So.. it is time for you to talk. As in, speak. Like a regular person. Amongst a group of your fellow humans! But you can’t! Your confidence has abandoned you.
Has this ever been you? Because this has been me legitimately 1,000 times.
Basically, I would turn into a puddle around random groups of people. Although I might have been JUST FINE 5 minutes ago, I get thrust into an unexpected conversation and start freaking out. I wouldn’t even be sure what I was saying! The world swirled around me. So, I blurted something out… then ran away!
I’d leave wondering, “What on earth did I just say?” (Hmm… I wonder why?)
From a psychological perspective, here’s what I think is going on, and how to cure it.
In my opinion, the problem is inhibition overload. Inhibition is a type of activity in your nervous system that tells your body to stop, don’t act, hold back, and wait. It is actually great to have this ability. It allows you do things like NOT walk out in traffic.
But… Sometimes this system gets a bit too uppity. Perhaps it thinks it is protecting me against unknown threats! But actually, it is “protecting” me from me having any confidence whatsoever. (Great, thanks so much nervous system! I’ll just sit here in fear…)
The Problem with Too Much Inhibition
The real problem with this situation is that I’m awesome!
I’m actually cool. I have interesting things to say. I have original thoughts and a baller personality. One day I decided that it was totally wrong to keep my awesome self locked up in some overwrought nervous system battle. So, I decided to figure out how to calm this beast down. And I did. 🙂 I found some fixes for all of this INNER WEIRDNESS. And I’m going to share them with you!
THE KEY: The key boils down to this – override your inhibition.
How? Use some activation. Action. Movement. Breath. Activity. Even a tiny bit helps! Do small things that send signals to your body that EXTREME INHIBITION IS NOT NECESSARY. It is actually safe to talk (and even have coherent thoughts – amazing!).
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10 Hacks for High Confidence Around Others:
My biggest tip is to breathe DELIBERATELY. If you’re freaking out, take an actual deep breath. Let it out slowly. This always helps me stabilize and climb out of fight-or-flight mode. (And you know I want to flee!)
If you’re making a long talking point, take normal breaths rather than speaking non-stop. NOBODY NOTICES YOU BREATHING. You might think, “I have to keep talking or people will lose interest!” Actually, people don’t even notice and just breathe with you. You’re creating a natural break point in the information stream for them to process what you just said. And that makes you even more effective at communicating. 🙂
PSYCHOLOGY JEDI MASTER TRICK: Sometimes people are just trying to “win” a conversation. Ugh. You know – when a conversation seems out of control and you cannot get a word in? Here’s what to do – Start breathing a bit loudly at a slower rate than the conversation. You’ll influence the vibe on a subconscious level. Then when you take your chance to chime in, keep your voice on that more positive, slow vibe. You’ll successfully share what you have to say in a non-competitive way. And may even change the tone of the whole convo from competition to collaboration. Yoda will be proud.
Unleash the power of your arms and gesture baby! Use your hands and arms to communicate. You can gesture to jump into a conversation or simply add some flavor to what you say. The point is, gestures are natural. And gestures are a real source of linguistic information. We all have gestures that are unique to us. By using them, you’ll help yourself loosen up, convey more of who you really are, and SAY MORE than non-gesturers. What a nice triple-benefit. 🙂
As an antidote to overthinking what you’re about to say, how you look, etc. try deep listening. Deep listening is simply when you pay close, careful attention to someone while they’re talking. Really let the meaning sink in that they’re TRYING to convey, rather than their exact words. This is a great way to read people. Is this person trying to say they’re afraid? Confused? Enthusiastic? Angry? Bored? Broke? Amused? Nervous?
Then follow up with people’s comments by asking them a question that gets them to clarify or expand. This takes the focus off you and helps you actually connect with another person. Imagine a time when someone truly listened to you. How good did that feel? You can do this for someone else. 🙂
4. MAKE EYE CONTACT
Make meaningful eye contact with others as you speak and listen. I mean, it is not like you’re talking with your eyes closed! Are you? Or is your gaze doing something else? So carefully remove your eyes from your shoes, the distant background, or anywhere else that might feel comfortable to look (but actually just makes you look distracted). and look into the eyes of the people around you. You’ll automatically feel more confident by doing this. Why? Because it is actually brave.
