If you have followed this blog from the beginning, you know that last October-November, I did a 30-day trial called the Self-Confidence Experiment. It is now about one year since that experiment ended, but I never got around to posting a detailed report of how it went. So instead of going into detail about that month, I am now going to give a report on the results of that experiment over the course of a year.
That month was phenomenally successful. I consider it to be one of the two most pivotal moments of my life. The first happened almost three years prior when I read a book on Zen meditation, which promptly ended a 3-year depression and started me on the path of joy and love. Overcoming social anxiety was, for me, the next stage after overcoming depression.
Within two weeks of the experiment, I felt like a different person. Not completely different, but, for the first time in my life, I began to feel a general sense of self-confidence. At least a couple of people who knew me before told me that I looked and sounded dramatically different. Almost immediately, I began to see myself differently in a longstanding way, just by choosing decisively to do so, and the positive reports from others became a part of the Pygmalion effect.
During that month, I began to get out more. I went to my first vegetarian potluck – where people told me I seemed self-confident – made friends, and had a blast. I went to a bar for the first time – a queer women’s bar – and approached a few women. And I went on a date for the first time ever, at the age of 21. I even got asked on a second date. 🙂
In the months that ensued, I sometimes took steps backward and began doubting myself again. But that is a normal process of growth – these same months only solidified my sense of self-confidence. In time, I developed a confidence in my long-term capacity of self-confidence and stopped doubting that I would be consistently moving forward from there. And I have – it has been a continual process of moving forward. Now I love and believe in myself in ways that are so deeply ingrained that it almost seems like I’ve been this way forever – there is no self-doubt.
Once I had developed a general sense of self-confidence, I began to work on the many ways of being self-confidence. I don’t see self-confidence as a monolithic thing, but rather as multiform. If I have never driven a car before, why would I have the confidence to jump in right at this moment as if I had a driver’s license? Just because I have a general sense of self-confidence does not mean I do not have room for improvement. There were many ways in which social anxiety still arose, which needed to be addressed individually. Sometimes it helps just to experience a specific situation we’re afraid of in order to ingrain in our stubborn minds that it’s nothing to be afraid of, after all.
I began to see all socializing as experimental, as an opportunity for growth and learning, which for me is the point of life. I swapped Aikido classes for swing dance classes in order to socialize more, and I decided to pursue dating in this way.
Dating and Friends
I started using dating sites again. I created a profile that exuded self-confidence and inspiration and attracted many women to respond. Over the course of eight or nine months, I met up with at least 10 women from dating sites. I kissed a girl for the first time. I cuddled for the first time. Though the longest of those only lasted for two months or so, it was an immensely helpful experience. I realized that, contrary to my longstanding belief that no one would be interested in me, there were actually quite a few interesting women who were attracted to me both sexually and romantically.
I had the greatest success with meeting people when I put myself out there. I used to be afraid to do that – to contact people I was really interested in. However, back in May or June, I suddenly decided to contact a bunch of people I wanted to on the dating site or who I knew in person and found that the response was pretty positive.
Theatre and Public Speaking
I took an intro theatre class in the spring, because the experiment had led me out of the false belief that I wasn’t good enough to pursue this interest, and because I saw it as another way to build self-confidence. It worked. Over the summer I did a two-hour improv workshop, which I would never have previously had the courage to do. This semester I am taking two more theatre classes for the same reasons – Acting I and Creative Dramatics (which involves a lot of improv). When the semester started, I felt quite nervous getting up to perform, but I have gotten increasingly comfortable with it.
I took a public speaking class over the summer to get more comfortable speaking in front of groups, which was another drop in the bucket. There I learned that most public speeches are actually well-prepared in advanced rather than impromptu, so a key to not worrying about what you will say in these cases is simply to come prepared.
But the number one key that has been proven with utmost consistently is, quite simply, practice. Practice speaking in front of groups. Practice performing. Practice socializing, and the skills will come and anxieties will go.
Also, nerves while speaking are a perfectly fine part of the process. Looking at it this way has helped me to enjoy public speaking experiences even when I was shaking quite visibly. This was the case at the two open mics I spoke at last month and this month.
Speaking of which, that has gone wonderfully. The first time, I immediately got invited out to dinner after I spoke and met some cool people. One of whom I am now spending much of my time with. *wink*
That was around the same time that I quit the online dating scene, realizing that I really just need to get out more. As Barack Obama’s winning campaign manager David Plouffe put it, “Politics is about numbers.” Social skills and self-confidence are also a matter of politics – interpersonal and intrapersonal. It’s been said many a time before, but dating really is a numbers game. Online dating can take months to meet face-to-face the same number of people you could otherwise meet in one or two evenings out and about, so for me it’s losing the numbers game.
On a similar note, I also have shifted my friendships to be more offline because I realized that face-to-face interactions are ultimately more satisfying. We are physical beings with bodies, and so we need physical stimulation, not just intellectual. Face-to-face, we can hear, see, feel (hugs!!!), smell, and sometimes taste. Because these experiences are so rich, they need not be as intellectually stimulating to be satisfying. And it’s more dynamic. Typing can take so much time, even for a fast typer like me. Online consists of a lot of waiting in between sentences. Nowadays, I much prefer getting brunch with an acquaintance to blabbering online all day to people who live elsewhere.
That’s why, over the summer, I began calling people I knew online instead of text chatting. This way, we ended up doing experimental phone conversations involving lots of improv games. I am now much more comfortable with calling someone up to talk on the phone, and now I have found someone to play these games with me face-to-face. It’s a lot of fun, and a great way to improve conversational skills.
And finally, I must mention that in June I began standing in the park holding a sign that said “FREE HUGS.” One time I had people lining up and got over 200 hugs in 2 hours. I could spread love, but, most importantly for me, I could receive so many loving hugs from strangers even when I couldn’t seem to find any more familiar person to get that physical affection from.
Now, one year after the Self-Confidence Experiment, my social life is going wonderfully, and the experimentation goes on. I shared this story at the open mic as the one-year mark was approaching. I try to share it often because it continually brings new inspiration into my life and is something that everyone can also appreciate and be inspired by. I can encourage others, in addition to myself. And the commitment to do so always comes back around to remind me of the commitment to myself. I am on a constant spiral upward, all because of one day when I decided to pretend to be whoever, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be.
I have to thank everyone who has been a part of this experiment, inadvertently or intentionally, because we are all part of the same mutually beneficial process that is confidence, love, and personal growth. Now I hope you will join me intentionally from here on. 😉
Note: This post contains a lot, and since it’s written as a report and not super well-organized, I might ultimately break it up. I haven’t even managed to include all the things I could have here because so much has happened in a year.