The following is a guest article from Nick and Stephen of Honest Pick-up

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I walked in like every other morning—groggy and half asleep.

I said ‘hi’ to the two baristas behind the bar and robotically mumbled my order of medium black coffee with cinnamon. I quickly took my phone out and pretended to scroll through email so I’d avoid any small talk or social interaction. It was too early for that sort of thing.

It wasn’t 10 seconds before my mind drifted to the shitstorm that was about to hit me as soon as I walked into the office.

  • The proposal I needed to finish ASAP this morning…
  • The conference call with regional directors that afternoon…
  • The emails I had forgotten to return the day before…

I put my hands on my face and not-so-gently pressed down like a masseuse giving a deep tissue.

Then she walked in.

If I had my coffee in my hands, I would’ve dropped it all over the floor. I stared unapologetically as she moved through the door and conversed with her friend on her way to the counter.

You know when you see someone and know immediately she’s your type? She was mine. She was beautiful. Not Kate Upton supermodel beautiful or anything like that; she was average height, brunette, with really stunning features.

But let me tell you, she had this incredible energy. Her laugh was contagious. Her smile was genuine. I could tell she was smart, too. When we made eye contact, she shyly looked away but gave a soft smile.

An invitation? I had to meet her.

Except I didn’t.

Why not?

Well, what would I have said? I mean, c’mon, I didn’t know one thing about her. Besides, I would’ve been way too nervous to get words out. It would’ve been a complete waste of time.

I went on with my day and tried to forget about her. I tried to drown myself in proposals and presentations. I daydreamed of places I could potentially see her again.

But deep down I knew my reality: I missed the opportunity and would probably never see her again.

This was hardly the first time this happened. Missed opportunities had become a common theme in my life. I needed more than two hands to count all of the times I’d bitched out in important moments…

In big presentations at work in front of company directors, meeting a VIP who could’ve become my dream mentor, stepping out of my comfort zone and making a huge change in my life (like getting into great shape), and of course…many moments like with the girl at the coffee shop.

My lack of confidence was more glaring than ever and I was tired of it. It wasn’t until a few nights later, at the gym of all places, that I figured out how to fix it.

Social Confidence is a Muscle

Consider these hypothetical situations:

  1. A skinny guy who hasn’t lifted weights in over a year walks into a gym. He confidently picks up two 45 pound plates and puts them on a barbell. He tries to bench press the weight but the bar doesn’t budge.
  2. A shy guy who has never approached a woman in his life finally musters up enough courage to start a conversation with an attractive girl at a coffee shop. He says ‘hi’ but is too anxious to listen and the conversation dies out.

Here I was at the gym at 9pm on a Friday night still reeling from the trauma of inaction I’d experienced earlier in the week when it finally clicked for me:

That shy guy in the coffee shop had the same problem as the skinny guy in the gym.

Both had weak muscles.

That’s right, just like our physical muscles—you know, our pecs, quads, biceps—we have “confidence muscles.”

And we strengthen our “confidence muscles” the same way as our physical ones: by starting small and building slowly, being consistent, and putting in focused attention and effort.

It made perfect sense. I was someone who avoided threatening social situations like the plague. I hated public speaking. I hated going to social events or even bars where I didn’t know anyone. I hated doing new things outside my comfort zone – like yoga, or acting classes.

In other words, my “confidence muscles” were tiny. I had never devoted time or energy to them before. Yet here I was trying to bench press a ton of weight.

To make matters worse; when I wanted to improve my confidence, I had no clue where to start. This usually caused me to simply give up.

I’d ask myself things like:

  • Is it even socially acceptable to practice confidence? What can I possibly do to practice?
  • How will I ever know if it’s working?
  • Can I really do this myself? Isn’t confidence and charisma a gene that you were born with?

The Confidence Workout

I was desperate and willing to try anything. I knew I had to get stronger. So I decided to make my first confidence workout routine, right there at the gym.

As I designed it, I realized I needed several things from my routine.

