Can You Fake Confidence? Here’s The Ultimate Truth

Can you fake confidence?  Can you really fake it 'til you make it?

There are a lot of articles written to say you can fake confidence as long as certain guidelines are followed such as:

  • the behaviour has to be in line with your own level of belief
  • your motivation must be sincere
  • you want to improve yourself on the inside
  • you're not looking to prove yourself to anybody else

I'm calling B.S on this.  

The Origins Of Fake It 'Til You Make It

You’ve probably heard the phrase Fake It ‘Til You Make It. It’s been around since the early 70’s.  It originally came from a psychologist Alfred Adler who talked about the ‘as if’ philosophy. If you behave like the person you want to become, you’ll start to become that person.

What seems to have been forgotten is, it can only work if you are looking to change something within yourself and not trying to change other people’s perception of you. 

  • It has to be in line with your own level of belief
  • Your motivation must be sincere
  • You want to improve yourself on the inside
  • You’re not looking to prove yourself to anybody else.

Fake it 'til you make it seems to have stretched these boundaries.

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Why Faking It Doesn't Work?

'Fake'.  The word itself conjures up a lot of negative thoughts and emotions.

Have you ever been around someone who is loud and gregarious.  Who looks flash and behaves confidently but, something seems a bit off?  This is because either consciously or subconsciously, we are picking up on the lack of substance or sincerity being displayed.

I don't know about you, but I can usually tell when someone is not being honest.  And it goes beyond the shifty eyes, fidgeting and being evasive.  It's not that they wont look you in the eye or xxxxxx, it's something deeper

If any of the social media channels are to be believed, everyone out there is super confident.

  • They know what they are doing
  • They're having a great time, and
  • None of them are plagued with self-doubt

The reality is very different from what's being seen.

People only show what they want others to see.  And, I hate to break it to you, some of it is just not true.  Shocking right?

The focus of their 'fakeness' (I think I just made that word up) is related to how they want others to perceive them.  They are putting on a show of what they think confidence should look like.  As a result they are behaving in a way that is unnatural to them.  And it shows.

Lies Will Come Out

When I was young, like all children, I would tell fibs.  Usually to try and get out of trouble for doing something naughty.  If my dad wanted to know if I was telling him the truth all he had to say was 'look me in the eye and say that again'.  

Seriously, I don't know what it is, but looking someone in the eye and lying to their face is something I can't do - even now!  

In my career as an HR Manager, I came across numerous situations where people claimed to be capable of doing something when later it's obvious they can't.

You will not believe the number of people who lie on their CV to get a job.  Pretending they have done something, or are capable of doing something when they can't.

The outcome has never ended well.

Because any lie will be uncovered.

For a start, when someone decides to fake a competence and are asked to deliver on it, it can create enormous stress on themselves as they try to work through what they are doing.  Ultimately performance suffers, and credibility is called into question.

In addition, the energy required to be something you're not is exhausting.

In extreme cases people can make themselves ill.  At the very least any confidence they had in themselves will disappear.

Trying To Be Something You're Not

So, if we try to fake confidence, there is a tendency to adopt what we think the right behaviour is, but we're only making a guess as to how it would feel.  As a result our behaviour just doesn't fit.   It's a bit like Goldilocks looking for the perfect bed or the perfect bowl of porridge.  More often she got it wrong before finding something that was just right.  And when it was right it was an extension of what she already liked and felt comfortable with.

Much like the people who lie on their CV, living a lie or trying to maintain a behaviour that is not authentic is exhausting.  Ultimately it can damage your self-esteem which in turn will impact your confidence.

Fake confidence is not authentic

You can't fake confidence it isn't authentic and people see through it

Don't Fake Confidence, Try This Instead

Confidence is about having a belief in yourself.  Changing your belief overnight when you've had years of putting yourself down or fighting the fear of failure is impossible.

The good news is, there are techniques that you can adopt which will keep you true to yourself.

As an example, let's work through needing confidence to do a presentation.

Adopt A Role Model

Oh Yes!  Role models can provide us with inspiration on how to do things.

When looking at an aspect of confidence, who do you admire?  It could be someone famous or someone you know.  The intention is not to become that person but to look at how they behave.

In Chloe Brotheridge's book 'Brave New Girl' she explains how role models matter.  Emphasising that it isn't about 'impersonating or trying to act like them - that would not be cool or clever - but rather learning their processes, their abilities, skills and attitudes'.

We've all learned by copying others.  Think back to when you were little.  Learning to walk, talk and eat was achieved by watching those around you and copying what they did.  As a result, we're pretty good mimics.

The skill is to look at the way your role model does something and think about how they are doing it.

Hate presenting?  You're not alone.  I was once told there are more people who fear presenting than death.  So I know that this is a big area for a lot of people.

Become more confident with presenting by watching YouTube videos of your favourite speakers, observe women at work who seem to present with ease.  Watch what they do and how they do it.  Things to look out for include:

  • posture
  • body language
  • tone of voice
  • words used
  • speech pattern i.e. fast or slow

There is so much you can learn without trying to act like someone else.  This way you stay honest with yourself.  You're teaching yourself a new way of doing something not trying to fake it til you make it.

Change The Inner Dialogue

You know that little voice in your head which tells you that you're not good enough?

