Build up your confidence and conquer the world
It was a dark winter evening, and I was starving. I was on a business trip in the north of Portugal and went out looking for food, but most places were either closed or empty. Finally, I saw a small restaurant with a family sitting at a table and got in. As soon as I sat down, the family got up and came to me.
“Would you like to see the menu?” — the lady asked.
They were the restaurant owners, and, at a closer look, I realized they were not having dinner but helping their son doing his homework.
I was terrified at the thought of being the only person eating in that restaurant, but I was even more terrified of leaving after I had already sat down.
“Yes, please” — I replied.
And that’s how I ended up having dinner alone, in an empty restaurant.
This was 10 years ago; now, I am used to being alone. As a single woman who lived in several countries and travels often, I learned to do almost everything on my own. But I started to notice that, whenever I mention something I did by myself, people seem surprised: “You did it alone? I could never do it!”.
When I look back on the past decade, I realize there were some gradual steps I took to reach a point where now I am comfortable doing almost anything on my own. Although I didn’t take these steps consciously, I still think there is a logical order you can follow to feel more empowered at each step. To feel more confident on your own and be able to do anything you want.
1. Go to the cinema alone
Going to the cinema alone is the perfect first step. You sit in the dark, where nobody sees you, and all you have to do is stare at a screen. There are no awkward moments, imagining what others are thinking about you, or feeling that you’d like to share the moment with someone. Even when you go accompanied, you shouldn’t have conversations during the screening anyway.
After the session, you can still comment on the film with friends and family who have also watched it. Pick a good movie and go!
2. Go to a museum alone
Unlike the cinema, in the museum, the lights are on. People will see you alone and, while they probably won’t even think about you, you will feel more self-conscious.
The trick here is to focus on what you went there to do. See the exhibition, read the descriptions, focus only on that. One room after the other, and you will come out having learned two things: whatever the exhibition was about, and that going to a museum alone is not scary but empowering.
3. Go for a coffee on your own
The next step is to go for an activity where there is “nothing” to do, like a coffee on a terrace. Whereas at the cinema or the museum there is something you can focus on, sitting on your own in a public place is different: what do you do? How do you dismiss the looks of other people?
Your first impulse will be to reach out to your phone. It’s a safe place, and it immediately takes you away from the real world and into a space where you feel comfortable and less alone. The first few times, it’s fine to do this. Do it until you feel safer to take your eyes off the screen. Another alternative might be to take a book or a notebook and a pen, something to distract yourself with.
Whatever your distraction is, make sure to spend some time without it as well. Force yourself to be in the moment. Look around, smile at a stranger. The world will start to feel less scary.
4. Go to a restaurant alone
Let’s be honest: this is a hard one. Even after years of traveling solo, I still struggle with it at times. Going to a fast food place on your own is one thing; sitting down at a fancy restaurant all by yourself is another.
Probably, there won’t be many people there on their own, so you might feel that you’re being looked at. Although, again, you’re most likely not. People spend a lot less time thinking about others than you might imagine.
I find it easier going to restaurants that are completely new to me, outside of my neighborhood. I won’t know the waiters, I probably won’t stumble into people I know, and I might not even want to return there, so I have nothing to lose. But maybe it’s the opposite for you, and you prefer the comfort of a place that you know already.
You can use the same techniques as on point #3 to distract yourself and feel less self-conscious.
5. Go for a weekend alone
Now that you know how to eat out and entertain yourself alone try putting it all together in a weekend getaway.
You don’t need to go too far away from home, and it doesn’t need to be the trip of your lifetime, but it should be a place you like or really want to visit. That way, you will be more excited and motivated to overcome the awkward moments alone.
Enjoy the awesome sensation of having a hotel room all for yourself or, if you’re more social, stay at a hostel or shared Airbnb, where you can make new friends.
It also helps if you share your experiences with your loved ones, even if they’re not physically there. Send them photos or call them to tell them about the place you’re visiting.
6. Travel abroad alone
The ultimate test of your self-confidence: traveling solo. If you’re wondering why you would ever want to do that, here are 3 powerful reasons.
A successful trip abroad alone will make you feel invincible. If you can do that, what can’t you do? It will teach you how to figure out things on your own and empower you with precious skills that you can use in your daily life when you go back home.
The key here: don’t push yourself too much. If you prefer to sit in a park instead of checking out all the museums in the city you’re visiting, do that. If you prefer to grab a sandwich at a supermarket instead of sitting at a restaurant, do it. Remember that you are doing this for yourself, and you only have yourself to please. One step at a time, and eventually, you will be surprised with how much you’ve accomplished.
Maybe some of this advice seems trivial to you. It seems trivial to me too. But that only means you have made it, you can do whatever you want on your own without giving it a second thought.
But this is not the case for many people. I have come across dozens of people who will not go out and do anything unless they have company. They prefer to sit at home feeling lonely and bored than going out by themselves to do something they enjoy because they don’t have anybody to do it with. Those are the ones this article is for.
As soon as you take the first step, the others will follow. It will feel awkward at times, but that’s okay. We don’t always feel good anyway, right? Out of the discomfort, growth will come.
And remember the most simple and freeing truth: nobody cares about you.
“(…)how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.” — Christopher McCandless