A healthy self-esteem is an invaluable asset in life. Likewise low self-esteem can be seen as a significant factor at the root of many of our problems. Knowing that low self-esteem is a problem is one thing, but how do you go about improving it – how do you boost your self-esteem?
We spend a lot of time in our own heads talking to ourselves. Ensuring that this self-talk is positive – “You are doing a great job” “Keep on going, you are nearly there” “You are worth it” – can be a first step towards improving your self-esteem. The more we hear these messages the more we can believe and live towards them.
Be around people who value you and support you. We all have people around us who have a tendency to leave us feeling inadequate. This can either be because they are putting us down often, or because we make negative comparisons between ourselves and them. Negative comparisons are not helpful. Having aspirations and making changes in your life to achieve them is good for your self-esteem but spending time telling yourself that you are failing will not improve your self-esteem. People who care about you and value you will give you the messages that will improve your self-esteem, in fact this can be a good place to find the ideas for your positive self-talk.
Be assertive, ask for what you want or need. We often spend time not paying attention to our own needs or desires and this can leave us feeling ignored, uncared for and possibly of less value than those who are able to make their needs known. By asking for what you want or making your opinion known you can begin to receive positive feedback about yourselff both from yourself and from others. You may need to notice that you have an urge not to say what you want because you feel you don’t deserve to: this is where your positive self-talk can help you further, you can tell yourself that your opinion, your feelings, your needs do matter and you have a right to be heard. Being assertive may not come naturally to you, however, practicing asking for things on a lower level can make it easier to ask for things that are more important to you. Slowly build up to asking for things that are more important to you – it is a muscle to build and this takes practice, the more you practice the easier it will be to ask.
Set yourself achievable challenges. Experiences of mastery improve our self-esteem. Feeling that you have achieved something – almost anything – can improve the way that you feel about yourself. These do not have to be the type of challenge that falls into the “I’m going to climb Mount Kilamanjaro” variety but can be more of the “I am going to exercise regularly” kind. The more your self-esteem improves the greater the challenge you can set yourself.
So often our negative self-talk results in us paying too much attention to the aspects of ourselves we don’t like. We are all human, we are not perfect, but focusing on these does not improve our self-esteem, it decreases it. Instead, to improve your self-esteem more focus needs to be placed on your positive traits and the skills that you have. You do have positive traits and it is very important to remember them. If you are not sure what they are, ask people who are supportive and close to you to help you identify them. It is very important not to minimise the positive aspects of yourself, becoming aware of them and acknowledging that they are a part of you is fundamental to a positive self-esteem.
Take care of yourself. As well as noticing the positive aspects of yourself and talking to yourself positively, you also need to take care of yourself to improve your self-esteem. Taking the time to engage in activities that are self-soothing, that provide enjoyment and pleasure, will increase your self-esteem. This can be as simple as using your favourite shower gel everyday – not just saving it for some occasion that never comes up – you deserve it. Feeling that it is okay to take the time to read your favourite magazine in peace and quiet, that treating yourself to a small bit of your favourite after-dinner sweet is important. All these little pleasures and soothings add together to improve the way you feel about yourself.
Perfection is not our aim. We, as mentioned above, are not perfect, and very rarely achieve perfection. This is okay. Accepting ourselves and that the aim is not to be perfect all the time can help reduce the negative self-talk that will bring your self-esteem down. Being kind and compassionate to yourself when things don’t turn out quite the way you wanted is going to help your self-esteem more than beating yourself up for not achieving perfection.
Exercise. Yes, yet again we say exercise. Being physically active increases the endorphins in our nervous system. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones: having more of those moving around your system will increase your self-esteem. Further, being physically active will improve your sleep and this in turn will reduce your vulnerability to being emotionally overwhelmed and switching to negative thinking.
Celebrate your achievements no matter how small. Acknowledging your achievements and recognising them is important, as it provides evidence to support your increasing self-esteem. The more that you can do to provide evidence to yourself that you are worthwhile and of value, the more your self-esteem will increase.
In isolation these ideas are small, but taking them together, the sum of small changes that you can make every day will increase your self-esteem over time. It won’t be an overnight change, but building the evidence, increasing your positive self-talk, and noticing when you compare yourself negatively to others will slowly and surely increase your self-esteem.