How To Build Self Confidence Without Faking It (Oh Yeah They Can Tell)

You must have heard of the popular saying “Fake it till you make it”. It means to act like you are something so you can, in time, become that thing.

By consciously conditioning yourself to your desired outcome, you become the outcome.

Research seems to support this. Forcing yourself to smile can actually lift your mood. Adopting powerful postures can increase your testosterone levels. Pretending to be confident makes you more, well, confident.

Yet there’s something unsettling about the “fake” part that just feels… fake.

Can faking something make it real? Will laughing at your boss’ lame jokes for months make you mistake him for Jerry Seinfeld?

You might fool your colleagues with a power pose in the boardroom.

Or even impress your client with a nice car (that puts you deeper in debt).

You might even manage to get the headhunter to think you’re up for that senior position with a couple of well-timed “I gotta go. They’re waiting for me in a meeting.”

But even if you succeed in faking out the world, you can’t fool yourself.

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Building your self-image on the premise of being a fake does nothing to overcome your insecurities.

Worse, it feeds those insecurities.

You’ll feel the anxiety to keep up with appearances.

You’ll worry incessantly if others are seeing through your façade – they usually do.

You’ll wonder if one day, your mom would see this fake version of you and throw up.

The number one reason why you shouldn’t “fake it” is: you just won’t feel good about yourself.

As Dr. Seuss once said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

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Real vs Perceived Confidence

Ironically, you may be eroding your inner confidence when you “fake it” to prop up your perceived confidence.

There was a junior executive whom everyone believed was faking her way up the corporate ladder. She arrived at work overdressed every day, talked a good game, and was often seen mingling with higher-ups at parties.

The problem? She wasn’t known for her work. She was simply  Kardashianing her way to success.

Several years later, I got to work with her again and noticed how she had changed. Gone was the over-eagerness to impress and fit in. In its place was a calm confidence that grounded her work, which was surprisingly excellent.

When I asked her about her change, she said, “Back then I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. I was trying too hard to be someone I’m not. I was exhausted. When I stopped pretending, I felt powerful because I was no longer desperately seeking the approval of others, and I became more confident of myself.”

She is now the MD of a large multinational firm.

True confidence comes from being real to yourself and to others.

When you’re honest with yourself enough to admit you’re not as good as you need to be, you will have a strong impetus to improve.

Believing in a trumped-up, fake façade conjured up to make you believe you’re good enough can not just stifle your professional development, it can set you back for years.

On top of that, it’s getting harder to fake out people.

By keeping it real in your dealings with others, you convey humility and likeability – attributes that build trust.

And trust is the currency that’s harder to earn, and infinitely more valuable.

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Confidence vs Competence

Some people pretend to be something they’re not to appear more competent to those judging them.

They believe that projected confidence implies competence. That’s the crux of the “Fake it till you make it” strategy.

The best way I know to “make it” is to actually make it.

Work on being really good at what you do.

Sorry if you were expecting a shortcut. Or some sort of cheat code.

Make it, don’t fake it. That’s how to build self confidence.

Be so good at what you do that you can’t help but feel confident.

Not there yet? That’s okay, make yourself better.

Your confidence will be bulletproof if it is built on rock-solid competence on the field.

Remember Bruce Lee? Yes, that guy who went around in a tacky bright yellow tracksuit that doesn’t exactly shout at baddies “I’m going to kick your butt”.

Yet his confidence was unmatched.

The man didn’t worry if you judged him.

He didn’t care for your opinion of his dress code.

He had eliminated all need to pretend.

He just knew one thing – he was going to kick your butt. Why? Because he happened to be really good at kicking butt.

(Credit: Absolute Motivation)

What are you really good at?

What’s the one thing that makes you go “yeah THIS is what I do”?

What must you do to answer that question if you can’t quite answer it just yet?

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Important-and-completely-relevant digression: How to get really good at what you do

In professional development, the question “How to build confidence?” should really be “How to develop expertise?”

True confidence comes from elite competence.

You need to be good to feel good about yourself.

1) Figure out if what you do is what you should even be doing

Have you ever met anyone who is massively successful at something, but absolutely hates it? Probably not.

The funniest comedians like being funny even when they’re not doing their sets.

The best athletes loved their sport so much as kids, they kept playing even after the lights went out for the night.

The most successful entrepreneurs get so passionate about their business idea, they would ignore conventional wisdom to make it happen.

You have to love what you do. The easier way is to do what you love.

Steve Jobs, in his famous Stanford commencement speech, said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

According to renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, founding father of the concept of “Flow”, being able to enjoy your work is the essential factor to get into the state of flow, that productivity nirvana where focus, creativity and energy are firing in all cylinders.

(Credit: FightMediocrity)

To be great at your job, you have to love your job.

If you can’t at least muster a liking for your job despite your best efforts, you might want to consider doing something else that you like better (that still allows you to pay the rent).

