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5 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Unsure of Yourself

By Jessica Cassity

Like other parts of your mood, your confidence levels can regularly fluctuate. Your self-esteem may soar when you nail an important presentation, and then plummet when you miss out on a big promotion. How can you keep riding the self-worth peaks—or at least not stumble too deep into the valleys—even when things don’t go exactly how you want?

It’s all about being more mindful of who you surround yourself with, regulating the thoughts you allow in your head, and paying more attention to what you have than what you don’t, says Goal Auzeen Saedi, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Portland, OR.

Confidence Hack #1: Make a Positivity List

While you can’t safeguard yourself against less desirable outcomes at all times (rejection, loss, and failure are all bound to happen on occasion), you can determine how much you let these periods affect how you feel about yourself. “I often recommend that clients keep a list of all the things going really well in their lives,” says Saedi. “In the times when things feel hopeless and they begin to lose sight of the good things, they have a very visual and real representation of what is going on in their lives.” Make this list when you’re feeling good and keep it nearby for times when you’re feeling less sure. A quick reminder of the riches in your life may make it easier to stop focusing on any shortcomings.

Confidence Hack #2: Get Out of Your Head

A confidence-eroding event—like overhearing a snide remark or finding out you didn’t get into a school or program of your choice—feels bad enough when it happens. By reliving that experience time and time again you only prolong the feelings of pain and low self-worth. If you fall into this trap, create some distance from your thoughts, Saedi suggests.

Thought distraction techniques (such as going for a run or reading a book) and thought diffusion techniques (such as meditation or focusing on your breath) can help you silence these hurtful thoughts. “It’s important to remember that our thoughts are often a running dialogue of negativity, very little of which is true,” says Saedi. “It’s one thing to notice and identify a thought, and another to believe it. The more we internalize these external events, the more they can bring us down.” If there is a lesson to be learned from an experience, absorb it. Then do your best to move forward.

Confidence Hack #3: Join a Mutual Admiration Society

When life has you down, it’s important to remember that you’re not in it alone. Who you turn to during these times of low self-confidence can greatly affect how quickly you rebound and how low you allow yourself to go. “A support group is supposed to pick you up when you’re feeling down and remind you of the amazing gifts and talents you possess,” says Saedi. “If you surround yourself with people who will be true advocates for you, and you for them, it creates a positive feedback loop of genuine confidence and a beaming attitude.” Plus, the better the people around you make you feel, the harder your confidence will be to shake from the outset.

Confidence Hack #4: Take Other People Out of the Equation

Few things can make confidence levels go from high to low like judging yourself against someone else. Maybe you’re feeling great about losing 10 pounds, then you see a friend who has lost 20. Or you’re proud to have started writing a few pages of the novel you’ve always wanted to write, when you learn a colleague just got a book deal.

Letting your self-worth be the result of how you stack up to other people’s achievements, appearances, and lives is one of the easiest ways to sabotage yourself, and it’s clearly a one-sided viewpoint that doesn’t take into consideration the whole picture. (Maybe your colleague got a book deal but has been toiling away at 5 a.m. for the past decade.)

Try and take other people out of the equation of how you feel about yourself. It’s a fine line to be happy for someone else’s good fortune while feeling like you too are good enough/smart enough/successful enough/etc., but it is possible to separate someone else’s successes from your own. The quicker you’re able to find that balance, the better off you’ll be.

Confidence Hack #5: Keep Perspective

“Often the least confident people are the ones who focus on all that they don’t have, rather than celebrating what they do have,” says Saedi. “Staying appreciative for all you do possess is a big part of self-confidence.” Saedi tried the following gratitude exercise one morning in a yoga class, and recommends it to anyone who feels like they—or their current circumstances—aren’t measuring up: First, list 5 things you don’t have but want in your life. (If your confidence is down, this part will probably be easy.) Then list 10 things you do have. This may be a bit harder, but as you make your list chances are you’ll see that you not only have a lot to be thankful for, but that you’re also well on your way to having everything you desire.

Jessica Cassity writes about health, fitness, and happiness for publications including Self, Shape, Health, Women’s Health, and Family Circle magazines. Her first book, Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You was published in 2011.