How to Cope When Your Confidence is Shot

I am, generally, fairly confident. Like any human person, I have my normal ebbs and flows - sometimes I feel like I could win over the world with a single glance; other times I feel like hiding under my desk and waiting for the apocalypse.

But I've recently experienced a real Confidence High, and now I'm sitting deep in the Confidence Low.

My team at work has just finished delivering our annual conference. It was a massive undertaking and we delivered a complex and engaging conference experience to 500 people in a very short period of time. The lead-up to the conference was a full pendulum of emotions, as successes and failures came daily - even hourly. Still, as I checked more and more items off my to-do list and looked back at the growing pile of accomplishments, my confidence level remained pretty steady.

The two-day conference was a roaring success - both for my colleagues, but also for me personally. I've never felt so proud of what I had produced. I made great connections with new people and people I had only known online, and deepened relationships with colleagues and friends. I hung out with and discussed future plans (and hugged (several times)) one of my biggest inspirations from the UK, and I finished the night with people who made me feel beautiful, interesting, and fun. I was walking on the moon.

But we are just over a week out from the conference, and I have crash-landed somewhere in the Elephant Graveyard. The realities of the daily grind can no longer be ignored, and my failures and inadequacies are taunting me like Scar whispering "Long live the King" before throwing Mufasa into the stampede: I haven't filed my taxes! I've lost the contract that tells me what my new rent bill is next month! I'm seven weeks behind my 10-k training schedule! At this point, my body is largely composed of miscellaneous chocolate and Subway! - in addition to a slew of other, more complex work and life issues that make me feel like I'm being trampled by a herd of antelope.

I was sitting on my couch, watching The Greatest Showman for the 21st time and polishing off a box of Girl Guide cookies, when I started thinking that I had to find a better way to cope with my current confidence low than cramming my face with calories and dreaming of the day I join the circus.

Because it's 2018 and we still aren't tired of listicles, I've made a short one of the patterns and behaviours I've adopted - and recommend - to try and ride out a confidence low and begin the climb back to the top.

1. "Get off Twitter"
she said, like it was the first time anyone on the internet had ever offered this pearl of wisdom. But actually: get off Twitter. We all know that social media does wonders to help plummet our self-esteem. I found that scrolling through my professional Twitter account was making me feel awful. I would see all these conversations I wasn't part of or knew nothing (and, truthfully, couldn't care less) about, and felt inadequate for missing out on this (absolutely not) vital dialogue. Twitter reminded me of work I hadn't done, or something I had failed to accomplish. I irrationally started to feel like my career would take a massive nose-dive if I didn't have something witty or impressive to say about everything on the internet.

So I just decided to log out. I turned off my work phone outside of work hours. I gave myself permission to not be part of that world until I could contribute from a better mental place. And honestly? It's been great, and I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.

2. Paint your nails
I love having manicured nails, and I love doing my own at home. Painting my nails is a time and labour intensive process (okay not intensive - labour light). In order to get the opacity I want and to avoid any smudging or imprinting, I need at least 1.5 uninterrupted hours.

For me, painting my nails is an act of indulgent self-care. It's not self-care in the sense of basic upkeep - showering, eating, doing laundry - but it is a luxury that demands I set aside a real chunk of time for nothing other than doing something I love for myself. It is relaxing, familiar, and makes me feel great. These kind of self-care acts obviously look different for everyone - baking, playing video games, going for a bike ride, or organizing your bookshelf (okay that is also me). But by making specific time to do something for yourself that is not a necessity, you are telling yourself that you are worth luxurious and special care. Such a small, indulgent act can lift the spirits in a profound way.

3. Celebrate your recent accomplishments
And I don't mean work stuff, I mean every day life stuff. Living alone, I've realised how hard it is to keep everything under control while also working 14 hour days and trying to have a social life. I sat down this weekend and wrote out all the things I had done in the past week that took effort and accomplished something:
- Submitted a work order to my Superintendent to fix those broken tiles in my bathroom
- Sorted the recycling
- Washed all the sheets and towels
- Volunteered
- Bought cat food before I ran out
- Got all the information needed to start my taxes (I am really fixated on my taxes right now)
- Saw a bunch of friends and had lots of hugs

All of these small things are actually really important to my existence and they all take time and brain power to do. Even if I feel like I haven't accomplished anything at work, I still did manage to get important things done. We should feel success in these moments too.

4. Explore the peripheries of your comfort zone
This weekend I was invited to a couple of events with people I didn't know well or at all. Normally I'd try to convince a friend to come with me, or I would find a polite reason to decline. But everything sounded different and fun (and I desperately needed to have some fun) so I decided to make a day of it. And it was the most fun I've had in months. I met warm and friendly people, laughed a lot, and finally got to wear a fancy red lace dress I've had in my closet since November.

When I'm feeling like I need a confidence boost, I often find it easier to do new and unfamiliar things. The risk feels lower when I already feel like there's not much to lose, and because I am looking for a lift, I am more receptive to new conversations and people. A weekend of the unknown couldn't have come at a better time.

5. Sit in that low
When we're not feeling great, I think we spend a lot of time thinking about how to stop feeling not great. But I think that does a disservice to ourselves and to the reality of being human. One of my favourite thought nuggets from Stephen Fry is: "If there is one thing happiness can do, it is mask deadness of the soul." We are supposed to experience the full range of human emotion, and that means not being happy or confident all the time. But it does mean experiencing the richness that is human consciousness.

(I should probably add a 6th point here - write about it. Writing this has definitely given me a lift, especially because I love all my references to The Lion King.)

I think the most important thing to remember is that you will not always feel this way. My confidence may have been shot, but I'm already starting to feel an upswing. We are always moving through a series of hills and valleys, and that is both the struggle and joy of being alive.

It's onwards and upwards from here.


Beth Hynes said…
I, too, have been on social media less and it has done wonders for me.

Also: tell me more about your 10k plan because I promised I would do one if you would and I am currently not even looking at my exercise clothes and I need to get on this train.

Also also: Making a 'Done' list instead of a 'to-do' list is one of my favourite ways to remind myself that I have actually done real stuff in my life even though sometimes it feels like I'm so busy but going nowhere.

I love this very much, and I hope that you get through the Low soon <3

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