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Below is a copy of an email essay I sent out to a few dozen people in the â€œself-helpâ€ industry about 5 years ago. Predictably I only got a handful of responses. And of course they all insisted I was wrong. After all, their livelihoods depend on maintaining the myths I debunk. But they offered no evidence to disprove me, nor any useful insights.
When I read Winston's excellent blog on "attitude extremists" it reminded me of what I had written. So I thought I'd post it here for your enjoyment. You'll notice I list 3 areas to focus on in order to improve confidence. Of course if I were writing this today I'd add a 4th: Get the hell out of the US!
THE MYTH OF CONFIDENCE
If I had a dime for every time someone told me to â€œbe confidentâ€, Iâ€™d probably be a millionaire by now. And as a millionaire, Iâ€™d probably have a lot of women throwing themselves at me and a lot of men respecting & admiring me. And the inevitable result of all this would beâ€¦ You guessed it!.., Confidence. So the next time you feel like telling someone to be confident, just throw them a dime instead. Itâ€™d be a thousand times more useful.
In fact, Iâ€™ve noticed a disturbing trend in the last few years. All of a sudden, everyoneâ€™s talking about confidence. (or itâ€™s close relative, â€œself-esteemâ€) Everywhere I read, every show I watch, every dimestore shrink I consult. Everyoneâ€™s advising everyone else to be more confident.
(a hypothetical: What if everybody took this advice and suddenly everyone had perfect confidence? Wouldnâ€™t it just level the playing field right back to where it already was, and thus, not make a damn bit of difference anyway???)
Suddenly, all the women on the dating shows and in the advice columns are telling us how much theyâ€™re attracted to this mysterious new quality called confidence. And conversely, how the lack of confidence is a big turn-off. And predictably, men now feel the need to brag about how confident they are. And the confidence fad seems to be growing at a rapid pace. But Iâ€™m about to point out how itâ€™s all just the psychological equivalent of the Pet Rock fad from the 70â€™s. Like the Pet Rock, advising someone to â€œbe confidentâ€ is useless and does nothing. But like the Pet rock, it allows the giver to feel like they did something nice. They didnâ€™t. Yet people keep buying it & buying it & buying it.
The reality about confidence is so simple and so obvious, it amazes me that otherwise intelligent people havenâ€™t figured it out. Or maybe they have figured it out and theyâ€™re too dishonest with themselves to admit it. Perhaps the reality is too uncomfortable. After all, itâ€™s much easier to sell books and self-help courses with fantasy than with reality.
So hereâ€™s the truth about confidence: You can only have confidence when other people give it to you.
When others in your age group like you, respect you, admire you, and are attracted to you, you get confidence. When they donâ€™t like you, scorn you, and reject you, you lose confidence. Therefore, the level of confidence you have is controlled by others, NOT by you. You can not just decide to be confident. Confidence is not a choice or decision you can make. You canâ€™t just snap your fingers and, Abracadabra, youâ€™re confident. It doesnâ€™t work that way. It canâ€™t work that way. Social confidence, by itâ€™s very definition, requires support and acceptance from others before it can exist.
Confidence is merely a byproduct of success. You need some kind of social/sexual/romantic success before you can have genuine confidence. Confidence without success is delusional and/or dishonest, thus fake, and others will quickly recognize it as such. Hereâ€™s why: Itâ€™s not really the confidence itself that people are attracted to. Confidence is merely what results when someone has the qualities that are really attracting us. Obviously, if someone is good-looking, or wealthy, or funny & quick-witted, others will be attracted to them. This, in turn, will give them confidence.
So when someone tells you they are attracted to confidence, they are lying! (whether consciously or subconsciously) What theyâ€™re really attracted to are the traits that make confidence possible. After all, we all know that wealth, good looks, and strong social skills are attractive to others. Are we to believe itâ€™s just a coincidence that these are the very same traits that lead to confidence? Obviously, someone who is successful will have more confidence than someone who is unsuccessful. So when someone says theyâ€™re attracted to confidence, what it means is that theyâ€™re attracted to success & the factors that make success possible. The confidence itself merely exists as a sign that those other factors (the real attractors) are present.
