Often I’ve been asked about confidence, both by amputees and non-amputees. I imagine this is because others see me as a confident individual, but I want to share with you it has not always been that way. It took a lot of hard work and soul-searching to get to where I am today, and I still have “off” days.

For some back story, I struggled greatly with confidence even before losing my leg to cancer as a teenager. As a kid, I was made fun of for a variety of reasons… being short, having curly hair, being smart, et cetera. Early in my 8th grade year I was diagnosed with cancer, which fortunately ended the brutal middle school teasing, but it led to years of additional confidence issues related to my treatments and the amputation, along with typical teenager troubles.

Becoming more confident was a journey, and this journey continues today. Some of the tips below have helped me along my journey to become more confident. I want to preface this by saying what worked for me may not work for everyone, but I still want to share my own experiences in hopes they can help someone else.

If any of these tips help you, then great! If not, please do not become discouraged, because I know everyone can become more confident in time.

Think positively to kill negativity

Negative thoughts are toxic and overwhelming and can really be a detriment to your confidence. As tough as it may be, the best way to fight negativity is with persistent positivity. Restructuring negative thoughts into positive thoughts can be a great help. I’ve found that assuming the best of a situation greatly affects how I feel about the situation. For example, if I catch someone staring at me, I assume they think my prosthetic leg is cool, rather than assume they think it is “weird.” More than likely, they are curious and find prosthetics interesting anyway.

When you’re having a bad day sometimes you want to snap at anyone who comes near you and you feel downright crummy about yourself. However, if you make an attempt to refocus that negative energy into positive energy it can help change your mood along with it. Positivity is contagious, and if others believe you are in a good mood, it may put them into a good mood, which in turn can switch your bad mood into a good mood. If you hold your chin up, smile, and pretend you are feeling perfectly confident then you will likely begin to feel confident as a result.

If a negative thought enters your mind, pause and try to replace it with a positive thought. If you are unable to do so in the moment, allow yourself time to cool off and relax before revisiting the thought. Try writing the negative thought onto a piece of paper and writing a positive thought next to it. Sometimes it is difficult to think with positivity, especially in the moment, but once you get into a habit it becomes much easier.

Amputees make creative halloween costumes

Challenge yourself and set goals

Achieving something that challenges you can be a huge confidence booster. Challenges don’t have to be physical. Maybe you just want to eat healthier or be able to speak in front of a group. Just remember, bigger goals can be accomplished by meeting smaller goals. A challenge doesn’t even have to appear challenging, it could simply be trying something new.

A big challenge for me was climbing. I attended a rock climbing clinic at the 2015 Amputee Coalition conference, but while I was able to make it part way up the wall I was unable to make it to the top. So, I set a goal to make it to the top the following year. I worked on arm exercises to build my strength and otherwise kept up with physical activity, specifically by hiking. In 2016, I made it to the top of the climbing wall, which gave me a huge boost of confidence.

For an exercise, think about a thing (or two) that you would like to do, something that may challenge you. Think about what baby steps you may need to take in order to reach that bigger goal. Keep in mind that these steps are easier to maintain if they are measurable. You want to walk a 5k but are worried about the distance? Try walking a quarter mile to start. Want to eat healthier? Try cooking one healthy meal a week. Baby steps can help you get to where you want to be, and anything worth doing will take time.

Amputee sets sight on new challenges.

Stop worrying about others’ opinions

This is a big one for me, and sometimes I still struggle with it. I had to put it into my mind that others’ opinions simply do not matter when it comes to my wellbeing. For years I was afraid to wear shorts because I feared what people would think when they saw my prosthetic leg. I finally started wearing shorts, and I found that over time it became much easier to not care if I noticed someone staring at me.

Currently, I do not care what others think when they look at my legs, but I do find myself caring what others think of my personality. At this point in my life, however, I must remind myself that I am who I am, and I will not change myself to please others because that would cause me to sacrifice part of my core being. Letting go of worries about what others think about me is liberating.