Just ask the thousands of lawyers who decide to pack it in every year.

Without passion, everything about your job becomes a drag. With it, you’re more motivated, resilient and positive – helping you develop expertise and succeed at it.

2) Focus on the process

We live and work in a results-obsessed world. Everyone wants results.

Yet few are as fanatical about the process to get to results they want.

World-class musicians didn’t get just visualize their way to Carnegie Hall. They trained at least seven hours every day for decades. That’s their process of becoming great.

You’d know of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hours rule to becoming an expert in what you do.

If that sounds intimidating, go back to point number (1) above and you’ll understand why it’s so important you enjoy what you do.

10,000 hours will fly by when you’re in the flow.

More than just putting in the hours, what’s more important is putting in meaningful hours.

It’s not just about following a process, but rather, creating the right process that will accelerate your competency.

90% of the people will put in work that puts them in the bottom 90% of their profession.

To be the top 10%, you’ll need to build your own process to mold yourself differently from the rest.

Ask yourself these questions:

What do the top performers in your profession do better than others?

What was their process to get there?

What can you learn from them?

Who can help you with your process?

How will your process play to your strengths?

How will you know if your process is working?

Once you have your very own process designed to optimize your talent, it’s a matter of trusting it and sticking to it. Results will be inevitable.

3) Improve the person, not the professional

Work on becoming a better you and your work will get better.

As Jim Rohn said, “Work hard at your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune.”

The person that you are determines the professional that you will be.

The best strategies in the world wouldn’t help if you keep telling yourself the wrong story.

Too many people have failed because of their negative attitude, limiting beliefs or shaky values.

“I’ll never get that promotion because nobody thinks I’m good enough.”

“I can’t do this. I don’t have an MBA like she does.”

“I’m just not as lucky I guess.”

Change the script of your life and rewrite your career.

Be clear on what you stand for.

Know the “Why” behind what you do.

Believe you will make your own luck. Bet on yourself!

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How to build self confidence at work

(Warning: Real, tangible action required)

1. Rather than to pretend to be what you’re not, embrace what you really are. Accept yourself but also be aware of what you want to improve on. Place your confidence in your ability to get better and take decisive action. Draw up an action plan. Set specific targets. Be accountable. The results will come.

2. Volunteer for challenges that are tougher than you’re capable of. Be honest with yourself and your manager in that you’ll have to stretch your current skill set to deliver, but you’re prepared to do that. Your confidence may be rewarded with not just opportunities to grow, but with the respect of your peers.

3. Learn. When you expand your knowledge base, something magical happens, you lose the fear that you might be wrong. The best part is, you don’t have to trumpet what you know to gain confidence. Simply possessing the knowledge gives you the self-assurance to do your job better than others. And justify your ways whenever necessary.

4. Find and focus on your strengths. Instead of stressing out over your average Powerpoint skills or overthinking your (lack of) dress sense, place your attention on what you’re good at. Playing to your strengths is a proven, powerful form of positive psychology. It’s a highly effective way to feel confident about who you are and what you bring to the table.

5. Speak out. This one is for introverts who defer to others in a meeting or discussion. You might be holding back from expressing your views to protect your confidence from being hit when someone doesn’t agree with your views. Yet your confidence can only grow when you speak out. They either love what you say or they don’t. That’s okay, because you’ve already taken the big step of expressing yourself – keep doing that and you’ll be more confident.

6. Do something that scares you (but won’t get you fired). Public speaking. Asking for a raise. Having a tough conversation with an irresponsible team member. The workplace has a surprising number of fear-inducing events. They are also opportunities to grow your self confidence when you decide that your desire to succeed is greater than your fear.

7. Build up your support group. Surround yourself with coworkers, industry peers and supportive friends. They build up your confidence with their encouragement and affirmation. To do this, forget the “keeping your enemies closer” adage – keep your friends closer and enemies away.

8. Find a mentor to be your sounding board. This is an important step in your professional development. Ask someone you admire in your field for career guidance. Ask him or her for an honest opinion of your work and offer advice as you work your way up your career ladder. Your confidence will skyrocket when you have someone experienced in your corner.

9. Get feedback. Only those who take pride in their work ask for feedback. It strongly signals your desire to engage your manager, improve your performance and meet team goals. With proper feedback, you become even more sure of where you stand and what needs to be done.

10. Celebrate your wins. This should be an easy one, but you won’t believe how often people miss the chance to give their confidence a boost after a win – even a small one. A celebration is an open and well-deserved acknowledgment of your success, abilities and efforts. Your confidence will party.

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Self confidence starts when you’re being true to yourself and with others.

Pretending to be who you are not may provide a temporary spike in your perceived confidence, but will ultimately sap your true confidence.

Ground your confidence in your abilities, beliefs and values. The real you is more powerful than you know.

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Do you agree that faking confidence isn’t a long-term strategy? What other ways can we build confidence? Let me know with a comment.

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