Social gatherings often make me uncomfortable.
Oh, you too?
Great! Grab my hand. We’re about to learn how to turn into a social butterfly.
Look, I know what it’s like to feel out of place in social situations. When I’m part of a larger group, I struggle to make one-on-one connections, keep up my social batteries, and put myself out there.
But while I’m no expert at socializing (duh), I do bring some good news.
Did you know that confidence is a skill that can be cultivated over time?
Yes, that’s right. And it all comes down to your mindset and some confidence-boosting tricks supported by science.
You’ve just arrived at a social gathering, and you’re already stressed the hell out.
Anxiety clutches you in her fist as beads of sweat glisten on your forehead, your heart is beating fast, and your whole body feels so uncomfortable you want to shed your skin like a snake.
In other words, you’re in the midst of a fight-or-flight reaction because your brain thinks that you’re in danger (what if you cause a faux pas? What if no one likes you? What if you’ll have no one to talk to?).
When your body is so stressed out, it becomes very difficult to feel confident and at ease, which is why the first confidence-boosting trick you can try is to simply… slow… down.
Take a deep breath. Hold it in for a few seconds. Now, a long exhale.
Slow breathing has been shown to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of the relaxation response.
Slowly but surely, your body begins to understand that the people coming to greet you are not, in fact, predators. It’s just Mark and Leila from work. The coast is clear.
Once you’ve calmed down a bit, it’s time to move on to our second step.
2) Pay attention to your body language
You may not realize it, but the way you carry yourself affects how you feel on the inside.
If you’re hunching and trying to minimize your presence in the room, your confidence is likely to drop.
A “power pose”, as the social psychologist Amy Cuddy would say, does the exact opposite – it increases your testosterone and decreases your cortisol, making you more dominant and less stressed.
There are many different power poses, some of which could be considered a bit inappropriate for a social event (such as sitting with your hands behind your head and your feet on the table), but oftentimes, it’s enough to place your hands on your hips and assume a wide stance.
Hold your head high. Keep your back straight. Don’t cross your arms.
It may feel uncomfortable the first time you try it, but over time, you’ll get more familiar with the way your body feels when you decide to claim space in the world.
3) Compliment someone to establish a connection
Compliments. We all love getting compliments, right?
However, remember that while one simple compliment can be a great way to make friends and feel more comfortable in a social setting, you’re looking for authentic connections here, which means you should actually mean what you’re saying.
So, only use this trick if it applies to your situation – that is, if you actually like something and want to compliment the person it’s related to.
Clothes, food, art, personality traits, whatever it is, a small compliment can go a long way. It could even make that person’s whole day, and if it leads to a more in-depth conversation, all the better!
And how does this improve your confidence, you may ask?
Well, research has found that simple acts of kindness toward others increase our own happiness. This surge in positivity could theoretically motivate you to feel more comfortable in your own skin.
Plus, a compliment is a simple and positive way to strike up a conversation with someone, which comes in handy if you’re one of those people who tend to stand on the outskirts of social gatherings, not knowing how to join in (*cough* me).
4) Play the game of “one thing I can learn”
Small talk used to be my worst nightmare. Seriously. I would have rather skipped the “talk” part completely if it meant there was “small” in front of it.
But recently, I’ve been thinking about the importance of small talk when it comes to establishing an initial connection – after all, it’s usually not possible to talk about your deep-seated fears and past traumas in the first five minutes of meeting someone – which has led me to realize that small talk is actually quite fun.
Even talking about the weather can be entertaining if you look at it from an interesting perspective.
If you’re looking to boost your confidence in a social gathering, not only do I recommend embracing small talk for what it is – a fun and easy-going form of connecting with someone – but I also encourage you to ask questions.
Amy Chan, relationship expert and the founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp, refers to this as the “one thing I can learn” exercise.
Everyone is interesting in their own way. What’s the one thing you can learn about the person you’re talking to?
By asking questions and listening with intention, you’re shifting your attention from yourself to somebody else, which could help you feel less self-conscious and eventually gain more confidence.
5) Look for “your” person
Imagine two different scenarios.
In scenario A, you’ve been invited to an event. You don’t know anybody there, so you automatically feel anxious and struggle to feel like you belong.
In scenario B, you’ve also been invited to an event, except this time, your friend has received an invitation as well. You might still feel a bit out of place, but since you’re there together, you can lean on each other.
Of course, you can’t always bring a friend to every social gathering you attend, and even if you do, your friend shouldn’t have to be chained to you the whole evening.
But the point here is that one single person with whom you feel some sort of affinity can completely change how you feel.
If there’s a friendly face somewhere in the crowd, you have a point of reference. You have a stable base you can return to. And you have someone who knows you and likes you, reminding you that you’re a person worth talking to.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to social gatherings on your own, of course. But once you’re there, it helps to try to look for “your” person (or a small group) – someone you get along with and who is your lighthouse in a sea of people.
6) Choose authenticity over pretense
This is a tough one. Not always can you act in a fully authentic manner and not always is it the safest option.
But if it is possible for you to show up as your true self, try to embrace it as it’s the best way to form genuine connections that may last long after the event itself has been swallowed by the past.
Plus, pretending to be someone you’re not is incredibly draining and uncomfortable.
Choosing to be authentic and bold, though… that’s a power move.
7) Get into the right mindset before the event starts
Ever listened to upbeat songs before an anxiety-inducing event to lift your spirits?
That’s a confidence-boosting trick right there.
Sometimes, the best way to gain confidence is to get into the right mindset before you even step foot outside the house. This will change the energy with which you stride into the building where the event takes place, transforming your experience from the get-go.
Apart from listening to a confidence-boosting playlist, I love repeating positive affirmations.
Careful, though. Research has shown that positive affirmations don’t work if what you say is fundamentally at odds with what you believe.
You can’t just say, “I am a super confident queen” and expect to immediately feel on top of the world.
Instead, find positive affirmations that work for you, such as:
- “I am open to making new connections today”
- “I am increasing my confidence”
- “I am showing up for myself”
You can also try to work with your anxiety, for example by dancing or shaking your body to process the feelings of tension and stress.
And lastly, remember that practice makes perfect.
If you force yourself to go outside your comfort zone and actively try to boost your confidence in social situations…
Well, there’s a good chance you may eventually feel like a super confident queen.
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