We all have times when we lack confidence and do not feel good about ourselves. But when low self-esteem becomes a long-term problem, it can have a harmful effect on our mental health and our day-to-day lives. This week, we are going to take a look at ways some simple but effective ways to improve our self-esteem.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel positive about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us better able to deal with life’s ups and downs.
When our self-esteem is low, we tend to see ourselves and our life in a more negative and critical light. We also feel less able to take on the challenges that life throws at us.
What causes low self-esteem?
Low self-esteem often begins in childhood. Our teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media send us positive and negative messages about ourselves. For some reason, the message that you are not good enough is the one that stays with you. Perhaps you found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of you, or to your own expectations.
Stress and difficult life events, such as serious illness or a bereavement, can have a negative effect on self-esteem. Personality can also play a part. Some people are just more prone to negative thinking, while others set impossibly high standards for themselves.
Building self-esteem is not going to happen overnight–it needs to be worked on, e.g.
1 Set aside time for yourself. One of the best ways to boost self-esteem is to set time aside for ourselves. This is not just a time for doing something different, it is also a time where we can enjoy some alone time. It can be a time when we get together with our friends or family, it can be even a time when we get a bit of alone time and just reflect.
2 Write down your goals. If you want to improve your self-esteem, you need to set goals for yourself. Whether you are aiming to lose weight, stop smoking, or be more successful in your workplace, you need to set short and achievable targets so that you are motivated to achieve them. Remember, this is your life, and you cannot do everything at once, it takes consistent effort and a long-term plan.
3 Watch your diet. Remember, eating the right food helps us feel good about ourselves, because it gives us energy and is a great way to ensure that we are ready for whatever comes our way. It is also important to remember that when we are feeling down, it is very easy to give up, but when we eat healthy food we make sure that we are full, this gives us more energy and will help to boost our self-esteem.
4 Be aware of thoughts and beliefs. Once you’ve identified troubling situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them. This includes what you tell yourself (self-talk) and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts, or irrational, based on false ideas. Ask yourself if what you tell yourself about your situation is true (i.e. examine your self-talk).
Also, sometimes thinking about the advice we would give to our best friend (if they were in our shoes) is very useful to consider. So often we give others the very advice we ourselves would do well to listen to. Maybe ask yourself, “What would I tell “X” if she was feeling like I do? How would I encourage her? Remember, if you wouldn’t say negative things to your best friend, please don’t say them to yourself.
5 Challenge your negative / or inaccurate thinking. Your initial thoughts might not be the only way to view a situation—so test the accuracy of your thoughts. Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether other explanations for the situation might be plausible.
Be aware that it can be hard to recognize inaccuracies in thinking. Long-held thoughts and beliefs can feel normal and factual, even though most are just opinions or perceptions.
Also pay attention to thought patterns that erode self-esteem:
- All-or-nothing thinking. You see things as either all good or all bad, e.g. “If I don’t succeed in this task, I’m a total failure.”
- Mental filtering. You see only negatives and dwell on them, distorting your view of a person or situation, e.g., “I made a mistake on that report and now everyone will realize I’m not up to this job.”
- Converting positives into negatives. You reject your achievements and other positive experiences by insisting that they don’t count, e.g., “I only did well on that test because it was so easy.”
- Jumping to negative conclusions. You reach a negative conclusion when little or no evidence supports it. e.g., “My friend hasn’t replied to my email, so I must have done something to make her angry.”
- Mistaking feelings for facts. You confuse feelings or beliefs with facts, e.g., “I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure.”
- Negative self-talk. You undervalue yourself, put yourself down or use self-deprecating humour, e.g., “I don’t deserve anything better.”
6 Adjust your thoughts and belief. Now replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with accurate, constructive thoughts. Try the following strategies:
- Use hopeful statements. Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement. Instead of thinking your presentation won’t go well, try telling yourself things such as, “Even though it’s tough, I can handle this situation.”
- Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes — and mistakes aren’t permanent reflections on you as a person. They’re isolated moments in time. Tell yourself, “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
- Avoid ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements. If you find that your thoughts are full of these words, you might be putting unreasonable demands on yourself—or on others. Removing these words from your thoughts can lead to more realistic expectations.
- Focus on the positive. Think about the parts of your life that work well. Consider the skills you’ve used to cope with challenging situations.
- Consider what you’ve learned. If it was a negative experience, what might you do differently the next time to create a more positive outcome?
- Relabel upsetting thoughts. You don’t need to react negatively to negative thoughts. Instead, think of negative thoughts as signals to try new, healthy patterns. Ask yourself, “What can I think and do to make this less stressful?”
- Encourage yourself. Give yourself credit for making positive changes. For example, “My presentation might not have been perfect, but my colleagues asked questions and remained engaged—which means that I accomplished my goal.”
7 Do things you enjoy. Start by making a list of things you like to do. Try to do something from that list every day.
8 Recognise what you’re good at. We’re all good at something, whether it’s cooking, singing, doing puzzles or being a friend. We also tend to enjoy doing the things we’re good at, which can help boost your mood.
9 Consider teaching someone a skill you have developed. This will make you feel good about yourself and it will help improve someone else’s life making it a double whammy. When we help others, we too are helped. See my other post Boost your confidence by learning something new.
10 Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Being grateful for the people and things you have in life can be a real mood lifter. Raising our mood, raises our self-esteem.
11 Sing. Singing helps to lift our mood and anything that lifts our mood also goes a long way to improving our self-esteem. Try it and see.
12 Try something completely new and fun. Sky diving, zip wiring, paint ball, painting, go-karting… the list is endless. Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone and watch your confidence soar.
13 Learn to be assertive. Being assertive is about respecting other people’s opinions and needs, and expecting the same from them. One trick is to look at other people who act assertively and copy what they do. It’s not about pretending you’re someone you’re not. It’s picking up hints and tips from people you admire and letting the real you come out.
14 Learn to say “no”. People with low self-esteem often feel they have to say yes to other people, even when they do not really want to. What happens next is that you become overburdened, resentful, angry and depressed. For the most part, saying “no” does not upset relationships. It can be helpful to keep saying no, but in different ways, until they get the message.
15 Build positive and healthy relationships. If you find certain people tend to bring you down, try to spend less time with them, or tell them how you feel about their words or actions. Try to build relationships with people who are positive and who appreciate you.
As aforementioned, building self-esteem is not going to happen overnight, so go easy on yourself. I’m sure it won’t be long until you notice your confidence building.
Next week: Turning a crisis into an opportunity
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