Identify your negative beliefs
If you are going to improve your self-esteem, it is important to understand a little bit about what your core negative beliefs are and where they came from. This could be a painful process, so it is important to take your time, and perhaps ask a friend or partner to support you. If you are feeling very distressed, then it might be better to seek professional help – see Treatment and support for more information about this.
It might be helpful to write down notes, and questions such as these could help to structure your thoughts:
- What do you feel are your weaknesses or failings?
- What negative things do you think other people think about you?
- If you could sum yourself up, what word would you use – ‘I am…’?
- When did you start feeling like this?
- Can you identify an experience or event that might have caused this feeling?
- Do certain negative thoughts recur on a regular basis?
It might be also helpful to keep a thought diary or record over a period of several weeks. Write down details of situations, how you felt and what you think the underlying belief was. For example:
As you identify what your core beliefs about yourself are, and where they come from, you can begin to challenge and change them. One way you can do this is to write down evidence to challenge each belief and begin to explore other explanations of a situation. For example, if you think that no-one likes you, you can start to record situations that show a different pattern:
- My mum called me on my birthday.
- My brother didn’t answer my call, but then later told me he had been really busy at work – it wasn’t personal.
- I have been asked to go to a friend’s wedding next summer.
- I had a really nice conversation with my colleague over our coffee-break.
These might feel like small examples, but as your list gets longer over time you can look back at it and challenge the negative opinions that you have been holding on to.
This is one technique to help you begin to see yourself through new eyes. There are many other practical activities that can help you feel good about yourself.
You will probably find that some of the suggestions listed next appeal to you more than others, perhaps because some of them are things you are already doing. That is completely natural, but by trying something new or changing your routine, your view of yourself will begin to shift. This will boost your confidence and your self-esteem and help you to break your cycle of negative beliefs.
Positive thinking exercises
Make a list of several things that you like about yourself, you might include:
- things about the way that you look e.g. I have a nice smile
- your characteristics e.g. I am patient
- things that you do e.g. I give money to charity
- skills you have e.g. I’m a great organiser.
Take your time and aim for 50 different things, even if this takes you several weeks. Keep this list and look at a different part of it each day. If you are worried about an event that is coming up, such as a job interview, take the time to read the whole list and show yourself that you have a lot to offer.
Set yourself a challenge
Set yourself a challenge that you can realistically achieve. Start with something relatively small, but which still has meaning for you. For example, you might decide you are going to write a letter to your local paper, or post a comment on a blog that interests you. Tell someone about the challenge and, when you have achieved it, accept their praise. Then set yourself another slightly harder challenge, e.g. join a night-class you’ve been interested in.
Being assertive does not mean you need to be aggressive or difficult, but it will help you to set clear boundaries. It means you value yourself and others, and can communicate with mutual respect.
To behave in an assertive way you should try to keep your body language open and confident, and try to express your feelings if you have been upset. You need to learn to begin to say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests, or tell people that you need more time or support with tasks that you find challenging.
Most adult education institutions offer assertiveness classes, as do some universities and colleges of further education, and many private firms offer advice. There are also several self-help books with practical exercises and tips available.
Friends and family
If you have low self-esteem there might be people close to you who encourage the negative beliefs and opinions that you hold. It is important to identify these people and take action to stop them from doing this, perhaps by becoming more assertive (see above) or by limiting the amount you see them. Try to associate with people who will not criticise you, and who you feel able to talk to about your feelings. Having someone listen to you can make your experience seem more real, and can help you to take action.
Work can provide identity, friendship, a steady routine and a salary. Some people thrive in a busy environment and enjoy working to ambitious targets; other people see their job as a means to an end. Wherever you sit on this spectrum, it is important that the balance between your work and your home-life feels right for you. If you have been out of work for some time, then you might find a short-term position or volunteering can help you build your confidence back up. See Mind’s employment campaign Taking Care of Business for more information about work and mental health.
This could cover anything from learning a language, to singing, to a painting class. Think about where you feel you have some natural ability, or things which you have always wanted to try. The internet, your library and adult education colleges should have details of local clubs and classes that you might want to go along to. Try to find activities that will not challenge you too much to begin with so that you can feel you have achieved something and have a chance to build your confidence.
Take regular exercise
Physical activity is good for mental health, it has been shown to improve people’s image of themselves and sense of wellbeing. Whether you prefer gentle walking or something more active, you will almost always feel better for having done some exercise.
Try to get enough sleep
If you have trouble sleeping this can have a serious impact on how you feel about everything. Negative feelings are likely to be exaggerated and you might find you are more irritable and less confident. See How to cope with sleep problemsfor help with establishing a good sleep routine.
Eating healthily has a positive impact on your physical and mental health. Eating a well-balanced diet at regular meal-times with plenty of water and vegetables, and only occasional treats, will help you to feel more healthy and happy. See the Mind Guide to Food and Mood for more information.
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga. It has been shown to help people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, it is easier to manage them. The be mindful website has more information and details of local classes around the UK.
10 tips to keep you going
These 10 ideas summarise some of the techniques we’ve just discussed, and can be really helpful to refer to throughout the day to keep you positive and engaged in boosting your self-esteem:
- Stop comparing yourself to other people.
- Don’t put yourself down.
- Get into the habit of thinking and saying positive things about yourself to yourself.
- Accept compliments.
- Use self-help books and websites to help you change your beliefs.
- Spend time with positive supportive people.
- Acknowledge your positive qualities and things you are good at.
- Be assertive, don’t allow people to treat you with a lack of respect.
- Be helpful and considerate to others.
- Engage in work and hobbies that you enjoy.
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