So if you know or care about someone with low confidence, how can you help them? First, the worst thing you can do is to just tell them to â€œbe confidentâ€ or give them a verbal list of traits they should be confident about. Thatâ€™s just insulting their intelligence and itâ€™s going to frustrate and depress them even more. Words are hollow and meaningless when not corroborated by actions. So if you truly want to help someone increase their confidence, here are the areas you should focus on improving:
1) Physical Appearance
2) Social Skills
1) Physical Appearance
(So you think this is shallow? It is. Get over it. Physical appearance is, of course, the first thing people notice about you. And if they donâ€™t like what they see, it will be much, much harder to win them over.)
If the individual has flaws in their appearance, the worst thing you can do is to tell them they â€œlook fineâ€. Instead, help them improve their appearance. If theyâ€™re overweight, donâ€™t deny it. Help them lose the weight. If they have bad hair, help them find a stylish cut. If they have unfashionable or ill-fitting clothes, help them find better ones. And if you are not qualified to help them in these areas, find someone who can.
2) Social Skills
This one could easily become a chicken-or-egg argument. Many would point out that a person does poorly socially because they lack confidence. While this may be true in certain cases, Iâ€™ve found in my own experience and observations that usually the reverse is true. When a person has poor social skills, they will of course do poorly socially & inevitably, their confidence will suffer. When confronted with this fact, the lazy-minded will regurgitate such hackneyed social advice as â€œbe happy and smile moreâ€, â€œjust be yourselfâ€, â€œbe upbeat and positiveâ€, â€œjust be niceâ€, or something equally trite, short-sighted, and useless. Being nice is fine. Iâ€™d encourage it. But itâ€™s simply not enough on itâ€™s own to succeed socially. If all you are is nice, you will be walked on like a doormat, used, and thrown away. To truly succeed socially (in the absence of looks and wealth), one needs two things: Material and Execution. They need strong, interesting conversational material and they need to be able to execute this material in a smooth, charming manner. How can you expect someone to have social confidence if they lack this ability?
So if you honestly cared about someone suffering from low social confidence, you wouldnâ€™t waste their time with empty â€œbe yourselfâ€ pep talks. Youâ€™d help them learn and practice conversational skills in a supportive, rejection-free environment. However, if you are outside of their age group, find someone closer to their age to help them. This is because what is acceptable for 50-year olds is not acceptable for 20-year olds and vice versa.
Unless you are in a position to give someone a job earning $50K+ a year, thereâ€™s not a lot you can do about this one. But if you focus on the first two (appearance & social skills), increased income is virtually guaranteed to follow.
To recap my main points:
* Confidence is merely a byproduct of success.
* No one can just decide or choose to be confident. It has to come naturally from others.
* Our level of confidence is determined by the level of regard others have for us.
* Hollow â€œbe confidentâ€™ pep talks donâ€™t work. If you honestly want to increase anotherâ€™s confidence, it will require genuine care and effort.
* Therefore, stop advising people to â€œbe confidentâ€! If you arenâ€™t willing to put in the effort to help them gain that confidence, then you are just insulting them and wasting their time.
Another way to create confidence is to not care about the outcome of what you're doing. If you don't care, then you're automatically relaxed and confident. Meditation can help with this because it makes you feel a bit separated from ordinary worries and thinking and makes you not give a damn about many things.
If you're attached to the outcome, then you can't choose to be confident. But you can decide not to give a shit.
Yes, but if you don't give a shit, why would you even try?
If you're happy with a lifetime of celibacy, then sure, don't give a damn.
My point is that even if this gives you a relaxed sense of confidence (confidence of what?), it's not really what attracts women.
They only say they are attracted to confidence. But it's bullshit. What they are really attracted to is the wealth, the looks, the ability to be funny, etc that produce the social success that then results in confidence.
Confidence is real. It's not a myth or bullshit.
I am growing tired of the whining and self-defeating pussyfication I see on this site.
You are a man.
Take action and post your results.
Wow. Way to completely misinterpret what I said! Did you even read my first post?
Hint: I'm not saying confidence itself isn't real. I'm saying that it is a myth that you can choose to be confident. I'm also saying it's a myth that people are attracted to confidence. They are actually attracted to the qualities that lead to confidence, not the confidence itself. Thus, the practice of trying to increase one's confidence is futile.
