I want to start this post out by stating that I am not a licensed mental health professional, and the advice I’m about to give is not a substitute for real therapy and mental health management. They are only strategies I’ve learned along the way and tried to implement in my daily life.
I think sometimes we all struggle with confidence and self-image. When you like yourself, you’re more able to present your genuine self, and other people will like you more. You’ll be more willing to be daring, to take risks, to innovate, and to speak up about your ideas. You’ll be a more effective and persuasive communicator, and better at building relationships and community.
But how do we get through those times when we don’t feel the best about ourselves?
This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. In fact, I still struggle with it. But I’ve implemented these strategies in my life and I’ve seen some success with them.
This is not a panacea, and it’s not easy. They’re work, and they take practice. But I think they’re worth it.
State Your Feelings as Feelings
When we’re struggling with negative thoughts, whether they’re about ourselves or about something in the external world, it helps to express those thoughts and feelings. But when we state them as fact, we are more likely to believe them. This is an apparent paradox that I struggled with a lot.
But a good friend said to me once that while your feelings are real, they may not be true.
This was a statement that I thought about for days, and the more I thought about it, the more it changed the way I look at myself and at the world. And slowly, I started stating my feelings as feelings, and not as fact. For example, after making a mistake, I would not think I’m so stupid, but instead, I feel so stupid. The first is a statement on reality, and the second is an expression of feeling.
The cult of positivity exhorts us to avoid all negative self talk, but the negative feelings we have need to be talked about. This strategy allows me to explore and express negative thoughts without risking further embedding them in my mind.
I don’t necessarily mean meditation, though that’s a good way to practice. What I mean is redirecting your attention to what’s in front of you.
That’s difficult in this culture. It’s difficult when you’ve got long term goals to move toward and a dozen tasks needing your attention and “multitasking” is an assumed skill.
Multitasking is not really a thing. What looks like multitasking is really task switching, and it can actually lead to a reduction in work performance, feelings of overwhelm, and wondering why everyone else can handle things that you struggle with.
This is a simple concept. Note, without judgement, when you find yourself thinking about the future, or about a task other than the one that’s in front of you, note it, without judgement, and consciously shift your focus back to what’s in front of you.
Despite its simplicity, this takes practice and work. You will find yourself worrying about other things many, many times in a day, and this experience can be very frustrating. Resisting the urge to judge these moments negatively has been one of the hardest aspects of the practice for me, but it’s also very important.
Celebrate Small Successes
While we all have larger goals to work toward, it’s important to acknowledge your small successes, your milestones. While many of us will beat ourselves up over every little failure, we will ignore the little moments of triumph; moments that can offset our mistakes in our internal landscape and help keep us more balanced, confident, and focused.
We must not let these little triumphs go unnoticed.
We should be able to take pride and enjoyment in as many pieces of our work as possible. Seeing each success as a thing to be celebrated generates more pride in yourself. Even successes that are only steps in a larger process can be celebrated.
These celebrations can take many forms, but they can be as simple as sitting back for just a moment and feeling good about what you’ve done.
Instead of saving your pride for when you’ve finished the manuscript, take a moment to feel pride about the thousand words you wrote today. It’ll leave you more likely to sit down and write more tomorrow.
Compare Yourself to Yourself
Comparing yourself to your peers not only can result in you feeling badly about yourself, it can kindle feelings of jealousy and negativity toward your peers; impairing working relationships, collaborations, even friendships. When you do this, you’re only working with a limited set of information, and often we draw the wrong conclusions from this information.
Everyone has their struggles. When you compare yourself to your peers, you are ignoring their struggles, the piece of information we most often lack when making these comparisons.
The best way to benchmark your performance is to compare yourself to yourself. Making forward progress in your craft or profession is always forward progress. Mistakes are always lessons to be learned that give you insight into what you’re doing. Comparing yourself to yourself gives you vital information on your own performance, and areas in which you need to focus and improve.
Comparing yourself to others doesn’t give that insight, because you don’t know where or how that person is struggling (we’re all struggling sometimes, somewhere). You can’t make the same judgments because you don’t have all the information. You’ll get a lot more benefit through introspection and striving to improve beyond your own past performance.
Understand Mistakes as Practice
Did you know that it takes the average smoker between 8 and 14 quit attempts to stop smoking?
The good news about this is that each quit attempt makes the smoker more likely to quit.
Because those quit attempts are practice.
When you regard your mistakes as practice, this opens the door to learn from them; to collect information necessary to improving performance on your next attempt.
Mistakes are inevitable. What leads to success is examining and learning from those mistakes. Doing this requires one to regard those mistakes dispassionately, without judgement.
When we allow these mistakes to damage our self-confidence, we hamper our own ability to learn from them, replacing “how can I succeed” with “why I can’t succeed.” This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, sometimes even leading us to give up on even trying. Sometimes, this attitude of judgment leads to a fear of failure so intense that it rules out success.
Now, I’m not much of a self-help person. I’m actually a self-help skeptic. And I’m not here to say “my life was a mess, but through this set of behaviors I’ve turned it all around.” I will say that my life has been a continuous iterative process, trying to figure out what works for me, and how I work, in ways that are more likely to lead me to success.
I offer these strategies to you because if you struggle, like I do, with self-confidence, one or more of these might help.