Illustration by SDI Productions

How To Look Confident Even When You’re Not Feelin’ It

You know, that feeling, maybe a bit nauseous, dizzy, weak in the knees, and or quivering voice—physically and mentally, those proverbial butterflies are swirling about and are often referred to as a case of ‘nerves.’

You know, that feeling, maybe a bit nauseous, dizzy, weak in the knees, and or quivering voice — physically and mentally, those proverbial butterflies are swirling about and are often referred to as a case of ‘nerves.’

When the ‘butterflies in your stomach’ are ruling your thoughts, as you can imagine, your body language is not saying confident, commanding, and in charge of yourself, let alone leading the group. When that happens, the trick is to get your butterflies flying in formation fast!

But how?

Try one or more of these five techniques to counteract those jitters and instantly bring you back to the present moment as the confident, composed leader you are. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they work!

Present Moment Power Move #1: The Wet-Dog Shake.

Just like a golden retriever after a joyful splash in its favorite pond, have a mighty head-to-toe shake! From top to bottom, shake your whole body. Shake out your arms, hands, legs, and feet (all at the same time if you can.) The shake is a fun, quick recovery technique.

Fair warning. You have to be careful if you are the only one doing the ‘Wet-Dog’ in public — who knows what the casual observer might think… Yet, no need to do it alone. If you are leading a group and the group has had a shock or negative surprise, the Wet-Dog shake works well to get everyone back on track after the upset and maybe even get a laugh or two.

If a great shake is too much for the situation, try bouncing a few times on the balls of your feet. Add a backward and upward shoulder roll for extra zip. In one fluid, quick movement, lift your shoulders towards your ears, press the shoulders back, and then (snap) drop them quickly to create a backward rolling motion. The shake, the bouncing feet, and the backward shoulder roll work well to reset your system.

Present Moment Power Move #2: The Cold Water Splash. 

Cold water splashed on your face, swished around your mouth, and or an ice-cold water bottle pressed against the inside of your wrists will also bring you back to the present moment.

It’s not always opportune to splash cold water on your face. Yet, swishing cold water around your mouth works well and is semi-socially acceptable and easy to do. And in a pinch, just pressing something ice-cold to the inside of your wrists will help bring you back quickly too.

Present Moment Power Move #3: Take Up Space. Spread out.

It’s as easy as take-up-more-space, uncurl your shoulders, breathe deep, stand erect, and keep your head up. Research shows that others believe those that take up more space to be confident and dominant.

They are called “power poses” in body language, and a version known as the “superhero” pose was made part of popular culture with Amy Cuddy’s TedGlobal2012 Talk. Her study results suggest that the expansive posture elevates testosterone and decreases cortisol (one of your stress hormones), leading to an ‘increased feeling of confidence and control.’ However, there has been debate among social scientists about the ‘reproducibility’ of the study results.

Power poses can be done standing or sitting and don’t have to involve a ‘superhero. ’Most people who use Power Move #3 find that taking up more space physically, including moving out paperwork and a coffee cup on the meeting table or even expanding their presence through thinking they are getting ‘bigger’ works to change how they are feeling.

So, give a power pose a try… it’s simple, accessible, and straightforward, just spread out. And, an expansive posture makes it easier to be successful with my favorite — Power Move #5.

| Please, if you try the “superhero” pose, do it in private, as I find the pose can be misinterpreted as a bully pose in public.

Present Moment Power Move #4: Laugh It Off. 

Laughter is a ‘best medicine.’ A hardy laugh or simple giggle, yes, giggle, even a forced chuckle, will bring you back to the present moment. Giggling or laughing resets your breathing pattern, relaxes your face and chest muscles, and gives you an overall feeling of well-being and happiness. Some even report a joyful “buzz!” What a great way to bring you right back to the moment.

|Bonus: Try to have a real good laugh several times a day. It’s theorized that regularly having a good laugh boosts your immune system and mental health too.

And, my favorite… 

Present Moment Power Move #5: Conscious Breathing. 

It is the most often overlooked and underestimated nonverbal form of communication. And, it is the most helpful quick state change technique I’ve learned.

Too often, under stress, people tend to hold their breath or breathe shallowly, activating the fight, flight, or freeze response. Conscious breathing is deep breathing — filling the lungs. The aim is to supply more oxygen to the body when it’s under stress to decrease its autonomic responses.

How we breathe profoundly influences our body responses, including mood, brain functions, nerves sensitivity, and how tired or alert you feel, even your “fight, flight, or freeze” response.

This Power Move is choreographed to create conscious awareness of your breathing.

  1. Breathe in through the nose and blow (exhale) out through the mouth once or twice.
  2. Then switch to inhaling through your nose. Slowly, fill your lungs. Then through your nose, extend your exhale about twice as long as your inhale. Repeat a few times; most people feel their bodies unwind after just a few deep breaths.

The exhale is when the body relaxes, and switching back to nose breathing continues to calm the mind and body. If you stay with mouth-breathing too long, you can reactivate the autonomic nervous system, the primary mechanism for your flight, flight, or freeze response. Neither mouth breathing or holding your breath is a good thing for settling butterflies…

Don’t believe me… Try this quick experiment.
Quickly sniff (short rapid inhales through the nose) 10 times.
What are you feeling right now?

Most people feel a twinge of anxiety. That is the beginning of the fight, flight, or freeze response.

Reminding yourself to breathe naturally and comfortably, no matter the situation delivers a nonverbal message of confidence and poise. How you are breathing is contagious too. It directly influences those around you. When you relax and breathe through your nose, slowly filling your lungs, those nearby begin to relax just like magic — it’s amazing and true.

Conscious full breathing brings us right back to the present moment in just one deep breath or two. Full breathing should feel as if your torso is expanding 360-degrees, where you feel your ribs and even your back expand. Practice this quiet and steady way to stay in the present moment; your body will thank you.

|Current event note: You may notice when wearing a mask, you switch to mouth breathing. Try to stay with nose breathing while wearing a mask; it will help keep the autonomic nervous system relaxed, as mentioned above.

So, remember to use one or more of these five Power Moves to get those ‘butterflies’ into formation and send a nonverbal message of confidence,



Updated October 13, 2021