’t need to play a role.
  • It’s knowing that you can trust your bones.

It’s been an interesting journey, this confidence thing. When I started, I really had no idea how powerful it could be, or where it would lead.

That it’s lead me further and deeper into what it is to be joyful is totally unexpected, and completely fucking wonderful.

And perhaps this is what all of this is really about; learning how to be joyful.

Finding Your Backbone and Getting Back in The Arena

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anguish
I don’t have to tell you how tough life can be. But to demonstrate my remarkable grasp of the obvious, I’m going to.

Life can be fucking tough sometimes

The people I work with are trying to break out of old patterns and make something wonderful happen, and many are hitting the same old walls time and time again. The walls that stop them from doing the stuff they’d love to be doing, because they’re worried about whether they’ll screw it up, worried that people close to them will see them fail, or worried that they don’t have what it takes.

So they dance around a little bit, trying to make something wonderful happen but not really giving their best and holding back just a little in case it all goes tits up. That way, they can say that at least they tried before going back to how things were.

With some people, and I’m not saying that you’re one of them necessarily, it’s like they have a spine made of damp socks.

Confidence is an essential quality in this process, and sometimes my job as a confidence coach is to give people a metaphorical kick up the ass to help them rebuild their backbone and get back out there.

It’s like Brene Brown’s go-to quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re shy, ill-practiced, introverted or just plain scared. You have a backbone that will support you as you stride into the arena and dare greatly.

It’s that part of you that knows how bloody good you are when you’re firing on all cylinders and flowing. It’s that part of you that allows you to dig deeper than you’ve ever dug before, to a place of undiminishable strength and grace. It’s that part of you that knows what matters most, no matter how much stuff life puts in the way.

Trusting that backbone—having confidence in it—starts with making to choice to honour those things.

Because choosing to honour your best, choosing to honour your strength and grace, and choosing to honour what matters to you—that IS confidence. That IS backbone.

Here’s something I’m thinking about doing…

I’m thinking of putting together a short, sharp course over a 1 month period that helps you build your backbone and grow your confidence by:

  • showing you how you can be at your best more often
  • helping you honour and apply your strengths
  • showing you how grace and congruence make a huge difference
  • giving you tools to discover what matters to you
  • how to get back into the arena even though you might be someone who’s “marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again”

3 or 4 calls over the month with a small group, with those things as the focus.

Being completely transparent with you, there would be a small charge (somewhere around $40-$50), there would be homework and there would be some big questions to think about, but that’s where the best insights come from, right?

I want more people to choose to trust themselves. That’s where they get to push through the self-doubt, second-guessing and comfort-zone loitering, make wonderful things happen and put their dent in the universe.

So how does that sound? This could kick off really, really soon, so if you’re up for getting involved add a comment (alternatively drop me a line or Tweet me)and we’ll do it!

And if you have a friend or loved one who could use this, do please pass it on, because it always breaks my heart to see people with so much to offer hold back and wonder if they’re good enough.

Debunkapalooza 2014 Wrap-up

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Over the last few weeks I’ve debunked 7 HUGE myths about confidence, the kind of stuff that ends up confusing the crap out of people and can get really bloody messy if you’re not careful.

So here’s the wrap-up of Debunkapalooza 2014 – one place where you can come to get your myth busting, confidence building fix (you might want to bookmark it). Click each link for the corresponding article where you can dig a little deeper into the debunking goodness.

Enjoy!

Myth 1 – Confident People Are Less Afraid
A confident person who doesn’t feel fear isn’t a confident person.
They’re terrified like a tiny nun at a penguin shoot who’s trying to convince you that they’re bullet-proof.

Myth 2 – If You’re Not Confident, Fake It
Faking confidence is what leads people into hubris and arrogance.
Real confidence is choosing to trust your behaviour because you’re already good enough, not pretending to be a certain way because you don’t feel good enough.

Myth 3 – Confident People Are More Extroverted
Extroversion and confidence is a powerful combination, but don’t think for a second that introversion and confidence are mutually exclusive or any less powerful.

Myth 4 – There’s a Fine Line Between Confidence And Arrogance
Arrogance is noisy and needs others to exist.
Confidence is quiet and needs only to breathe.

