Sometimes, one of the greatest obstacles standing between you and self-confidence is your own mind.
As if psychological concepts like the negativity bias, the impostor syndrome and the arrival fallacy weren’t working against us enough, we don’t do ourselves any favors with the myths about self-confidence we often allow ourselves to believe.
Indulging in fallacious and inaccurate ideas definitely held me down for far longer than I care to admit, and while this certainly wasn’t great for me, it could work out well for you.
Below I’ve put together seven vital confidence tips for men who want to overcome some of the most common myths they allow themselves to believe – and bolster their self-esteem in the process.
Use the advice below to free yourself from some unhelpful fallacies, and you’ll find that building self-confidence is easier than you thought.
Confidence Tips for Men
What Guys Need to Know
(And What They Need to Stop Believing)
Confidence is Something You’re Born With
Number one with a bullet. This misconception plagued me for years, causing me a lot of undue insecurity and stress in the process – and unfortunately, I strongly suspect I’m not the only one who’s fallen victim to this fallacy.
It’s easy to see how this idea has spread. For one thing, confidence isn’t something that people often discuss, so when we observe confident people moving capably through the world, we assume it just comes naturally to them, as if they were preternaturally endowed with self-assurance.
But that’s only because we don’t see – and people don’t often reveal – all the hard work, effort and exertion that went into building their confidence in specific realms.
Confidence Follows Competence
This myth quickly starts to crumble when you dig a little deeper and realize that in many cases confidence comes from competence, and the only way to truly become competent at something is to work at it.
Sure, some people will have natural advantages in certain areas: extroverts tend to have an easier time interacting with people; guys with athletic parents and good genes stand a good chance of being fit and athletic themselves, etc.
But even those with inherent advantages have to put in the requisite work to increase their competence – for example, you won’t get ripped if you don’t hit the gym, no matter how good your genes are.
And those of us born without a leg-up can catch up with and even surpass those who were, if we’re willing to put in the work – look no further than Chris Pratt’s transformation from Andy Dwyer into Star Lord for proof.
Disavowing myself of the myth that I couldn’t become mentally, physically, socially or sartorially confident because I wasn’t “a natural” was easily the most empowering revelation of my life.
It immediately demolished the mental walls that I had subconsciously erected for myself and took me from a mindset of scarcity and insecurity to one of abundant possibility.
Confidence Tip #1:
Don’t fall prey to the myth that self-confidence is something you’re born with – it’s not. It’s something you build.
There’s a Secret to Self-Confidence
Where the first myth is that you can’t build confidence unless you’re born with it, this one falls on the opposite end of the spectrum:
The idea that in order to become unwaveringly self-confident, all you need to do is unearth a simple secret.
While the premise here may be a little different than Myth #1 above, it’s refuted by the same underlying truth, which bears repeating: confidence is something you build.
And just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, there’s no secret that will allow you to build self-confidence overnight.
It would be great if there were some secret, trick, hack or shortcut to building self-confidence, and Thor knows I’ve spent plenty of time and my fair share of dollars looking for one.
But the truth is that if there’s any “secret” to building deep, authentic, lasting self-confidence, it’s simply this: becoming more confident is a continuous process, and one that requires determination and persistence to carry out. The good news is that, while your results may vary, the process itself fills you with pride.
Confidence Tip #2:
Think of building confidence like running a marathon.
Have you ever talked to someone who recently ran one? In most cases, they have no idea what place they finished in. Sometimes they’ll be trying to beat a personal best, but sometimes they don’t even know how much time it took them to finish.
Why? Because the main benefit of running a marathon isn’t that you achieve a certain result or reach some milestone.
It’s that, as a natural consequence of putting in the time, effort, training and dedication required, marathon runners feel incredibly proud of themselves and their accomplishment.
Confidence is the same way. It comes not from worrying about your results, but from taking pride in the process.
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Confidence is Incompatible with Shyness, Quiet or Introversion
This is not only a common misconception, but a particularly insidious one.
For those of us on the quieter and more introverted end of the spectrum, it’s easy to fall prey to the extrovert ideal. As espoused by author Susan Cain in her excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, the extrovert ideal is the notion that people should want to be outgoing, gregarious and extroverted.
While introverts of all stripes can fall victim to this fallacy, it’s a particular problem for men.
Whether we’re watching politicians like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shake hands and slap backs like they own the room, or movie stars like Ryan Gosling and George Clooney charm the pants off both their leading ladies and the audience, the media frequently suggests that for men, what it means to be confident is to be someone who can easily interact with others.
But while it’s certainly true that being able to socialize smoothly can be a great source of confidence, it’s by no means synonymous with it.
As I mentioned in my book review of Quiet, Cain points out that introverts may not have the easiest time charming people at parties or speaking up in the boardroom, but we have a number of other huge advantages that can lead to great success—and confidence.
Here are just a few of the reasons why introverts can – and damn well should – be confident in themselves and their contributions to the world.
Better at Building Relationships and Rapport
Because introverts spend more time on self reflection, we’re better able to empathize and imagine what other people are thinking and feeling.
