Life, much like freelancing, has its ups and downs. There are moments when we’re riding high and feeling invincible. And then those not so great times when life only drags us down.
During those darker periods, our confidence tends to hit rock bottom. We hesitate and doubt ourselves. We forget who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing, and every single aspect of our life and business is affected.
This happened to me last year. A few major things occurred personally and professionally and my confidence absolutely crumbled. There was a moment when I thought I’d never get it back. But with a little perseverance and some helpful tricks, I’ve managed to recover.
If you’re currently suffering, don’t sweat it. These challenging moments can actually be positive. In the face of adversity, we learn more about ourselves. Discover our strengths. And our weaknesses. And, when we start to recover, we take those lessons and apply them to our life and work, improving ourselves and our ventures.
To help you get back your va-va-voom, allow me to share some tips on building confidence. Tips that have helped me and many of my friends during our “down” phases. (Thank you to those who supported me through 2018 – you know who you are.)
Quit drinking alcohol
Why is this my first tip? Because I’ve done it and it has transformed my life. Yep. Just by not drinking alcohol, I’ve significantly improved my mental wellbeing and the knock-on effect is that my self-esteem has improved and my confidence has sky-rocketed.
Some of you reading this will be hoping I had a problem with alcohol, so you can distance yourself from “weird” non-drinkers like me and reassure yourself that you’re not in the same boat. That’s fine. You might not be. However, I was a “normal” drinker. Well, for a Brit, anyway. But I realised I’d had enough.
I’m not going to preach about the downsides of alcohol… how it can affect your sleep, cause anxiety and deplete you of happiness. If you suffer, you’ll know all this. If you’re one of those lucky people who can handle alcohol, then skip this tip and move on. For me, it was a no-brainer. Better sleep meant a happier, more confident me. And anxiety? What anxiety?
If you really can’t bear the thought of giving up your beloved beer, try a few alcohol-free alternatives to help cut down. The quality of them has improved greatly over the last few years, so you can still get that nice refreshing drink at the end of a work day but without the negative effects. I highly recommend Big Drop and Nirvana.
Consider whether you really need Instagram
I’m not talking about for business; I mean, personally. Because let’s open up an honest dialogue here… does Instagram make any of us happy? Really?
In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent charity that seeks to improve people’s wellbeing, conducted a survey of 14 to 24-year-olds, asking them about social media. And many reported heightened feelings of anxiety and depression, poor sleep, body images issues and fear of missing out (FOMO).
It’s not surprising, really. Sharing the “best” versions of ourselves can build an unrealistic picture: like everyone else is having this amazing life and we’re not. It can make us feel like we’re missing out. Like we’re not good enough. We come away from the constant scrolling and feel terrible. And when not enough people “like” our own posts, we become miserable – constantly refreshing our feeds to see if we’re loved.
The RSPH is so concerned about social media’s impact that it’s launched Scroll Free September, the world’s first large-scale social media-free month to highlight the issue and encourage people to re-think how much time they spend online.
The evidence continues to stack up – social media can harm our mental health. So if your confidence is at an all-time low, it might be a good idea to delete any social apps from your phone and take a break from clicking ‘likes’.
What’s more, embrace the “now”. Remove the urge to document your entire life to create a nice Instagram story. Don’t film or photograph a concert for the sake of social media – just enjoy the moment. You’ll feel less anxious, happier and at peace.
For further reading, check out Jon Cockley of Handsome Frank’s excellent article on algorithm anxiety for Lecture in Progress.
Limit your exposure to negativity
Yes, I’m talking about the news. Media. Twitter. Anything that involves negativity. But what about being engaged in current affairs, I hear you say? As a journalist/writer, whatever you want to call it, I spent many years starting each day with the Today programme on Radio4. I felt it was my duty. Then I’d go to work, often feeling down, with no idea why.
Until I read this article by Rolf Dobelli that said the news was bad for us and giving up reading it will make us happier. An interesting concept and one I adopted. I’m not completely out of the loop. I catch up now and again. It’s just that most mornings now begin with some Cuban salsa music or something equally cheery and a little dance around the kitchen.
