I was nine years old, standing in front of a sea of people, expected to sing a solo. My entire body was frozen, adrenaline coursing through my veins. All I saw were faces and, right in front of me, the microphone, waiting. I opened my mouth, but I was forgetting how to breathe.
A lack of self-confidence can be extremely damaging to your sense of self. Someone who naturally struggles with this (which is many, if not most, people) might never be completely free of it; there are always moments when everyone feels a little doubt (and if not, they probably have an ego that needs to be punctured). Usually you can tell pretty quickly whether you’re talking to someone who has a low amount of self-confidence, because they hold themselves differently. They’re less certain of their words — a little withdrawn, a little detached, shrinking into themselves and afraid of putting themselves forward.
However, there are many tricks and coping mechanisms one can use to get over this innate fear, and eventually become desensitized to the point where it rarely presents a problem. I’m going to give you an overview of three tactics and things to keep in mind when you’re working on becoming more confident.
Firstly, put yourself in situations you don’t like. Set yourself up so you need to do something you know you won’t want to do when the moment comes—schedule a call, make plans you can’t back out of, commit to a club, set up a presentation—and do it over and over again. People can get desensitized to anything. It sounds scary, but anticipation really is much worse than the thing itself.
Speaking as an expert procrastinator, it’s much easier for me to schedule something “for later” and then only have to confront it when “later” actually turns to “now.” So, use that instinct to procrastinate, and set things up for later. You don’t have to worry about it right now—so don’t. Then, when the time comes, you can’t back out because people are relying on you and it’s already scheduled and you’ll mess stuff up, so you do it, and, oh—it’s not that bad.
If that idea stresses you out too much, start small. For example, I love to sing, and I’m completely comfortable singing in front of a crowd, but things didn’t start out like that. At first, I never sang in front of anyone; then finally I sang in front of my sister, then for my vocal teacher, then a few friends, and I built things up until, at age nine, I was singing a solo for a crowd of hundreds of people. The same thing happened with my writing—I originally refused to share my writing with anyone, and then eventually I shared it with one friend, and after a while I began posting anonymously online. I posted something in my school’s literary magazine, originally anonymously and then under my own name. Now, I write online under my own name constantly, and have no fear of doing so, because I’m desensitized to it.
My suggestion for slowly opening up is this: when you pick your original person/people to start opening up to, pick people who are easily impressed. I’m serious. When you’re starting, you need that confidence boost that what you’re doing is good, that someone actually is impressed by it and thinks you can get somewhere with it, so share it with a friend with a low threshold for what’s “impressive,” or on a site with a lot of bad or mediocre content. You might not be the best at what you’re doing, or even all that good, but someone believes in you. Keep sharing with that person, and as you improve, you can start widening your audience to people who are a little tougher to impress. Eventually, you can improve enough to build your ideal audience.
My second suggestion is to remind yourself that no one cares. Really. If you mess up, people just…won’t care. If you’re making a big speech in front of a thousand people and you bungle your entire message, people will think, “Well, that was a waste of fifteen minutes. Ok. Guess I’m going to move on with life.” Soon they’ll forget the experience.
Here’s the secret: People have short memories. We’re like goldfish. As emotionally traumatizing as something is for you, other people really just do not care at all. It’s not relevant to someone else’s life when you mess up, because people are inherently very self-centered.
Long-term memories are typically formed when someone forms an emotional connection to something. People remember experiences when they were scared, angry, happy, or excited, the big things their brain flags as “important.” If you were making a mess of things, most likely your audience was just bored and maybe a little irritated; that’s not really enough of an impression to stick around for that long. If you have a pimple on your face, you might feel self-conscious, but at the end of the day the person who cares most, or probably even at all, is you.
Long-term memories are typically formed when someone forms an emotional connection to something. People remember experiences when they were scared, angry, happy, or excited, the big things their brain flags as “important.” If you were making a mess of things, most likely your audience was just bored and maybe a little irritated. That’s not really enough of an impression to stick around for that long.
Finally, if people do care, let’s be real: it’s probably just a sign of their own immaturity and need to take other people down. That’s their issue, not yours. Don’t let it become your issue. If you make a mistake and someone thinks it’s cool to laugh at you, or try to tear you down, it’s because they feel insecure if they’re not disempowering the people around them. It’s important to objectively understand this, and not to internalize bad behavior from other people that reflects on their mindset and not on your actions. If you do something a little stupid and someone else flips out, it’s more because they failed to keep their emotions in check than because you made a grave error. You deserve basic dignity and respect because that is what every human deserves, and you are human. Thus, if someone does not afford these things to you, you shouldn’t then internalize it, because it’s a failure on their part and not on yours.
Building up self-confidence takes time, but it is very rewarding, and something everyone should strive to do. And the best trick is just to get started.
At the age of nine, I was standing alone in front of a crowd of hundreds of people—campers, counselors, parents, grandparents—and when the music started, I opened my mouth and started singing mechanically. I’d practiced so many times that it just came out. And then it was over, and some little part of me wanted to do it all again.