(SPOILER ALERT: There is no one simple trick for more self-confidence. Just repeated work. Usually hard work, repeated over and over. Usually a variety of different kinds of work. If there were “one simple trick,” everyone would have self-confidence, and I’d be out of a job. 😊)
There are tons of examples of purported miracle cures out there. Eat this one food to slim belly fat! This one weird posture trick will make you irresistible to the opposite sex! (Or the same sex, if that’s how you roll.) I want to talk about one of them that snuck into an otherwise wonderful talk I saw recently, and about how they’re all bullshit.
In her beautiful and moving TED talk, Amy Cuddy talks about her personal experience with impostor syndrome, and her research into how body language and posture influence our feelings and thoughts. While I love the talk, and I do recommend it, it contains an example of this miracle cure thinking. To be fair, she may not have intended it as I’m taking it, and it was probably a throwaway comment anyway, but it’s still a pernicious meme. Near the end, talking about what she calls “power poses”, she says something like “It takes just two minutes, and it can change your life!”
Umm, no. Yes, It’s true that doing the exercise once takes just two minutes, but doing it once is like going to the gym once: it’s probably not going to hurt, and you might feel better briefly, but it’s very unlikely to have any long-term impact on your life. What has the potential to change your life is doing it over and over. In the case of power poses, in my experience, doing this along with other things aimed at improving self-confidence is what’s really going to change your life. Let me explain.
When I was in middle school, I read a book that stuck with me to this day. There were a lot of eclectic things in it, but at least part of it was aimed at teaching life lessons to middle schoolers. 1 I don’t remember much else about the book, but I took two very important lessons away from it:
- Never let the world see you looking anything other than your best;
- Don’t slouch and look at the ground. Stand up straight, raise your head high and look people in the eye.
Both of these were completely the opposite of how I had been showing up in my life up to that point, and I completely transformed those things almost instantly. I started dressing how I wanted to, all the time, as opposed to dressing how I thought other people thought I should. My sense of style has changed over the years, but I have one, and I started dressing that way, mostly regardless of what other people thought.
I had also been one of those people who probably knew what your shoes looked like better than I knew what your face looked like. But, starting basically that day, I started holding my head up and looking the world in the eye. Still today, unless I need to watch where I’m putting my feet, my head is always up when I’m walking, and I’m looking other people in the eye, not looking down at the floor or the ground.
These are great changes. I highly recommend them if you’re not already doing them. For me, doing them certainly helped me set the stage for later growth. But, did those things magically transform my self-confidence?
No, no they did not. I was still plagued with self-doubt and insecurities. I still had self-talk that was perfectionistic, critical, non-compassionate, hopeless, and borderline abusive. The changes to my posture and dress certainly didn’t hurt, and they served me very well as I started to do more things to build my self-confidence, but they were nowhere near the entire story.
In my case, the entire story involved spending time every day for months in front of the mirror doing self-affirmations (read more here). It involved learning how to revise my self-talk so that it was compassionate and acknowledging as opposed to perfectionistic and abusive (read more here). It involved practicing putting myself out there in ways that were sometimes uncomfortable (read more here).
And, it involved doing those things over, and over, and over. I didn’t get any of those things perfectly right the first time, or the second time, or even the seventeenth or one hundred and fifty-seventh time. But, by practicing them over and over, I was able to (slowly) build and grow my self-confidence.
Miracle cures have always sold well. They’re easy to market, they’re easy for both the peddler and the media to talk about, and they’re easy for the listener to understand. But, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. If all it took to change your self confidence was one simple trick, low self-confidence, impostor syndrome, and all the related manifestations would be nowhere near as common as they are. All of these things can be overcome, but it takes far more than just one simple trick.
- I really really wish I remembered the title or author of this book, but I don’t. It was a collection of stories, advice and more that would have been published in 1983 or 1984 through the Scholastic student book program. If I remember right, it had a feel that we might today describe as “goth-y” or “Edward Gorey-inspired”. If this rings a bell for you, please reach out to me and tell me what it was! ↩