If you suffer from depression, you are likely to have a low level of self-confidence. As I see it, this is one of the illness’ key symptoms. That again means that it’s critical to work to strengthen it over time.
Sometimes there is a lot which is wrong in your life. A life can travel through pain, sickness, loss and other terrible things. In these times it is harder (but not impossible) to hang on to the positive sides of life, because the painful things can seem overwhelming when compared to the good things.
Regardless of what happens to us it is important to see the difference between that which we can affect, and that which we are powerless over. It may be beneficial to focus on the former over the latter. To repeat the serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
If a woman is so unfortunate as to be born with a genetic disposition for an illness and she ends up contracting it, there is rather little she can do about this (with the exception of illnesses which can be prevented). On the other hand she can do something about her attitude to life, after the illness. This is my favorite subject and I believe that, for many of us, there is obvious room for improvement in how we direct our thinking, and which actions we take in order to achieve a better mood.
One of the things we can increase, which we clearly have some control over, is our degree of self-confidence. Self-confidence is in many ways an anti-venom to depression. Those who have higher self-confidence are simply depressed less often.
If you want to boost your self-confidence, what can you do?
Make sure to succeed with things!
Many depressed people will at this point object: “but I never succeed at anything, how can I then boost my self-confidence?” The answer to this question is to succeed with things you can master at your current level.
Imagine two teenagers, Mike and Steve, who share an interest in high jumping. They live in different cities, and have different trainers. Mike’s trainer sets the bar at two meters and asks Mike to jump over it. Mike fails, time after time, but each time the trainer sets the bar at two meters. Steve’s trainer starts at one meter, and increases by an inch each time Steve successfully soars over the bar.
How do you think it works out with the motivation of these two over time? And what about their self-confidence?
We humans are not always so smart. We have with knowledge and intent build a society that constantly reminds us that there are multitudes of other people who are ‘much more successful than ourselves.’ Millions upon millions of advertising dollars are used to carpet bomb us with photoshopped models’ faces, we produce TV programs about the richest, and we spend endless hours watching the best athletes of the world. The ideal is to be the best at school, best in sport, have the most friends, have the most money and be satisfied and happy. But there is only one who can be the best. In the quest to be best, everybody else essentially becomes losers.
With this as a backdrop it is not strange that the youth among us, and especially girls, increasingly fall into depression. My home country, Norway, tops the list of European countries regarding use of antidepressants, without this leading to the number of depression diagnoses being reduced.
We need to think differently. We must learn to build up our self-confidence again, despite the constant reminders of these so-called ‘successful’ people.
And the first step for achieving this is to never measure yourself against others. Here daycares, schools and adults in general have an important responsibility. We must tell our children and youth, from as soon as they can communicate onwards, that the most important thing is not to be best, what counts is to feel okay.
If your yardstick in life is consistently yourself, given the life situation you are in today, you are well on your way. If you are depressed, and constantly remind yourself about everything that you have failed at, or if you set up far too lofty goals for yourself (set the bar too high), then your confidence will worsen over time.
If you are overweight and drink 2 liters of cola each day, make a goal of one cup less tomorrow. If you do not succeed tomorrow, maybe you do the day after that. The next week you can set a goal to drink 1.5 liters maximum. And so on. Suddenly and before you know it, you have stopped drinking cola.
If you haven’t exercised for five years, start with a ten-minute easy walk each day for the entire week. Next, you can increase to fifteen minutes after a week, and then a half hour, until you reach an hour (you can increase this as long as you want).
If you beat yourself up over things 50 times a day, see if you can bring it down to 20. And so on.
You see my point: the trick is to always set goals you know you can achieve. If you reach the goal this week or two months later is not important. Nor does it matter if you fall back from time to time (just continue the next day, as if nothing had happened). The only thing that counts is maximizing the feeling of mastery, because feelings of mastery eventually turn into self-confidence. And self-confidence is medicine for depression.
PS: Here is another project you can try: go to viacharacter.org, and take the test. This gives you a concrete list of your strengths, or in other words positive traits you have which are your personality’s strongest. Next, create a plan for which changes you can make in your life ahead, one that allows you to increasingly use these strengths. Execute the plan. See what happens!
Read more in my book; Rise from Darkness.