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How to fake courage (42floors.com)
128 points by jaf12duke on Sept 18, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

I'm an extreme introvert by nature, and overcoming this is a constant, daily, exhausting struggle. I love interacting with one or two people who I know very well. But I'm driven to the edge of an irrational panic attack when I meet new people.

In high pressure situations, like sales or fund raising, it can be excruciating. The elevated pulse, the sweat, blurred vision -- it's fight or flight response the entire way.

I was talking with a friend of mine about living in cities, and we both mentioned our distaste for living in an environment where we have to deal with lots of people. But while her response was to try and move out to the country, mine was to try and move to bigger and bigger cities. Turns out I love the anonymity of big crowded cities like New York, but just like my friend, can't stand the kind of semi-dense low-rise urbanity like you find in LA. The density just isn't right.

Many years ago I took a job doing tech support and phone sales. It was probably the worst kind of job for me, but I persevered and found that over time I learned how to deal with people. Every month or two I had a difficult interaction and realized that I dealt with it more successfully than I would have a few months before. I still hated it, that kind of interaction, but it trained me. I was never going to be a natural at that kind of interaction, but I would never naturally get up and run a marathon either. I realized that if I could train myself, I could not only tolerate, but be successful in these kinds of interactions.

I also remember being moved by the Gom Jabbar scene in Dune. The purpose of which was to filter out humans who could discipline their mind against instinct, and animals who were slaves to instinct. I realized reacting to fear is reacting to instinct, like an animal, and if I were a human I could overcome this. This is reenforced by the Litany Against Fear used during that scene.

Now, many years later, before I go into a meeting with strangers, I tell myself this, I've trained myself to overcome my instincts, to be fully human. I tell myself "fear is the mind killer" and I enter the room.

> In high pressure situations, like sales or fund raising, it can be excruciating. The elevated pulse, the sweat, blurred vision -- it's fight or flight response the entire way.

This might blow your mind or it might not, but there's a medicine called Propanolol that can basically eliminate the elevated pulse/shaking/sweats. Performers sometimes use it to combat stage fright. It's nonaddictive and doesn't affect your cognitive skills.

We sometimes get into a feedback loop of: fight-or-flight kicks in, brain freaks out which pushes fight-or-flight further, which freaks out our brain even further, etc. Propanolol short circuits the physiological side, so you're only battling your brain (instead of your brain and your body feeding off each other).

I had a bout of anxiety last year sparked by an unpleasant situation, and therapy helped but the fight-or-flight responses were absolutely crippling. My MD and therapist both suggested the medicine, so I gave it a shot and it's wonderful. I liken it to an armor on my body's responses. My mind may get freaked out but when my body doesn't react in kind, it's easy now with practice to settle down.

Anyway, sounds like you may have figured out your own solution, but I'm leaving this here for you or anyone else who might find it useful. Cheers.

Depending on the definition this is courage actually. As per The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: "Courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty"

So the author it seems is a courageous person. Not feeling fear/danger/difficulty is not courage. It does not imply the ability to handle these feelings. So if the author is faking anything then that's fearlessness.

Enough nitpicking, great post!

Your post brings to mind a fairly well known quote from A Game of Thrones:

“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' 'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”

I'm surprised by this article since I have not found the "Fake It Until You Make It" strategy to be very effective, especially with regards to faking courage. If it works for the author, great, but I wouldn't recommend this and here's why: False confidence might make you seem brave in the short-term, but long-term it's not going to fool most people and will make you look like even more of a weakling.

"Exaggerating Courage" usually works much better than faking it, at least for me, because it's based on a kernel of truth instead of a lie. For example I've never had a tennis lesson but I used to be good at basketball and other sports. So when I'm on the tennis court, even though my technique is poor, I remind myself that I have good hand-eye coordination and agility. So I focus on the fact that "I'm quick!" instead of "My backhand is lame!"

Focus on your strengths, not your perceived weaknesses. Of course when I'm really "in the zone" I'm in a state of Relaxed Confidence where I'm not talking to myself, either positive or negative, and I'm merely reacting to what's required at the moment. It's the ideal mind-body-state to be in when you're trying to return a serve, sink a free throw, hit a fast ball, or in many other non-sports situations. For more on this, check out...