First and foremost, I needed a routine I could feel good about. I had read self-help and confidence books; even PUA (pick-up artist) books about dating and attraction. I decided there was ZERO way I could practice that stuff knowing I’d turn into either…

  1. A delusional, positive thinking, self-helpy dude; or…
  2. A sleazy douche who manipulates people into liking him.

Secondly, I needed my workout to be manageable, given my current scrawniness. I needed to start small and slow and build a solid foundation of confidence before I started doing anything too intimidating.

Lastly, it had to target all the important muscle groups — to only focus on public speaking or just approaching/talking to women would be like only working upper body at the gym.

I targeted three essential confidence muscle groups:

  • Fear muscles to work against fear of rejection and what other people thought of me.
  • Social competence muscles to emulate the behaviors of confident and charismatic people.
  • Bold-move muscles for big moments like nailing the interview, the presentation at work or asking a girl out.

Oh yeah, and I needed a routine that increased in difficulty as I got stronger. Because after a few weeks of the same old exercises, I’d need to increase my weight. Otherwise I’d plateau. Psychologists call this “Progressive Exposure.”

I broke my workout plan into a 30-day program and into three phases.

Here’s basically what it looked like starting out (these are just a few of the exercises I used):

Days 1–10: Foundational Stage

  1. Make eye contact with a stranger. Fear muscles and social muscles
  2. Start conversation with a stranger at a coffee shop. Fear muscles, social muscles, and bold-move muscles
  3. Wear something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Fear muscles

Days 11–20: Building Real Muscle

  1. Make eye contact with a stranger without looking away, and smile. Fear muscles and bold-move muscles
  2. Attend an improv class. Fear muscles and social muscles
  3. Share an embarrassing story with a person you admire. Fear muscles
  4. Start a conversation with a stranger in a grocery store. Bold-move muscles
  5. Post an embarrassing photo to social media. Fear muscles

Days 21–30: Dude, You’re A Beast

  1. Approach a woman you’re genuinely interested in and ask for her phone number. Bold-move muscles
  2. Wear something magnificently weird in public. Fear muscles
  3. Do something magnificently weird in public (i.e. dance like no one is around, snow angels in the department store, etc.). Fear muscles
  4. Compliment a woman on something other than her looks. Social muscles
  5. Volunteer for a talk or presentation at work. Fear and bold move muscles

I followed the workout to a T. It was never easy. I struggled many days and some days I gave up. Days 21-30 were torture but they were hilarious.

I mean, hell, I went tango dancing and made a complete fool of myself. I dressed like a Buddhist monk on a random Saturday and met strangers in the mall. I danced to Frank Sinatra in a department store with a shoe saleswoman. I got a lot of discounts on hotel rooms just because I asked.

Sounds fun, right?

But did these unconventional exercises actually help me build real, sustainable confidence?

About six months after completing the workout, I met a family friend for coffee.

For the first five minutes, she looked me up and down like only a psychologist would (…she is a psychologist). I sensed she had something to tell me, and I was right.

“You know Nick,” she said while studying me. “You are… qualitatively different than the last time I saw you. You have this sense of calm about you. What’s changed?”

What changed? Everything.

Professionally, I took a chance and started my own business. I started taking more risks in my dating life and they were paying off. But most importantly, I actually felt confident.

My limiting social fears (i.e. I had to be perfect, I had to be liked by everyone) were destroyed.

I was able to learn to manage my nervousness and not be intimidated even if I felt a little anxious. And I was more comfortable with my unique strengths and what I had to offer to the world.

About two years later, I found myself teaching my ‘confidence workout’ here, at MIT:

I can't do math, but in here I feel like I can.

A photo posted by Nick Durham (@thenakedspeaker) on

Me. The dude who panicked in the big moments. The dude whose confidence muscles couldn’t lift a 5-pound dumbbell.

I guess my workout made me strong.

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Nick is offering his customized confidence workout plan on their site, Honest Pick-up. Head on over and download it for free as part of a 60-page ebook that’s geared towards dating and attraction for men.

 

feature image via Flickr