You’re looking at the girl of your dreams. Maybe it’s that cute girl in your class. Maybe it’s that beauty in the bar. Slowly, you begin to make your way over to her. She turns to look at you. Your palms begin to get a little sweaty and you start to feel knots in your stomach.
Your thoughts begin to race…you suddenly remember how you got rejected the last time you tried asking a girl out…your mind beings to imagine all the ways that it could go wrong…“What if she already has a boyfriend? What if she says no? I’m completely inexperienced. What if I make it weird or awkward?”
Yesterday, this might have been enough to psyche you out of talking to her.
But not today! You calmly brush those thoughts aside and keep your confidence as you start chatting her up.
As an introvert, I struggled a lot with confidence when talking to girls and I’m excited to share with you how I learned to be confident.
Why the traditional advice we get about confidence sometimes fails us
What’s the usual advice that we hear about confidence? Typically, we often hear things such as: “Fake it until you make it”, “Think positive”, and “You can do it!” in self-help books and other media. And for a little while, we do feel more confident. When we’re reading positive statements or listening to that Shia Labeouf video where he yells “Do it! Yes you can! Nothing is impossible! Make your dreams come true!” from the safety of our own bedrooms, we can easily psyche ourselves into feeling more confident. We can get ourselves all hyped up and tell ourselves “This time I’m going to do it!!” when there’s still nothing at stake. However, once the moment of truth arrives and we actually try to talk to her then all those feelings of confidence vanish as quickly as they came.
As it turns out, this was some of the worst advice we could have received.
A 2009 study by Joanna V. Wood and John W. Lee showed what happened after a group of participants repeated self-affirmative phrases such as “I am a loveable person”, “I will succeed”, and “I accept myself completely.” Common sense suggests that everyone would feel better after saying such positive statements to themselves, right? And indeed, the participants with high self-esteem felt slightly better. However, the participants with lower self-esteem felt even worse!
What’s going on? When the participants with low self-esteem told themselves that they are loveable people, their minds snapped back at them with stories such as “No you’re not!” As the authors concluded, “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people (such as individuals with high self-esteem) but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”
So, what are we supposed to do?
The Power of Negative Thoughts
Well, here’s the kicker. In a follow up study to the 2009 one, the psychologists allowed the participants to list negative self-thoughts along with positive self-thoughts. They found that the low self-esteem participants’ moods actually improved when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts!
We often think that it’s bad to have negative thoughts and that we should try to get rid of these by thinking positive. However, this could not be further from the truth. Here’s why.
Today, we enjoy being at the top of the food chain. You can go outside, walk to the supermarket, grab some groceries, and then walk back home. Nothing is going to try and eat you. However, thousands of years ago we shared the world with beasts such as woolly mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and cave bears. Animals such as these can could flatten you or tear you apart in the blink of an eye, and many of these creatures would love nothing more than to eat you for lunch.
Luckily, Mother Nature was kind enough to give us our own secret weapon against the claws, fangs, and tusks of these beasts: our superior intellect. Our minds were on constant vigil for signs of anything and everything that could eat us, scanning the environment and getting ready to activate our flight-or-flight response at a moment’s notice. That rustle of leaves in the bushes could be a saber tooth tiger ready to pounce. That shadow in the cave could be a hungry bear. That noise roaring over the horizon could be a woolly mammoth charging toward us. As the psychologist Joseph Ciarrochi puts it, our minds operated as “don’t get eaten” machines. And by constantly thinking negatively, our minds kept us alive.
Now, today we face much less threat from beasts that could eat us or stomp us flat. However, evolution hasn’t had enough time to catch up and our minds still operate very much the same way they did before. They still look for the negative, for anything and everything that could go wrong. If you try to fight this by thinking positive, then you’re literally fighting thousands and thousands of years of evolution…a VERY steep uphill battle.
And when we try to talk to women, our minds will still look for everything that could go wrong. We think of things such as “What if she already has a boyfriend? What if she says no? What if I make it weird or awkward?”