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by Timothy Gallwey. http://www.amazon.com/The-Inner-Game-Tennis-Performance/dp/0...

I can't even begin to explain how much this post hits home for me. If not for my 3 years in customer service as an undergrad, I think I'd be much worse off than I am currently. It's still a daily struggle for me to put myself out there, and I have to make a conscious effort to do so. The saving grace for me, as I'm trying to run a small startup, is that I'm incredibly passionate about what I'm working on and I'm confident in my long-term goals for the company. If not for that, I'd probably not have made it this far. It took a while for me to realize that even "successful" people struggle with the same thing. I've found that the best way to get over the fear is to force yourself to do things that make you uncomfortable. While I'm certainly not fearless, I've made huge strides thanks to all my faking. Thanks to Freedman for writing this.

The greatest thing about faking is you'll actually end up believing it, even subconsciously, which is great.

A great way to start is just by changing postures. Related: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes...

I've experienced quite a few of this. When I'm having conversation with colleagues in a closed body posture, boy do I stutter a lot.

I remember the 15 Year old me. I was an extremely introvert guy participating in school debate competitions for the first time. While I was speaking in front of the audience, my legs (hidden behind the dais) would be shaking (the first few times). Somehow, I learnt to control my fear of public speaking and manage to put my points across.

Courage (faking courage) is probably the strength to do a thing well without letting the fear of failing paralyzing you.

I remember I was the lead developer at a small software company, and we had an annual user conference with some training sessions. As the "big picture" software person, I didn't have to lead "how to use the software" sessions, but I did have to give sessions on things like platform direction.

I remember one time... it might have been the second of these presentations I ever gave, I think? I was just really nervous at the beginning of the presentation. I don't know why it happened then as opposed to the first time or the third time, but for whatever reason, that's when it happened. And I could tell my voice was quavering in a way that had to be obvious to everyone, so it was like the sort of public speaking moment that people who are scared of public speaking are afraid of. It was pretty nerve wracking.

So basically all I did was force myself to keep going, quavering and all. The audience was completely sympathetic -- they were at the conference to learn about our software, so they wanted me to succeed at telling them about it. So even if it started out rocky, they were paying attention. And after a couple of minutes of not getting booed out of the room, I managed to settle down, get my voice under control, and make everything go more smoothly the rest of the way.

Now that I know what can happen if public speaking goes badly, and know that it's almost certainly going to be ok even if it does, I don't let it stress me as much. I still get nervous, but it's never any sort of paralyzing fear or anything. I know if I just find a way to keep going, I can probably make it work out ok.

That's actually true of an awful lot of things in life.

You probably know this already, this comment is just for those who don't.

If you are trembling before public speaking is probably adrenalin. It is hard in the first minutes. But it is good for you, it makes you more alert, smarter and better overall. It is just difficult at the beginning, but once you start talking, it fades away and you will feel better. Keep that in mind.

And don't forget to clench your butt.

I'm serious. It gives the energy somewhere to go so you aren't fiddling with your hands or fidgeting around and it's invisible to everyone in the audience.

Also improves your posture. Win-win.

Just don't try to walk while you're doing it.

And maybe take a potassium supplement or have a banana for breakfast so you don't get a cramp.

My default personality is very risk averse. I do lots of things that look crazy to other people. Different knowledge base, different goals, basically.

I agree with the first point of setting a clear goal so you know what you are actually trying to accomplish.

Also, learn about statistics. Most folks make logical errors when they "bet." Flipping a coin, the odds are always about 50/50, no matter what the last flip or last ten flips were. But people tend to think "The last three were heads, so we are overdue for tails." Nope. It is still about 50/50 (with, I think, a slight skew towards heads).

Get the facts or hard data. Be very skeptical about data that comes from iffy sources or processes. Trying to decide on hazy info sucks so bad. Good info leads to better decisions. "Garbage in, garbage out."

