Watching the Political Debates over the past few months has been quite a spectacle.
What stands out for me is not the intelligent points made by the candidates (those are few and far between), it is the confidence with which they speak, regardless of the absurdity of their points.
It is as if the truth doesn’t matter, so long as the conviction was there.
The few candidates who didn’t demonstrate confidence, through what they said as well as physical presence, ended up getting trounced.
Does being confident trump the validity and correctness of what you are actually saying?
While I used never to think so, it turns out that your ability to be confident is a larger factor than competence when it comes to influencing others and making an impact.
If you are committed to making an impact on the world, learn how to be confident, even in the face of uncertainty. This blog post will show you my favorite methods for doing just that.
Confidence Trumps Competence
Humans prefer cockiness to expertise. It might seem sad, but true. Watch any political debate and you will see this in action.
For an example closer to home, imagine sitting down at a new restaurant and asking the waiter what he thinks of a particular pasta dish. Let’s suppose the waiter is new the restaurant and never tasted it. He might say “You know, I haven’t tried it, but people seem to like it.” Or he might say “It’s amazing, one of the best meals we have!”.
Which one of more convincing?
It’s not that the second statement is a flat out lie, in fact, the waiter might actually have heard people rave about the meal. However, the first statement definitely seems more factual. It is also less effective in influencing a buyer to take action.
When it comes to impacting others, facts are far less important than the emotion and confidence we muster behind them.
According to the authors of The Confidence Gap, who have studied confidence at length, particularly as it relates to women in the workplace:
Evidence shows that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. A growing body of evidence shows just how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.
Cameron Anderson, a psychologist who works in the business school at the University of California at Berkeley, has made a career of studying overconfidence.
“When people are confident, when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are, they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior,” Anderson said.
“He mentioned expansive body language, a lower vocal tone, and a tendency to speak early and often in a calm, relaxed manner. “They do a lot of things that make them look very confident in the eyes of others,” he added.
“Whether they are good or not is kind of irrelevant.”
Media pundits know this reality all too well, erring on the side of confidence at every chance. It’s gone to such an extreme that many news shows feature more commentary from so-called experts than actual reporting of the news.
People love watching people who are confident in their opinions. They also prefer to follow and are more easily swayed by these people.
The media is just giving the public what it wants, an abundance of confidence!
This is especially true in the world of sports, financial and political prognosticators:
The public appears to heavily value confidence and places a much smaller, although still positive, emphasis on accuracy. Among professional pundits, perfect accuracy – predicting every baseball play-off game correctly – would only result in a 3 1/2% increase in popularity.
Being consistently confident, by contrast, would result in an almost 17% increase in popularity. Both results are statistically significant. For the pundit who wants an audience, sounding confident is overwhelmingly more important.
All of this is to say that if you want to influence others and achieve success, being confident is not an option, it is a necessity. Lloyds of London’s CEO Inga Beale was interviewed on the topic of career success, and had this to say:
Q. What advice would you give to your 30-year-old self?
A. Really believe in your own abilities.
Be confident if you want to succeed. The rest of this post will teach you how.
Proven Ways To Be More Confident
The following 5 strategies are remarkably simple things you can start doing today. Choose any or all of them, apply them regularly to situations where confidence is necessary, and watch your confidence and impact skyrocket.
Your emotions and your physiology play a huge role in your confidence (or lack thereof). My favorite way to take care of my body is through sleep – both at night and also through periodic 20-minute naps.
Sleep is underrated.
Without proper rest, the following happens according to Psychology Today:
Evidence suggest that when people are sleep-deprived, they feel more irritable, angry and hostile. Sleep loss is also associated with feeling more depressed. Also, sleep deprivation seems to be associated with greater emotional reactivity –people who suffer from sleep loss are especially likely to react negatively when something doesn’t go well for them.
For those of you interested in the brain – some research suggests that sleep deprivation enhances negative mood due to increased amygdala activity (a brain structure integral to experiences of negative emotions such as anger and rage) and a disconnect between the amygdala and the area of the brain that regulates its functions. In other words: sleep loss leads to increased negative mood, and decreased ability to control that anger!
It is impossible to be truly confident when you are in a negative mood. Get your sleep to not only avoid experiencing negative emotions but to experience more positivity after you’ve accomplished something:
In one study, people who were more sleep deprived did not report increased positive affect after an achievement, whereas people who’d had an adequate amount of sleep did feel better after their achievement.
If you find yourself having trouble sleeping, you can try measuring your sleep schedule and duration using a FitBit or any of these sleep trackers.
If you are ready to take your sleep to an even deeper level, hack your sleep with tips from fitness and wellness expert Ben Greenfield.