How to overcome negative thoughts
To overcome our negative thoughts we can use a process that psychologists call “defusion.” If your negative thoughts are influencing your behavior, then we can think of those as having become “fused” with each other, just like two pieces of metal might be fused together. The goal, then, is to separate them so that your fears and negative thoughts no longer affect you.
In order to defuse from a thought, you need envision it so that your mind realizes that your thought is just that—a thought. Nothing more than words in your head. Now, there are many ways to go about doing this. I’ll show you one of my favorite defusion techniques, originally created by psychologist Steven Hayes.
1. First, try to notice when a thought has “hooked” you or is negatively affecting you. Don’t fight it or try to force it out of your head, but listen to what it is saying. What is it telling you? “She probably already has a boyfriend”, “she’ll think I’m a loser”, “I’m completely inexperienced and I’ve got little self-confidence” etc.
2. Now, repeat that thought to yourself but now say “I’m having the thought that…” inserted before it. So, the thought that “I’m completely inexperienced and I’ve got little self-confidence” becomes “I’m having the thought that I’m completely inexperienced and I’ve got little self-confidence.”
3. Finally, repeat that thought once more but now say “I notice I’m having the thought that…” before it. For example, “I notice I’m having the thought that I’m completely inexperienced and I’ve got little self-confidence.”
By doing this, many people are able to achieve a sense of separation or distance from the thought. Remember that we’re not trying to fight the thought or force it out of our heads. Instead, we’re trying to neutralize its effect on us.
But what if my thoughts are true??
That doesn’t matter as much as you might think. We aren’t so much concerned with whether or not our thoughts are true but rather whether or not they are helpful.
Imagine that we’re in the Ice Age again. You’re on the hunt with two other members of your tribe. The leaves from the bush next to you begin to rustle almost imperceptibly. Suddenly, a four-legged silhouette leaps out and gallops towards one of your friends. He begins to raise his spear in defense, but the beast’s white, curved fangs sink themselves into his neck before he has time to react.
Your other friend hurls his spear, which grazes the beast and causes a red spot to grow on its fur. Unfazed by its injury, the beast darts towards your friend. In one swift motion, it raises its claw and tears through his face. Now, the saber-tooth tiger turns to face you. Its fangs and claws dripping crimson, it begins to look you from head to toe and starts to lick its chops.
What are you thinking in this situation? Perhaps some prehistoric version of “Oh ****!” and “I’m about to get eaten.” Are those thoughts true? Probably. If you let those thoughts influence your behavior, though, then you’d be frozen in fear. Yes, the thought that you’re about to be the tiger’s lunch is probably true. But that thought is not helpful. So, if you were to have any chance to survive then you’d need to put those thoughts on the back burner and either run like heck or fight for all you were worth!
Even though we don’t really have to worry about being eaten today, our minds still present us with many negative thoughts that will easily undermine your behavior if you let them. It might very well be true that “she probably has a boyfriend” or “I’ll make it weird if I talk to her” or “I’m completely inexperienced and have little self-confidence.” But that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not the thought is helpful. And if it’s not, then we’ll want to defuse from it so that it doesn’t affect our behavior.
When you’re talking to a girl and your self-doubts kick in, you now have a tool to loosen their grip on you. You now have a way to help your mind recognize that your thoughts are merely words in your head and to allow them to bounce around without trying to fight them or letting them influence your behavior. By separating yourself from your negative thoughts, you can exude confidence when talking to her…maybe enough to get her to go out with you.
About the Author
I have a confession to make: I had an absolute BLAST writing this article because…well…I used to not have any confidence! I had a lot of trouble talking to girls because I lacked confidence, and I felt that I lacked confidence because of how much trouble I had talking to girls. My name is Steven Zawila and I know how frustrating it is because I’ve been there before. So, I’m going to write a lot more on confidence in the coming weeks and I’m totally excited to share it with everyone on my e-mail list. Sign up on my website www.charmingintrovert.com.
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