At least 50 pairs of eyes are staring at me in anticipation. Once more I’m giving everyone a beaming smile before taking the mic and announcing my busking performance with a relaxed voice: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, it is now SHOWTIME!’
Initially when doing shows, even when being together with my crew mates, I was often totally terrified. Speaking in front of an audience gave me a high-pitched voice and smiling at others seemed impossible. Being confident is both a matter of practice and a matter of mindset due to my experience. Let’s explore the mental issues first before moving on with my practice tips.
Being insecure is often a sign that one is too concerned about what others think of her or him. One is worried that one’s failure will spoil the good image that others might have of her/him. One aims to please others on the expenses of one’s own needs.
A second cause for lack of confidence is taking things too seriously. Again there is fear of failure, but in this case it’s rather due to one’s own eagerness for success. When having the attitude that failure is not an option the mental burden can become immense and make it difficult to stay relaxed.
A further mind trap is constantly comparing oneself with seemingly superior people and regarding one’s own qualities as poor. In many cases this is coupled with a biased self-perception rating one’s own abilities even worse than they are.
Before tackling exercises to improve confidence, it’s crucial to have the mental issues fixed. First you must decide that you don’t let your behavior be governed by other people’s alleged expectations. You have to accept that not everyone has to like you. This way you will achieve much more on the long run.
Secondly develop an abundance mentality meaning that you don’t see just black and white any more. Accept that failure is possible, but also have the mindset that there are enough opportunities for you, so that your life usually doesn’t depend on just one single shot. As long as the stress is positive and pushes you the abundance mentality might be not necessary, but if the stress makes you perform worse, it’s time to take things less seriously.
Additionally don’t let yourself be intimidated by others. Understand that people with extraordinary success have probably worked hard to achieve this and you cannot expect to be on the same level without having done the same effort. However you can see their achievements as motivation for yourself. If it rather demotivates you, avoid to compare yourself with people being much superior than you. Instead remind yourself of your own strengths with which you can outdo others.
The following mantras help me to calm down before stressful events and to encourage myself:
‘I don’t have to impress anyone. I just do this for myself. This is just for fun.’
‘I don’t have to prove anything. This is just a practice for myself.’
‘My life doesn’t depend on this and I cannot give more than my best.’
Equipped with this knowledge you should be able to tackle some of my confidence exercises. After all practice determines how sovereign, relaxed and naturally you can act in situations in which you feel some discomfort.
Some of my tips are inspired by Tim Ferris’ book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’. But also some of his proposed comfort challenges are not my style such as lying on the floor at a crowded public place without any reason. Certainly I can do this, but I prefer more practical methods offering additional benefits to improve my life. Plus I prefer to spin on my head at crowded places 🙂
Most of the following exercises will help you to become more proactive and reduce your fear in unfamiliar situations. Let’s get started by getting comfortable with speaking to strangers. When being out ask people for directions, for the time and other information that you need. You surely can find it out all by yourself, but it’s important to practice such things to lower your mental resistance. Likewise instead of wasting time by searching for items in a store, ask a shop assistant right away. A bit more advanced is to ask for discount. Especially at markets you can practice to bargain and if you’re not satisfied with the deal, have the courage to not buy it. Moreover refuse to take bags in stores and bring your own bag. This way you reduce waste and you can build confidence. Once in a while when the salesperson provides the bag very quickly, I even have to put the things out of the bag and occasionally I almost have to force the store to keep the bag (because they want me to make cheap advertisement for them by carrying a bag with their logo on it).
Do you like it when someone greets you, smiles at you or compliments you? Let’s spread some love and make others happy by doing exactly these things. What’s more it will leave you with a warm feeling as well. Even when people don’t reply your greeting or look away when you smile at them, just keep greeting and smiling. Usually these people are too shy themselves, so give up the thought that they would dislike you. A more advanced technique is to hold eye contact with people crossing your sight until the other one looks away. However it is recommended to not practice this with potentially dangerous animals such as dogs.
So far the exercises didn’t include anything overly exotic. Next learn to be independent. If there’s a movie that you like to watch in the cinema and no one wants to join you, just go by yourself. If there’s an activity that you would like to try, start it without being accompanied by friends. Dress up for work more than usually. Get used to being eye-catching. What about a little stretching session in the park? Don’t care about people watching you and get comfortable with standing out. You have a different opinion in a conversation? Go ahead and express it. People are backbiting about someone being absent? Have the courage to defend this person. You are asked to do something being inconvenient for you? Reject it. Learn to say no. Instead raise your voice, make suggestions, ask others for advice, a favor, permission and support. This doesn’t mean that you should start using others. People might even welcome your initiative. For example in a Cryptography lecture that I attended I used to be almost the only one asking questions to the professor during class giving me the impression that I was the only one struggling to understand the contents of the lecture. However soon I discovered that I even understood it better than many other students in the course and that they were actually really glad that I regularly asked for further explanations.
To really boost your confidence I recommend challenges such as holding speeches or acting in a play. Also you can go to a party, ideally alone, and enjoy yourself on the dance floor already before it is crowded. Furthermore try to become really good at something. You can also aim for a certificate or a degree. Especially when learning something that you think is extremely difficult to grasp or do, studying it and practicing it until you achieve some proficiency of it will reward you with confidence like never before. Similarly learning and applying a foreign language can be a great practice. For example whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant I try to communicate a little bit in Mandarin. Last but not least I recommend to travel by yourself abroad once in a while since it will require you to do many of the things that I suggested in this post. Travelling alone doesn’t mean that you will be just by yourself during the whole trip. One thing that travelling has thought me is that there are super-friendly people all over this planet.
In summary adopt the right mindset and practice a lot in order to grow your confidence. What if a rockstar messes up during a performance despite all the practice and confidence? She/He takes it with humor and the show goes on!