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Self-esteem is made up of the thoughts, feelings, and opinions we have about ourselves. That means self-esteem isn't fixed. It can change, depending on the way we think. Over time, habits of negative thinking about ourselves can lower self-esteem.

Sometimes, people don't even realize that they're thinking so negatively about themselves. But once you're aware of it, and know that the way you think is up to you, you can begin to change the way you think. And changing the way you think about yourself changes the way you feel about yourself.

So if you want to feel better about yourself, try some of these things:

Manage your inner critic. Notice the critical things you say to yourself. Would you talk to a best friend like that? A harsh inner voice just tears us down. If you're in the habit of thinking self-critically, re-train yourself by rewording these negative unkind thoughts into more helpful feedback.

Focus on what goes well for you. Are you so used to focusing on your problems that they're all you see? Next time you catch yourself dwelling on problems or complaints about yourself or your day, find something positive to counter it. Each day, write down three good things about yourself, and/or three things that went well that day because of your action or effort.

Aim for effort rather than perfection. Some people get held back by their own pressure to be perfect. They lose out because they don't try. If you think, "I won't audition for the play because I probably won't get the lead," it's guaranteed that role will go to someone else.

View mistakes as learning opportunities. Accept that you will make mistakes. Everyone does. They're part of learning. Instead of thinking, "I always mess up" remind yourself that it's not about always, just this specific situation. What can you do differently next time?

Edit thoughts that get you feeling inferior. Do you often compare yourself with others and come up feeling less accomplished or less talented? Notice what you're thinking. Something like: "She's so much better than I am. I'm no good at basketball. I should just stop playing" leads to feeling inferior, not to feeling good about yourself.

Remind yourself that everyone excels at different things. Focus on what you do well, and cheer on others for their success. Thinking more like this: "She's a great basketball player — but the truth is, I'm a better musician than athlete. Still, I'll keep playing because I enjoy it." helps you accept yourself and make the best of the situation.

Try new things, and give yourself credit. Experiment with different activities to help you get in touch with your talents. Then take pride in your new skills. Think about the good results. For example: I signed up for track and found out I'm pretty fast! These positive thoughts become good opinions of yourself, and add up to self-esteem.

Recognize what you can change and what you can't. If you realize that you're unhappy with something about yourself that you can change (like getting to a healthy weight), start today. If it's something you can't change (like your height), work on accepting it. Obsessing about our "flaws" can really skew your opinion of yourself and bring down your self-esteem. Most of the time, other people don't even notice these things!

Set goals. Think about what you'd like to accomplish. Then make a plan for how to do it. Stick with your plan, and keep track of your progress. Train your inner voice to remind you of what you are accomplishing. For example: "I've been following my plan to exercise every day for 45 minutes. I feel good that I've kept my promise to myself. I know I can keep it up."

Take pride in your opinions and ideas. Don't be afraid to voice them. If someone disagrees, it's not a reflection on your worth or your intelligence. That person just sees things differently from you.

Accept compliments. When self-esteem is low, it's easy to overlook the good things people say about us. We don't believe it when someone says a nice thing. Instead, we think, "...yeah, but I'm not all that great..." and we brush off the compliment. Instead, let yourself absorb a compliment, appreciate it, and take it seriously. Give sincere compliments, too.

Make a contribution. Tutor a classmate who's having trouble, help clean up your neighborhood, participate in a walkathon for a good cause, or volunteer your time in some other way. When you can see that what you do makes a difference, it builds your positive opinion of yourself, and makes you feel good. That's self-esteem.

Exercise! Being active and fit helps you feel good about yourself. You'll relieve stress, and be healthier, too!

Relax and have fun. Do you ever think stuff like "I'd have more friends if I were more attractive"? Thoughts like these can set you on a path to low self-esteem because they focus on what's not perfect instead of making the best of what is. Spend time with the people you care about, do the things you love, and focus on what's good. That helps you feel good about yourself, just as you are.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: April 2015

 
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