LifeTrial

We Tried 3 'Fake It 'Til You Make It' Strategies To See If We Could Trigger Feelings Of Self-Confidence

Science shows faking self-confidence can actually make it happen.

LifeTrial is an original A Plus series where we try our hand at lifestyle trends, new and tried-and-true, that promise to have a positive impact. Whether it's the latest and greatest in technology or a wacky new fitness trend, we're excited to give it a go and report back on if it helped make life even better.

Some people naturally radiate an inherent sense of confidence, but for the rest of us (introverts especially), these feelings of self-assurance aren't always easy to access. If you're in the latter category, you've probably been told to "fake it 'til you make it," but maybe it's time we take the phrase a little more seriously.   

Science shows faking self-confidence can actually make it happen. 

While this sounds like magic, studies show positive feelings can be manufactured by employing mindful physiological practices, such as as straightening your posture, striking a power pose, or even changing your facial expression. These practices can trigger a mood change, making you feel more confident, happy, and healthy — even during times you're feeling down and/or insecure. 

So, without therapy, positive self-talk, or anything extensive (though all the more power to you if you've incorporated that into your life), you can fake it, then make it, simply by changing the way you carry yourself. 

My colleague, Claire Peltier, and I decided to see if we could 'fake it 'til we make it' by trying out these strategies. First, we worked worked on improving our posture.

Studies show that good posture not only improves physical back health, but can have surprisingly positive effects on the psyche as well. A 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that students who were sitting in an upright position were more confident in the positive and negative traits with which they rated themselves, whereas those in a slouched position weren't convinced of how they'd previously rated themselves. 

Additionally, Erik Peper, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, found in another series of experiments that sitting in a "collapsed, helpless position" makes it easier for negative thoughts and memories to come to mind. Empowering thoughts and memories, on the other hand, are more easily accessible when sitting in an "upright, powerful position." 

Unfortunately for me and Claire, we both have  a nasty case of ''screen-slouch." So, as part of our determination to make small physical changes to fake some confidence 'til we made it, we figured the best place to start was establishing a strong foundation. To that end, we each committed to wearing a posture-correcting device for a week called the Upright Go

"I was really conscious of my posture and worked to correct it when I was out in public (bar stools are the WORST)," Claire said. "One of our friends even noticed how straight Lindsay and I were sitting, so that made us feel good (right, Lindsay?)"

I couldn't agree more about the bar stools, but more importantly, about how seeing other people respond positively to something as small as our improved posture helped increase my own self-confidence. Simply changing my posture and occupying more physical space turned out to be an immediate way to access positive emotions without having to use any mental energy. 

"The way we sit and stand not only affects our health, but it impacts our confidence, too — and I find that as soon as I sit up straight or walk with my head a little higher, I feel a lot more powerful," Claire said. 

Our next challenge was to try out some power poses.

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In her 2012 TED talk, Amy Cuddy popularized the practice of striking two-minute "power poses" to increase self-confidence through standing straight and expanding our size. Her technique has been proven to increase levels of testosterone and decrease levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain. 

So, for the moments you aren't feeling like your best self, but need to "fake it 'til you make it" — right before a work presentation, shaking hands with a superior, or before going to a social gathering — practice a power pose to trigger positive feelings about yourself. 

Claire and I challenged ourselves to try some of these power poses before our weekly edit meeting.  For two minutes leading up to the meeting, we stood with our hands on our hips, and legs planted firmly on the ground. As Amy Cuddy had promised, I felt like Wonder Woman, especially as I looked out the windows of our New York offices. 

I even told myself that everything I saw was my domain (you know, like the Pridelands in The Lion King), which made me feel even more powerful. There's certainly something to be said for walking into a place and acting like you own it. 

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Normally, I shrink down in my seat or avoid eye contact if anyone praises me in meetings, but this time, I felt more confident voicing my opinion and expressing ideas. Using my body to project an image of confidence actually began to make me feel confident. 

Claire experienced the same result, saying, "After practicing the power poses, I felt much more confident with the way I present myself and how other people respond to me."  Because she frequently hosts on-camera interviews for her Clairity series and other A Plus videos, she added, "Sometimes before a big, on-camera interview, I get a little nervous, so I think I'll try it before the next time I meet an interview subject. Hopefully, feeling more powerful from the get-go will give me some added confidence that'll last the whole interview."

The third, and perhaps, easiest 'fake it 'til you make it' strategy we tried was simply changing our facial expression to reflect the emotion we wanted to feel.

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This might sound like a Jedi mind trick, but it's a real, science-based theory that's been around since 1984. Tightening your facial muscles to smile when you're feeling sad has been thought to cool blood flow to the brain, which can actually fool it into thinking you're feeling a smile-worthy emotion when you're not. This turns that pseudo emotion into a genuine feeling, and the physical smile becomes an internal one. This 'fake it till you make it" method can be especially effective if, say, you're nervous about meeting someone new, but want to make a good impression. 

We decided to put this theory to the test in a simple, quick, yet surprisingly significant way. Pretty much every morning, Claire and I smile when we put on blush. It's a tried and true makeup technique that helps you better identify the apples of your cheeks and add a little color to them, but we never knew it could have a tangible impact on our confidence. Sure, putting on makeup can do that all on its own, so to truly put this concept to the test, Claire and I challenged ourselves to look in the mirror and smile for thirty seconds before putting on any makeup. (We still continued to smile when we put on blush because, well, why not help ourselves become as happy as possible?) 

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This was an especially interesting part of the challenge because, while the muscle tightening may have been the physiological trigger to increase our confidence, at the same time, smiling at ourselves without any makeup also created the psychological association of happier thoughts with our natural physical appearance. 

"It's really easy to smile and feel good about yourself with a full face of makeup because that's when I'm already feeling confident," Claire told me. "So this was an interesting challenge because it was the opposite of my normal routine, which made it so purposeful." 

Though we both agreed it felt a little weird to smile at ourselves first thing in the morning, when we're usually feeling our most vulnerable anyway, that turned out to be exactly the right time to do it. When you're tired and just want to crawl back into bed, giving yourself a reason to smile, even an artificial reason — and actually doing it — can put you in a positive mindset to begin your day. "While smiling didn't flip any kind of instant happy switch in my brain, I kind of laughed at myself while I was doing it, which did make me happier, even if it was inadvertent," Claire added. "And because I started my day smiling and laughing, that did, I think, help me feel a bit more confident throughout the rest of the day. So I'm gonna call this one a win."  

So while insecurity is a natural and expected part of life, you don't have to let it run yours. The next time you're feeling down, for whatever reason, try one of these simple tricks and see what happens. And when it works, don't worry about thanking us, your big ole smile will be thanks enough. 

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