Ask almost anyone about what traits they find attractive in other people, and "confidence" is sure to top the list. It's not exactly a revelation — confidence can get you far in life. But you're only human, and your self-esteem won't always be at 100%. In which case, people often say, you should "fake it 'til you make it."
But what does that really mean? And does it really work?
Marni Amsellem, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Smart Health Psychology, says that "faking it 'til you make it" generally means to fake confidence until confidence comes to you. It's not about being arrogant or egotistical, it's about having faith in yourself and knowing your worth.
"You might not necessarily be feeling confidence, and the situation might require you to be confident," she says. "So there’s that discrepancy of what the situation demands and what you’re feeling, so you kind of make a choice, to put on a slightly braver face."
Anyone who's ever felt anxious talking to other people or putting on a presentation is probably well aware of the feeling Dr. Amsellem describes. Essentially, the idea goes that if you're not intrinsically feeling confident, sometimes you have to act like you are until you do feel confident. And while there might not be a magic trick to boosting your self-esteem forever, acting more confident really might help you feel more self-assured — or at least come off that way to other people.
"If you’re challenging yourself and taking a stand, I think people really respect that even if they recognize that it’s not genuine," Dr. Amsellem says. "There’s a lot of people who will get up in front of a crowd or group meeting and you can tell they’re not comfortable but they’re doing it anyway, and you suddenly have more respect for them for doing it even if it’s out of their comfort zone."
Sometimes we psych ourselves out with that anticipatory worry and we sell ourselves short.
Marni Amsellem, PhD
Dr. Amsellem compares the process of faking confidence to jumping off a diving board: You're taking a leap, likely before you're comfortable, but once you're doing it, you're all in. If, say, you're psyching yourself up to talk to someone at a bar, it might seem daunting to even approach them. But putting on a display of confidence could get you through unscathed.
"The hardest thing is to take that first step, but a lot of the time, once you've done it and you’re reflecting on it after or during the act, you might really learn from that experience and realize, I can do this," Dr. Amsellem says. "Sometimes we psych ourselves out with that anticipatory worry and we sell ourselves short."
So how exactly can you fake confidence — and believe it? Dr. Amsellem says it's down to a healthy blend of positive self-talk and visualization (something that happens to work pretty well for athletes).
"Visualize for yourself what victory can be," she says. "In addition to self-talk, it’s [about] imagining yourself in a successful situation, just visualizing some outcome in which you’ve had success."
And while you're at it, it might be helpful to fight back against your own self-doubt and ignore the judgmental voice in your head telling you that you'll fail, or that you can't do something. That's what positive self-talk is all about: Telling yourself that things will go well, and that you can do something.
So the next time you're amping yourself up to make a big presentation, visualize yourself killing it. Who knows? It might just make the next one a little easier.