Myth 5 – You’re Either Confident Or You’re Not
Every person on the planet has confidence. Including you.
It’s simply that thinking sometimes gets layered on top that makes it harder to experience directly.

Myth 6 – Confident People Get Their Own Way All the Time
Getting your own way all the time is not confidence.
It’s a need based on insecurity and feelings of unworthiness.

Myth 7 - Confident People Are Always Sure of Themselves
Being sure of an outcome does not require confidence (and rarely requires evidence).
Confidence is letting go of the expectation or need of certainty and instead, embracing self-trust.

Debunking Myths 7: Confident People Are Always Sure of Themselves

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Untitled
Bush and Blair were convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Harold Camping was fairly adamant the world would end in 2012 in line with Mayan prophecy. In 2007, Ben Bernanke rubbished the idea that the sub-prime mortgage market was an accident waiting to happen.

Just three examples of people who seemed pretty damn sure of themselves, but were entirely, entirely wrong.

Last year I was running a mammoth project for a huge client (their name rhymes with Shmoogle), a potential innovation and undertaking that would make a huge splash, but in an area that I knew pretty much nothing about. In a short space of time I had to plan out the whole thing. How we’d approach the work. How long it would take. What we needed to make it happen. How much it would cost.

It was one of those high pressure deals; short timeline, huge challenge, big curve to climb. You know the deal.

At first, I was doubting whether I could do it, thinking “Holy shit, how am I ever going to pull this together?”. Then it hit me. Steve, stop thinking about what you don’t know and trust the process that you do know.

3 weeks later I had everything I needed. A plan, a budget, a team, an approach. Ultimately, the project didn’t happen (it was too much of a moon-shot even for GoogleShmoogle), but by shifting my attention away from being sure of the outcome (and worrying about it) to starting at 0% and heading towards whatever 100% might end up looking like, I was able to get shit done.

Bush, Blair, Camping and Bernanke were certainly sure of themselves, having confidence in the outcome of the narrative they espoused. I, on the other hand, had no such surety of how things would turn out or where things would lead. All I was sure of was my ability to place one foot in front of the next.

And so when people talk about how confident people are always sure of themselves, I just can’t wait to get some debunking done.

BEING SURE OF AN OUTCOME DOES NOT REQUIRE CONFIDENCE (AND RARELY REQUIRES EVIDENCE). CONFIDENCE IS LETTING GO OF THE EXPECTATION OR NEED OF CERTAINTY AND INSTEAD, EMBRACING SELF-TRUST.

Being sure or certain implies a certainty of outcome that’s completely beyond our control. You, me, Bush, Blair, Camping and Bernanke simply don’t know what’s going to happen from one moment to the next, and while the appearance of knowing precisely what’s going to happen or how things will turn out can be reassuring and sometimes even expected, it’s just vapour.

Confidence means not judging uncertainty as unwanted. Even if you’re striving towards something important or working to make a change happen, uncertainty is all around. Being sure of yourself in the conventional sense, i.e. maintaining that you know exactly what’s going to happen, is betting on a horse that may not even have been born yet.

So let’s shift the meaning of “sure of yourself”, to mean someone who embraces uncertainty and prioritises self-trust over the need to be (or appear to be) certain.

Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Debunking Myths 6 – Confident People Get Their Own Way All the Time

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looking down at you
Being something of a control freak, I love getting my own way.

When plans fall into place as I envisaged, and when people follow the plans I’ve laid out, it feels pretty sweet. It makes me feel like I really know my shit, and there’s a little power trip that might ultimately leads to me sitting in a hollowed-out volcano holding the world to ransom with a dastardly plan to blow up the moon.

But that way isn’t my path. Basing your approach to life around the principle of “my way or the highway” is peachy if you’re Frank Sinatra or heading up the FSB. For the rest of us, it’s kind of ridiculous.

Truth is, many people struggle with being heard or voicing their opinion. One woman I worked with recently had a real issue speaking up in big meetings. She’d clam up, despite knowing that her insights would be useful, welcomed and even acted upon. It was the pressure of all those eyeballs on her and the fear of fudging her words or being laughed out of the room that made her heart beat faster and her throat constrict.

