"Fake it until you make it." A quote I have spent my life pondering.

Imagine yourself at thirteen years old, knee deep in the “fake it until you make it” action plan to build your self-confidence. Five-foot nothing, spot-faced, with wildly untamed curls pulling through the straps of chunky dental headgear.

You roam the halls of your high school with the unfortunate nickname of Headgear Girl, when you come across a flyer advertising the school’s upcoming production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Your heart skips a beat. You see your name in flashing lights, taking a bow in front of the sea of spectators whistling and throwing flowers onto the stage after your brilliant performance as Alice.

Auditions begin the following week.

On the day of auditions, you plunk down on the tiled hallway floors and observe your competition: all girls in small groups huddled together rehearsing lines from peak-a-boo scripts. Where did they get those? Should I have one? You are not too worried because your “fake it until you make it” method is flawless and bound to work. The judges will be breathless after your improvised portrayal of Alice.

As you watch the other actors enthusiastically rehearse their lines, you become increasingly aware that you have zero acting or theatre experience. Clearly familiar with the auditioning process, the other girls are well prepared and unabashedly confident. An uneasy feeling forms in the pit of your stomach. You begin to take mental notes of their every move:

1. Recite lines in a British accent.

2. Use many dramatic body gestures.

3. Project voice as loud as possible.

Two excruciating hours pass, and apart from occasionally stretching your legs, you have hardly moved. You are trembling with nerves; a body of unset Jell-O ready to splat on the floor. The lineup that seemed to never end is now dwindling down at an excessive pace.

And then you are on stage. 

Any hint of confidence leaves your body and replaces it with shear panic. A faceless person hands you a piece of paper -

"Read from this. Good luck." 

You are aware of the five women watching you, ten feet away on plastic chairs. Your heart pounds ferociously inside your chest while you stare at the page clenched in your shaking hands.

"Whenever you're ready." 

Fake it until you make it. Nobody will know. You swallow the lump in your throat and raise the paper at eye level.

To this day, you are not entirely sure what happened on that stage. You found yourself speaking so fast that your lips got caught in your headgear, causing an unfortunate lisp. You remember the flailing of your arms while your feet remained planted like a tree stump. You remember forgetting to breathe as your voice somehow rose ten octaves higher. You continued faking your confidence, certain you would make it.

Finally, one of the five women stopped you. 

That was the day I learned the reality behind “faking it until you make it”: it does not provide you with sustainable self-confidence.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, refers to the concept of “faking it until you make it” as “fake news.” In an interview she had with life coach Kara Loewentheil, they explain how “faking it until you make it” can be detrimental to your mental health. Dr. Leaf writes, “you cannot ignore how you feel.... this will only lead to imposter syndrome, where you feel like a fraud just being you and don’t deserve what you have and will dramatically impact your self-confidence and mental health.” This certainly explains how thirteen-year-old me went from feeling like a bold lion flipping my luscious mane for all to admire, to a shy and awkward turtle wanting to retreat inside my shell.

Rather than faking it, according to Dr. Leaf, the key to achieving true self-confidence is to build sustainable self-confidence. Courtney E. Ackerman, author of four books on positive psychology-related topics, writes that the path to building sustainable self-confidence is a winding road intertwined with self-efficacy and self-esteem.

What is the difference between self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem? 

Self-Esteem
Courtney E. Ackerman writes that self-esteem “refers to a person’s overall sense of value or worth,” signifying the exceptional role it plays in our lives and the importance of respecting oneself. This means when I began feeling self-conscious about my worthiness of auditioning for the school play, my self-esteem plateaued as well.

Self-Efficacy
Father of the ideologies behind self-efficacy, psychologist Albert Bandura (1977), defined the term as “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise their influence over events that affect their lives” (Bandura, 1994). Self-efficacy refers to our deep-rooted beliefs about how competent we are when it comes to handling situations and challenging tasks, which effects our mindset for future challenges. Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, a certified psychiatric counsellor, writes, “self-efficacy determines how we think and feel about ourselves” as it “[influences] our thoughts, emotions, actions, and motivation.” This means the moment I began comparing myself to the other girls auditioning for Alice, I began doubting my acting abilities. I was subconsciously telling myself that I was not good enough to face the challenge I had embarked. As Courtney E. Ackerman notes, this “forward-looking belief” had me questioning my self-worth when considering my abilities to one day become an actor.

Self-Confidence
Where self-esteem and self-efficacy flourish or die. Courtney E. Ackerman writes, “self-confidence is more often referred to as a broader and more stable trait concerning an individual’s perceptions of overall capability.” When I stepped on the stage and my self-esteem and self-efficacy dropped to my feet, so did my self-confidence. I jinxed myself with self-doubt.

5 Ways to Build Sustainable Self-Confidence:

Self-confidence comes from within, therefore adjusting your mindset is key. To spare you from undergoing the most harrowing audition of your life, we have found five ways to help you build sustainable self-confidence, and elevate your sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy:

Release Self-Doubt

Free your mind of all the negative emotions you have accumulated about yourself and conquer your inner critic. When you believe in yourself, you are encouraging others to believe in you too. Break the habit of seeking constant validation and have faith in what you are doing. Practice this by releasing yourself from the pressures of perfectionism and stop second-guessing your every move. Take a deep breath - you got this.

Define Expectations

Set boundaries within your expectations. Do not overwhelm your mental wellbeing with unrealistic goals; write down what you want to accomplish, how you plan to follow-through, and draw up a game plan which offers positive emotional support and structure to help you succeed.

Celebrate Your Accomplishments 

Sure, we must acknowledge our downfalls, but it is equally (or more) important to celebrate our accomplishments. Feel the adrenaline rush of your victories run through your veins like a mariachi band in a parade. Allow this feeling to motivate you and remind you of your accomplishments. Always take a moment to thank yourself for your hard work - you deserve it.

Challenge Yourself 

Challenge yourself by embracing new adventures. This allows for personal growth and empowers you to discover incredible opportunities you may not have found otherwise. The more you embrace personal growth, the more empowered you will feel. The more empowered you feel, the more confident you will become.

Develop an Equality Mentality 

As Marilyn Monroe once said, “wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.” Instead of comparing yourself to others, whether it be through aesthetically pleasing lifestyle photos on Instagram, or the impressive achievements of ambitious career seekers on LinkedIn, consider yourself equal to everyone. Shifting your mindset from being lesser than others will help relieve the pressure of accepting your truest self. Understand this, no matter how confident someone may seem, we are all trying our hardest to live our best lives.

Choose to embrace your abilities and allow yourself to flourish. Build sustainable self-confidence by nourishing your self-esteem and self-efficacy with the love and respect you deserve. Sure, it takes work and a lot of effort, but if you are willing to transform your thoughts and shift your mindset to help yourself grow, you will find success in your life.