2) Practice Making Decisions
In “The Histories”, written in 450 B.C., Herodotus makes the following statement:
“If an important decision is to be made [the Persians] discuss the question when they are drunk and the following day the master of the house…submits their decision for reconsideration when they are sober. If they still approve it, it is adopted; if not, it is abandoned. Conversely, any decision they make when they are sober is reconsidered afterwards when they are drunk.”
This might seem like a bad way to make decisions (and it is!). However, being crippled by indecisiveness is a worse way to move through the world.
The best way to get in a decision-making mindset it to practice making decisions when the stakes are small and treat each decision as an exercise to improve your decision-making muscle.
Examples of low-stakes decisions:
- What will you have for dinner tonight?
- What movie will you see this evening, if you had to see one?
- What is your all-time favorite band?
- How long will you exercise today and what will you do?
- Who will you vote for in the upcoming election?
For all these sample questions, are you able to quickly and confidently come up with your answer?
If not, keep practicing making decisions.
Start with lower-stakes decisions (e.g. Do you want paper or plastic?) and as you are able to make them quickly and confidently, work your way up to bigger ones (e.g. Where should you be investing your retirement portfolio?).
Eventually, tough decisions (e.g. How do I ask my boss for a promotion?) will be easier to make. This decision-making capacity has a directly positive impact on your overall confidence.
3) Focus On Learning
When you have a focus on learning, you will be less tied to being “right” and more concerned with understanding why you were right or why you were wrong.
When you care about learning, it becomes much easier to “go out on a limb” and state your opinion, even in the face of insufficient facts. If you are wrong, you simply get to learn why and improve. If you are right, well, the benefits of being right are obvious!
When you are faced with hard decisions, it is usually hard due to a lack of certainty in the outcome. Therefore, imagine your decision-making as helping you to get to whatever learning you need to get, faster.
As a side benefit, a learning-oriented mindset will imbue a tinge of humility into your actions, helping you come across as confident, not arrogant.
The later is something none of us should want to portray.
4) Design A Positive Environment
When you’re told you’re good by someone you respect, you believe it.
Partially it’s a placebo effect. But that’s perfectly fine.
A teacher of mine, Tony Robbins, once taught me that my life will be defined by the 5 people I choose to surround myself with. My business success or failure. My income. The strength of my relationships. My quality of life.
The people we spend time with radically affect our well-being.
While you cannot choose your family or all your co-workers, you can absolutely cultivate a peer group that is supportive of you. Elect to socialize with intelligent, caring, positive people, and you will witness your own capacities for those things rise.
Who do you spend the most time with outside of your co-workers and immediate family? Who else should you add to the mix to further inspire and support your goals?
The more supported you feel in your life, the easier it will be to portray a sense of purpose and confidence. Peer pressure is a wonderful thing if used correctly!
Peer pressure can also be a terrible thing if it runs amok.
According to a surprising story by NPR, in May of 1971, two congressmen went to Vietnam for an official visit and returned with some terribly disturbing news: 15 percent of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam were actively addicted to heroin.
They tracked the servicemen upon their return home after the Vietnam war, and found another shocking result, the number of people who remained addicted after returning home was tiny. 95 percent of the people who were addicted in Vietnam did not become re-addicted when they returned to the United States!
The reason? Their environment.
According to the story from NPR:
It’s important not to overstate this, because a variety of factors are probably at play. But one big theory about why the rates of heroin relapse were so low on return to the U.S. has to do with the fact that the soldiers, after being treated for their physical addiction in Vietnam, returned to a place radically different from the environment where their addiction took hold of them.
What this means is that your environment has a substantial impact on your own state of mind, behaviors and of course, confidence.
Surround yourself with people – and a positive environment – that promotes your capacity to think clearly, make healthy decisions and be confident in the process.
5) Power Posing
Amy Cuddy’s TED talk has garnered over 30 million views, making it one of the most popular TED talks of all time.
Why is it so popular?
It is popular because it addresses a quality of our human nature that lots of people care about (confidence) and provides a powerful but astonishingly simple way to improve it – through minor changes in your physiology.
I welcome you to watch Amy’s talk and also read her paper detailing the science behind her methods.
In a nutshell, Amy tested the impact of high-power and low-power postures on hormone levels in the body. Hormones, things like testosterone and cortisol, radically affect our emotional and mental states.
The hormonal effect of holding a high or low power pose for just 1 minute is shown in the image below. Testosterone is a dominance oriented hormone and cortisol a stress-oriented hormone.
According to Dr. Cuddy:
“Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psycho- logical, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders—elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hor- mone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.”
This research emphasizes the impact of your physiology on your state of mind and how you come across to others.
It’s why I love practicing yoga, as it aligns my body in a way that makes my default way of moving about the world more powerful and confident. Yoga makes breathing easier, lengthens my spine and makes me focused in a relaxed way for hours after my practice is complete.
Practice your own power poses every day, be it a Warrior Pose or a Wonder Woman Pose, and watch your confidence improve.