How often do you feel like giving up on yourself? How many times have you thought, "I am not good enough." How many times have you compared yourself to others and think, "it must be me", "Why can't I have what they have?" Do you throw your hands up in despair and frustration? I can, for sure say that this has happened to me a few times in my life.
While doing some group work with a few young boys, I was amazed at how low self esteem, negative self talk and comparing yourself with others, can have such a detrimental impact on someone. What started out as a simple pottery making activity to explore their creativity, became a session on building self esteem and the importance of positive thinking and self talk; "I think I can".
One of my boys, had a complete melt down when he could not get his bowl just right and would say to himself and others that he couldn't do it, or that he is not good enough. He wanted what others had, even if his bowl was actually well done. It was his perception of what he deemed as good and it was definitely wasn't what he was able to do. It was also interesting, that although he received praise from the other boys, he was still engaging in that negative self talk and was unable to move forward. I was able to bring this to the boys' attention and have a really good session however, this group, was a good example of how we often treat ourselves, and talk to ourselves. We hardly wake up in the morning saying "yes I can", we often say "why do I even have to do this", or "I don't want to do this", not only for fear of failure, but also for fear that we might be criticized or ridiculed for what we attempt to do. We then avoid or procrastinate, all the while engaging in negative self talk, and comparisons with others which does not feed our minds or self esteem.
Nothing is more important than how you feel and think about yourself, so today, if you have answered YES to many of the questions raised in this post, take some time and look at the 12 steps for building self esteem. You deserve to know your worth and awesome power.
1. Say stop to your inner critic.
A good place to start with raising your self-esteem is by learning how to handle and to replace the voice of your own inner critic.
We all have an inner critic.
It can spur you on to get things done or to do things to gain acceptance from the people in your life. But at the same time it will drag your self-esteem down.
This inner voice whispers or shouts destructive thoughts in your mind. Thoughts like for example:
One way to do so is simply to say stop whenever the critic pipes up in your mind.
You can do this by creating a stop-word or stop-phrase.
As the critic says something – in your mind – shout: STOP!
Or use my favorite: No, no, no, we are not going there!
Or come up with a phrase or word that you like that stops the train of the thought driven by the inner critic.
Then refocus your thoughts to something more constructive. Like planning what you want to eat for dinner or your tactic for the next soccer game.
In the long run it also helps a lot to find better ways to motivate yourself than listening to your inner critic. So let’s move on to that…
2. Use healthier motivation habits.
To make the inner critic less useful for yourself and that voice weaker and at the same time motivate yourself to take action and raise your self-esteem it is certainly helps to have healthy motivation habits.
A few that I have used to replace and fill up much of the place that the inner critic once held in my mind are these:
3. Take a 2 minute self-appreciation break.
This is a very simple and fun habit. And if you spend just two minutes on it every day for a month then it can make huge difference.
Here’s what you do:
Take a deep breath, slow down and ask yourself this question: what are 3 things I can appreciate about myself?
A few examples that have come up when I have used to this exercise are that I:
Maybe just that you listened fully for a few minutes to someone who needed it today. That you took a healthy walk or bike ride after work. That you are a caring and kind person in many situations.
These short breaks do not only build self-esteem in the long run but can also turn a negative mood around and reload you with a lot of positive energy again.
4. Write down 3 things in the evening that you can appreciate about yourself.
This is a variation of the habit above and combining the two of them can be extra powerful for two boosts in self-esteem a day.
Or you may simply prefer to use this variation at the end of your day when you have some free time for yourself to spare.
What you do is to ask yourself the question from the last section:
What are 3 things I can appreciate about myself?
Write down your answers every evening in a journal made out of paper or on your computer/smart phone.
A nice extra benefit of writing it down is that after a few weeks you can read through all the answers to get a good self-esteem boost and change in perspective on days when you may need it the most.
5. Do the right thing.
When you do what you deep down think is the right thing to do then you raise and strengthen your self-esteem.
It might be a small thing like getting up from the couch and going to the gym. It could be to be understanding instead of judgmental in a situation. Or to stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus on the opportunities and gratitude for what you actually have.
It is not always easy to do. Or even to know what the right thing is. But keeping a focus on it and doing it as best you can makes big difference both in the results you get and for how you think about yourself.
One tip that makes it easier to stay consistent with doing the right thing is to try to take a few such actions early in the day. Like for example giving someone a compliment, eating a healthy breakfast and working out.
This sets the tone for the rest of your day.
6. Replace the perfectionism.
Few thought habits can be so destructive in daily life as perfectionism.
It can paralyze you from taking action because you become so afraid of not living up to some standard. And so you procrastinate and you do not get the results you want. This will make your self-esteem sink.
Or you take action but are never or very rarely satisfied with what you accomplished and your own performance. And so your opinion and feelings about yourself become more and more negative and your motivation to take action plummets.
How can you overcome perfectionism?
A few things that really helped me are:
If you go outside of your comfort zone, if you try to accomplish anything that is truly meaningful then you will stumble and fall along the way.
And that is OK. It is normal. It is what people that did something that truly mattered have done throughout all ages. Even if we don’t always hear about it as much as we hear about their successes.
So remember that. And when you stumble try this:
When you are kinder towards others you tend to treat and think of yourself in a kinder way too. And the way you treat other people is how they tend to treat you in the long run.
So focus on being kind in your daily life.
You can for example:
When you try something new, when you challenge yourself in a small or bigger way and go outside of your comfort zone then your opinion of yourself goes up.
You may not have done whatever you did in a spectacular or great way but you at least tried instead of sitting on your hands and doing nothing.
And that is something to appreciate about yourself and it can help you come alive as you get out of a rut.
So go outside of your comfort zone regularly. Don’t expect anything, just tell yourself that you will try something out.
And then later on you can do the same thing a few more times and improve your own performance.
And as always, if it feels too scary or uncomfortable then don’t beat yourself up. Take a smaller step forward instead by gently nudging yourself into motion.
10. Stop falling into the comparison trap.
When you compare your life, yourself and what you have to other people’s lives and what they have then you have destructive habit on your hands.
Because you can never win. There is always someone who has more or is better than you at something in the world. There are always people ahead of you.
So replace that habit with something better.
Look at how far you have come so far instead. Compare yourself to yourself. Focus on you. On your results. And on how you can and how you have improved your results. This will both motivate you and raise your self-esteem.
11. Spend more time with supportive people (and less time with destructive people).
Even if you focus on being kinder towards other people (and yourself) and on replacing a perfectionism habit it will be hard to keep your self-esteem up if the most important influences in your life drag it down on a daily or weekly basis.
So make changes in the input you get. Choose to spend less time with people who are nervous perfectionists, unkind or unsupportive of your dreams or goals. And spend more time with positive, uplifting people who have more human and kinder standards and ways of thinking about things.
And think about what you read, listen to and watch too. Spend less time on an internet forum, with reading a magazine or watching a TV-show if you feel it makes you unsure of yourself and if it makes you feel more negatively towards yourself.
Then spend the time you used to spend on this information source on for example reading books, blogs, websites and listening to podcasts that help you and that make you feel good about yourself.
12. Remember the whys of high self-esteem.
What is a simple way to stay consistent with doing something? As mentioned above: to remember the most important reasons why you are doing it.
So remind yourself of the whys at the start of this article to help yourself to stay motivated to work on your self-esteem and to make it an essential priority.