The point is not to get into this big drama queen routine over each woman. If one doesn't work out, you can try another.
Well, lets skip semantic games about the word "confidence." Let's talk about the absence of fear. Women are not attracted to guys who piss themselves every time they talk to a woman. Nervous people make other people nervous, and most people don't like to be nervous. Both fear and the absence of fear are very real.
Cheers to that!
In any dog eat dog society there will be the confident-looking people and then angry people. Then there will be "nice" losers who try not be angry and those will be walked over like a door mat. No matter what you do, unless you change the society, you will have the successful few who are smug and gloating, then you will have the jealous and hateful people who will be committing crimes and then you will have the weaklings - who will be the scapegoats of all. If in the very core of society there is competition, it is good for the economy and business/innovation, but it is not good for creating a peaceful atmosphere in which people can be themselves and not feel psychotic.
One thing I like about the Philippines is the egalitarian spirit that exists in society there, the polite way in which the people there treat each other, and the general warmth that they bestow on one another. When you sit with a group of Filipinos, they do not to try and get one over the next person, or brag and puff up their chests. They naturally respect each other. It may be so on surface and sure there are conflicts, but the general atmosphere is very pleasant. The word "confidence" there applies to your ability to take action and eventually succeed. Like when someone there is desperate and thinks they cannot find a job you tell them- "believe in yourself ( your ability) pray to God, and everything will be OK. It does not mean become a smug, swaggering a##hole who thinks his feces does not stink.
So, when I am there, I do not even worry about feeling confident or not confident. That is not even an issue. You are just yourself; when you are out with girls, they do not place high expectations on you. You can look as timid as a mouse, and they like it! They say- "what a nice, humble and kind guy!" They actually prefer a soft spoken man who in the US would be labeled a loser, a fag, etc.
The only thing that makes you confident in the Philippines is whether you have enough money to finance your stay there. Nothing else is needed to impress the locals or yourself for that matter.
I was recently in the Philippines for 10 months, and I was living in a lodge that was the center of a local Scandinavian colony. Every time the bar was full of Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, there was even one Estonian guy. Granted, I did not know how they would behave back home, but most were quiet and did not try to sit and put on airs. They were just being themselves. But the Anglos who stayed there, for the most part ( not all again) would to one degree or another try and puff up their chests, look independent, macho, and sit and brag about how great their lives wre and how much money they were making and how the people adored them and how many girls they had screwed. The Brits would often let out an insult- call someone a c**t and a prick. The Aussies were also not far behind.
There were some American "weaklings" and "losers" among them and these were nice and they actually fit in well. I made friends with them. They had enough money to live on, enough sex, enough food and did not have to compete against anyone. Instead of trying to push their way up in the US and become winners, they just decided to be themselves and do their thing in the Philippines.
The Filipinos hate arrogance, braggadocios and people bloated with self importance. That is why there no one ever called me a loser or anything like that, and I could just be myself, and my confidence is only limited to my belief in my ability to solve problems and achieve my goals. The artificial smile and a swelled head, self important person, like so many Americans, or a nasty, biting, sarcastic Brit, or a rude, cussing Aussie do not fit in there.
So, in any society that is placing emphasis on being a winner vs a loser- and in any competition, most people will be losers, you can never have the quiet tranquil feeling about yourself (and your ability to achieve your goals without making others losers) because you have to measure yourself against someone else- which is unhealthy socially, psychologically and in many other aspects. An average Filipino, otoh hand is a quite, polite and tranquil person with clear eyes and natural happiness seated deeply in his soul.
And since in the US women and men will admire the few winners and will have no time for the rest who are unfairly deemed losers, this is a losing game from the beginning. For all. Even if you win, it is temporary and now you need to hold on to it. And then you will get old and die. All this creates neurosis and just a very unfair unhappy environment for all.
Think about animals. Carnivores do not look happy and they must be predatory to survive. A confidence of a tiger or a wolf is different from the confidence of a zebra or an elephant.