This makes us great at building rapport and relationships.
Where extroverts tend to have wide social networks full of casual acquaintances, introverts may have fewer friends, but much deeper, more valuable relationships with them.
In Quiet, Cain studied many high-level creatives and found that they’re much more likely to be introverted than extroverted. Here’s how she explains it in her own words, in an interview published on Heleo:
“If you look at any of the great creatives, you find people with quite introverted streaks in them. This is not only true in art and writing, but you also find it in music and business and beyond, in more extroverted, creative endeavors.”
Self-Reflection that Leads to Self-Improvement
Introverts are often prone to over-thinking, which can sometimes have its downsides.
But our self-reflection can also have great benefits, particularly when it comes to self-improvement. Before you can correct a problem, you have to be aware of it. Because our extroverted counterparts are more prone to action, they don’t always take time to reflect on themselves and their shortcomings. And sure, this may allow them to barrel forward, but what it doesn’t do is let them identify areas where they need improvement.
Introverts are the opposite. We spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about ourselves and, yes, stressing over our perceived shortcomings. But as a result of all this self-reflection, it’s easy for us to identify areas where we feel we need to improve and to set about doing so. As a result, introverts are more inclined toward growth and personal development, which allows us to become better and better as time goes on.
Confidence Tip #3:
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you’re shy, quiet, self-reflective or introverted you can’t also be confident.
You actually have a lot of reasons to believe in yourself and your abilities.
Confidence Means Coolness
This one is related to the myth above, but takes a slightly different twist.
Even if we admit that confidence is not the same as extroversion, we still tend to think that in order to be confident as introverts we have to be moody and brooding in order to convey a sense of depth and mystery.
Someone we perceive as a tortured soul, like James Dean, or a reclusive author like JD Salinger, epitomize this kind of “quiet but cool” ethos.
But the truth is that there are plenty of confident people who are neither extroverted nor cool. Bill Gates comes immediately to mind, as do names like Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks and Steven Spielberg.
None of these people probably match your idea of what’s “cool,” but it would be impossible to argue that they’re not confident. Why? Because their confidence doesn’t come from a shallow, surface-level concept like how they look or what they wear.
Instead, their confidence comes from their character. People who live in accordance with their values and believe in their strength of character are, inevitably, among the most confident people in the world.
Confidence Tip #4:
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ll never be confident because you don’t look or speak a certain way.
Instead, focus on doing things that make you feel proud and fulfilled, and confidence will naturally follow as a result.
Confidence Equals Cockiness
I recently ran a poll on Twitter to ask my followers which aspect of building self-confidence they found most challenging.
The poll prompted some interesting responses, including an email from an avid follower who wanted to explain his own take on building confidence.
After listing the things he’s done to build confidence over the years (including natural bodybuilding, practicing traditional gentlemanly manners and wearing custom-made suits), he wrote:
“I know what you’re thinking: am I cocky or conceited?”
The truth is I wasn’t thinking it, but I wasn’t surprised to learn that he thought I might be. A lot of guys seem to think that there’s no way to be confident – and especially no way to speak openly about their confidence – without being arrogant.
Easy Mistake to Make…
It’s easy to see why guys conflate these two concepts.
When we’re feeling neurotic, self-reflective or negative, and we observe some cocky guy bragging about his good looks, his prowess with women, his money or some other superficial strength (and it’s always the superficial strengths they brag about), it’s easy to feel envious and wish that we took the same kind of pride in our own virtues and achievements.
But just as a good lie starts from a truthful premise before veering into false territory, so do cockiness and confidence diverge.
Guys who brag about some superficial element of their lives may technically be correct that, in that particular realm, they are superior. But in almost all cases, they only boast about their outer lives to try and hide the fact that their inner lives are in shambles.
…But Easier to Spot the Differences
While arrogant guys tend to devote a lot of time and energy to making you think they’re confident, it’s actually not that hard to spot the differences between conceited guys who boast and confident guys who build:
- Conceited guys get angry when someone challenges their self-aggrandizing claims. Confident guys are hungry to challenge themselves and self-improve.
- Conceited guys brag about their strengths to try and mask their insecurities. Confident guys are humble about their strengths and honest about the areas they need to improve.
- Conceited guys have fragile egos and get easily offended. Confident guys remember the words of Henry David Thoreau: “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.” (More on this concept below.)
Confidence Tip #5:
You get the idea. The conceited guy wants nothing more than to fool you into thinking that he’s actually confident, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that confidence compels you to brag or boast.
Confidence Comes From Other People
Closely related to the misconception that confidence and arrogance go hand in hand is the notion that your confidence should be defined by how other people see you.
As mentioned above, this is a mistake that insecure guys (particularly those hiding behind the mask of arrogance) make all too often. They put far too much stock in the opinions of others, and become obsessed with how they are perceived by their peers.
You Can’t Read Minds (Unfortunately)
The problem with this is twofold.
First, we can’t actually know what’s in the minds of others. There have been countless times throughout my life where I thought that people didn’t like me, or thought poorly of me.