Once we’d worked together for a little while she became more comfortable with the whole speaking up thing, and told me recently “It’s talking Steve, it’s just talking.”

On the flip side, I’ve spoken with folks who see people they describe as “more confident” who seem to get things their way. In families, in friendships, in boardrooms – there’s a certain kind of person who makes the call and gets their own way.

It’s easy to regard this quality as confidence, and sometimes it can be. Being assertive and standing up for what you believe is right is no bad thing. It’s desirable even. But when you look up “assertive” in the dictionary you find words like agressive, dogmatic, forceful, and forward.

Finding the confidence to speak up in meetings, voice your opinion or ask for what you want is as different from those things—and from getting your own way—as eating a Denver omelet is from being Governor of Colorado. Or King of the Eggs.

Which takes us to the debunking.

GETTING YOUR OWN WAY ALL THE TIME IS NOT CONFIDENCE.
IT’S A NEED BASED ON INSECURITY AND FEELINGS OF UNWORTHINESS.

Confidence does make it easier to speak up and voice your opinion, but getting your own way implies a steam-rolling, dogmatic rigor and an avoidance of being wrong at all costs that’s nothing more than compensating for a lack of confidence.

Funnily enough, natural confidence will make you a better influencer as you conduct yourself with more congruence and a sense of being okay regardless of what happens, but that’s just as likely to manifest in changing your mind and taking a different direction than getting your own way.

The folks who are naturally confident don’t really give a damn whose notion sets the direction or whose opinion sets the tone.

What they care about is showing up and creating value.

Debunking Myths 5 – You’re Either Confident Or You’re Not

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Switch
I must have been around 7 years old when my primary school teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I reflected for a moment and torn between two options I said “I’m not sure. Either an artist or an inventor.

I had two pictures in my head. One was me in a huge, light-filled studio; canvasses, oil paints and energy everywhere as I was swept along by the magnificent work of art I was creating. The other featured me in a lab coat, crazy-haired and surrounded by bubbling test tubes and walls of equipment with blinking lights as I used all I knew to build Something Amazing (TM).

I was confident that one of those 2 scenarios would come to pass. But then I was also confident that I could learn to climb buildings like Spider-man.

But my point isn’t about the foolishness of childish dreams (they’re essential, right?) or even how cool Spider-man is (i.e. very cool) but about the simple fact that as children, we all have confidence.

When you played with your friends you did so by giving yourself to the moment and just playing. There was no question of whether you were confident enough to play or what might happen if you fall over.

Sometimes, falling over was the whole point.

I see it with my nieces and nephews today, just as you might see it in the children in your family. Kids are confident in a way that us grown-ups tend to forget. We learn to be mature. We learn to think before we act. We learn to play it a little safer.

Somewhat tragically perhaps, you can even watch as children learn about doubt and fear, that natural, exuberant confidence slowly becoming constrained as they learn to play things safe.

But there are times when us grown-ups play freely, naturally and confidently. What about when you’re with your husband, wife or partner, reading the papers on a Sunday morning? When you’re in the zone with a pet project or favourite hobby? Or maybe when you’re out at dinner with good friends? These are the times when things feel easy and natural; you just let yourself be part of the moment and you do what comes naturally.

There’s a sense of freedom and safety in those moments that might not be there when you’re about to present to the board or when you’re on that first date. Those more uncertain moments trigger different kinds of thinking and activate different parts of your brain that can make you feel as though any confidence you had has vanished.

And so people say that you’re either confident or you’re not, because in the times when they feel they need it, they don’t feel it.

Time to put on your debunking hats; here’s the thing.

EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET HAS CONFIDENCE. INCLUDING YOU.
IT’S SIMPLY THAT THINKING SOMETIMES GETS LAYERED ON TOP THAT MAKES IT HARDER TO EXPERIENCE DIRECTLY.

In those moments that are easy and natural, the question of whether you’re confident enough to be part of the moment never arises. You just are part of the moment, just like when you were playing as a child or dreaming about what you might be one day. That fact, that experience of confidence means that it’s real and that you have it.

