As we age, it’s easy to forget who we are and what we’ve accomplished over the years. Occasionally, we may lose a little of our confidence because of some major life experiences like retirement, a divorce, a financial loss or health challenges.
More often we are our worst enemy: we let ageist stereotypes and internalized misogyny feed our own self-doubts basing our self-esteem and confidence on external things – how much praise we get, how much we’re paid, how much recognition or attention we still get from men, how we look.
What we forget is that people of all ages and genders may struggle with lower self-esteem. On the other hand, it’s also true that ageing is not for the faint-hearted.
Whether you are simply having a bad day or facing the challenging symptoms of menopause, remember that it’s normal to go into a mode of fluctuating self-confidence and second-guess all your life decisions or feel bad about not being able to do things at the same level as before. But that shouldn’t end up taking its toll on your mental health.
The best way to regain confidence is to remind yourself of your capabilities, address the obstacles that keep you from feeling confident, and work on overcoming them.
“Don’t feel bad if you can’t do everything you once did, or at the same level or intensity,” says Harvard Medical School‘s expert Fred Silverstone, LMHC, MBA. “The goal is to focus on what you can do now and build from there. This will help show you that you have much to offer and can still enjoy an active, satisfying life.”
But how can we regain our self-confidence and how long does it normally take?
According to Diana Malerba, a Certified Confidence Coach ICF PCC & NLP Master Practitioner: “It’s not the same for everybody. building courage is a process. There’s no quick-fix solution, it’s ongoing work. Low self-confidence is not who you are, it’s just what you believe and how you behave”, explains the founder of The Brave Hearted, “and you can unlearn that, no matter who told you that you were done this way. No matter what happened in your past. By giving yourself permission to be scared, to be angry, to be insecure. Without judgement. you can heal and grow“.
Getting your self-esteem back as you age
A surefire way to regain your self-esteem in midlife is to start to take care of yourself, find new hobbies and activities, get out into the world and maybe book that special menopause retreat or get that tattoo you always wanted to have but never had the guts to do it. The more time you spend on self-care and doing things that boost your confidence, the better you’ll feel about yourself.
Here are some strategies that can help you gain greater confidence and realize that the best is yet to come.
Challenge bad thoughts about yourself
Excessive rumination is linked to both anxiety and depression, and it can make us withdraw from the world. But by filling up your tank with confidence, you’ll be able to break the cycle of overthinking and quiet your inner critic.
“The newest research shows that we can literally change our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behaviour at any age,” writes journalists Claire Shipman and Katty Kay in their book The Confidence Code. “A substantial part of the confidence code is our choice. We spend too much time ruminating, stewing, and thinking over our actions. With diligent effort, we can all choose to expand our confidence. But we will get there only if we stop trying to be perfect and start being prepared to fail.”
Practising self-compassion and self-affirmations, as well as working on a growth mindset are just some of the ways you can help boost your self-esteem.
“Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love“, says Lisa Bilyeu, author of the book Radical Confidence, The Ultimate Guide For Women Wanting To Be Inspired. “Reclaim your sense of confidence by quieting your inner critic and replacing critical self-talk with positive affirmations. Don’t be afraid to hype yourself up, wink at yourself in the mirror, and romanticize the exquisite being that you are. At the core of self-confidence is unshakeable self-love. How you talk to yourself and perceive your abilities will manifest in every aspect of your daily life“.
Learn something new
Be bold, take risks, and try new things. Activities like learning to paint or play an instrument, studying a foreign language, taking dance lessons, and writing classes, can help tap into the natural desire to learn and master a new skill. You can even take part in a beauty pageant if you’d like to challenge yourself.
Take the time every day to think about what you’d like to achieve. Then set realistic goals for each day and keep track of your progress by writing down all your accomplishments.
Our brains are really good at learning new stuff and the more new stuff you learn, the better you get at learning it and the more likely you find things you can be passionate about. Taking action is the biggest and best thing you can do to improve your confidence and keep the fear of not being enough at bay.
“Building confidence means taking small steps that leave a lasting sense of accomplishment“, explains psychologist Barbara Markway PhD. “If you think back to a key accomplishment in your life, you’ll likely find that it took a lot of perseverance. If you could triumph through adversity then, you can do it in other areas of your life where you feel self-doubt.”
Set new physical goals to regain confidence
Exercise is beneficial at any age, but more so as you get older. The more you move, the more opportunities for you to realize there’s still a lot you can do.
Whether running a short marathon, doing the Ashtanga yoga primary series on your own or climbing a mountain, setting and achieving goals gives personal satisfaction and engages the mind and body.
All you have to do to accomplish your new targets is to plan to achieve mini goals along the way overcoming those physical challenges.
“I tell people to try and find a personal reason or purpose to be active and then set appropriate goals,” says Ron Chamberlain, PhD, a licensed sports psychologist with Intermountain Sports Medicine. “Maybe you want to get down on the floor and play with your grandchildren, improve your golf swing, participate in the Senior Games, or lose weight for a vacation. Find your motivation and then set some goals. Healthy ageing is accomplished by continuously setting goals to improve yourself throughout a lifetime,” he adds. “Goals give us something to be passionate about at any age.”
When you exercise or work out regularly, you become more confident in your body’s strength and ability to be active.
Build meaningful personal connections
Meaningful relationships provide the opportunity for three key benefits: exchange of support, social engagement and sense of worth—all major pillars for a foundation of healthy ageing.
Studies also show that personal connections help reduce the risks for depression and anxiety often associated with feelings of low self-esteem.
But, socializing can be difficult as we age. Can’t it?
To regain your confidence, take small social steps. Think of something you enjoy doing and find a group that participates in those activities. There are many community groups on social media that focus on certain interests. Subscribe to one or two of them and practice connecting with new people. You can also consider volunteering for an organization that interests you.
Above all, remember that nobody is born with confidence; it is a gift you give yourself and have to keep working on it.
Self-esteem doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes fail. But you’ll know you can handle challenges and not be crippled by them. Even when things don’t turn out anywhere close to what you planned, you’ll be able to avoid beating yourself up.