As an exercise try writing down some of your key personality traits, both traits you are proud of and maybe some traits you are not proud of. For traits you are not proud of, consider why you feel that way, determine if there are ways to counter that trait, and determine what good could from that trait. For example, I am stubborn. I am not proud that I am stubborn, but I realize it is part of who I am. To counter my stubbornness I make attempts to be less stubborn, like offering or accepting compromises. A good thing that can come from this trait is that I will not allow others to walk all over me. This little exercise can help you understand who YOU really are.

Celebrate the little things

Really, you’ve made it this far in life and that is grand! Life deserves little celebrations. No need to do anything big, you could simply decide to buy a muffin with your coffee to celebrate completing a project at home or work. Your celebration could even be a mental pat on the back for crossing something from your to-do list. Speaking of to-do lists, feeling like you have accomplished something can give a boost to your self-esteem. It can be as simple as making a to-do list that includes items like “wash hair” and “put cups in the dishwasher.” At the end of the day it just feels nice to have accomplished something, even if that something is just crossing “put on pants” from your list. *throws confetti*

Don’t dwell on what others have (or show on social media)

Envy is a real problem, and I myself have been guilty of dwelling on things others have that I do not have. When this occurs, the solution has been to tune out of social media and to consider how far I have come in my own journey. Different people have different things that set them off, and it can be confusing when you realize you are feeling envious. For example, I enjoy following many amazing adaptive athletes, but sometimes I feel bad about my own physical fitness level and need to tune out for a bit. It is not helpful to compare myself to others in this way and it can get in the way of my confidence. Instead, it is more helpful to focus on what I am good at doing or how far

I’ve come in meeting my own fitness goals. I believe that social media can be both a great tool and a great detriment to one’s confidence, so it must be used carefully. Remember that individuals’ social media accounts are usually carefully curated to highlight only the best moments in one’s life. Instead of dwelling on what others have, think about what you have, and if you want to make changes, well the next tip is for you.

Think about what may be causing problems and make changes

Every now and then I start to find myself drifting into a funk. When the funk lasts a bit too long I realize I need to think about what changes, if any, I need to make in order to get back to my normal self. I’m a big fan of writing things down so I can visualize what I am dealing with, so any time I have been stuck in a funk I write down what I think may be causing trouble and list ways to solve any problems. Sometimes I just feel like I’ve been inactive for too long, especially in the winter, but going to a store to walk around indoors can help. A few years ago I was unhappy with where I was in my career, so I searched for new jobs and considered higher education to make myself more marketable. I ended up being accepted to graduate school and accepted at a new job around the same time, and that seemed to jump start a new stage of my life.

Determining how to solve a particular problem can be different for each person, so this is a very personal exercise. Write down an issue that is infringing your ability to feel confident. Are you having trouble getting around?  Do you dislike your job? Are you feeling lonely? Consider ways that you can change this issue. Make sure to consider multiple options for each issue, as most problems have multiple solutions. This could also be worked into your list of goals and the baby steps needed to complete those goals. Make any changes you can, and focus on solutions to your problems rather than dwelling on them.

Erin reflects on confidence post amputation

Change bad habits

This is one of those tips that is difficult to tell others without coming off as judgmental, but please understand this tip comes from experience. If you know you have a bad habit, this habit is likely weighing on you, even if you don’t realize it. Do you stay up late and feel exhausted in the morning? Try going to bed a little earlier than usual or changing your bedtime routine so you can better relax. If you find that you need help kicking a bad habit, do not be afraid to seek help. Some bad habits could be caused by a medical condition, and the sooner you realize you need help and seek help the quicker you will be on your path to being the best you can be.

Allow yourself to have bad days

No one can be fully confident 100% of the time. Some days are more difficult than others, and sometimes setbacks arise which make life difficult. Do not beat yourself up if you are having a bad day, instead, try to find a way to salvage the day. Sometimes the “bad” times last longer than you would like, but trying your best to pull yourself out of a funk is the best thing you can possibly do.

One final major point to consider, everyone is different!  While the above tips have been helpful for me, they may not be helpful for everyone, as what works for one person does not always work for others. The best thing to do to become more confident is to simply try! Do not give up. The journey to becoming more confident is a cross-country marathon, not a sprint. It will take time and there will be obstacles, but eventually you will succeed.