Why Trying to Be Charismatic Backfires (and What to Do Instead)

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of being charismatic. It seemed like such an exotic and fascinating trait to have, and at one moment in my life I believed that I lacked it entirely. So soon enough, I decided to try and become charismatic.

The first thing I did was to read about the behavior that makes a person charismatic and to study the behavior of people around me who were deemed charismatic. Then, with fierce determination, I started trying to adopt the very same type of behavior. Often, this is a good approach to developing certain traits. You deconstruct them into specific behaviors and you practice those behaviors until they become second nature. Paradoxically though, with trying to be charismatic, this approach failed me miserably. Not only that I did not become more charming, but I actually became tenser in social situations and I started enjoying them less.

Today, as a communication and confidence coach, I work with people who want to be more charismatic on a regular basis. But just as in my own case, simply trying to be charismatic backfires for them as well.

I’d like to show you why this happens and tell you about the methods that helped both myself and my clients to genuinely become more charismatic as individuals. I’m sure they can do the same for you.

Trying to Be Charismatic Comes From a Bad Mindset

People who want to be charismatic typically have a very bad mindset that motivates them. First of all, they see themselves as unlikeable the way they are. Many of them think they are socially awkward and uninteresting, and they have a huge desire to fix this.

But this is not true. The truth is that while they do have their flaws, they are okay the way they are, and many people will like them if they just get a change to know them authentically. What they have is a self-image problem, not a charisma problem.

Second of all, they have a very approval-seeking attitude towards others. They feel that they always need to please and charm others, and they feel invalidated when someone dislikes them. This is an issue, because, although it’s normal to want to be liked by others, wanting it that desperately and not being able to tolerate rejection is very unhealthy.

I used to be in this exact mindset. And this is why I wanted to be charismatic. The trouble is that when you come from this mindset and you try to practice certain behaviors, it acts as a reminder that you’re not good enough as you are, and also that you need to get others to like you (which is false).

So it reinforces these two negative mindsets, which makes you feel increasingly more anxious in social settings. And the more anxious you feel the more awkward and miscalibrated your behavior becomes. This actually makes you less, not more charismatic, which amplifies you anxiety even more, and you fall in a negative loop.

There’s another aspect to consider.

Being Charismatic Doesn’t Work the Same for Everybody

Charisma is a very vague concept, and it encompasses multiples styles of social behavior. We call the person who is funny, expansive and high-energy charismatic, but we also call the person who is calm, centered and profound charismatic. And many other kinds of persons.

When you try to learn charisma, you usually end up imitating the behavior of another person, who has a certain style of charisma. But if you don’t have the same natural temperament and strengths as this person, you simply won’t be able to pull it off. You’ll incorporate their behavior to some extent, but as much as you practice it, it will never feel truly natural.

In my case, I was trying at one point to be the loud, high-energy guy. But the fact is that I’m inherently more of a low energy, calm kind of guy. So no matter how much I practiced it, it didn’t stick. Not to mention that it felt exhausting. I was getting nowhere fast. Until I decided to leverage my innate makeup, not work against it. That’s when my charisma took off.

This is why it’s important to match the style of charisma you aim for with your natural temperament and strengths. Carelessly copying the behavior of other people who are charismatic will repeatedly fail us.

Since these are the problems with trying to be charismatic, what is the solution? I’d like two suggest a couple of things, which should be kind of obvious by now.

Improve Your Self-image

I’m willing to bet that if you’re concerned with being charismatic, you have a pretty poor and inaccurate image of yourself. If this is true, I believe that the best thing you can do is to work on improving your self-image. It is the single most important change you can make:

  • Practice seeing your qualities and get to know them better.
  • Ask other people what they like about you and avoid assuming out of the blue that others don’t like you.
  • Deliberately change the way you think about yourself and give it a more positive perspective.
  • Stop trying to avoid rejection and learn to get used to it.
  • Follow your passion and do the things you love.

These are some of the key actions you can take to improve your self-image.

As your self-image improves, you’ll feel more comfortable in social settings and you’ll feel like you have permission to be yourself. Thus you’ll be more spontaneous, more honest, more confident and less apologetic. Interestingly enough, this is the exact type of conduct that many people see as charismatic.

Find Your Own Social Style

Since there are many types of charisma, it only makes sense to develop one that works well with your innate makeup. In order to do this, you need to take a better look at yourself as a person, and get a clear understanding of your natural temperament and strengths.

Once you’ve done this, indentify some behaviors that go well with your innate makeup and are often seen as charismatic. These are behaviors you can deliberately practice to develop your own alluring social style.

My rule of thumb is that you’ll know a behavior goes well with your genetic makeup because you already have it to some extent and because as you practice it, even if it involves self-exertion, it also feels smooth and normal at some level.

With this approach, gaining charisma is essentially about discovering something that’s already within you, and expressing it more and in an outstanding manner. During this process, maintain the mindset that this is not about fixing yourself or getting the approval of others, it’s mostly about expressing yourself. It will yield exceptional results.

That’s it. That’s how I developed my own charisma, and that’s how many of my coaching clients have done it as well.

You don’t become charismatic by using a bunch of tricks, by memorizing lines or by parroting others. You become charismatic by not thinking too much about becoming charismatic in the first place, and learning to like and express yourself more instead.

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