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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Development of Confidence

The other day I was talking to a friend, and she gave me a pretty great compliment. I felt like I should record it here.

B and I were sitting in my car after a run to the store, and out of the blue she started telling me about a conversation she had with her roommate M at a recent activity.

She said:
M and I were sitting up on the stand and were watching as you went around talking to people.
We were like, Oh look Robby's talking to a girl...oh look, Robby's talking to another girl...oh look, now he's talking to another girl...
We talked about how you are really confident and have no problem walking up and talking to anyone.
We also agreed that you are a really good looking guy, and will probably find someone really pretty to marry.

I was really touched by her compliments, and I thanked her for her kind words.
Then I let her in on a little secret.

The truth is, the confidence she talked about...it's totally fake.
I'm actually extremely shy and introverted.
I always have been.

For over five years now, I have been living by the "fake it 'till you make it" philosophy.
Basically I have been forcing myself to be social and talk to people, even when I don't want to, even when I'm not feeling confident or sure of myself.
Even if I am scared to death, I make a conscious effort to appear calm and relaxed, and be animated in my interactions.
It doesn't always go well, my efforts are not always well received, sometimes things get awkward, but I'm learning and growing, and you know what?...Talking to people actually is easier now than it was a few years ago.
In a lot of ways what she said is true. I now have no problem going up and talking to just about anyone. I might not be totally comfortable about the idea, but I know I can do it.

This all started when I was in college and was feeling frustrated that I couldn't talk to girls that I found attractive.
One day, in an unrelated conversation, a friend of mine told me that she had noticed that confident guys usually stand square and tall, with their legs spread apart and firmly planted. When she told me this, I noticed how I was standing...kind of slouched, with my hands in my pockets, leaning heavily on one leg, with my other leg relaxed and at a casual angle.

This started a process of observation and self-analysis, where I started to mimic other things I saw confident guys doing.
I'm not an expert, and I never took notes, so I probably couldn't make a list, but I watched and I learned.

Sometimes I would hear about an event or party that I really didn't want to go to, where I knew that I wouldn't know anyone, and knew that I would feel extremely self-conscious and awkward, and I would just decided to go, not worry about anything, and call it practice. I didn't try to get any phone numbers or dates, there was no expectations or pressure, my only goal was to talk to people and practice appearing confident.

Early on I would spend a lot of time walking through crowds pretending like I had someplace I had to get to. Often I would keep pretending to drink out of a plastic cup that had long since run dry, just because I felt better having something to do with my hands and mouth while standing with a group of conversing people.

This is still a work in progress for me, but B's compliments showed me that I am slowly becoming the person I wished I could be all those years ago...and other people are noticing.

One of the interesting applications for this process is in the workplace.  I find the men who seem to have the most influence, and I watch what they do, making mental notes of body language, speech, and general behavior.
I think that this sort of thing is a really good method for personal growth. Find the top dogs and do what they do. If it works for them, maybe it can work for me too.

1 comment:

Emmy said...

That's awesome, Robby! I'm proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone!

I'm not the greatest in social circles, either, but I tend to avoid parties and such, or just sort of cling to one or two people that I know (even if I don't really like them), since it gives me someone familiar to talk to.

It's obvious, though, that I should be taking a cue from your book, since B's comments make it clear that you're doing it right :)