Successful, confident people — are they cleverer and more talented than the rest of us? Or have they just mastered the art of presenting themselves in the best possible way? Do you approach the stressful bits of life — job interviews, first dates, etc. — with a sense of dread? Well, it’s time to change that. Turns out you really can “fake it till you make it.”
For some, confidence comes naturally, but for the rest of us… well, at this point, you’re probably thinking if it’s so easy to pretend to be confident, why isn’t everyone doing it?
In a recent TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy emphasised that non-verbal communication actually makes a huge difference not only to the way others perceive us, but also to the way we perceive ourselves. This talk highlights a study which measured how well people performed in job interviews with and without just one thing – the subjects were asked to strike a “power pose” before the interview.
While it might seem a little delusional to think that faking your way through life is possible, researchers have found that acting (and it IS acting) in a certain way actually makes your brain “rehearse” a different way of thinking, which becomes easier each time you try it.
So, strike a pose
Amy Cuddy’s study found that subjects who tried the “power stance” for two minutes – hands on hips, chest and head lifted – showed a decrease in cortisol (the hormone our bodies release when we’re stressed) and an increase in testosterone (the hormone usually related to confidence and dominance). So it is possible for your body to change your mind.
Smile and world smiles with you
Cheesy? Maybe. But studies have shown that subjects who were asked to perform multitasking-type tests performed better while smiling. If you’ve ever tried smiling at complete strangers, you will know that most people respond positively to a smile. Listening to happy music also definitely helps to improve your mood, and consequently will make those smiles more genuine.
Singers, actors and dancers wouldn’t dream of going on stage without warming up their facial muscles. It’s impossible to smile naturally if your facial muscles are tense. You may look weird, but hiding yourself in the loo before an interview or date, pulling faces and (pretend) chewing vigorously will loosen up your face and make that winning smile easier. While you’re hiding out in the loo, try to slow down your breathing, which will slow your heart rate and make you feel more relaxed.
Eye to eye
Do make eye contact. If this is difficult for you, then practice. No point making eye contact and panicking because of it. Which leads us to next bit of advice – don’t fidget. Tapping your hands and feet are dead giveaways. Slowing down your breathing (see time in the loo above) will help you control the urge to start air-drumming.
Dress for success
Roxette said it perfectly in their 1988 hit – “I’m gonna get dressed for success / Shaping me up for the big time, baby.”
Researchers at the Kellog School of Management found that performance improved when the individual wore clothes associated with positive qualities. Subjects who wore a lab coat performed significantly better than those who wore the identical garment (but were told it was an artistic painters’ coat). In other words, those who thought of themselves as scientists or doctors showed heightened attention compared to the other group. Clearly the symbolic meaning of the coat played a part in their success, but so did the physical experience of wearing it.
Make it real
If you’re in an interview (or on a date for that matter) – listen actively. In other words, instead of planning your next answer, listen properly. Don’t simply agree with the other person — be real and say what you actually feel. Always speak the truth. And that means admitting that you may have flaws. No-one will be taken in by someone who appears to be perfect. Owning your flaws is not negative, it’s honest. And while we’re on the subject of honesty, admit your mistakes. Right now, you may be thinking “is all this really possible? And wise? Surely admitting faults will count against you?” On the contrary, the more transparent you are about your strengths and weaknesses, the more likely you are to be successful.
Always speak the truth. And that means admitting that you may have flaws.
No-one will be taken in by someone who appears to be perfect. Owning your flaws is not negative, it’s honest. And while we’re on the subject of honesty, admit your mistakes. Right now, you may be thinking “is all this really possible? And wise? Surely admitting faults will count against you?” On the contrary, the more transparent you are about your strengths and weaknesses, the more likely you are to be successful.
Short and sweet
When it comes to communication, keep it short and sweet. Your CV or your email to a prospective employer or investor (or romantic interest) should say only what is necessary. Brevity shows clarity of thought. If you ramble on, chances are no-one will even bother to finish reading.
Finally, experts agree that most of us will suffer from “imposter syndrome” at one time or another. This syndrome is the fear that everyone around you will find out that you actually aren’t as clever or accomplished as they think you are. So, step by step, each time we are in a situation where we are required to present our best side, we have an opportunity to reduce that fear. This doesn’t mean pretending to have skills that you clearly don’t, but rather pretending that you have the confidence to get the job done, until you really do. Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk.