What made you feel confident again?
April 24, 2017 6:01 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to rebuild my self-confidence and am seeking inspiration and stories from others who made a comeback after a long period of low self-confidence/self-esteem.

I am not looking for help dissecting the source of my self-confidence drop off - that is something I am already working on with my therapist and psychiatrist, and with exercise as well. While I am making slow but steady improvement, my lack of confidence has adversely impacted my efforts to shift careers and search for jobs. It has also changed me from someone who used to dress well, groom herself well, read voraciously, etc. into someone who often feels like she doesn't deserve to do any of those things, or that it isn't worth the effort anymore. I don't like this. I want to love myself, feel confident, and project that confidence through my actions.

Again, I'm not looking for prodding questions or advice as to the source of my low self-confidence the last few years.

What I am interested to hear are personal stories from others who bounced back from a lengthy, protracted period of low self-confidence. What did you change and how did you make those changes? Did you have encouragement and support from others or do it completely alone? Bonus points if you are also someone who struggles with risk aversion or ADHD/anxiety.
posted by nightrecordings to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I became a master backer upper. It started innocently enough just because my office parking was in a parking garage and I figured I'd rather have it take more to park in the morning that it would to leave in the evening. Then I began the process of my divorce and as I got better and better at backing in, I realized how nice it was to have something that I could get better at each day that 1) had nothing to do with my divorce and 2) was surprisingly impressive to a lot of my friends. Now I'm supremely confident that I can back in to just about any space, and do it well. It sounds silly, but, in general, doing hard things is what builds self-confidence so this totally worked to give me a boost!
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:14 PM on April 24, 2017 [16 favorites]

This might seem kind of a non sequitur but for me, I think the answer was boundaries. Learning to (implicitly) tell other people that they didn't deserve a piece of me/my time really put me in the mindset of realizing that I do.

Also, spending some time basking in radical acceptance of your issues (or "issues") really can't be beat. Seek out the people who will tell you that they are damned perfect just the way they are, and therefore you are too. If you have trouble finding them, do another AskMe, because I am sure they're out there, and it is so affirming to be around people who project complete confidence in themselves while also being out and proud about one's secret shames. And then as you get to know them, they'll show you their soft under-bellies and share that they too sometimes have doubts, because that is part of their perfection.
posted by teremala at 6:20 PM on April 24, 2017 [17 favorites]

Non scale victories in exercising. I ended up in the spanof8 months going from couch to 5k to half marathon (a very slow one, but still one). Every single time I went out for a long run was my first time traversing X distance by running. Similarly it gave me more self knowledge to be able to try new things, take measured risks and accomplish more.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:32 PM on April 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Realizing that you only have a certain number of hours left alive and chances are that nobody will remember a thing you did or that you even existed within a couple decades of you dying. Very freeing in both a "fuck it" and "be kind because you can right now" way. Also, reading Terry Pratchett books helped.
posted by meepmeow at 7:05 PM on April 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

Non scale victories in exercising. I ended up in the spanof8 months going from couch to 5k to half marathon (a very slow one, but still one). Every single time I went out for a long run was my first time traversing X distance by running. Similarly it gave me more self knowledge to be able to try new things, take measured risks and accomplish more.

If I can attempt to give a theory of this: you build confidence by succeeding at things, and you can game this by setting yourself goals that you will be able to build towards. Fitness goals are nice for this because achievement and progress are felt directly. Running is especially good because there is kind of no skill involved.
posted by grobstein at 7:07 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

What grobstein said: fitness has measurable goals. I worked with a personal trainer for a few months (until I couldn't afford it) and it helped my confidence immensely as I could lift progressively more. I realized I'd vastly underestimated myself. It wasn't so much how I looked as the fact that I did a thing! I stuck with it and saw results!

I feel it's very important to do things that are measurable and/or tangible. Measurable: you biked 10 miles. Tangible: you learned to knit a scarf, and now you can hold this actual physical scarf in your hands.

I need help/support from others, or I will just lay on the couch and watch Netflix until my cats eat me. If you can't enlist the help of a professional (e.g. personal trainer), find a structured group around that thing (e.g. a writer's group). If you don't have access to that, be accountable to friends. Tell them what you're doing and ask for their encouragement. If anyone discourages you, don't mention it to them again; you don't need that in your life.
posted by AFABulous at 7:19 PM on April 24, 2017 [11 favorites]

Antidepressants and or antianxietey meds, getting out and about and volunteer work.