Get a sounding board, preferably one who has different strengths and weaknesses from you, not a "yes man" and not someone biased in the same way you are. My oldest son is very opposite me in some important ways. When we both vome yo the,same conclusion from very different directions it tends to be a very sound decision.

Anyway, real work calls or I could possibly drone on.

God damn it. I didn't know Disqus picks up your gravatar like that. That was a highly unexpected outcome. Now I need an anonymous email address to use.

I was under the impression that "fake courage" was in fact stupidity in disguise.

The difference between courage and stupidity is mostly in the outcome.

I understand the faking all too well.

Awhile back I was this fat, neckbearded kid in my mothers basement coding and gaming. Realized I'm trash at interacting on the most basic levels with people. Lost all the weight, got strong, got decently good looking, but inside I'm always still that shy nerd that doesn't really want to go out ever and keep to himself.

Every outing I need to mentally and physically prepare for, I can't just "go out" and be with people. I have to pay active attention to how my face feels, what position I'm sitting in, how I'm walking, the spacing between my steps, my pacing, every little detail is calculated and it makes going out extremely difficult.

Every single day is a mission to fake it, and though I'm good at it now and it's nearly natural, I still microanalyze every person, gesture, blink, speech, walk, turn, movement of everyone and I incorporate these attributes into my own outward image to project confidence, courage, and ambition.

I never had friends growing up when I was young, not sure what kind of impact that truly had but as an outsider, I've been observing relentlessly, almost obsessively, and taking bits and pieces from others until I formed someone decent (me), how normal people act in normal situations.

I still feel extremely anxious every day to the point of having to pep talk myself before meeting someone, that has never changed for a second, the only thing that has changed is my ability to mask it but I'm as scared as ever.

It makes me wonder if everyone is in the same shoes.

I'm a person that can't do anything unless a process, or number, is attached to it. Essays in highschool? Barely ever passed, I lock down, don't know where to start. Math? Design? Computers? Not the slightest problem, which is why human interaction is so difficult, there is no "set way" to interact.

I don't really know who I truly am because all my mannerisms are borrowed from various people, movies, figures, friends. No movement or expression is my own and it's difficult to cope with.

Through my observation, the only thing that honestly matters, is just being nice and treating others as equals and it all falls into place.

I don't know if it's mental illness or what it is, but I can tell you right now the happiest I'd ever be is 100% alone left to my own mind somewhere deep in nature.

I remember having a heart to heart with roommates I was "close" with. We started talking about all our passive aggressiveness because it was starting to get to all of us and ruin our living situation. It got way to real, and then it got to me. I explained to them how I see the world, how I deal with things, and they honestly looked kinda terrified and thought I was crazy, and it hasn't really been the same since then since they don't really know who I am now, I don't even know who I am.

I relate to a lot of this. I used to have similar traits.

Then I bought a bar--a little neighborhood bar, where it's slow--and worked behind the bar for two years.

It fixed me. Now I feel relaxed just to be me.

I don't think everyone can spend two years behind a bar, but maybe there's something similar you can do. For me it was just lots of forced interaction with all levels of acquaintance, for hours per day, until I became good at social interaction and began to relax.

+1 to this. I moved to Manchester a couple of years after uni to help the startup I was working for expand into the UK market. I spent the first year either at my day job or in my room wondering how to make friends. One day I walked past a tiny Aussie bar that had recently opened in Chorlton and impulsively walked in and asked for a job. The world opened up to me while working behind that bar. I became friends with so many wonderful people I never would have met if I hadn't taken that single step. At first I was petrified talking to customers but gradually the fear wore off and I was all of a sudden wheeling people out of that place in wheelie bins and organising lock ins with half the clientele.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realise that bar job was the difference between having the time of my life and wasting my entire two years worth of social life. Maybe it was the Manchester vibe but people just seemed to want a bartender in their life.

Fascinating. Did you work full-time at the bar? Was it enough to make ends meet?

I did, yes, and so did my brother who was my partner.

We scraped by. I lived on what would not be enough for most people, mostly tip money.

The bar is still open (we opened March 2010), my brother runs it, and I'm off doing other things.

