A sense of self-worth, self-respect and confidence that you can handle what life presents to you are all features of self-esteem. But appreciating and liking yourself is not always easy, especially if your sense of self was seriously undermined in your youth, toxic relationships, negative cultural influences or major life changes. Don’t let them determine your sense of value, instead resolve to get to the truth of who you are and form your own view of yourself.
1. Take charge of your progress.
Begin by assessing what might have damaged your self-esteem. Get a clear picture of the influences and events that have affected you. If this stirs up painful memories be strong, breathe and stay with the feelings until they become less intense. View the experiences from a position of acceptance: they happened and there is probably nothing you can do about it now.
Become very clear about what is within your control and what is not. You will be surprised how much – your thinking, feeling and actions — and how little — other people, external situations — you can affect and change. Work on how you are in life and how you respond to its challenges.
2. Define success.
Power, wealth and fame are generally accepted signs of success. On a practical level it is more useful to think in terms of what athletes call Personal Best (PB). As everybody is unique with their own conditions in life, there can be a great variety of PB’s: being the best grandmother you can be, being in the top 10 of something, creating music that lifts people up, climbing Everest, being alive after severe health challenges.
What is most important to you? What would make your life successful? How will you know when you have ‘succeeded’?
3. Tame your inner critic.
Beware of comparisons with others or towards an unrealistic ideal. The images in the media are all photoshopped and whole industries profit from making you feel inadequate and bad about yourself. Be discerning and recognize subtle manipulation.
Make a list of your positive qualities. Many people with damaged self-esteem find this very difficult. Consider attributes and behaviors like kindness, loyalty, love of learning, diligence, helping others and so on. If you get stuck, consult supportive friends but beware of people who put you down so they can appear superior.
Don’t believe your own negative self-talk no matter how convincing and true it seems. Ignore your thoughts and give your full attention to what you are doing at the time. Or reflect on whether your thoughts are true, realistic and appropriate to the occasion.
Update your attitude to failures; see them as learning experiences rather than disasters. Most failures are simply temporary setbacks or roadblocks requiring a detour. If you failed big time and it is hard to reverse the consequences, remind yourself that most likely you did the best you could with what you knew at the time and how you judged the circumstance.
Beware the temptation of self-recrimination and regret. Like everyone else you are not perfect; accept your shortcomings unless you decide to overcome them. Look at the bigger picture: no matter how good they are at hiding and pretending otherwise, nobody is without flaws and faults.
4. Acknowledge your achievements.
No false modesty here. You need to be realistic in order to boost your self-esteem. Look at the different areas of your life: family and home environment, friends and relationships, career, health, finances and personal growth. Each day ask yourself for three of these areas what you have achieved and write them down. Even the smallest steps count: not arguing with your mother, addressing a task you have long put off, setting up a savings account, doing your exercises. If you have a goal or vision for yourself and your life, register even minute steps in their direction.
5. Give your confidence a workout.
This absolutely requires you stepping out of your comfort zone. Each day do one thing differently to how or what you usually do. Take a different route home than normally, initiate a conversation with a stranger if that is something you customarily avoid, say no to a request if that is not in your best interest. All you have to do is commit to an action you are uncomfortable with, tend to avoid and fear. Begin with small changes gradually increasing the difficulties. Increasing your flexibility and practising new ways of being in the world helps you realise that you can adjust and hold your own in many different situations. Keep challenging yourself and write down your daily achievements.
Keep your inner critic in check, choose the kind of thoughts you dwell on. Ask yourself: is this way of thinking sabotaging or strengthening my self-esteem? And if you see your glass as half empty rather than half full, take steps to adopt a more optimistic mindset. Focusing on what is negative and lacking leads to stagnation, fear and helplessness. Giving attention to possibilities, options, new learning and discoveries and bravely going with the ups and downs of life will train you to back yourself and step out as the empowered person you deserve to be.
What can you do to boost your self-esteem? What have you found useful in the past?