On Appearing Confident

March 25 2017, 11:57pm

Every now and then, I'm commented on how confident I am (or at least carry myself to be). Such comments often are followed up by questions about how I do it. It's often hard to think of tangible reasons on the spot, so I thought it would be good for me to write about them—taking a deeper dive into confidence and social anxiety.

First though, a little background:

I wasn't always the more confident person I am today.

Growing up in an Asian American household, I was pretty shy. Going outside was a chore. I mostly hung around my parents and my siblings wherever we went. Even with some of my relatives, seeing them would take quite a bit of courage. It must have been third or fourth grade before I had more than a handful of friends.

Here are some things that have helped:

Starting at No

Chipotle burrito bowl

Photo by Michael Saechang

If there's any one concept I talk about a lot when it comes to improving confidence, it's this one. Basically, in most everything we do or say, we start at no. If you never ask for extra cheese in your Chipotle chicken burrito with fajitas, you're never going to get it. By default, no extra cheese will be added. In asking though, you increase the likelihood that the team member preparing your food will add cheese to your burrito bowl.

If you realize that no is the ground-level, you can only go up from there.

Getting Used to Being Rejected

Related to starting at no, many times people are going to reject your request. This is okay.

Remember, You Started at No.

To boost confidence it helps to lessen the sting of being rejected. There are two easy ways I've found, of lessening the sting. One method is to practice requesting a lot—you can't get used to being rejected if you don't put yourself in situations where you can be rejected, after all. The other way is to request silly things that you know people aren't going to be able to fulfill. If you're at Jamba Juice, with your Aloha Pineapple, why not ask for a cup of sparkling white wine? You know it won't be fulfilled, but that's okay—and who knows, maybe you'll even be pleasantly surprised along the way.

Being Forced to Perform

In high school, like every other overachieving student, I took it upon myself to stand out. Still pretty shy in front of large groups of people, my desire to go to a top-notch university outweighed my sensibility to do nothing. To this end, I put myself in leadership positions where I would have to speak up in front of others. Eventually I would go on to become the president of an honors society and one of the top volunteer organizations at my high school.

When you put yourself in situations where you have to perform, confidence has a funny way of naturally improving.

Understanding Introversion/Extroversion

For quite some time, I didn't know better when it came to introversion and extroversion. Everyone thinks they know what these terms mean. Somehow, if you're social you're an extrovert and anyone who is into just being alone is an introvert. Moreover, somehow in our society extroversion is good and introversion is bad. Both simply relate to where you derive your energy from. If it's from being around others, you're mostly likely extroverted. If you develop energy from being in calmer more intimate environments, you're probably introverted.

The introverted flower

Note: For a good breakdown of all these concepts, I recommend reading the book, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World.

Why is this important?

When you understand what introversion is, you can then begin to separate the concept from shyness. Although I lean much more extroverted, for too long I thought that I was introverted because I was shy, for instance. Conflating these concepts made it hard to fully become the more confident person I am today. Separating the two, one can begin to develop energy in a more reliable manner and focus on minimizing shyness.

Remembering "If Not You, Then Who?"

There are so many things we want to do in life. Some people are naturally inclined to have more of a maker mindset while others lean towards consumption. No matter, the fact of the matter is if you're not one to accomplish what you want to accomplish, then who will?

When applied to improving confidence, if you're not one to boost your own abilities, then who will?

All of this doesn't happen overnight, but it also doesn't happen as fast if you're not one to realize that you need to be the one to make the change.

Trying Everything of Interest

This one is kind of related to starting at no. Many times in life we know what we want. Many more times though, we don't know. The difference between knowing and not knowing is immense. Not knowing takes up a bunch of unnecessary time and energy if attention isn't paid to how something impacts you.

Archery time

If you randomly get invited to a birthday where you're shooting foam-tipped arrows at one another, and you later think that was fun, maybe there's more to it. If you can understand why you like or dislike something, you can be more confident about decisions related to it. Perhaps in this case, you might have it in you to become the next Katniss Everdeen. Without better understanding your own levels of interest, you'd also never know.

To this end, one of the ways which I've boosted my confidence is trying everything of interest that I can. I have a whole list of things to still try but each new experience, from courses in optimizing industrial processes to developing games, is a means to further refine who I am and what I stand for.

Learning How to Act

One of the biggest boosts to my self-confidence has been learning how to act. At Cal, I took it upon myself to join an Asian American theatre group. There I learned not only how to act but really how to be a more confident individual. This experience allowed me the ability to easily stand on stage in front of hundreds of people commanding their attention, eliciting laughs.

I would recommend some form of acting to anyone serious about speaking up in front of others. It's probably helped the most in the shortest amount of time.


Fast forward to today, I have an awesome network of friends that I can easily tap into and am able to face new encounters with excitement. It took some time and work to get here, but I believe anyone, with determination, can make it happen.

The biggest thing is just to start.

How have you improved your self confidence? What tricks do you use to carry yourself?