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
Its not just Filipinos, I see that largely in Western Europe as well. The term Ugly Americans doesn't come from Asian or South American Countries, but European Countries. But Europeans know how to separate American culture from its people. They know people that generally buy into it hook line and sinker are not pleasant people to be around.
I don't think its as simple as admiring Winners (The Rich), its a way to keep the masses from revolting on how our economy is structured. People admired Hollywood in its Gold Era, but when it became not so much admiring Hollywood but Stock Brokers, Hedge Fund Manager and people beyond their 15 mins of fame, its become an obsession our media loves but I don't think most American likes it.
The only place I draw the line is relationships because so much has changed from 1950 to 1970 to 2000. Two key things that have effected relationships in America is Divorce and Stagnation of Wages which forced more Women into the workplace. I have always supported equality but now its so far out of wack that its unfair for men, when it shouldn't be.
The OP makes a valid point in challenging the â€œitâ€™s all in your headâ€ philosophy promoted by pop psychology, and a particularly irritating part of American culture. Men will make more progress with women in one day by moving to a foreign country, then spending years trying to do a PUA makeover, which rarely works.
How is it a myth?
Let's say you get two fighters in the ring, both have similar qualities, similar physical attributes, and a similar skill level. The one with the most confidence in his abilities and determination will pull through 9 times out of 10 barring any large unknown deficiencies. You see this time and time again in fighting sports like MMA, boxing, or even competitive weightlifting.
Confidence is all about a strong belief in your own abilities to succeed and having determination to at least attempt to follow through. A negative frame of mind or being overly cynical aka lack of confidence in yourself is self defeating because before you even begin you are already considering the loss.
Last year I started using a Taoist meditation technique called 'Inner Smile' which involves slow breathing into the belly, recalling memories of past experiences which induced positive emotions like confidence, joy, laughter, etc. Once the feeling is created you then stop focusing on the memory but continue reinforcing the feeling with your breathing and mental focus. I was thus creating 'confidence' all on my own.
I do agree with the OP though that you need to have some form of outward success and help from others before you can feel 'confident', unlike the stupid oversimplification of American pop psychology. In the example above I choose memories of my own successful writing in the past to create the feeling of confidence. I was then able to isolate and reinforce this feeling in other social scenarios, which lead to better interactions with women. Once this took place it became easier to create more specific 'confidence with women' sensations. However, it didn't make me into a rock star, and my prospects will likely still be better in other countries.
"So hereâ€™s the truth about confidence: You can only have confidence when other people give it to you. "
You do not get confidence via someone else giving it to you. That is totally wrong.
Confidence is the belief in yourself that you can do something that you have never done before, and that you can do it well.
Windsurf, rock climb, f**k that hot chick, run a 10k, be a DJ with no training, whatever.
It's a mixture of emotion and spirit and you need to find within yourself what you believe you can do without practice first. That is likely the problem. You don't have any FAITH or BELIEF in yourself, in your ability to just go out and begin doing something with little or no practice, and that you can do said thing well. You think that you need TO LEARN and read and study something first.
This state of affairs is common among the very intelligent who live in their heads and write lengthy, well-written posts.
Do or Do Not.
There is no 'Try'.
When I was 22 I knew that I was the best Alternative DJ in my city. I knew that I had the talent and the knowledge and that I was at the right place at the right time.
And I was.
People still remember my music sets and clubs, 25 years later.
How did 'I know'? 'I just knew'. This is a knowing that is far far beyond rational thinking. You cannot get there with analysis and prose and writing about it. It either 'is' or it 'is not'.
Go out and do something, and keep chaging that something until you find what it is that you are very good at. You seem to have no awareness of this within yourself, thus the best solution is trial and error.
Try everything, and YES I do mean EVERYTHING.
That's something you can do until age 35 or so. Work at every job you can think of. Try every single hobby out there.
"Suddenly, all the women on the dating shows and in the advice columns are telling us how much theyâ€™re attracted to this mysterious new quality called confidence. And conversely, how the lack of confidence is a big turn-off. "
You are incorrect in your assessment. Women have always been attracted to confidence. It is not mysterious and it's not new. Not in 2005 and not in 2010.