Depression can be incredibly subtle but super crushing. When everything seems pointless, I'm usually depressed, and the depression tells me its useless and hopeless. Exercise and good diet help, a lot, (also check hormone and vitamin levels) but sometimes I needed the antidepressants to lift that crushing shroud of vague but persistent shroud of gloom. They freed up a lot of mental and physical energy to do laundry, clean the apartment, and go to the grocery store. And uh, stopped the little voice telling me that it was hopeless and there was an "answer" for that.

Step two for me was/is getting out and about. Some days all I could manage was going to sit at the park or to read at the library or book store. But you know what? Some days that's a victory enough on its own and any victories are enough to celebrate.

Step three was do low pressure volunteer work. There are a billion and one places that accept "come when you can" volunteers, and finding something you can do when you have the energy is rewarding. What are you passionate about? I don't recommend doing World Changing Events at this point, because those are tough and draining.

But volunteering at a good animal shelter or at a museum or with kids or with old folks is a fantastic way to get positive self value and make a difference! Pick what feels good to you and do it.

Really, any forward movement is good. In dealing with tough psychological issues (or health issues, life changes, etc) a lot of times we don't realize what hard work and how draining it really is.

Be gentle on yourself... Do fun things, take bubble baths, eat good food. Get plenty of sleep. Schedule days where you can wear pajamas and get out of bed at noon and have waffles and ice cream for brunch, and its ok. You are working on you, and that is a brave, hard thing to do.
posted by Jacen at 11:11 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Well, yoga boosts my confidence, but not if I'm not in the right class for me. I've had many unsatisfactory classes where I know that theoretically I'm just not the right fit for the class (or the class is not the right fit for me) but it does damp down my confidence.

A good fit, a teacher whom I like and a pace I can manage and a style that works for me, and my confidence skyrockets. So this is my advice, and my caveat: yoga can make you feel great but shop around and try out different classes till you've found something that really works for you, in order to get the biggest benefits for your mental wellbeing.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:29 AM on April 25, 2017

I didn't do it on my own. I got a mentor who believed in psychological safety and lots of positive feedback.

I did, however, go into that mentorship situation having decided that I would ask all my stupid questions despite my terror of looking incompetent, because the terror of hiding it and being found out was worse. It turns out that in a healthy work environment, people actually think well of you for asking direct questions when you don't know something. It doesn't make them assume you don't know anything -- instead, they assume you know lots about something else, and feel flattered by the opportunity to share their own expertise.

For me, this mentorship situation was a new job. But it could also be a volunteering gig or a personal trainer -- any situation where you are learning something and getting lots of personal feedback.
posted by snowmentality at 4:53 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Exercise and therapy were the beginning steps I took too. I also started a hobby, which was drawing, that I had never tried before and required nothing from anybody else, and I showed my drawings to people, and they liked them. I also starting paying attention to nature more (trees, birds) and that let me connect with The World At Large in a new way, which got me out of my head more (and gave me perspective that I'm just a Thing In The World). I started hanging out a lot more, and making stronger friendships. I started saying more of the thoughts in my head to people who I knew liked me, and it turns out I can be funny. Basically, I kept busy and I took some very safe risks. The more busy I was, the less I sat around feeling low. I didn't do stuff that caused me a lot of anxiety, or set myself up to fail (I might start couch to 5k, but I don't have to run a marathon at the end of it, the running at all can be enough). I made an effort of some sort on my appearance and health (low buy in stuff like take b12 and d vitamins, drink some water, put on lotion after a shower, wear A Makeup, put a ring on).