The trick then, is to practice coming back to it when you need it the most. You can remember the sense of freedom you feel when you’re surrounded by good friends. You can feel the sense of ease or warmth you have when chilling with your partner. Or you can feel the sense of flow you get from losing yourself in a rewarding task or challenge.

Those things are how it feels to be confident, and the sense of ease it brings is the thing that makes it okay to take that nervous step forwards, even if you’re shaking in your shoes as you do so.

Confidence isn’t a binary element that you either possess or you don’t. It’s the ability to trust your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour – regardless of how scary things might appear to be – and it’s the level to which you choose to embrace that trust over the fear of uncertainty.

Everyone has it. YOU HAVE IT. It just takes practice to trust it.

Debunking Myths 4 – There’s a Fine Line Between Confidence And Arrogance

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tightrope
Arrogance. It’s the thing that separates the can-do’s from the can-do-way-better-singlehandedly-with-my-eyes-closed’s, and it’s the quality that rubs you up the wrong way faster than an amorous Edward Scissorhands.

Common perception is that there’s a fine line between being confident and being arrogant, when in fact the gap between them is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

But I have to admit to times when someone’s screwed up or dropped the ball when I’ve been known to say, “Yet another reason why I should run everything”.

The thought that I could have done it better, faster or with less of the smelly stuff hitting the fan leads me to a place of hubris, where I elevate myself to a place of peerless effectiveness and achievement.

Let me tell ya, I’m good, but I’m not that good.

Even worse (and I hope I haven’t been guilty of this one) is when people prioritize bluff and bluster over content and insight, preferring to pull the wool over peoples eyes rather than own up to a mistake, tell stories and point fingers to paper over their own cracks and be happy to dodge responsibility until it’s time to claim a victory.

This “bluff and bluster” flavour of arrogance is nothing more than hiding behind an edifice of effectiveness out of fear that you’ll be truly seen, a thought that strikes terror into many of us. The natural defence mechanism to the fear of being seen is to build protective walls that stop you being vulnerable, and the arrogant paint those walls and use bluff and bluster to try to persuade people that how those walls are painted are who they really are.

In this way, sometimes the people with the highest opinion of themselves are often the ones with the lowest self-esteem.

So when I see people talking about someone who’s “too confident”, bordering on arrogance or erecting a massive tower in their name in the centre of Hubris, the capital city of the land of Arrogance, I’m keen to debunk the link between the two ideas.

ARROGANCE IS NOISY AND NEEDS OTHERS TO EXIST.
CONFIDENCE IS QUIET AND NEEDS ONLY TO BREATHE.

Confidence is round and whole, and establishes a foundation of trust based on that roundness and wholeness. Arrogance is dissonant behaviour that’s disconnected from that foundation, based instead on the need to prove your worth, gain recognition or establish control.

Being “too confident” doesn’t start straying into arrogance. It’s not even possible to have too much of it. To operate from confidence will always be plenty; there’s no 110%.

Control, recognition, status and validation are phantoms that can lead you into arrogance. You don’t need to chase them.

You’re just peachy without them.

How to Keep Your Pecker Up When Your Hopes are Dashed

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Hope On One, For All.
I just attended my 4th World Domination Summit in Portland Oregon, from where I’m writing this post.

I say “attended”, but actually I kind of slept my way through the whole thing. And I say “writing this post”, but really I’m fumbling around in the dark for words and hoping they make sense together.

WDS is one of those things I look forward to all year, where a combination of remarkable people, a great town and open conversation see me at my absolute best. I bloody adore spending July in Portland, laughing until my ribs ache and having conversations that challenge how I think. It pushes me, warms me and gives me so many ideas I can’t help but get excited about what’s next.

But this year, my old pal Chronic Fatigue Syndrome decided to pay me a visit and pretty much prevented me from enjoying it the way I planned to. The times I wasn’t in bed, the brain fog made it hard to distil anything but the most basic of thoughts. Food. Rest. Need pee-pee. The muscle pain has been so intense it’s felt like a building’s fallen on me. And the fatigue keeps pulling me horizontal.

My WDS experience this year has been totally different from the one I hoped for, and as I sit here in Sisters Coffee shop, my body is aching for me to close my eyes and sleep.

I tell you this not to be self-indulgent (which is about as much use as a tit on a fish), but to demonstrate that sometimes—perhaps even often—something happens to dash your hopes.

