My Experiments With Confidence

Just after graduating from high school, I’m sure I seemed like an average guy to all my friends. But hiding beneath my “normal” facade, was a guy who was socially shy around new people and not very confident or outgoing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be more outgoing, and I definitely wanted to be more confident, I just wasn’t.

A person who lacks confidence really only has two options: 1) learn to assert yourself, or 2) crawl under a rock. Becoming more confident was my highest priority. So somehow, I was going to have to work this issue out.

At the time, I was reading self-help books, which did a lot to make me feel better about myself. But that wasn’t enough to break through my shyness. I really needed to learn how to change my behavior, so I decided to conduct a little experiment to help me do just that.

There were two core thoughts that would drive my experiment. The first is a line from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare: “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” The second was simply a thought or realization I had: Nobody knows how you feel except through what you show them.

Seeing a connection, I put those two ideas together. If I’m in public, at a store or restaurant, for example, people will only see in me what I project to them through my words and actions. If I “assume a virtue” or act as if I am confident–even if it’s not true–then people can only assume that I am a confident person, unless I give them reason to believe otherwise. So in the first phase of my experiment, I set up some rules.

Rules for Confidence Experiment No. 1

  • Act as I would if I were actually confident.
  • Initiate a conversation by saying one thing to one person while pretending to be confident.

My First Interaction

With my rules in mind, I set out to have my first interaction with someone I didn’t know. A convenience store seemed like a good place. I walked up to a checkout counter to pay for something. I assumed the appropriate confident posture , made eye-contact with the cashier and said, “Hi.”

YES! Victory! That was totally awesome. I actually said “hi” to the cashier (who looked like my grandmother). Believe it or not, this simple event was a victory to me. I, as a confident and self-assured person, said hi to the cashier who, more than likely, saw me as a confident young man.

I know it’s funny, but it really happened. This was a turning point for me. I repeated this activity again and again. Simply walking up, making eye-contact and saying hello was a big (and really simple) first step for me. The person on the other side of the counter had no idea if I was shy or confident, other than what he or she saw during our transaction.

Over a period of a week, every time I went to a drug store, grocery store, gas station, mall, the library, or any public place, I required myself to interact with one person. But I also required myself to stay in my “confident” mode. I would stand with an upright posture. When I spoke, I would project my voice strongly and with certainty, as I assumed a confident person might. I made direct eye-contact as confident people do. I smiled and breathed slowly and evenly. And I tried to stay relaxed and calm.

The More Confident You Become…

The more I tried these simple social transactions, the more I started feeling like they were no big deal. I was actually becoming more confident, at least a little. But an odd awareness began to dawn on me. I realized that the more confident you pretend to be, the more confident you become. I guess this meant I was ready for experiment number two.

Rules for Confidence Experiment No. 2

  • Act as I would if I were actually confident.
  • Initiate a conversation by saying two things to one person while acting confident.

Over the next couple of weeks, I began practicing “the art of conversation”, which for me, meant very simple conversation. Whether or not I had any deep thoughts in my noggin, confidently speaking about them with a stranger in a social manner was beyond my comfort zone. So now I was challenging myself to be a little more profound.

My Interaction for Experiment No. 2:

I walked up to a checkout counter with something to buy. I assumed the appropriate confident posture , made eye-contact with the cashier and said, “Hi.” The cashier returned the greeting. I said, “I wasn’t expecting all this cold today. It’s freezing outside.” The cashier said something in agreement.

Whoa! I TOTALLY ROCKED! I was laid back and just carrying on a conversation like nobody’s business. It may have been a very short conversation, but it was deep…in a way. Okay, maybe it wasn’t all that deep, but to me, it was a breakthrough. With each experiment, I was pushing myself a couple steps out of my comfort zone. Each time, I was doing my best to project a calm, self-assured confidence. And I knew that other people could only judge me by what they see and hear from me during our exchange.

I also learned over the next couple of weeks that there’s no way to interact a little more without some cashiers being more engaged in the conversation than I was ready for. But my confidence was swelling, my nerves were subsiding, and I found I could actually do this conversation thing. I even began to enjoy it. However, there was one problem that I started to notice. When the cashier was a really cute girl, I sometimes said nothing more than “hi”, even though I continued to act confident. Remember, I was in my late teens, maybe early twenties so this really mattered to me.

