My current practices for regaining confidence after setbacks

A loss of self-confidence is something I’ve experienced more than a few times as an independent contractor over the years. Whether it has been from getting rejected by potential prospects, being rudely criticized for my work, or even stiffed on a bill - there have been times where I’ve wondered if I was worthy of staying in the game, or if I should dust myself off and get back out on the field.

It can be crushing to have these kind of negative experiences, but we are really not alone. Each and every one of us has different levels of self-confidence across a variety of domains in life. And I’ve found that mine is highly affected by the thoughts that I have about myself, and it plays a major role in almost everything I do in my life. 

Having a healthy level of self-confidence is key. For example, not having either low, or overly high self-confidence is really important as it helps in making positive choices in everyday life, gives us courage to be our own person, cultivate good relationships and helps in dealing with difficult situations.

When my confidence has been low, I’ve started taking notice that some side-effects include:

  • Avoiding difficult situations or discussions
  • I get sensitive to criticism, rather than taking it as constructive feedback.
  • Anxiety kicks in!
  • I withdraw from social situations.
  • And am reluctant to trust some of my own advice, intuitions, or decisions.

I’m sharing this because if you are a designer, developer, or any kind of a freelance consultant, coach or digital entrepreneur you have probably experienced the same. So, just to let you know - you are not alone! 

Here are some mindset tips that I’ve learned to embrace to overcome these kind of downturns, and rebuild my lost confidence.

Stop impressing others.

Instead of trying to impress others... revisit what you value personally and do what’s right for you. Most people’s advice and opinions are just that - opinions! It’s impossible to please everyone, and difficult to please any one person all of the time. So give yourself a break and get into your own flow. By living per your own values and beliefs, you will find it easier to do what is right. You won’t be doing things merely to impress others that are against what you know to be true or what means most to you. This alone gives you a ton of confidence.

Set ambitious standards.

While some things or events are unavoidable that can cause a loss of confidence, you can bounce back by holding yourself to ambitious standards. If you lack a high level of standards, maybe it’s time to embrace them. 

For example, never choose to do something "half-ass" or to the least of your ability. I’ve met a lot of people that wait to be told what to do, or leave projects incomplete hoping that no one will notice. For example if you are developer and notice that there is a bug, or that a link does not work, or that an interaction feels wonky… then fix it! Don’t just hope that it goes unnoticed, or worse that it is noticed and no one says anything.

It makes a big difference to take pride in work and follow through on your word and mean what you say. Value honesty, challenging work, and commitment above all else. If you start with these, it gives you a foundation of self-respect.

DON’T use sarcastic or negative self-talk.

If you have low self-confidence then you are at risk of making an enemy out of yourself. Often, if things don’t happen the way we want, then we create a lot of negativity around it. And bad attitudes can become our habit. Find a way to fix this and make note of what went wrong so that you can avoid doing it next time. There really is an ongoing battle of positive and negative going on in our minds, and the truth is we must pick one or the other. We can’t have them both simultaneously. Choose the positive and stop wasting time and energy on tearing yourself or others down.

Build momentum with small wins.

I’ve often made the mistake of thinking of confidence as an all-or-nothing proposition. As a society we even talk about it that way: We speak in absolutes that someone has confidence or has lost confidence. We rarely say that someone is nurturing or piecing together confidence. Like attractiveness, health and success, we tend to believe that people either have confidence or they don’t, which is an unfortunate myth. It takes practice and work, one small step at a time.

Pay attention to personal hygiene!

Like it or not, personal hygiene affects the way other people look at you, and more importantly how you feel about yourself. Even if you are able to work from home in your pajamas or underwear without shaving or brushing your teeth - DON’T! 

Make it a practice to get enough sleep, wake up and take a shower, brush your hair, shave your face, and wear a fresh shirt and slacks (or whatever you wear :). 

Go for walks, run, bike, exercise at least three to four times a week for an hour or two. This is not about being the smartest or best looking of all to impress people - it’s about taking care of yourself. Turn off the distractions, and take a moment to feel grateful. 

These are just a few practices that have helped me. Please let me know in the comments below what you have found works best for you...

Rebuilding confidence and understanding ourselves is not easy. It requires a level of desire, discipline, and time. Going from a lack of confidence to a healthy amount is a process. It requires us to change, something that we often fear and is not always easy to implement and to accept.

Remember, taking the steps to self-awareness help us achieve the best versions of ourselves. It’s worth fighting for.

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Nathan Bray

Founder / UX / Design