Thoughts On Increasing Self-Confidence In Particular Social Situations

The term "self-confidence" is used to refer to a few related concepts. Sometimes people use it as an alternative to "self-esteem", that is, someone's overall evaluation of their worth. At other times when they speak of their self-confidence they mean how self-assured, competent, and brave they feel in particular social situations. These situations may be quite general, (e.g., making conversation with anyone you don't very well) or more specific (e.g., public speaking).

If you have solid overall self-esteem, that can trickle down into your situational social confidence, and it never hurts to work on it. The two don't always go together though. There are people who are very successful and confident at aspects of socializing, but who don't really think much of themselves deep down. There are also people who feel good about themselves on the whole, but still feel anxious and out of their depth whenever they, say, have to go around and introduce themselves to everybody at a big party. Anyway, it doesn't feel good to lack this kind of social confidence, so I'll give my thoughts on how to increase it.

A few disclaimers about the task of building confidence

Whether you're trying to build up the situational or self-esteem variety of confidence, there are some things you should know about the process ahead of time (e.g., confidence is important, but it's not everything). Since they apply to both types of confidence I put the points in their own article:

Some Points To Be Aware Of Before You Try To Build Your Self-Confidence

There are two flavors of situational confidence

I started the article by talking about how the general term "self-confidence" can be broken down further. Now I'm going to do the same thing to its situational subtype. I've found when people feel situational confidence they're feeling one, or both, of two things. The first is a calm, logical knowledge that you have the ability to handle yourself in those circumstances. The second is a bold, psyched up feeling.

A logical assessment of your capabilities

In my experience this is how people feel when they're truly confident in their ability to succeed. They know they can perform in certain situations the same way they know the sky is blue. They may have a well-tested skill set, or some other reliable advantage (e.g., a CEO's status gives them a confidence when they interact with regular employees). Their dry, rational certainty also comes from being able to look back on a string of past successes. This is a kind of confidence that has to be earned.

People who feel confident in this way have a realistic sense of what they're capable of, and believe their tools are good enough to complete the job at hand. They don't necessarily think they're the best in the world, just as good as they need to be. Someone who's only been playing tennis for two years would still feel calmly sure they could beat someone who's never held a racket before. If you have this kind of confidence it also doesn't mean you never feel nervous or unsure of yourself going into a situation. However underneath those natural emotions is a sense of, "I'll be fine. I've done this sort of thing a million times. It usually works out. And when it doesn't I can deal with it."

The psyched up feeling

In contrast to the previous variation, this kind of confidence is very emotion-based. People experiencing it feel charged up. They notice how unusually confident they are. It's a good kind of confidence to have. Someone who feels this way going into a party is going be more at ease, chat to more people, and come across as more self-assured than someone who's apprehensive and down on themselves.

When someone is certain they'll do well they feel that calm, logical confidence. If they know without a doubt they'll succeed, there's no need to get that emotional about it. Psych up confidence is more likely to show up in anticipation of events where they aren't so sure of their chances. An untested beginner could experience it, but so could a veteran going into an unusually tough situation. It's like their mind is trying to amp them up so they'll be able to face the challenges ahead.

The big problem with this variety of confidence is that it's fleeting and unreliable. If it always appeared when needed that would be great, but it usually doesn't go down that way. There's no consistent method to bring it out on command, though people occasionally have success with the following methods:

The problem is even if these techniques work they tend to show very strong diminishing returns. What fires you up the first time never seems to work as well again. If it setting makes you unconfident it makes you unconfident, and there's no foolproof short-term method to get around that.

Here's a way some people unintentionally get sidetracked: They normally feel unconfident and skittish in a situation and don't perform well in it, but every so often, for whatever mysterious reason, they get a burst of psych up confidence and do much better than they normally would. They understandably begin to see that temporary emotional state as the key to their success and start chasing it. They also start to feel there's no point in trying unless they sense they're going to be psyched up. Like I said, there's no way to conjure this feeling at will so they end up throwing their time and energy away.

I talk about a closely related issue in this article:

Times You Feel Unusually "On" In Social Situations

Slowly gain true skill and comfort in the areas you feel unconfident about

And now the article builds up to its obvious, unglamorous, easy-to-write, hard-to-do conclusion: In the long run the only reliable way to feel more confident about certain situations is to put in the time to get more proficient and comfortable in them. I find other approaches are just glorified ways to try to summon that transitory psyched up feeling. Going this route means accepting there's going to be an awkward learning phase, where you won't feel particularly confident, which you need to put yourself through anyway. Take advantage of any psych up confidence as it pops up, but don't feel dependent on it. What you really want to focus on is being able to gently make yourself practice and build for the future even if you're not overflowing with boldness.

When it comes to building particular social skills, you need to have an idea of what you need to do, and then keep putting yourself in settings where you can practice them. Once you start to get the hang of things you'll also start to build up your own successes, which you can draw on for even more confidence.

Increasing your comfort levels is similar. To deal with the situations that really make your nervous you need to push yourself to face them, at a pace you can handle. It can help to do other work first, like learning how not to take all your insecure thoughts at face value, but at some point you've got to get out in the real world. This article goes into way more detail:

How To Face Your Bigger Social Fears Gradually

These articles may also help:

Coping With Nervousness Before An Unavoidable Social Situation
Coping With Nervousness Before Optional Social Behaviors