How Training Affects Confidence

Woman standing on mountain

I used to have a lot of self-esteem issues and insecurities. They aren’t completely gone, but they’ve been hugely reduced. I feel like a different person to a few years ago. In a large part that is due to finding joy in movement, getting much better at it, and feeling better in my body.

Effects on Self-Confidence

Different people suggest improving confidence in different ways. Fairly common advice is to use affirmations or just believe in yourself. This can work, but some of us need a bit more hard evidence to change our minds. It may sound blatantly obvious, but achieving goals you’ve set for yourself can do wonders for your self-esteem. I mostly say this explicitly because there is another school of thought where you’re meant to be happy and feel confident just as you are right now. I partially agree with that, but as mentioned above, I find having evidence to back it up more effective. It’s not always an immediate or overnight effect, it can take a bit of time to really settle in. For this to work, it is crucial to appreciate and celebrate what you’ve already achieved. Don’t constantly move the goal posts further and further away. Of course you can set higher goals, but track progress and take note of what you’ve already managed to do.

In particular, having physical strength can make you feel powerful. I’d recommend everyone, especially women, learn how to do a pull up. Being proud of your body and what it can do can make you happier. Learning to go upside down and handle inversions can translate into learning how to overcome other fears in life. Similarly, seeing how consistent effort bring progress will teach you how to apply these principles elsewhere.

Another facet that can help is the social interaction. Seeing other people progress through things can help you realise you aren’t worse.

There’s also a more appearance-focused side to it. I like how my body looks, and noticing bumps of muscle where there were none before (triceps! Lats!) is pretty exciting. I find I don’t want to hide anymore.

Strangely, during training, I sometimes now perform better under pressure and when attention is focused on me. It used to be the opposite. Having anyone watch me freaked me out and reduced my performance (and that still happens in some other areas of life where I’m less confident). Demonstrating a move and having everyone watch me is no longer terrifying, in fact I actually kind of like it. It helps if I know what I’m doing, but even if I’m trying something new I don’t mind failing publically anymore. I even get a little bit competitive sometimes.

In a sense, this blog arose from that feeling too. I wish I could somehow transmit what I know and feel now into the brain of anyone who is in the place I was in up to a few years ago. I find myself wanting to teach, lead and share what I know. I used to think I’d never want to be a teacher because standing up in front of a room of people telling them what to do seemed absolutely terrifying. I’m still not sure if I want to be one, but the idea doesn’t seem scary anymore.

How to Gain Self-Confidence?

The key is to establish a positive feedback loop. Simplified, it goes something like this:

Do something right -> notice positive results -> feel better about yourself -> it becomes easier to do something else right -> notice more positive results -> feel even better…

Here’s the trick: I can guarantee you that once you’re well in the loop, everything feels easier. The hard part is getting there in the first place. To do that succesfully, you need to by building small and easy positive habits that will bring you positive results. Start with small achievements that you know you can do, and then gradually increase difficulty.

Understand that seeing visible results in fitness can take some time – several weeks or months, depending on what you’re trying to do. It helps to set some smaller milestones that are more quickly achievable along the way. For example, when you start, consider just going for a work out a success, even if you’re not seeing physical changes quite yet.

If you enjoy games, think of it as levelling up: when you’re on level 1, you can only defeat the most basic enemies. You simply can’t compare yourself with people on level 5. But as long as you keep getting experience you will reach that level.

The other key point to note is that the loop starts with you doing something, even if you don’t feel ready for it. For example, at some point, I set myself a fairly arbitrary goal of go to a yoga class with a crop top. It felt intimidating at first, but quickly also freeing (and more comfortable). I didn’t feel fully ready for it and I doubt I ever would have. Risking it on a good day when I felt especially daring is what made me ready to do it any day of the week.

Finally, building confidence is a slow process. It won’t linearly increase with time. There will be lows and setbacks, but less and less often, until they almost disappear. The journey might not go exactly how you expect. Funnily enough, my confidence didn’t go from low to normal, it went from low to high(-ly volatile) and then straight up to high. I’m still waiting for it normalise in the middle.

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