I would desperately try to interpret their actions, words and tone of voice to look for clues, but I always ended up feeling like they were indifferent toward me, at best.
It was only after (eventually) developing a relationship with many of these people and becoming comfortable enough to open up to each other that I learned they weren’t indifferent at all – in fact they quite liked me, but they were too shy or socially awkward to make their feelings of warmth known.
Because they were trying to “play it cool,” I was left feeling like they didn’t like me. So if I were to base my confidence entirely on my perception of their feelings, I would have found little reason to feel good about myself, despite the fact that they actually appreciated me.
And They Can’t Read Yours
Secondly, just as we can’t know the minds of others, other people can’t truly know us.
Now, of course your closest friends and family members know you well. But a cold hard fact of human existence is that no one lives inside of your head but you. No one on earth can know your deepest thoughts and feelings and no one can see what actions you take when you’re alone.
For instance, maybe you derive a lot of confidence from the fact that you’re a gentleman. You hold doors for people. You make small talk with cashiers and treat them like people instead of treating them like part of your transaction. When you see someone drop something, you pick it up, etc.
Doing these things consistently can be both character-building and confidence-boosting. But unless someone is following you around 24/7, chances are most of these acts will go unnoticed by the outside world. So if you derive confidence not from doing the right thing but being seen doing the right thing, then nine times out of 10 you’re going to find yourself disappointed.
That’s why I referenced that Thoreau quote above, which bears repeating here:
Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
Confidence Tip #6:
Most of the time, other people will not be able to see all of the reasons you have to be confident. Don’t be deterred by this – in fact, you can be bolstered by it.
Focus on developing the depth of your character, not the breadth, and you’ll develop an inner strength that doesn’t require other people’s approval.
You Need to Be Confident Before You Can Act Confident
When I was a kid, being “fake” seemed like one of the worst crimes a person could commit.
If a person was nice in one moment and rude in the next, they were labelled “fake.” If you were a huge sports fan but sucked at the particular sport you loved, you were “fake.” If you got good grades – and were allegedly smart – couldn’t come up with the right answer to a particular question on the spot, you were “fake.
Fake it ‘Til You Make It
This adolescent understanding of authenticity biased me against the concept of fakeness for a long time. So when I did a deep dive into self-improvement and personal development in my early 20s, I was shocked to discover that when it comes to confidence, “fake it ’til you make it” is exactly what some of the field’s top experts recommend.
I first came across this concept in Olivia Fox Cabane’s book The Charisma Myth, which she opens with a story about Marilyn Monroe. Apparently, “Marilyn Monroe” wasn’t just the stage name that Norma Jeane Mortenson adopted – it was a character she put on.
She would essentially “turn on” the Marilyn character – and all the charm, charisma and sex appeal that went with her – whenever she wanted to turn heads, and retreat to the comfort of introverted Norma Jeane whenever she wanted to be left alone. Cabane devoted her entire book to showing you how you can build a similar sort of charisma, and explaining the science behind why it really is possible to turn it on and off like a light switch.
Dr. Cuddy’s Prescription: Fake Two of These and Call Me in the Morning
That message was reinforced in me when I saw the now-famous TED Talk by Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, in which she not only literally says “you really can fake it til you make it,” but describes the research done by her and her team to back up that claim.
Hearing qualified authorities endorse the idea of faking it ’til you make it (this is coming from a Harvard psychologist, for god’s sake!) was enough to help me finally get over my distrust of the concept – and more importantly, to start using it in my everyday life.
When I went on job interviews or first dates I would sit up straighter, speak clearly and authoritatively, and project poise and confidence. Of course, after a few hours of this I may have felt exhausted, and retreated back to my couch where I could indulge in some quiet – but I no longer felt like I was a phony, or just “pretending” to be confident in those moments.
Instead, I realized that even the most charming, confident people in the world “turn it on” in certain instances, and take time to recharge in others. And the more you train yourself to do this – the more time you actually spend in the “on” position – the easier, and less “fake,” it becomes.
Confidence Tip #7:
Remember the words of Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy: “You really can fake it ’til you make it.” Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you act confident in certain instances, but feel self-doubt in others, you’re being “inauthentic” and aren’t truly confident.
Being able to “turn it on” and act confident some of the time is a great first step toward becoming confident all of the time. Don’t think of it as being “fake,” just think of it as practicing. And as with anything else in life, the more you practice, the better you’ll ultimately – and authentically – become.
While these are all vital confidence tips for men who want to bolster their self-confidence, they’re not my only pieces of advice – far from it!
For more specific, actionable and confidence-boosting advice, check out my post How to Become a More Confident Man, or use the form below to sign up for my email series to learn how to defeat self-doubt.
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As the founder of Irreverent Gent, Dave shares smart style advice that helps guys look sharp, and smart-ass jokes that make them wish he’d just stick to advice. When not blogging, he loves working out, obsessing over the MCU (#ILoveYou3000) and pretending to know about wine when his wife takes him somewhere fancy.