In my personal experience, faking has been helpful.

I also grew up mostly without friends. The weirdest thing for me though was that as a toddler, I was extremely social and friendly. Then through a series of occurrences I ended up on the other end of the spectrum. My family moved all the time and I barely ever had any friends. I was happiest when reading. I read incessantly, constantly - often hiding in the bathroom to read because my mom wanted me to do school work. Haha.

It was strange though because I read fiction exclusively. It was a way for me to find friends, even though fake ones.

I left home in grade 11 (Junior year of high school) for a boarding school. I was super excited to make hundreds of friends now that I was finally going to be among more people my age, living with them. It turned out to be a disaster. I had always wanted friends but I had never learned to socialize. It was a hard 2 years of rejection, pranks, people constantly laughing at me. In a high end school in Delhi girls who don't know how to dress, do their hair, take care of themselves, are BIG jokes. :-/ To be fair, I was not smoothest operator aside from that either.

After that I got into Stanford for college and that was probably the biggest blessing I got. Suddenly I was around people who were more like me. Yay! But I faked a lot to fit in and be "normal". I tried really hard to be interesting. I still only managed to make a few friends but I wasn't a pariah.

Then desire struck. I decided I wanted to fulfill my dream of being a "leader" and ran for student government. That was one of the times in my life that I faked it till I made it. I was the friendliest, best looking self I have ever been. As I was going through the election campaign, I wondering if this faking was worth it.

I didn't really realize then but that experience changed me forever. The faking stopped feeling fake. I now feel much more empathetic and social with people. Similar to the person who commented below about running a bar to change his behavior and comfort level, its almost like I needed practice to civilize myself haha.

Anyway, in summary, I feel like faking is shitty when you are going through it but can have really good long term behavior changes. Its all about emulating the right behaviors.

It sounds like you've always been a person who likes socialising with a lot of people, and didn't get enough practice at it.

What exactly happened when "desire struck"?

Wow, I've experienced a lot of that and have been trying to describe it to those around me. They're are all supportive, but I don't know whether they really understand what I am saying.

I don't dance, because I am afraid of being judged the way I analyze others. I don't show emotion or affection (much, I am a lot older and a little better now) in public, for the same reason. I remember every single time I've attempted a social interaction and it went poorly -- they stick with me more than anything else. When I see someone naturally at ease, I am immediately envious and trying to glean any hints of how I should act. I also feel like a construct of all those people around me -- I can look back over the last 20 years and see the phases of my life. It's like I became different people in different places, different jobs. Whatever it took to be normal, to fit in.

I don't know about others, but you're not alone. It made me feel better reading your comment and knowing I am not alone. Thank you.

I'm glad it helped.

> It makes me wonder if everyone is in the same shoes.

I can tell you that I am, for what that's worth.

When you sit in class, or say, on the bus, do you usually go for the back seat, behind everyone, where no one can see you? Maybe you have social anxiety (or anxiety in general) which what makes it painful going out and interacting with other people.

Regarding the inability to write essays, I also have that problem where I feel like nothing is coming to me and I don't really know how to start. I have recently been tested and it appears that I have a learning disability (something memory related).

Yes I sit in the back all the time. It's weird, if you met me, I'm the most confident/nice/happy person to hang out with, but it's all absolutely fake and orchestrated, and borrowed, and I can even tell you which features are from who! Ideally I'd throw on my default face all day but nobody likes that, I just look super pissed off.

How do you get tested/evaluated? Yeah I have social anxiety for sure.

Two points:

1. If your "default face" is being super pissed off all the time, it means you're probably having larger problems on top of social anxiety. Apart from genetics (some people are just less/more cheerful than others), there must be factors in your life which make you like that - try to identify them.

2. There are people who prefer interacting with others' "natural face", even if it is to some extent not attractive (not everything needs to be TV-show attractive! quirkiness can make you interesting to others), to interacting with a "happy drone". Talking to "happy drones" feel like watching a commercial.

> How do you get tested/evaluated?