I really like the idea of small goals like being a master backer upper. I have a list of this sort of thing, and some of them are things like: watch YouTube videos on how to cut up vegetables properly, learn to make jewelry, get CPR Certified (just did this one!), go to a shooting range, learn to juggle, etc. Mastering little stuff adds up.
posted by oomny at 7:01 AM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, it takes time. Like, years of time. So be patient with yourself. I started this stuff in order to convince myself that I deserved to get out of a toxic marriage that had eroded me down to nothing after over a decade. It took me nearly two years of slowly building confidence and self worth before I left, and it's been a year since I got the divorce, and I'm STILL working on feeling like a Person Of Worth. But I'm light years from feeling like I did back then. Light years.
posted by oomny at 7:12 AM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

It was difficult. I was unemployed and mentally ill, and on top of that I don't look or act or think the way I'm supposed to - I'm hard on myself about that.

I tried to be really forgiving of myself and achieve small victories, like Jacen said. I also made a lot of "here's why I'm OK" lists. Lists of what I know I'm good at and lists of evidence to back it up. Lists of people I admire who look like me or act like me. Lists of small, realistic things I wanted to achieve (e.g., send out 15 resumes with customised cover letters this week, do part 1 of Codecademy's Python course). I also forced myself to do things I didn't want to do, like going to the doctor or getting a haircut. I spaced those ones out, and I always felt relieved and slightly more confident when they were done.
posted by Stonkle at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

For me, confidence came with acquiring skills. Practical skills especially. Welding is awesome. I'm not even a very good welder, but it used to be magical to me (you, yourself, are wielding the power to melt metal in a controllable way, to make things, be they useful or "just" artistic) and now I can command that magic. I am a wizard.

As a kid, people tell you to just be confident, but it was only when I knew that I was capable of doing awesome things (such as welding) that I became confident.

That, and as meepmeow pointed out, a certain zero fucks given attitude can come from realizing that nothing you do actually matters, though meditation on that fact can backfire.
posted by booooooze at 8:46 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Good for you. This is so hard, but so important, and I'm glad to hear you're making it a priority in your life.

One of my favorite thought exercises when I'm feeling kind of down on myself is to think about how awesome and interesting my friends are. It becomes harder to think that you suck when you're surrounded by people who don't suck, because do you really think your awesome and interesting friends would hang around someone who sucks? Hell no! It sounds silly, but it does help put some things into perspective. Like, how bad could I actually suck if my friends are this cool, right?

Another thing that has been very helpful in terms of building up positive momentum was picking a few small, easily attainable positive habits to start building into my daily routine. Things like "take vitamins", "drink a glass of water", "read five pages before bed", etc. Pick something doable that you know will make you feel better in some small way, and make sure to frame it as "doing this thing is a positive!" rather than "not doing this thing is a negative" (SO IMPORTANT--don't let NOT doing a thing make you feel worse!)

Once you've got those down (again, I cannot stress enough: START SMALL), you can aim a little higher, or maybe add more little habits, and it'll start feeling easier to do. And you'll start have this sort of foundation building up of "look at me, a semi-functional human!" that you can fall back on when you start to feel crappy again. Like, "I may suck right now, but at least I remembered to take my makeup off yesterday night and I took a walk at lunch. So PROGRESS."

And this isn't for everyone, but it sure worked for me: never underestimate the awesome transformative power of the post-breakup haircut. Coco Chanel had it right when she said "a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life." Change tends to inspire change, so if you've ever wanted to try a radically different haircut, style, or color, this is an excellent time to take the plunge and just do it.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:05 AM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Working on acquiring some practical skill or doing something that produces an immediate, tangible result has helped me. I started learning to sew my own clothing. It helps me focus on one specific thing and forget about all the anxieties that like to swirl around in my head, and I end up learning a new technique and having something I can hold in my hands and say I created. I have started and stopped several different hobbies that were just me taking in information because it felt like I could never get to the point of proficiency. In the past, doing volunteer work that produced a specific result at the end of the volunteer session, such as helping people file for benefits or write a letter helped.

I also agree with the advice above about the haircut. A dramatic physical change has caused me to literally look at myself differently and provides a boost. I do think encouragement from others is important to help sustain the strides you make though, whether its making an effort to publicize your small wins or finding someone who is less risk adverse to help you keep pushing yourself out your comfort zone.
posted by piap at 9:47 PM on April 25, 2017

Mindfulness meditation, specifically with the Headspace app. The first ~10 days are free, and you generally notice improvement in those first ten days. (And can repeat the first ten days easily as well.)
posted by talldean at 11:37 AM on May 1, 2017

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