Confidence is just the air about you that speaks silently 'I know what I am doing in XXX situation'. You can most definitely have it without success, and that is NOT false confidence. It is confidence before the success reveals itself. I was like this when I was a DJ. Some called me arrogant and there was some truth to that. However, if you knew that you had the skills to get everyone to dance AT WILL, that you could pick a couple out of the crowd and make them hookup and go home together with your music AT WILL, that you could play through the alphabet backwards and forwards AT WILL and still pack the floor; if you knew you could clear them out to get them to all rush the bar and spend money and then 6 minutes later pack them all in again, and you knew this when it was the first week and you had 8 customers and not 800, THAT'S confidence...and you WOULD be arrogant.
Globe I can totally relate. I became a DJ in the Summer of my Jr. year in High School (1986). I was confident I was better than the two guys I learned from, not directly because they never showed me for fear I could be better. I had another DJ I met later that actually taught me how to spin because he thought it was a talent to be shared with those that wanted to learn. He called those other guys "punks" for not showing me the basics. I'll never forget the night the crew I hung out with let me spin some because they wanted to hang out with some girls. Fine be me, I did a a smooth beat mix and they were shocked...
I may not be the best DJ but I'm pretty darn good and I have proven that to myself time and time and time again. Once I got to Nightclubs I felt I had gone as far as I was willing to go. I didn't like the electronica movement enough to get deeply involved which would have taken my club career further. Once I decided I wanted a long term GF, being a Club DJ is sort of counterproductive. So I'm mostly a bedroom DJ these days and I'm rigid in my ways and music. I really don't want to do mobiles or weddings because of that.
Anyway I totally agree you have to had built confidence with a task or reaching a goal to have confidence. I never dated in High School, not for lack of trying but back in those days, it was taboo to date IR (Interracial) and when you know the 3-4 girls in town that dated Black men you know your market is limited - That doesn't mean I didn't screw up any opportunities.
What confidence I do have is from the women I have dated/screwed. That doesn't mean I'm not immune to the fear of rejection. I handle that by not being as aggressive as I should be, going down market to increase my chances or just not even trying at all. To conquer this fear of rejection, I think I'm going to have to leave the Matrix (USA). Here there's just too many things and people that want to drag you down to their level of misery.
Which is why talking about Foreign Women in general in America is seen as a sign of desperation and not pragmatism.
This may be true in extreme cases of irrationality. For example, if someone is always successful yet still lack confidence then they have psychological issues to deal with.
In the case of the boxers, in far more than 9 times out of 10 if they have near identical success rates then their confidence levels will be near identical as well. And in some cases, the extra confidence could be a hindrance. The boxer who feels surest of victory might let his guard down or not try as hard, giving his less confident opponent an advantage.
But if someone usually experiences failure, how can you expect them to be confident? And if they did succeed in convincing themselves to be confident, it would be a delusional confidence that had no basis in reality. And therefore it still wouldn't attract anybody because the individual's unaddressed shortcomings would still be obvious to others.
We've all met people who act confident without being able to back it up. Their confidence by itself doesn't attract anyone. They look like fools.
For example, do you think a woman would ever think "Well, he's fat and ugly, has no money, has a terribly boring personality, and horrible fashion sense, but damn, his confidence is sexy so I want him anyway!" That will never happen. Instead they will think "What a delusional creep. Get away from me!"
Confidence is useless on it's own. Therefore telling someone to just 'be confident" is the worst, most counterproductive, advice you could ever give someone.
They have sports psychologists that actually diagnose sub optimal performance based on some mental block. It's a very real thing. A very confident individual who is a professional still isn't going to make those mistakes. What you're talking about is cockiness and arrogance. Arrogance is not confidence and vice versa.
One thing you're missing here is that it takes confidence to even start self improvement. There is such a thing as a turn around and people do it all the time. Ok, i'm not talking about exceptional circumstances where a man had half his face burned off and is trying to score a date and lay with Miss America. It's not going to happen no matter his own confidence level and I agree that it has its limitations. In that situation I would say you have a good point about that person probably being delusional but there is an obvious distinction there. Nevertheless, confidence can motivate and lead you to try out different things and develop yourself.
The terms "loser" and "winner" are socially assigned terms anyways. It's more about being happy and seeking self fulfillment of reachable goals.
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