I’m not naturally a confident person. I was very quiet all through school and constantly got ‘lacks confidence’ written on my reports. I was a wimpy kid, to put it simply, and most things terrified me.
Whilst I’m sometimes still plagued by self-doubt and self-consciousness, I’m definitely more confident now. It’s partly just an effect of growing up, but I put a lot of it down to two clichés you will have certainly heard before: ‘fake it till you make it’, and ‘practice makes perfect’.
Yawn. Those tedious sayings that are so overused they’ve started to mean nothing to most people. But despite being frequently dismissed and misinterpreted, I’ve found that together, these two pieces of advice are the perfect recipe for refusing to let low self-esteem stand in your way.
‘Fake it till you make it’ is the idea that if you imitate an optimistic, successful, and confident mindset, you’ll start to realize those traits. It’s a controversial piece of advice with many dismissing it as egocentric, inauthentic, and encouraging flat out lies. But I don’t see it as lying about who you are, I think it’s about faking the confidence to be who you truly are already until it just comes naturally.
‘Practice makes perfect’ is less controversial, and a lot more obvious: you have to put the work in to get good at anything. I think this one is often dismissed because of the word ‘perfect’; we put in a little bit of practice, the result isn’t the perfection we envisioned, and so we give up.
‘Practice makes improvement’ is a better version; practice is not going to make you everything you dreamed of, but it’s the only path for getting closer.
This cliché is the perfect addition to a ‘fake it till you make it’ approach: you can think of the ‘faking’ confidence part as essentially practicing it, and so over time you’re going to improve and get a little close to ‘making it’.
If you’re struggling with low self-confidence then perhaps paying more attention to these two clichés might help you in the same way that they helped me.
When Was the Last Time You Felt Confident?
Think of when you felt your best, when talking came easily, and any doubts left your mind. What was it about that situation made you feel so at ease?
For me I can think of two key events: when I went to volunteer in Greece by myself and first met the other volunteers, and when I went to University. I’m not always confident around new people, but something about these particular situations, the fresh start and being by myself, put me at ease.
The commonality for both of them is that beforehand, amidst the nerves, I envisioned myself acting confidently and meeting new people. I faked it — I put a smile on my face and chatted away. And whilst I was faking this confidence, I was also practicing it, which meant that it started to feel easier.
In the above situations, I was acting like the person I wanted to be. These people had never met me before, so I had the freedom to come across however I wanted to. I was faking it, but it wasn’t a lie, I was just practicing letting myself be more, well, myself.
Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, sums up this concept beautifully:
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.”― Paulo Coelho
A similar idea is also visited in Professor Steve Peters’ Mind Management program: the person you want to be is the person you are already. You need to keep pretending and practicing, to discover that you can be that person you’ve always wanted to be.
Want to look amazing but feel ugly? Act like you love the way you look. You’ll hold yourself tall, treat yourself well, and start to feel better about your appearance. Feel like no one likes you? Act as they do. You’ll be friendlier, more talkative, and easier to warm to. You’ll start to transform into that person you truly are.
You’re Not Lying — You’re Just Not Limiting Yourself Anymore
Maybe becoming the confident person you wish to be feels impossible right now, and faking seems a lot more like lying about yourself than being truly yourself. But unless you fake the confidence that you can achieve whatever you want, or be who you want to be, you’re just going to give up trying. You have to fake it a bit, to instill the belief that you can make it.
It’s not lying, it’s just breaking past the limitations you’ve put up for yourself and giving it a go. It’s taking down the first wall and putting yourself in a position to practice.
Forget Imposter Syndrome and Earn Your Spot
Maybe faking it has got you into a situation where you feel like you don’t belong or don’t deserve to be. Enter, imposter syndrome.
But here’s the key distinction in the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach: you’re faking your confidence, not your competence. There’s a big difference between lying about your abilities and faking the confidence to fully showcase them. If you don’t feel like you belong, then you need to act and use your abilities to show that you do.
I got a wave of imposter syndrome when a company I started writing for asked me to send over my website. I didn’t have a website; I hadn’t even thought of it. A website, to me, means professional. And I didn’t feel like a professional. I thought this meant they had the wrong idea about me, that I wasn’t experienced enough, and wasn’t able to do the job.
Then I realized the next step after faking it to get into a position, is to take the action to earn your place. I made a website, and in doing so I learned about SEO and got more reads, and then used my website to apply for other writing gigs.
The lesson I learned? Fake your confidence first. Get your foot in the door, and then do the work to build competence.
I’m not going to claim that I’ve ‘made it’ — I’m still very much faking it — but I’ve done a lot of things that the pre-teen version of me would have been terrified to do. If there was an Oscar for acting confidently when you’re not, then I would certainly win one for my 21 years in the role.
But this pretending and practicing being confident has transformed my actions from being a face into a more natural way of living. It’s as though that confidence, which was once faked, is now becoming my default. Now, there’s a lot less effort involved. What’s happened is exactly what Coelho said would. I’ve discovered I am the person I felt like I was pretending to be.
Another thing I’ve learned along the way? Few people are as self-assured and collected as they seem on the surface. And guess what? Most of the people you think are confident are faking it too.
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