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7 Things Confident People Do Differently
The power of facing your fears
As I got closer to university the invisible band around my throat tightened.
My psychology class was a big one, over 200 students, and the thought of walking into that room and standing at the doorway even for a few seconds was too much. My panic increased the closer I got. I walked halfway to class, then — feeling like a complete failure — turned around and walked home.
Social anxiety crippled me in my late teens and early twenties. There were times when I was fine: I attended parties, went to class, even spoke in front of a crowd, but there were other times that I hid in the toilet, hid in my room, hid against a wall. (I hid a lot.) My social anxiety became so bad that by 23 I wasn’t able to attend my own engagement party.
I realized I had a choice:
Let anxiety take over and trap me, limit me.
Or overcome it and be free.
I needed to find my confidence and, for the next 18 years, that’s what I set out to do. This is what I discovered about confident people:
1. They stand up tall
Confident people face the world with an open stance. They never cower or hunch. Studies have shown that our posture may very likely affect our mood.
If we stand up tall with our shoulders back, our hands on our hips, or in another open position, we feel more powerful and happier. If we hunch over, hang our heads, or slouch we feel more negative emotions.
Sitting up straight was also shown in one study to increase how fast people spoke and reduce their focus on themselves (anxious people are often very self-focused or self-conscious).
How you stand also affects how other people perceive you. The world treats you differently when you’re confident. Job opportunities come more easily, others find you more attractive, and you’re more likely to find people are friendly and helpful when you look and act confident.
Standing tall and looking confident might feel a bit like “fake it till you make it” but if it works then why not do it!
2. They make eye contact
It takes confidence to hold someone’s gaze while you talk to them. Looking down and not being able to make eye contact is one of the first signs we subconsciously notice when we’re assessing someone’s trustworthiness.
(Although there are cultural differences with eye contact — in some countries making eye contact is not appropriate or polite in certain situations).
Making good eye contact takes a bit of practice. Obviously, you don’t want to stare someone down! Non-stop eye contact can make people very uncomfortable.
Looking down or away is a habit that makes us feel and look anxious, disinterested, or shifty so if your aim is to feel and look more confident — eye-contact is a great skill to work on.
3. They look on the bright side
Confident people tend to think positive thoughts more often. If they come across a hurdle, they think thoughts like, “I can do it,” or “no problem, I’ll think of a way to deal with this.”
When I started to focus on what I was grateful for, what my strengths were, and to notice the good things around me, my confidence began to soar.
Anxiety feeds on noticing the dangers, the negative things, and worrying about what might go wrong. When we actively increase our positive thinking we crowd out the anxiety messages. (This doesn’t happen over night. It takes years of retraining your thinking — but it is completely do-able!)
One way I combat anxious thought is using techniques from one of the most effective current therapies for anxiety, ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy). One of these is accepting that I’m feeling anxious and observing it for signs that it’s passing. This sounds a bit weird, I know, but it works for quite a simple reason.
Often when we have anxieties or fears we beat ourselves up a bit for having them. We think things like, “No one else is scared of this, it’s so stupid!”
Or we get worried about the symptoms we might feel. “Oh no! I’m going to have a panic attack.”
Accepting and observing takes all of these extra thoughts away. Instead, you say to yourself, “I’m feeling quite scared about that. That’s okay. I’ll sit here for a bit and watch what happens.” The fears and anxieties shift much quicker when you don’t judge or worry about them.
Confident people know that they can handle things — even their own feelings.
4. They realize mistakes don’t matter and care less what people think
Confident people expect they’ll make mistakes, embarrass themselves, or say the wrong thing and they’re okay with that. They embrace it. Everyone makes mistakes and looks dumb sometimes.
I used to worry so much about looking like a “dumb blonde” or offending someone. Now I know that if I say something wrong, it doesn’t matter — there’s always another opportunity down the track to get it right.
If you chat to the cute guy and make a fool of yourself, there’s another cute guy in the next bar where you can try again. If you trip on stage during a presentation, you can get back up and laugh about it — at least it’ll be memorable.
5. They like themselves
There’s a common catch-phrase people use that “if you don’t love yourself, no-one else will”. Confident people feel good about themselves, they love themselves, but true confidence isn’t based on what we might expect.
If you feel confident and like yourself because you’re attractive, strong, clever, or successful, you’re taking a gamble. Surface qualities like these can be lost very easily and many fade with age, don’t they! True confidence is based on things that can’t be taken away.
One thing truly confident people do (that unconsciously makes them like themselves more) is treat others well.
If you don’t like yourself try to focus on treating others well. It will make you feel better about yourself and when you learn to like other people for who they are, rather than for their “desirable” features, you’ll see that you have likeable qualities too.
You might not be the most attractive, richest, most successful, or smartest person but they aren’t the things that make us likeable in the long term. Qualities like kindness, generosity, gentleness, hospitality, honesty, friendliness, trustworthiness can all be developed and are incredibly likeable.
6. They feel fear and push through it
I still feel nervous before big social events. I even had a panic attack last year before a festival where I knew there’d be over 1000 people — but I went anyway (and had fun).
I refuse to run away now. Confident people don’t run. If we run away from something then that “something” becomes more dangerous to us subconsciously according to psychologist Jordan B Peterson in his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
What’s our body’s proof that something is dangerous? We ran away, so of course it must be dangerous! If we refuse to run away we tell our unconscious selves that we faced it and therefore it’s safe. More importantly, we tell ourselves that we are capable of dealing with it.
Peterson talks about the “feedback loops” that influence us in situations like these. One example of a feedback loop for anxiety might look something like this:
We get nervous about going to the party— we go home instead — we get more nervous because we proved to ourselves that parties are too scary for us — we’re more likely to avoid the next party.
A confident feedback loop might look instead like this:
We get nervous about going to the party — we go anyway — we proved to ourselves that we were able to cope, even if it was a bit uncomfortable — we’re less scared next time and more likely to cope well with another party, maybe even enjoy it.
Confident people, like the saying, feel the fear and do it anyway. It pays off in the long run.
Now — almost 20 years after I ran away from my psychology class — I’ve spoken in front of large crowds, attended huge events (and enjoyed them), and manage parties of any size. I don’t always love it, but I can do it.
Confidence is something we can learn. It took effort and time but today I face people with confidence and, most of the time, I even feel it.