EYEBROW HACK: Hahahaha. Okay so I’m laughing because SO MANY TIMES I’ve avoided eye contact because it just FEELS TOO INTIMATE. Like ahhhh. Some people’s eyes are so too pretty, and I get lost! (Now you can see why I’m laughing.) Sooo… Try looking at people’s eyebrows instead. Hey it works! It is less soul-examining than direct eye contact. But it still makes people feel special that you’re paying attention to them. And if they catch you, you can blame me and send them this article (loooooks like you slipped into the DMs of that beautiful person!). 😉
5. OCCUPY SPACE
To increase your confidence, allow yourself to take up space around you a bit more. You know the guy on the train who sits with his arms spread out, taking up 2 extra seats, his backpack in one seat, coat in another, looking like he’s lounging in his living room? CHANNEL THAT GUY. Move around. Put your hands on your hips. Take the conversation for a walk. Just by allowing your body to EXIST in the space it is in you’ll unlock some major confidence.
6. STAND UP STRAIGHT
Your mother was right. Please see her for further information.
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7. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO CONVEY
You know when you see a super confident person talking? And you just are so amazed by their self-possession and clarity? Me too! The most confident thing I ever see others do is to have one point, make it, and stand behind it. It makes people just seem so POWERFUL, so self sure, and I feel inspired. So I’ve copied them.
Figure out just one thing that you want to say and stick to making that point. Hey, its what confident people do!
The best part? You don’t have to stand by that point forever. Consider the time-honored tradition of debate. The goal is to learn something greater by taking strong stances and exploring them. The re-examining. So give this age-old tradition a try and stand for just one thing, if only for awhile.
You might also enjoy my post: How to Overcome the #1 Public Speaking Myth!
8. SET A CONVERSATIONAL TONE
Accept yourself first and others will too. Rather than letting your fears take over, try assuming that everyone is going to understand you. And accept you. Try assuming that everyone will think you’ve made a great point. Assume that when they respond with some random tangent, they’re really saying, “Great point! I’d like to add to that by mentioning..”
Just adopting this perspective, I suddenly lose so many worries. I no longer worry about being understood, accepted, attacked, or the million other things my inhibition brain comes up with. Instead, I can allow others to make their points. I know I can always come back to mine. By adopting a spirit of collaboration, you gain confidence that comes from within. 🙂 The best kind!
You might also like my video: 5 Mental Hacks to Stop Caring What People Think!
Got something to say? See if you can say it in 8 words or fewer. Boom! This is powerful. As your friendly cognitive scientist, let me tell you that by your 18th rambling sentence, people have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about anymore. Or they 100% get it and they’re just waiting for you to stop talking.
By having the gumption to say what you mean succinctly, you’ll automatically increase your own confidence in yourself. And from a nervous system standpoint, A few words is just a small thing, compared to a monologue. So blurting out a short thing is a great way to break the inhibition cycle and get comfortable existing around other humans.
10. USE DOWNSPEAK (AVOID UPSPEAK)
Ah! This is some high-level ish! Upspeak is the sound you naturally make when asking a question. When you say, “Did you get almond milk?” your voice goes up at the end. Yet we might do this at the end of non-question sentences. Like this: “Yeah, it was on sale?” But you meant, “Yeah, it was on sale.”
Upspeak can make us feel unsure. Why? Because the tone, or prosodic information, mismatches the word meaning.
If you ever catch yourself doing this – just purposely try ending some statements with a lower tone. Or downspeak. They key here is SOME. You don’t have to eliminate all upspeak! Actually, that might be a characteristic of your voice. And that’s a cool, good thing. So if your confidence is wavering, I say throw a few low tones into the ends of your sentences, and see how it feels. 🙂
Go Forth and Exude Confidence!
You are a very worthwhile human being and have every right to unearth your natural confidence. So allow your awesome self to shine. I’m so proud of you.
Dr. Erienne Weine
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