One of the things I constantly talk about and ponder is the shattering of self-confidence that happens in an unhealthy marriage (or any relationship of significance) and the strange one step forward, two steps back rebuilding process that presents itself in the separation and divorce.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that today’s post on Lifehack, “63 Ways to Build Self-Confidence” hit home. While I absolutely think you should read the entire thing because it is an excellent post, I wanted to summarize a few thoughts I have on this especially as they correlate to recovering from divorce and adjusting to single motherhood. For me, building self-confidence boils down to a few key factors: Education, Recognition, Challenges, and Letting Go. The Lifehack post basically gives 63 different ways you can do those things but I’m presenting my nutshell version in the hopes that, in combination with the Lifehack entry, we’ll come up with some ideas, twists, and interpretations in our own lives.
Keeping your brain active is super important—that’s why setting goals to learn things big, medium, or small, is crucial to building self-confidence. Whether it’s by keeping yourself informed of local issues, educating yourself on the grieving process or child psychology, or teaching yourself a new skill (from books and YouTube if, like me, you can’t attend a class) giving your brain something to chew on works wonders on your self-confidence. It keeps your mind occupied with useful matter instead of that destructive chatter it often migrates to when idle. Also, education provides a path to another important confidence-builder—recognition.
I believe the more damaging the relationship, it’s likely the less recognition you received—from your ex-spouse and yourself. Somewhere along the road we get folded into this concept that giving ourselves credit is immodest, selfish, and wrong. There’s a big difference between acknowledgment and boasting. You did something well, you deserve to acknowledge and congratulate yourself on it. That’s what I like about learning a new skill. For example, I recently taught myself to crochet and every time I sit and crochet I am forced to embrace the fact that I did this on my own. I learned this because I wanted to and here I am doing it. Even if there’s a teacher involved, learning is a deeply personal activity.
Of course, you have to give yourself the opportunity to recognize yourself for a job well done and besides education, challenges are an excellent way of doing this. And challenges present themselves constantly in lots of different shapes and forms. There are obvious challenges like big goals to work towards which are absolutely excellent. But there are the smaller daily challenges that I think are really important and too easy to pass on. Challenge yourself to leave the house. Challenge yourself to smile at a cutie. Challenge yourself to smile, period—some days that’s really difficult to do. Challenge yourself to hug your kids for at least 20 seconds when they come crying to you. Challenge yourself to do things you love and enjoy guilt-free. Challenge yourself to think positively. Challenge your priorities, your dreams, your rules, your limitations. Success or failure is not the point of a challenge, it’s simply engaging in one that is the goal and the accomplishment which you should of course give yourself credit for. Succeeding in a challenge is the cherry on top.
Ah, the crux of it all. Because in order to embrace education, recognition, and challenges you have to let go of so much. You have to let go of rules, expectations, and fears to start. And then, as you progress down the self-confidence building path, you have to keep letting go. Sometimes you’ll find you have to let go of actual things or even people. You have to let go of comfort levels one by one. It may feel as if you’ve let go of everything and have nothing left, but it’s the opposite. You have everything to gain. That’s when things start clicking together. When you realize that now you have wiped the slate clean you have a gorgeous new canvas.
I like how Lifehack says “self-confidence works just like a muscle – it grows in response to the level of performance required of it. Either you use it or you lose it.” It’s true, simply and honestly. And those of us emerging from a broken relationship can easily testify to this. After all, had we been actively using our self-confidence would we have stayed in a damaging relationship as long we did? Obviously, the answer is no. So we emerge from these relationships with weak self-confidence muscles. And just like any workout, it’s hard to start because we want dramatic results yesterday. Just start small. My favorite idea which is not in the Lifehack entry, is to maintain a daily accomplishment log. Every day write one sentence describing something you did. That’s all. Just finish the sentence “Today I… and I’m glad I did.” We’ll get there, you’ll see.