Updated: May 11
The thought of going to a party or social event used to cause me so much anxiety; I would become physically sick and try to come up with any excuse I could think of to get out of it. Social confidence is something I had to work very hard to learn myself as I was not a naturally self-confident person. The good news is confidence; the ability to be relaxed and connect in social situations can be learned and built upon.
I find most of the time, social anxiety at its core is the fear of being judged and rejected. I was convinced that people were going to think all these horrible things about me and not want to talk to me. I would drink to try to cover my nerves and act indifferent and awkward. Or even worse, bitchy and fake. And as a result, people steered clear of me. This just confirmed all the horrible things I believed about myself and my anxiety about meeting new people escalated.
People make judgements about you and whether they will like you within seconds of meeting you. Your body language, style, tone of voice and words tell people a lot more about you than you may realise. Within moments, people know precisely what you think of yourself. Now some of what people assess you on and trigger them to connect with you can be improved and some of it can’t.
Years ago, a friend of mine invited me out for drinks with a group of friends of hers. They were all very lovely and friendly women. My friend points out one of the women in the group and says, “She is amazing with men, you watch.” I was quite surprised as this woman, in particular, was overweight, in her mid-forties and not what you would call traditionally pretty. However, she dressed feminine, had nicely styled hair and makeup as well as an aura of confidence.
I watched this woman over the evening, and I have never seen anyone pick up so many men in my life. Every time she went to the bar, she can back with an adoring man, most of them at least ten years her junior and handsome. By the end of the evening, we had a crowd of men around us, all of them vying for her attention. A male friend of mine had joined us for a drink and had chatted to her as well. I could see him staring at her smiling.
I asked what he thought of her, and he replied: “Wow, she’s lovely.” With a dreamy look on his face. This was coming from a guy who typically dated fitness models in their 20’s. Fascinated, I asked what was it about her that he found so attractive. He said, “She looked at me with such approval in her eyes. She complimented my outfit and said my style was unique and I must be a fascinating and eclectic person. It’s like she saw me exactly how I like to see myself and how I want people to see me. Without saying it, I felt like she thought I was awesome.”
That was a huge lesson for me. I realised that accepting yourself and in turn approving and accepting the people you meet is the key to connection. People react to how you make them feel, not whether or not you are the hottest, fittest, most successful person in the room. One of the biggest tips I can give you is to be interested in other people. Tell them the positive observations about them that pop into your head. We all think these things but don’t say it. So, how do you project confidence and easily connect with others, get over social anxiety and stop giving a crap about what people think?
1. Understand that rejection isn’t real.
You will never be happy if you base your self-worth on whether or not people like you. There are only people that you connect with, and people you don’t. The biggest lesson I have learned in life is not everybody is going to like you, and that’s okay. Some of the reasons of why people don’t like you is completely out of your control.
You may remind them of someone who bullied them in school; their parents may have been judgemental of people that looked like you or you may display traits that they don’t like about themselves, so they judge you more harshly as a result. If someone doesn’t react to you in a positive way, it says more about them than you. Move on and talk to someone else.
2. Start a practice of self-love.
Most of us talk to ourselves like someone we can’t stand. We say things that we would never say to anyone else, and if someone close to us told us the horrible things we say to ourselves, we would never talk to them again. We are having an abusive relationship with ourselves. It’s hard to feel confident when you are telling yourself; you are a horrible piece of crap every day.
You are the most important person in your life; you will be with yourself for every moment until the day you die. You are the one person that will never leave you, and the most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. We all crave love and acceptance, and it’s crazy that we expect it from other people but refused to give it to ourselves.
The remarkable part is when we love ourselves, we radiate from within, and people are naturally attracted to us. Start a mantra of saying “I love myself” every day, several times a day. Whenever you start to say something negative, replace it with ‘I love myself.’ You will be amazed at the changes. An excellent book on the topic is: Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It by Kamal Ravikant.
3. Borrow someone’s confidence to increase your own.
This is one of my favourite techniques. Think of someone who has the confidence you desire. It can be someone you know. It can someone famous you admire. Imagine stepping into their body and feeling how you would feel if you had their confidence. How would you walk, talk and hold yourself if you were that person? This gives your subconscious mind instructions on how to be confident. Visualising yourself as a confident person helps to reprogram the subconscious into believing you are confident. You can listen to a confidence visualisation on youtube here.
Or even make up an alter ego that’s confident. Think about Ali G / Sacha Baron Cohen, Ziggy Stardust / David Bowie, Sasha Fierce / Beyonce, Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus, Superman / Clark Kent, Batman / Bruce Wayne, Slim Shady / Eminem. Now I’m not saying you need to start acting like an entirely different person, however, that’s why a lot of actors got into the business since they wanted to learn how to act confident. Pretending as if you are someone else who has incredible confidence helps you to develop the skill of being confident which is something that most of us need to learn.
4. Trick your body into feeling confident.
How you hold yourself affects how you feel. If you are slumped over with a grumpy look, you feel like crap. If you smile, your body registers the muscles at your eyes and mouth and signals to your brain to calm down and produce endorphins. Our brain is like a bartender, and through our thoughts and actions, we can influence what type of drinks it makes.
Before any social event, tell yourself “I’m excited! This is going to be amazing!” Put your hands up in the air and act like you have just won an Olympic medal. Anxiety and excitement are very closely related. By telling yourself you’re excited, your brain will make more dopamine and endorphins, which make you feel good.
We have fantastic feel good chemicals we can release at will. The pharmaceutical companies can’t manufacture anything as powerful as what we have it on tap. We have a lot more control over how we feel than we realise.
5. Learn body language that people trust.
A lot of what causes us to like and trust people is based on their body language. Standing up straight, smiling, making eye contact, speaking clearly and with vocal variety and using our hands to talk, all helps people to trust and like us.
When researchers studied what makes TED talks go viral, they found people gave almost identical ratings to a seven second clip of a video with the sound off as people that watched the whole video with the sound on.
They found the more a speaker used their hands to accentuate what they were saying, the more viral the talk. Seeing someone’s hands is hardwired into our DNA in deciding whether or not we trust them. Think about what the first thing a cop says when they pull someone over. “Put your hands where I can see them!” Putting your hands behind your back or in your pockets kills the creation of trust and connection when meeting someone new. A good way to break the habit, is every time you put your hands in your pockets when meeting new people, say in your head “Psycho killer!”
The next is vocal variety and smiling, if you talk in a monotone without a smile on your face, people perceive you as boring and judgemental. Standing up straight and taking up space both convey, you are confident and a successful person. Making eye contact shows confidence and interest.
It’s up to you decide your own self-worth; everyone else will accept what you decide it to be. Stop making assumptions about what other people may think. As my grandmother used to say “What other people think about you is none of your business.” Your assumption of what people might think is distorted by your own beliefs. There is only one of you in this world; no one else has the amazing combination that makes up you. As soon as you realize it, everyone else will too.