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


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.


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

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6 Responses

  1. Andy Budnik on

    Ha, this is totally me. I always want to walk up and say something, but that’s the thing: What do you say to someone you know nothing about? That’s why Match and online dating was easier – I’m good with words and observation and reading into things in profiles. I suppose I could just say anything though – most guys do, and even the douchey ones get a response. I’ve been working at it and most definitely – eye contact is the biggest thing. I work on that more than anything when talking and meeting with new people.

    BTW…Kate Upton?? Come on, use a better analogy. She’s average.

    • Nick Durham on

      thanks for reading man. Eye contact is huge – it brings up just as much emotion sometimes as actually going to say something to her. And yea, you can pretty much say anything. When I started practicing with this stuff, I used to say some pretty off the wall shit just to see what would happen. I never died of embarrasment.

      P.S. agreed. weak analogy 🙂

  2. onefreshgeek on

    this is an amazing article

    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. This goes towards more then just talking to girls/building muscles. This could go towards anything REAL DEEP

  3. Vincent Adultman on

    Wow, this really hit home Nick. Let me share a personal story. I looked hideous in high school and it wasn’t until about a year ago that I started to pay attention to my style (through website like this one, thanks Barron!) I look completely different now but I’m still not used to attention from women. In one of my classes (I’m a freshman in college BTW) theres a girl in one of my classes who makes eye contact with me every time I walk in to class. Now I know what you’re thinking. “But Vincent, that could just be a coincidence!” Well, thats what I thought until I caught her looking at me repeatedly during the lecture. I just smiled back but I was way too scared to talk to her. She was absolutely GORGEOUS and I locked up every time I even thought about approaching her. Heres the kicker though, she wasn’t the only one. When I’m in the dining hall I catch many attractive women checking me out but I’m always paralyzed when I try to do anything. Once I was sitting at a booth eating pizza and there were 2 girls sitting at the next booth down facing each other. The girl who was looking my way made eye contact a few times and I smiled. Eventually the girl who had her back turned got up and left and me and the first girl were just kind of staring awkwardly at each other and eventually we both just got up and left. I kicked myself when as soon as I walked out the door for being too scared to do anything.

  4. WellBuiltStyle on

    Spot on advice. You have to constantly put yourself out there if you want to accomplish anything, regardless if it’s getting a date, a better career, more money etc.

    One of my favourite books on the topic of handling rejection is “Rejection Proof” by Jia Jiang. I highly recommend guys check it out.

    Also, feelings of fear will never go away. A lot of people don’t know that Mike Tyson was absolutely scared to death going into the ring before fights. But he masked that fear with positive self talk and action. He explains it all here (skip to the 2:45 min mark):