I don’t want to put a downer on your day here, but I’m all for calling it like it is. Life doesn’t go to plan, and in those times when your hopes or plans are dashed you need to find something a little extra to keep your “pecker” up. That is to say, to keep yourself buoyed while the waves crash down around you. Here are some thoughts:

  1. You are always more than your circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you need to be master of those circumstances. Sometimes you gotta just let it be, and that’s cool.
  2. Gratitude isn’t dependent on things going to plan; quite the opposite. It’s letting go and softening into the things you can be truly thankful for regardless of how things turn out.
  3. Strength is about rigidity and struggle and only gets you so far. Way down past strength is peace, and that’s both inexhaustible and delicious.
  4. A feeling of crappiness (and man alive, does my body feel crappy right now) does not need to equate to a crappy experience. Don’t bury or filter how things are, but similarly recognise that you still get to chose to be okay or to exhibit your best.
  5. What if this was needed? What if the way things went was actually a heap more wonderful or important than you might be thinking right now? That would be something, right?
  6. The very thought that your hopes have “been dashed” is one that sets you up as the victim of something that’s been cruelly done to you. That’s bullshit of course, you’re no more a victim than you are a pentagon.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m no fucking Zen master and I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t been frustrated. I’d have loved to have cocktails with old friends, chat (and flirt) like crazy with new ones and exchange ideas that might just be Amazing. I’d have loved to have another “time of my life”, but if I keep those hopes close I’m only going to get more frustrated and probably more sick.

Loss is something we all feel, particularly if it’s for something we hold dear. But just the other side of that, smooshed up really close so you almost miss it, is gratitude.

So I’m going to smile deeply, because that’s really the only choice that makes any sense.

What do you do when life “dashes your hopes”?

Debunking Myths 3 – Confident People Are More Extroverted

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Shout!
There’s an expectation out there that to get ahead you’ve got to be “alpha”, at least some of the time. You’ve got to go out and get it. You’ve got to ask people for what you want. You’ve got to put yourself out there, and you’ve got to stand out in the crowd.

Other than their potential links with the cult of hustle, these more outgoing, extroverted tendencies are good, reasonable things. They can play a part in getting what you want and can surely help you find meaningful success. I’ve got nothing against them.

Other than the fact that if you lean more towards introversion you’ll find these qualities foreign, frightening, oppressive and even damaging.

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, describes introverts as preferring less stimulating environments than their extrovert neighbours, tending to enjoy quiet concentration and listening more than talking.

Introverts aren’t energised by social situations in the same way as extroverts are, so in a culture that seems to be biased towards the out-going and socially adept (even selecting these kinds of people over those who aren’t as outgoing or socially adept), it’s easy to feel like you’re not as good as your extroverted friend or lacking something that your extroverted colleague has in spades.

The temptation is to feel that you’re less than simply because you’re more introverted, and the perception is that introversion is about shyness (it isn’t) and a lack of confidence (it isn’t).

I’ve spoken with introverts who’ve told me how broken they feel, how they’re afraid they’ll never be able to have the kind of life they want because they don’t feel capable of going out and getting it in the same way as confident people do. One introverted lady I spoke with told me, “The world hardly notices me, I don’t amount to much.”

This is not how it should be, so let me debunk this myth with gusto.

EXTROVERSION AND CONFIDENCE IS A POWERFUL COMBINATION, BUT DON’T THINK FOR A SECOND THAT INTROVERSION AND CONFIDENCE ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE OR ANY LESS POWERFUL.

Vert comes from the latin “to turn”, so introversion and extroversion is simply a matter of where you lean.

When you get down to it, this “vert” business is just turning towards the things that gives you energy, nourishment and value.

Extrovert or introvert, it’s about leaning into the things that make you feel whole.

And this is where confidence comes in, because leaning towards the things that make you feel whole – and having those things be enough – is precisely what confidence allows you to do.

Extroversion and introversion are independent of confidence, but each can be partnered beautifully by confidence and each is made powerful by it.

Forget about extroverts and introverts. Let’s hear it for the verts.

