In the Profiles in Confidence series I interview writers, bloggers and other guys who have generously agreed to share their stories, struggles, secrets and tips about using self-improvement to build self-confidence.
The series is designed to let you learn from their struggles, and provide a reminder that you’re not the only guy out there working to improve himself. Quite the opposite, actually: you’re surrounded by like-minded friends and brothers in arms.
In this edition, Kyle Ingham, founder of the excellent blog The Distilled Man, discusses the way you can become your “best self,” his secret for getting out of his own head and his best advice for going from low to high self-esteem.
Interview with Kyle Ingham
Founder, The Distilled Man
Your website, The Distilled Man, is dedicated to helping men be their best selves. What does that mean to you? How can a man be his best self?
It’s funny, when you talk about a man being his best self, it almost implies that there is an endpoint—a destination.
But to me, being your best self is about the journey of becoming better. So, it may sound corny, but I think it’s a mindset and a way of living: constantly challenging yourself, staying hungry, being open to learning and new experiences, and most of all, recognizing that you still have more work to do.
I think many men who have started focusing on self-improvement may be able to relate. You are your “best self” when you are experiencing the forward momentum of becoming a better man. It’s not about finishing the race, it’s about running the race.
On a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being extremely low self-esteem and 10 being a Tony Robbins-level of confidence and self-worth – how would you rate your self-confidence right now?
Seven-ish, I suppose. It definitely fluctuates, depending on my week, my month, what’s going on. But I’ve started to get better about recognizing the stupid reasons for fluctuations.
Like not getting enough sleep or not eating often enough. It took me about 25 years to realize that I was much happier—or I could avoid a lot of low points—if I just made sure to do basic things like get enough rest and eat regularly (in my case, about every three hours).
On the same scale of 1 to 10, what would you say your lowest number was? Where and when did your self-confidence bottom out?
Around two. I think the beginning of high school was a particularly rough time for me. I was going through a very awkward phase physically, where I was gangly, really tall with no muscles (not that I have muscles now, but I’ve filled out), and I had quite a bit of acne on my face.
I had zero luck with women (I vividly remember thinking that I would be a virgin the rest of my life), and I was starting to realize that as much as I loved sports, I wasn’t that great at them. I had a few, close friends. But being the nerds we were, we ate lunch in the gymnasium, and we rarely ventured far outside our small social circle to make other friends.
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How did you get from where you were then (at the bottom of your self-confidence), to where you are now? What was that journey like for you?
I think one of the biggest turning points in my life was spending my sophomore year of high school abroad.
During that year, not only did my worldview expand, but things started to fall into place in other ways. First, I ended up getting some medication that virtually cured my acne, and my social life also blossomed like never before. I developed some very tight-knit friendships with some great people and also had my first girlfriend.
Meanwhile, I started to zero in on things that I was passionate about: I became very interested in learning languages, and I started playing guitar and learning more about music.
When I returned to the states for my junior year, my increased social confidence and newfound passion for languages and music helped propel me forward, totally changing the second half of high school for me.
That momentum helped launch me through college and beyond.
During this period, when you were in the process of going from your lowest level of confidence to your current level, what pitfalls or fears did you face?
I think this is hard to answer, because I don’t think my story is typical. In some ways, I feel I got lucky; a lot of my “transformation” happened because I had such a dramatic change of scenery in my life.
But naturally, I struggled with many of the things people struggle with in high school and beyond: insecurities about my looks/body, fear of social rejection, uncertainty about what to do with my life, worry that I had made a wrong decision—since attending school abroad was my choice and caused some controversy with my family.
How did you work to overcome those obstacles? What do you continue to do to beat back your fears and maintain self-confidence?
In retrospect, I think one of the things that really helped was learning how to “get out of my own head.”
First, since I had such a tight and active social circle, it was hard to spend too much time thinking or feeling sorry for myself about anything.
Second, and this may be a little tactical, but I started the habit of daily journal writing. I would pour out my thoughts at the end of the day. Not just how I was feeling, but everything that had happened that day. What I ate, where I went. Who I talked to. I found that it was a terrific way to clear my head and get perspective on my life.
Often I didn’t know what I thought about something until I wrote about it. I’m less regular with journal writing these days, though I have been trying to keep up a nightly “gratitude journal.” But I still think writing—even though I find it difficult—is tremendously therapeutic for me.
If you could go back and make the journey again, what would you do differently?
Hindsight is 20/20, but I’ll say I wish I’d been bolder, taken more risks, worried less and broken more bones.
As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” He’s right.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get from a low level of self-confidence to a high one?
Don’t be an island. A couple of wonderful things happen when you make an effort to connect with other people:
First, when you take an interest in other people, you stop thinking about yourself and worrying so much about your “lack of confidence.” As Dale Carnegie pointed out in How to Win Friends and Influence People, don’t worry if you aren’t interesting, because if you take a genuine interest in someone else—really listen to them—they will find you interesting too.
Secondly, when you start connecting with new and different people, you’ll start to find other individuals with similar interests and passions—and also similar struggles and concerns. Finding people who “get” you is a great reminder that you’re not alone, and you’re not the first person to feel this way.
It’s also amazing what you can learn about yourself by surrounding yourself with people who inspire you and give you energy.
Anything else related to self-confidence or self-improvement you’d like to share with our readers?
If you’re going through a rough patch, there are a few other things that might be helpful.
One of my favorite quotes, by David Schwarz, is “action cures fear.” If you are feeling stuck or scared or like you want to improve yourself but don’t know how, just take action.
It doesn’t have to be big. Just put yourself out there, take a small step—even if you’re not certain it’s the right direction. Sometimes all you need is a little momentum, even if it’s not the right direction.
One of my other favorite quotes, by Dale Carnegie, is “Every day is a new life to the wise man.” It reminds me that it is never too late to improve yourself.
It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf.
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