Debunking Myths – If You’re Not Confident, Fake It

I attended a dating event a few years ago where I was coaching singles who wanted a little help with their nerves. It was a dressy affair in London, so I wore my sharpest suit and I swear I walked a little taller and with a little more swagger than normal.

I strode in, believing I was all that and a bag of potato chips, and for the first 10 minutes found myself eager to demonstrate my alpha qualities to all around me. I was on a brief power trip until I realised that I was behaving very much like a prize asshole, so I gave myself a metaphorical slap around the chops and cut it out.

There’s been some research to support the fact that things like power dressing or adopting a “power pose” can help to jump you into a more powerful, “confident” state.

Harvard Business School professor Amy J.C. Cuddy conducted research that backs up my experience at that event. In “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance” (catchy huh?), Cuddy found that simply holding your body in expansive, high-power poses for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone (the hormone linked to power and dominance) and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Cuddy links these “power poses” and the ability to leverage facial expressions to levels of confidence. “We used to think that emotion ended on the face,” she says. “Now there is established research showing that while it’s true that facial expressions reflect how you feel, you can also ‘fake it until you make it.'”

Cuddy and coauthors Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap of Columbia University performed an experiment with forty-two male and female participants, finding that high-power poses decreased cortisol by about 25 percent and increased testosterone by about 19 percent for both men and women.

When asked to indicate how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt on a scale from one to four, high-power posers of both sexes (those who were ‘faking it’) reported greater feelings of being powerful and in charge.

The thing is, of course, power and dominance aren’t the same as confidence.

Someone who’s trying hard to come across as confident, for example, can mistakenly behave arrogantly simply because they haven’t figured out what real confidence is or what it means to them. They’ll talk over someone in a meeting because that’s what they think confident people do. They’ll voice an opinion without thinking about its impact, because they think that confident people make themselves heard. And they’ll steam-roller their view forwards because confident people stick to their guns.

People who set out to fake confidence until they make confidence are far more likely to create dissonant thinking that’s counter-productive. Think about it, “fake it til you make it” is a comparative exercise at heart – it requires the thought I’m not where I want to be, so I’ll pretend that I am,or I’m not who I want to be, so I’ll pretend that I am.

That pretence may afford you a temporary boost in perceived power or dominance, but it also sets up layers of thinking based on the foundation that something’s not where it should be, ought to be or needs to be, otherwise you’d already be there, it wouldn’t be so damned hard and you wouldn’t need to fake anything.

It temporarily pushes any doubts and fears about not being good enough into a box and places centre-stage a pretence of being good enough that might not be based on a genuine sense of being good enough.

Faking it ’til you’re making it compartmentalizes your experience based on fear and reward, and the more your brain gets a rewarding little hit of dopamine from the power and dominance that comes along with faking it (it does feel good temporarily, as I found out at the dating event), the more it will use that as a strategy going forwards.

Keep that up and pretty soon this dissonant, comparative thinking can easily create, support or intertwine with beliefs that you’re not good enough or that others are better than you (because they don’t have to fake it, right?), beliefs that undermine any sense of confidence, not supports it.

So, here’s the debunking.


This distinction seems subtle at first, but is MASSIVE.

Faking confidence is like me dressing up like a duck and trying to quack. Strap on a bill, stick on a pair of wings then run around asking everyone to throw chunks of bread because “I’m a duck, don’t you know”.

Of course, I don’t need to be a duck at all.

You don’t need to fake confidence, you already have it. It’s there in the times when you’re at your best. The times when you’ve felt most like you. The times when you felt like everything was flowing. The times when you’re just playing.

That’s all you ever need.

  • Ooooh, a very timely one for me! I’m coming up on an international event in Singapore where I’ll literally be centre stage, essentially talking about something that I know very little about, yet trying to sound like I do (don’t ask….) In cases like this, how does one overcome “faking it” and just be oneself, when the situation pretty much demands that I fake it (yet still come across as knowledgeable and confident and knowing my sh*t?) (PS – it’s not a subject I can learn enough about between now and the conference—it’s a maddeningly complex and constantly changing domain.) Eek!

    • That’s a pretty niche, and somewhat scary situation Cara! Knowledge is something you can’t fake, but being an “expert” is simply knowing one or two things that an audience doesn’t. You don’t have to know it all or be an expert in the sense that you have all the answers, just find an angle that you’re comfortable with and go for it.

      If there was one thing you wanted an audience to take away, what would it be? Weave your narrative around that.

  • I have grown to have a great deal of confidence, but what I haven’t mastered yet is the ability to protect it. I let it too easily get stomped on by people who shouldn’t matter. Probably will take a lifetime to learn that in an automatic way, to not let others rattle it in any way. But it’s always there no matter how many times it gets hit.

    • It’s something that takes continuous practice for sure. I have to bring my thoughts back to a place where I’m okay just as I am from time to time, just like everyone else.

      I don’t think confidence is ever “done”. It’s a way of thinking and behaving that you keep coming back to.

  • Steve

    this is brilliant. I am often described as lacking confidence (and most the time I am actually feeling great inside and don’t understand how that assessment or out of blue comment came). I have been advised to fake it but I never want to and hate how awful it feels not to be me. This article is massively reassuring and compounds my self belief. I love how you are so flipping down to earth. Thank you .

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}