Rules for Confidence Experiment No. 3

  • Act as I would if I were actually confident.
  • Initiate a conversation by saying two things to one person while acting confident.
  • If there was a cute girl at a checkout register, I MUST go to that register.

Cute girls, beware! There was no stopping me, if I could get past this confidence barrier. I got to the point where I was striking up conversations everywhere I went, even with the cute girls that I would usually feel intimidated around.

Look, we’re all human beings. Right? I can be friendly with everyone and just because I’m being friendly with a really cute girl, that didn’t mean I was asking them out on a date, right? I was just being friendly. And if I asked her out–as a friendly gesture–and she wasn’t interested, heck, I was just being friendly anyway. Right?

For me, this logic helped. Be friendly with everyone and have no agenda other than to be friendly.

Chipping Away At My Weaknesses

I’m sure you can see where all of this is going. When I found a weakness, I would modify my rules to make them even more challenging to me so I could face my weakness head-on. Every time I went out in public, I would try to engage more people and each time it got a little easier, even with the cute girls. But I was still working to build up my confidence and it could be slow-going at times.

Once, I had discovered a cute girl who was a cashier at a gas station near my house. I started visiting that gas station regularly and making it a point to stop inside and chat with the girl. After a few weeks of getting my nerve up, I asked her if she wanted to go out for coffee or catch a movie sometime. Her response was a shock to me. She said, “I was wondering if you were ever going to ask me out.” Another victory and a huge boost to my confidence.

The Ugly Side of Confidence

Even good things can have bad consequences. During my experiments with confidence, I also learned about humility. I had allowed my confidence to grow to the point of being a bit egotistical and even a little arrogant at times. A few sharp remarks from some friends really stung when I realized that they were beginning to see me as being “full of myself”.

I have to admit that I knew I was probably going a bit too far with this confidence thing. But I decided that as a part of this grand experiment, I was going to allow it to unfold even if I wasn’t happy with the consequences. I needed to find my boundaries. I had been so shy around strangers for so long that being over-confident was a small price to pay for this kind of freedom. Then the biting remarks came from different people in quick succession and it hurt. It was just what I needed to help me regain some humility and bring my ego back down to a normal, healthy level.

I cannot over-emphasize the value of my experiments. And I also can’t I recommend strongly enough that you do similar experiments if you need more confidence. Ultimately, I adopted the behavior of a more confident person. The strategy I used was to step out of my comfort zone a little at a time, and spend enough time there until it was easy. My experiments eventually led to me even doing some public speaking, to the surprise of my family. They wondered why anyone would put themselves through such needless pressure and stress. But I had my mountains to climb and I was finally tired of living in their shadows.

I admit that even today, public speaking is pretty scary stuff. Mainly because I still have to work at controlling my thoughts about speaking in public so that it’s not so scary, but that’s another story. There are many different ways we can be lacking in confidence. But like so many things, it’s all in the mind. I like to think of it this way: one more mountain climbed is one more mountain conquered.

Little by Little, Confidence Grows

We all have the same opportunities every day. Each one of us can conduct our own confidence experiments or experiments of any kind. With the right strategy, we can strengthen our weaknesses. We can recreate ourselves and learn new behaviors. We don’t need anyone’s permission or acceptance. We only need to set our sights higher today than we did yesterday. And little by little, our confidence grows and our world expands. But it’s up to you to make the choice to live life in the shadows of those mountains you’ve created in your mind or to climb to the summit and bask in the sunshine of accomplishment. And even though you may stand there alone, you go out into the world a better person, reflecting the sunshine from your highest mountain peaks for all to be warmed by.

How about you? Do you have a similar story to share?

Just after graduating from high school, I’m sure I seemed like an average guy to all my friends. But hiding beneath my “normal” facade, was a guy who was socially shy around new people and not very confident or outgoing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be more outgoing, and I definitely wanted to be more confident, I just wasn’t.

A person who lacks confidence really only has two options: 1) learn to assert yourself, or 2) crawl under a rock. Becoming more confident was my highest priority. So somehow, I was going to have to work this issue out.

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