When we talk about self-esteem, we're referring to the value you see in yourself - having healthy self-esteem means you recognise your shortcomings but you're also able to appreciate your skills, talents and the good aspects of your personality. When things go wrong you're able to appreciate that it might not be all down to you and it doesn't put you off trying again in future. Low self-esteem, on the other hand, means you struggle to see the positives in yourself, with a tendency to focus on your weaknesses and things that have gone badly for you. You're likely to blame yourself for any failures (even things that are outside your control) and may avoid trying new things or taking on challenges. Low self-esteem can suck a lot of the fun out of life!
Improving Your Self-Esteem: Note Your Negative Self-Beliefs
It's pretty hard to change something without being aware of it! Often, our negative thoughts become so natural and automatic that we don't even notice when we're putting ourselves down and talking badly to ourselves - "I'm rubbish at this", "I'll never be able to do that", "They probably don't like me anyway" - the kinds of things we'd never dream of saying to people we love, but somehow think it's okay to say to ourselves. Take a day and properly pay attention to your negative thoughts - try to notice what you're doing when they pop up, and how they make you feel. You could write them down if you like, or simply noticing them might be enough.
Recognise Your Strengths
It seems to be kind of frowned on in our society to be aware of your strengths, but it's so important. Try to make a list of things about yourself that you like - these might be skills and abilities (Good at swimming? Show-stopping baker? Play guitar?), physical features (Nice long hair? Amazing thighs? Pretty eyes?), or personal qualities (Always say 'please' and 'thank-you'? Good listener when your friends have a problem? Organised?). If you really struggle, ask a close friend for a couple of suggestions to get you started - but the important thing here is that these should be things you like about yourself.
Think about the things you value in other people - friends, family, co-workers and so on. Why do you like these people? Is it their hard-working attitude? The fact they always have a terrible knock-knock joke to tell you? Their dedication to crocheting tiny animals? Once you've identified traits you value in other people, have a think about how you might already have these characteristics. When you think about it, you probably are also hard-working and humourous. Maybe crocheting tiny animals isn't your thing, but I'm sure you're creative in another way - and if not, maybe that's something you can work on!
This kind of relates to the last point; if you've identified some traits or skills you'd like to work on, then set yourself a little challenge to do so. The key here is to make the challenges achievable - start with something small and work up as you feel ready! Setting yourself up for a failure will do nothing for your self-esteem. Maybe you could challenge yourself to sketch something every day for a week, or put your change in a charity box, or let another driver out in front of you - little things like this, done with intention, can change the way you think about yourself.
Research has shown that people who exercise regularly are measurably happier with themselves - they like their appearance better, and are generally more at peace with themselves as people. Getting active has literally dozens of benefits but specifically here, it really does make you feel better about yourself. Recognising the importance of taking care of yourself and your health is key. Don't think exercise is your thing? Why not try something new? Sign up for a Pilates class with a friend, dig out your bike, try a Saturday morning swim... Anything that gets you moving is a great place to start!
Unfortunately, improving your self-esteem isn't as simple as simply deciding to believe the nice things people say about you, and stop thinking badly of yourself - a habit which has taken years to develop won't disappear just like that! Building your self-esteem will be a gradual process, taking place step by step, but you're sure to notice the benefits along the way.
Do you have any tips for keeping your self-esteem healthy? Have you ever felt held back by low self-esteem? I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories on this topic! I'm thinking about putting together a downloadable/printable worksheet to summarise this post, is that something you'd find useful?