Want to know a secret of human psychology that no one ever tells you? Confidence doesn’t exist.
It’s a revelation that often blows the minds of my patients gearing themselves up for that important job interview or nerve-racking speech.
Confidence is an abstract construct that people believe they have. It makes it easier to complete challenges, but it’s in no way essential.
Researchers at Queens University Belfast have shown that those who have little regard for the opinions of others such as Narcissus, pictured, are on average happier, less stressed and are more satisfied with life
So I rolled my eyes a couple of weeks ago when I read a new study showing that the most extreme form of confidence can protect our mental health. Those who have it are called narcissists.
They have little regard for the opinions of others and are, on average, happier and less stressed, according to researchers at Queen’s University in Belfast.
Other surveys show that narcissistic people are more satisfied with life, have less social anxiety and are even more attractive to the opposite sex.
It’s hardly surprising, given that they are experts in putting themselves first and are blind to criticism. A certain US President springs to mind…
But life isn’t all rosy for our narcissistic friends. They also have higher rates of addictions and personality disorders, and are much more likely to be disliked by others and therefore socially isolated.
So it seems that taking a few leaves out of the narcissistic book may protect your mental health.
But how do you become just enough of a narcissist to boost your mood, without making any enemies?
Act first, think later for positive results
Most narcissists don’t flinch when they have to speak in public or have a stressful job interview.
That’s because they rarely think about what they do before they actually do it, but as a result, they’re more likely to reach the pinnacle of their career than the rest of us, according to the research.
Most of us too easily catastrophise, thinking ‘what if?’ So, in nerve-racking situations you should act first and think second.
Most narcissists don’t flinch when they have to speak in public or have a stressful job interview
It seems counter intuitive to everything we’re taught as children, but believe me – it works.
Before your big event, picture someone you consider to be confident and behave exactly as if they would in that situation.
Completing the task will instil the belief that you can do it, making you more comfortable about doing so next time. Instigate positive behaviours and the positive thoughts will follow.
Prepare to feel good… even on Mondays
The term narcissism originates from the Greek myth about Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. I’d never suggest spending hours every day – or most of your salary – on the way you look, as many narcissists do. But taking pride in how you look is treating yourself with value.
And those who value themselves feel happier.
Studies show that if you roll out of the front door in the morning without so much as brushing your hair, you’re more likely to feel miserable. If you know that on certain days this is more likely to happen – Monday mornings, for instance – devise a plan that makes your morning routine easier.
Studies show that if you roll out of the front door in the morning without so much as brushing your hair, you’re more likely to feel miserable
On Sunday evenings, wash your hair and dry it.
Pick an outfit you feel great in and lay it out so that it’s ready for when you wake up.
Perhaps buy a new lipstick or pair of shoes to add a bit of excitement to an otherwise gloomy morning.
Be more selfish, do what’s good for you
We’ve all been there: asked to babysit or look after a friend’s pet when we’d really rather not.
Most of us automatically respond out of fear, desperate not to be deemed selfish or unkind. ‘Yes!’ we reply, regretting it later.
Narcissists just say no to what doesn’t serve them and yes to what does.
There’s a simple exercise which will help you make decisions that serve you better. Practise swapping an immediate yes with: ‘Can I think about it?’
Or try a simple breathing exercise before you respond. Look around you and name, in your head, five things you can see and five things you can hear.
This will allow time for the decision-making centre in the brain – the pre-frontal cortex – to compute the information before your emotional response kicks in.
You’ll be far more likely to be guided by what you want to do, as opposed to what you feel you have to do.
Don’t downgrade your achievements
Most of us have a fixed view of ourselves and our abilities. If we pass that exam or get our dream job, it doesn’t suddenly make us believe we’re a great person.
We don’t think too much of ourselves, so we put successes down to being ‘lucky’.
Narcissists, on the other hand, see their achievements as indicators of the brilliant, successful people they believe they are. And if they don’t succeed, it’s no slight on them as a person.
So while it’s important to be realistic about your mistakes, remember it doesn’t make you a bad person.
Instead of viewing successes and failures in terms of your personality, try to see each event in isolation
Instead of viewing successes and failures in terms of your personality, try to see each event in isolation.
A specific type of therapy can help you practise this. Rational emotive behaviour therapy teaches you to see negative events as failings rather than as a sign you are a failure.
After all, if you base your worth on what happens at any one time, what happens if you do a good thing today and a bad thing tomorrow?
Keep a daily diary of your achievements and failures to help you remember they are just experiences.
Set clear goals, take mini steps to get there
When narcissists set a goal, they’ll most likely achieve it. This is because they obsess over a series of specific, clear steps that get them there. Others make vague pledges such as ‘doing more exercise’ or ‘joining a social club’.
When we’re not clear on exactly what we want and how and when we’re going to do it, we set ourselves up for failure. Draw out a really clear timeline featuring specific, daily mini-steps – and stick to it – to help you reach your goals.
Face fears head on and you’ll get stronger
One of the most common phobias I see is social anxiety – a fear of big groups of people.
Sufferers are overcome with worries about what other people think of them, triggering extreme panic.
Narcissists are immune to the condition as they are not bothered by others’ opinions.
Narcissists are immune to the condition as they are not bothered by others’ opinions
The only way to overcome social anxiety is to face the fear head-on and by exposing yourself to frightening situations, you strengthen your tolerance for it.
Start small. Perhaps invite two or three people round for dinner, or attend a small event with close friends. The following weekend invite a few more, or tag along to a small party. After a while, your brain will learn that the fear is irrational and nothing is quite as scary as you once believed.
- The Four Thoughts That F*** You Up… And How To Fix Them, by Daniel Fryer, is published by Vermilion, priced £12.99.