Well, she's a liar.  See my article on How to challenge your inner critic and build confidence  where I go into more detail about what the inner critic is all about and how you can overcome her.

This is not an easy thing to do, it takes time.  But trust me, you can work on it and manage it better.

Let's take the example of presenting.  Your inner voice might whisper to you that:

  • 'you're no good at presenting'
  • 'nobody wants to listen to you'
  • 'if you stand up there you're going to make a tit fool of yourself and people will laugh'

Pretty tough words there.  None of which are true.

Instead replace those words with something more realistic such as:

  • 'every time I present I'm getting better and better'
  • 'I've prepared for this presentation and know my stuff.  Of course, they'll want to listen to me'
  • 'I'm capable of talking to people, I do it everyday, and nobody laughs at me'

Changing your inner thoughts is challenging.  This is not an easy fix.  When you go outside of your comfort zone, it is scary and the inner critic can go into overdrive.  That little voice is trying to keep you safe.  Sadly, it is misguided.  Sometimes we just have to push beyond what we would normally do.  

Focus On The Outcome

Sometimes it's easy to be caught up and overwhelmed with what you're about to do.  We all have a tendency to dramatise what could go wrong, without considering what could go right.

Think about the outcome you're looking to achieve.  Keep that as your goal.  Progress over perfection is a good measure for achievement.

Breaking the goal down into its purest form is a good way to lower the fear.

Again, using presenting as an example.

What are you looking to achieve by doing a presentation?  Let's look at it in its simplest form.  A presentation is communicating an idea to an audience.  Your role is to explain something in a way that other people can understand and then perhaps act on.

Focus on the outcome of getting your message across.  How will you feel when you are able to successfully do that?  Pretty good I bet.

There are things that you can do to increase your confidence:

  • Prepare well
  • Practice often
  • Partner with someone until you feel confident enough to do it on your own.

These three steps can be applied to many forms of confidence building.

Explore previous experience you can build on.

Find Supporting Evidence

When we think of something we don't have confidence about we tend to look at it in isolation.  Perhaps you don't present often, or at all.

Consider all the ways you already present yourself to people.  To communicate your idea to others.  I'm sure you already speak to:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Boss
  • Work colleagues
  • Check out assistants

This is evidence that you can and do, present to people on a regular basis.

Now visualise yourself presenting.  Play the scenario over in your mind and imagine it going well.

As a scenario - imagine presenting to a friend your ideas for going on holiday together.  You already have a place in mind, but you think your friend may have reservations.

You'd do your research and find out as much as you could about the destination, perhaps explore the sort of activities that you might be able to enjoy.  Cost, might be a factor.  You'd want to present a good option for your friend with a view to putting her at ease by giving as much information as you could to help her understand that your idea is a good one.  Presenting is like that.

You'd gather the information together, put it across in as simple a way as possible and reassure the audience that what you have to say will be of benefit to them.

You see, a lot of the things we fear is to do with the mindset we have.  Change the mindset, and you will change your behaviour.  Linking it to something that you do every day is a way to reinforce that you do have some confidence.

Practice Makes Perfect (although you don't have to be perfect - 80% will do!)

Confidence doesn't happen overnight.  It takes time to master.  You may need to present several times before you start to believe in yourself more.

The more often you do something, the better you'll get at it.  Before you know it, you will realise that you're not as afraid anymore.

Practice at a safe level first and build upwards.

So, with presenting, you might build up your confidence as follows:

  • one on one with a work colleague who will give you honest and constructive feedback
  • small group peers - to build up the number of people you speak in front of - this could be an informal team meeting
  • to your boss - someone you know but not too well

You could also gain practice by presenting alongside someone else.  Perhaps doing a short presentation in the middle of something they are delivering.

One of the roles in HR was to deliver the induction training.  I wanted to get one of my team to take this on.  When I broached the subject she was mortified and immediately told me she couldn't do it.  So to help break her in gently we came up with a plan.

  • First meeting - attended and handed out the supporting material to the participants
  • Second meeting - did a small introduction of what she did
  • Third meeting - presented on one of the benefits the company offered (we did have a couple of practice runs one on one before hand)
  • Fourth meeting - presented on all of the benefits the company offered
  • After that she was presenting the whole HR piece - initially with me in the room as support in case she got stuck.  Eventually she was able to do the whole thing on her own.

Before you know it, you will be able to present in front of more people.

And whilst I think of it, another tip for when presenting to people you don't know.  Have a friendly face in the audience.  Its easier to present when you know there's someone there cheering you silently on.

The Conclusion: Can You Fake Confidence?

If someone was to do a presentation adopting the 'Fake it 'til you make it' approach.  Attack the presentation as if they knew what they were doing, following someone they had seen present before the level of anxiety would be high.  In fact super high.  

Generally fake it 'til you make it' suggests that its an all or nothing approach.  Adopting behaviour that is not your own.  The best way to gain confidence is to take a measured approach which is more sustainable and a lot less stressful.

In their book 'The Confidence Code' Katty Kay and Claire Shipman said that 'confidence is linked to doing...(it's) not letting your doubts consume you.  It is a willingness to go out of your comfort zone and do hard things.'

So, if you want to build your confidence don't try and fake it.  Take a deep breath and find the courage to take action.  However small.

About the author Alison

A qualified UK based coach with 30 years of experience in personal development.

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