Regain your confidence

Lost your self-confidence? These five strategies can help you find it.

As you become older, it's common to lose some confidence as your body changes and you face life-altering events, like retirement, health issues, and loss of loved ones.

"Yet many men don't recognize the impact that lack of confidence can have on their lives," says Fred Silverstone, a licensed mental health counselor and founder of the SAGE (Successful Aging through Group Engagement) program at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. "It can make men more withdrawn, less active, and more fearful about everyday events like driving and handling technology. They begin to believe they can't live like they once did."

The bell curve of confidence

A person's level of confidence and self-esteem typically follows a bell curve. It gradually rises during the late teen years, peaks during middle age, and tends to decline after age 60, according to a 2010 study of people ages 25 to 104 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers said the main reason for this pattern is that midlife is when people typically occupy the highest positions of power, status, and importance. They're working, involved in relationships, and more adventurous about trying new things. In contrast, older adults often lose these roles as they enter the later stages of life.

The best way to regain confidence is to remind yourself of your capabilities, address the obstacles that keep you from feeling confident, and work around those obstacles.

"Don't feel badly if you can't do everything you once did, or at the same level or intensity," says Silverstone. "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."

Don't believe in ageism

Another reason older adults lose confidence is ageism — the socially pervasive idea that you are too old to do certain activities.

In fact, studies have found that age stereotypes can diminish older adults' ability to perform tasks even if they possess the proper skills.

For instance, research published in 2016 in the Journal of Applied Gerontology looked at the influence of ageism on driving ability among adults ages 65 and older. Participants' driving confidence was measured by a questionnaire, and then everyone was exposed to either negative or positive age stereotypes.

The participants then completed a driving test. When confidence levels were recorded again, those who had been exposed to negative stereotypes had much lower self-reported confidence in their driving ability, even when they performed well on the driving test.

The lesson here is this: don't let your age dictate whether or not you have the right ability, skills, or desire to succeed at something.

Best days ahead

Here are five strategies that can help you gain greater confidence and realize that your best days may still lie ahead.

Look good. When you look good, you feel good, so take pride in your appearance. Make it a point to practice good hygiene, and get dressed each morning like you were going to work. "When you put in the effort to improve your appearance, you find that your opinion of yourself becomes more positive," says Silverstone.

Learn something. Activities like learning to paint or play an instrument, studying a foreign language, or taking dance lessons or writing classes help tap into the natural desire to learn and master a new skill.

"Being a beginner again is tough, but it shows you can still accomplish new things and find enjoyment in them," says Silverstone. "This also reminds you that it's okay to make mistakes, so you can improve and grow, which helps build self-confidence." Find classes through your local adult education service center, senior center, or community college.

Challenge yourself physically. Find a physical challenge that you can realistically complete, create a plan of execution, and then work to meet that goal. For example, train for a 5K, complete a series of boot camp classes, or even walk a mile a day for a month.

"Any form of exercise, no matter how great or small, is beneficial for both physical and mental health," says Silverstone. "Regular exercise also helps you build confidence in your ability to be active, while setting a challenge with mini goals along the way lets you experience the wonderful feeling of accomplishment."

Stay connected. It's not as easy to venture out and interact with people as you age, and this is even harder when you feel less confident. Yet studies show that personal connections help reduce the risks for depression and anxiety often associated with feelings of low self-esteem.

Lack of confidence can make socializing a challenge, so Silverstone suggests volunteering — for instance, with a hospital or as a tutor for children. "Choose something you enjoy that also provides personal interaction and gives you a chance to use your available skills."

Another option is to create your own men's group. For example, organize a weekly or monthly gathering of your friends. "This type of group dynamic is great because many men share the same issues, like health problems or changes in financial status," says Silverstone.

Working through these issues helps you feel less alone in your own struggles. "A men's group also can recreate the social world of the workplace, which many men found a stimulating and confidence-boosting environment," says Silverstone.

Seek help. Group therapy or one-on-one counseling can help you work through obstacles that affect confidence. "Never be afraid to seek professional help when you need it," says Silverstone. "Help is always a good thing."

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