Sunday, January 6, 2013

Practical Ways to Build Confidence

A few days back I posted a little bit about my philosophy about beauty (you can find it at the bottom of this post). I was inspired by my friend's recent post on Cutting Out Counting Calories to discuss self-talk and some practical tips for confidence building. Some of this entry may sound a bit familiar as this is a theme I visited a little bit in a previous entry.

First off, many people say that confidence is beautiful, but for a long time I was completely at a loss as to how to authentically build confidence. In Western culture we really don't see many very good examples of truly liberated, confident people. Celebrities are probably the absolute worst role models to look to for this, regardless of how they truly are as people, because of the way media portrays fame and women's bodies. Contemporary culture also encourages comparisons between oneself and others and this is the number one worst thing you can do to make yourself unhappy. 

If you have problems with confidence and self esteem then I do encourage you to consider people in your life that are genuine, happy, healthy people that you respect. If no one comes to mind you might consider learning about your favorite authors or writers or even comedians - people who don't take themselves too seriously. I urge you to use caution with this, though - it's meant to give you an idea of what YOU find confidence to be about, and is not meant to cause you to compare yourself to others or to necessarily mimic anyone. It's a tentative baby step toward becoming a happy, confident person.

If you're lucky enough to have people like this in your life, spend time with them! The people we closely associate with have a huge impact on ourselves. If you hang out with people who are body-positive and have healthy emotional habits then you will learn a bit about these habits through proverbial osmosis.

Absolutely no more negative self talk. Period. If you want to be confident for your own sake (and truly this is the only real reason to pursue anything - FOR YOUR OWN SAKE. Not to make you more attractive or for any other reason) then you will. not. achieve. that goal unless you wipe negative self-talk out of your life. Believe it or not I found my internal dialogue to be much easier to change than my external dialogue. In other words, I have no problem taking a moment to recognize my accomplishments and to pat myself on the back, but when it comes to describing myself or referring to myself in any way to others I find the very core of the language I have always used for this purpose is inherently negative. Women are taught to self-deprecate. Speaking highly of oneself can be taboo. Of course there is truly positive language to use when referencing yourself and then there is empty bravado, which is certainly more common than the former in Western culture.

This step is very important not only for you but for women in general. If you model positive self talk for others, particularly young women, you'll find it's contagious. Same with negative self-talk. So know that these positive changes you make are good for you and for our culture!

Say you're having a bad day and things are snowballing out of control. One rough patch sets you off on a downward spiral and by the end of the day anything and everything upsets you - you're mad about so many things all at once you can't even remember what started the landslide in the first place. During this tail-spin it's normal that ALL PEOPLE will begin to experience negative feelings about themselves. "I'm not _________ enough." Thin enough, good enough, smart enough...this is something that every human being on the face of the earth does on a regular basis. Now, no one is perfect and it's absolutely acceptable to say, "I could have handled that better." These moments are wonderful opportunities to take stock of what is within your power to control. If there is nothing you can do to alter the situation that has got you bothered in the first place then it must be let go. You can "let it go" by using positive self-talk. It's as simple as that. If you feel you could have handled something better then take a moment to reflect on something you handled well, something you're good at or something that just makes you feel good. Tell yourself, "I did a good job at _____" or even "I deserve to be kind to myself. I am doing a good job of caring for myself by speaking positively to myself." Really, no detail is too small to focus on when it comes to cultivating positivity.

I am no Sally Sunshine. I grew up being constantly told I was "too negative". Much later in life I discovered that I have always had, since my very earliest memories, clinical depression and anxiety. Getting medical treatment and counseling for this problem did me a world of good and taught me coping techniques that I'd never seen modeled by anyone in my life before. This is why being positive and being around positive people is so important, as is seeking help when you need it. I mention this because so many people give off-the-cuff advice about being more positive when they have NO IDEA what it's like to not be able to easily access positive feelings. We are constantly taught that not being happier or not being in control of our emotional world is a personal failing. And that is not the case! Regardless of what you are going through, cultivating little pearls of positivity in your life will help. TRUST ME ON THIS. I still get angry, I still raise my voice, and I still get sad. I'm not perfect. I'm not always positive. But, I now have the power to take a break, step back and observe myself. Then I find I am able to take control over my feelings for the very first time in my life, and start with positive baby steps. "At least I tried! I took a risk! That was gutsy and I am proud of myself!" are all things we can say when things don't go the way we want them to. Flex these muscles often even when it's hard. Even when it doesn't feel like it's working. It WILL help you!

It goes without saying that when talking to others you have to abide by the "no negative self talk ever" rule just as much as ever. It's easy to say, "You have such a nice _____, mine is not as good". It's socially expected. In a way this is how we have learned to compliment each other and that is just not right. "You have such lovely ______!" is a fine compliment to pay to someone, just leave it at that.

Lately I have been watching a lot of make-up tutorials and I hear many subtle, insidious examples of negative-self talk. "My skin is too oily. My face is too round." While it's okay to cite facts about yourself in this setting, it would be better to thoughtfully change your vocabulary to suit a more positive self-outlook. You are not "too" anything. You do not have flaws that need to be corrected. How can you flip the negative comment into a positive one? Perhaps that you have a lovely full face which makes an excellent canvas for your artistic expression? And that you don't need to moisturize heavily as your skin is naturally soft and well-nourished? If you can't easily flip it (it takes a lot of practice) then just don't say it.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to use positive self-talk around children and young women. This is one reason that I strongly oppose letting young girls watch make-up tutorials which has become a bit of a trend on the internet lately. There are many videos out there of very young girls doing playful makeup tutorials. Cute? Sure. Healthy? Not without rigorous vigilance about how concepts of beauty, makeup and the words of others effect how she feels about herself. I played with make-up when I was a kid and I thought it was really fun. I think it's really fun to "do makeovers" with little girls too - but I am also very careful to always use positive language and to help a girl feel confident in who she is regardless of what she's wearing. You may believe that your daughter has excellent self-awareness and that may truly be the case. I was a smart, socially aware girl in my teens and I am only now unraveling the brain-washing we all have experienced and how it relates to how I view myself. Kids and teens, regardless of how awesome they may be, don't have the life experience to maintain a healthy level of self-esteem all on their own. They need positive feedback from trusted adults and friends. If the feedback they're getting is from women doing their make-up for public consumption then there is always the chance that they are not receiving the most positive language.

Do stuff that makes you happy.
I've mentioned this before and I find that it's as important to self-esteem as it is to overall enjoyment of life. If you believe that you are not good at anything, then cultivating confidence is going to be tough. In addition to the above steps, you've got to immerse yourself into things you enjoy. Who cares if you think you're "not good at it". Go watch a movie, it has nothing to do with you, but you'll enjoy it and you'll feel better afterwards (at least if the movie is good!). If you enjoy writing then write. If you're good at cooking then cook. In fact, I encourage you to make mistakes often and learn to let them go. You'll soon learn that mistakes are no big deal and are valuable learning opportunities. Plus, making mistakes can be fun. Don't forget your positive self-talk.

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