Debunking Myths 2 – If You’re Not Confident, Fake It

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I hope you get by a bus and die! :D
I attended a dating event a few years ago where I was coaching singles who wanted a little help with their nerves. It was a dressy affair in London, so I wore my sharpest suit and I swear I walked a little taller and with a little more swagger than normal.

I strode in, believing I was all that and a bag of potato chips, and for the first 10 minutes found myself eager to demonstrate my alpha qualities to all around me. I was on a brief power trip until I realised that I was behaving very much like a prize asshole, so I gave myself a metaphorical slap around the chops and cut it out.

There’s been some research to support the fact that things like power dressing or adopting a “power pose” can help to jump you into a more powerful, “confident” state.

Harvard Business School professor Amy J.C. Cuddy conducted research that backs up my experience at that event. In “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance” (catchy huh?), Cuddy found that simply holding your body in expansive, high-power poses for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone (the hormone linked to power and dominance) and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Cuddy links these “power poses” and the ability to leverage facial expressions to levels of confidence. “We used to think that emotion ended on the face,” she says. “Now there is established research showing that while it’s true that facial expressions reflect how you feel, you can also ‘fake it until you make it.’”

Cuddy and coauthors Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap of Columbia University performed an experiment with forty-two male and female participants, finding that high-power poses decreased cortisol by about 25 percent and increased testosterone by about 19 percent for both men and women.

When asked to indicate how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt on a scale from one to four, high-power posers of both sexes (those who were ‘faking it’) reported greater feelings of being powerful and in charge.

The thing is, of course, power and dominance aren’t the same as confidence.

Someone who’s trying hard to come across as confident, for example, can mistakenly behave arrogantly simply because they haven’t figured out what real confidence is or what it means to them. They’ll talk over someone in a meeting because that’s what they think confident people do. They’ll voice an opinion without thinking about its impact, because they think that confident people make themselves heard. And they’ll steam-roller their view forwards because confident people stick to their guns.

People who set out to fake confidence until they make confidence are far more likely to create dissonant thinking that’s counter-productive. Think about it, “fake it til you make it” is a comparative exercise at heart – it requires the thought I’m not where I want to be, so I’ll pretend that I am,or I’m not who I want to be, so I’ll pretend that I am.

That pretence may afford you a temporary boost in perceived power or dominance, but it also sets up layers of thinking based on the foundation that something’s not where it should be, ought to be or needs to be, otherwise you’d already be there, it wouldn’t be so damned hard and you wouldn’t need to fake anything.

It temporarily pushes any doubts and fears about not being good enough into a box and places centre-stage a pretence of being good enough that might not be based on a genuine sense of being good enough.

Faking it ’til you’re making it compartmentalizes your experience based on fear and reward, and the more your brain gets a rewarding little hit of dopamine from the power and dominance that comes along with faking it (it does feel good temporarily, as I found out at the dating event), the more it will use that as a strategy going forwards.

Keep that up and pretty soon this dissonant, comparative thinking can easily create, support or intertwine with beliefs that you’re not good enough or that others are better than you (because they don’t have to fake it, right?), beliefs that undermine any sense of confidence, not supports it.

So, here’s the debunking.

FAKING CONFIDENCE IS WHAT LEADS PEOPLE INTO HUBRIS AND ARROGANCE. REAL CONFIDENCE IS CHOOSING TO TRUST YOUR BEHAVIOUR BECAUSE YOU’RE ALREADY GOOD ENOUGH, NOT PRETENDING TO BE A CERTAIN WAY BECAUSE YOU DON’T FEEL GOOD ENOUGH.

This distinction seems subtle at first, but is MASSIVE.

Faking confidence is like a puppy dressing up like a duck and trying to quack. Strap on a bill, stick on a pair of wings then run around asking everyone to throw chunks of bread because “I’m a duck, don’t you know”.

“Woof, shit, I mean, quack. Quackity, quack, quack.”

That puppy is only ever going to enjoy it’s awesome, fun-filled life when it realises it’s a puppy and doesn’t need to be a duck at all.

You don’t need to fake confidence, you already have it. It’s there in the times when you’re at your best. The times when you’ve felt most like you. The times when you felt like everything was flowing. The times when you’re just playing.

That’s all you ever need.

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