Speaking of Twitter, I have a love/hate relationship with the platform. It used to be far cheerier, back in the day. Now, it can feel quite toxic. But with many great friendships on there, it still remains my favourite social media channel. I limit myself to it via the desktop during working hours.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone
I’m not one for public speaking. Who is, really? But this year, I decided it was high time that I put myself out there and shared my story. Standing on stage, talking about myself and my work, was terrifying but liberating. Once I relaxed and realised everyone was on my side, I found I was actually pretty good at it. And, dare I say it, I even enjoyed it. I felt proud of myself. My confidence improved. I even thought, what next?
You don’t have to do a talk. You could find something else that you’d normally shy away from. How about going to see a movie on your own? Or finally jumping back on your bicycle? What about that book you’ve been promising to write? Even just attending a networking event when you’d rather stay in with Netflix… all these things that we’d rather avoid can open up new learning experiences and subsequently boost our confidence.
Sign up for a fitness challenge
The Great North Run in Manchester is something my friends participate in every year. I’ve never liked the idea of getting involved. All those people, standing on the sidelines. I’m a private person – I love to run alone. But this time, I thought I’d join them. Not only was I pushing myself out of my comfort zone (see above) and raising money for charity, I was doing something that would give me focus for several months leading up to the big event.
By having something to train for, it gave me the push I needed to go running. I lost weight, toned up and felt amazing. I boosted my endorphins and combatted stress. I dropped a dress size and bought some new clothes, giving me even more confidence. And because I was training, I was thinking about my nutrition, eating healthier and giving my immune system a good boost. It all adds up.
And then, when I ran that 10km, I felt even more amazing. The cheering crowds were hugely supportive. Near the finish line, I even heard one woman say, “Come on Katy! You’re making this look easy!” When I turned around to see who it was, her whole face was beaming. My eyes welled up at that moment, as I felt the whole love of Manchester overwhelm me. I’m signing up again for next year.
Give something back
Whether it’s raising money for charity, helping out a friend or mentoring a graduate – being kind is good for you. From reducing stress and boosting mental wellbeing, it can even help you to live longer. Even better, it can boost confidence and give you a sense of purpose like nothing else.
Researchers at the University of California in Berkeley believe that kindness and related qualities like empathy, sympathy and compassion are actually a form of self-preservation – the survival of the kindest. It’s a selfish act but one that has allowed our species to thrive. What kind act can you perform today to give yourself a lift?
Give yourself a big break (and others, too)
It used to be that we compared ourselves to a small pool of people; now we compare ourselves to the world. In this “always-on” age, it’s easy to give yourself a hard time and think you’re not good enough.
But that’s just the thing: you are enough. You don’t have to be constantly striving forward. You don’t necessarily have to get that promotion or build that agency if that’s not for you. Where you are right now is enough. One step at a time, day by day. Just do your best with the time, energy and resources you have available to you.
Besides, no one will notice if you down tools for an afternoon or forget to dd an Instagram update. They’ll all be too busy worrying about themselves.
It also doesn’t help that we’re more exposed to criticism online… I mean, how do we feel when we read through the replies on a big design agency’s tweet of a recent branding project? It’s enough to make any of us depressed.
While the natural reaction is to shut ourselves away from the world, it’s actually better to understand the bigger picture, i.e. to have compassion for ourselves and others. For example, most non-constructive criticism comes from a place of fear, anger or insecurity. It’s about ego, really.
As humans, we’re all flawed and prone to this behaviour. To combat it, keep in mind this fundamental truth. People don’t mean any harm; they’re generally just afraid that they’re not good enough.
Know that you are wonderful
The only other thing that has really helped me is reminding myself that I’m great. I’m wonderful. I’ve got so much to give. And there are many things I can be proud of.
As Brits, we don’t tend to pat ourselves on the back; we take a more self-deprecating or humble approach. Writing a professional Twitter bio is excruciating for us. But we should embrace our strengths. We should celebrate our wins, our achievements, our breakthroughs.
As humans, it’s natural that we focus on our failures or mistakes (which are, in fact, valuable lessons), and the negative things people might have said.
Change your mindset by simply replacing every negative thought with a positive one, along with any lessons you might’ve learned. For example, “I really messed up with the client’s deadline” becomes “I’ve learned to better manage expectations and communicate with my clients in future”.
And instead of replaying in your mind the negative things people say or do, focus on the good stuff – praise from a client, a kind act from a stranger or a supportive comment from a friend.
A little positive thinking every day can really help.
When you’ve gone through a rough patch, what has helped you to gain back your confidence? Join the conversation on Twitter to share your own tips and I might add them to this article.
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