You need to look for a decent psychiatrist. By the way, there is no magic fix for anxiety. The non-medication route might use CBT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy) and the meds that are usually prescribed are anti-depressants.

I also have social anxiety (a mild form of it), that makes me a little awkward around people, and makes my heart rate go through the roof when I need to speak publicly (for example, asking a question in a large class). I was offered to take anti-depressants, but I chose not to because I feel that I can deal with it without any meds.

My problem isn't anxiety, it's mental illness.

Anxiety is one kind of mental illness.

Almost identical to my behavior a few years back. Changed a lot since but still too much on the 'computed behavior' side of things.

2 cents analysis on things: with objects I can try fail and try again with no fear of hurting (both ways) or trying again, and most things I learn is relatively stable, with people everything is very informal, random, ad-hoc, arbitrary, absurd. It's hard to keep in mind the small but valuable beauty of relating to someone, it's often under a fat layer of "fakery" but it seems they all click, admit and understand it while I drown under this accidental complexity.

It's hard to keep in mind the small but valuable beauty of relating to someone, it's often under a fat layer of "fakery" but it seems they all click, admit and understand it while I drown under this accidental complexity.

I can safely say I've never related to a single person I've met, I just kind of see through them. Sure I can laugh at your jokes and share stories but I still feel as though I'm in a one man gallery and you're all on display.

And what about after the fact ? I'm so anxious around people I can't reach emotional responses but later on I do feel for some, it's just something somehow too private, too sensitive.

What do you mean "after the fact"? I don't quite understand your post.

I meant when back at home and alone with your thoughts. But I feel I'm crossing personal boundaries here.

"Fake it till you become it." This is the path I've been on for the last 5 years, and only now am I finally starting to feel a little "natural" in some core social competencies.

But man is it exhausting! All the micromangaging, analyzing, calibrating, and mental preparation. I often require more sleep as a result, guess the brain needs that to adapt.

Related vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc

Quite a few misconceptions here, that I'm surprised no one else has picked up on.

>Awhile back I was this fat, neckbearded kid in my mothers basement coding and gaming. Realized I'm trash at interacting on the most basic levels with people. Lost all the weight, got strong, got decently good looking,

You took action! That is something to be proud of. So, so, so many people never take action. They think they can't change, they think that's simply the 'way they are'.

>Every outing I need to mentally and physically prepare for, I can't just "go out" and be with people.

Isn't this a bit obvious? Seriously, what are you expecting? Do you think a person that has used a computer a couple of times in their lives is going to feel secure & confident. Do you think they will know all the shortcuts, know what to do and when, do you think everything will come naturally to them?

Of course not! Using computers, just like interacting socially, is a _skill_. Skills take practice. Being a social butterfly is not "normal". What is normal is that people who practice a skill gradually become better at it. So accept that you have not put in as many hours into social interactions as some other people. But you can, and it seems that you're catching up.

>I don't really know who I truly am because all my mannerisms are borrowed from various people, movies, figures, friends. No movement or expression is my own and it's difficult to cope with.

Your "own"? Everyone takes the things they do and know from people around it. Just because you're doing this at a point in your life where you're consciously aware of it, doesn't make it "worth any less" or weird.

I'm only replying because I can identify 100% with what you said. I do the same things, micro-analysing what everyone else is doing? Yep. Feeling insecure around other people? Yep. Wanting to be alone? Yep. Not feeling "normal"? Yep.

I think the only difference is that I'm pushing to accept who I am. (I am who I am, there's reason why I am the way I am, and that's ok. Negative self-talk will harm, rather than help me.) There is no "normal". Everyone is insecure to some extent. You can become less insecure by practice whatever you're insecure at.

Go see a psychiatrist. They will be able to help you. If you're not opposed to them, psychedelics have also helped me (personally with some aspects of this)

Feel free to ask questions

I found some great advice on this at the Rejection Therapy site. In particular:

No Confidence? Borrow Some: http://rejectiontherapy.com/no-confidence-borrow-some/

Fear Hacks of World Class High Divers: http://rejectiontherapy.com/fear-hacks-of-world-class-high-d...

This is honestly a crap article. Absolutely shit.

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