Ever held yourself back from doing something that you’d like to do because you’re afraid of what others would think? Be honest with yourself, how often have you done this, and how much have you missed out on because of this? A lot of the time, it’s just you doubting yourself. You don’t need to worry about and try to change what others think about you. You just need to change what you think of yourself. People often think that in order to have self-esteem they need to be popular, have a great body, or accomplish something great. Self-esteem does not come from having fantastic abilities, it comes from accepting your strengths and weaknesses, and living secure in that knowledge. Once you accept and appreciate yourself – flaws and all, it’ll open you to so much of new experience.
You find yourself relishing new challenges when you have high self-esteem. You may not necessarily perform exceedingly well, but you are all out to give it a go. Stepping out of your comfort zone is healthy because you discover new capabilities and build on hidden skills. If you discover that something is not really your strong suit, that’s perfectly aright because no one is good at everything. When you have better self-esteem, you can be yourself instead of struggling to change yourself to meet the expectations of others. It just makes your life easier when you feel no shame in being you. You know that others will not always agree with you and that it’s fine. You are fine with others disagreeing with you because you know that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. You are able to confidently articulate your views without feeling the need to concede out of fear of being rejected. Furthermore, when you have high self-esteem you are more forgiving of yourself and others around you because you realise that everyone is fallible. Anger is not held onto and you deal with conflicts in a dignified manner.
Increasing self-esteem may be easier said than done. “I don’t get good grades”, “I haven’t got a molecule of athleticism in me”, “I’m not a pleasing sight”, “I’m the most boring person ever”, “I’m awkward” you might say. How would you feel if I reminded you that almost everyone you meet has their own insecurities and flaws? You are not alone. Yet you worry that your tiny flaw is massive and on display for everyone to analyse and criticise. In social psychology this is a phenomenon called the “spotlight effect”. You get a blemish on your chin and you immediately worry that people talking to you will just stare at it and fixate on how disgusting it is. Chances are that they haven’t even noticed it, that is of course, until you feel the need to point it out to this person and fuss about how embarrassing and disgusting it must look. Everyone tends to overestimate the extent to which others notice their flaws.
So how exactly do you improve your self-esteem and change to a positive perception of yourself?
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses
The first step to improve your self-esteem is to figure out what you think of yourself at the moment. Be completely honest with yourself instead of making general statements like “I suck” or “I can’t do anything”, because those are convincing lies. Keep in mind that your flaws do not amount to the core of your identity. Write down a list of 10 strengths and 10 weaknesses you have. If you have poor self-esteem, filling up the list of strengths might be very difficult. Nothing is too small or stupid to write down in your list of strengths. Are you a good cook? Do you love being neat? Are you a good listener? What have others said about you? Once you write them all down, you’ll have a list of what you think you suck at and a list of what you don’t suck at.
- Work on your weaknesses
From your list of weaknesses, identify which ones you might be able to change. Set realistic goals, work on the weaknesses one by one. Make sure you give yourself enough time to change, don’t expect to change overnight. It is important that you have realistic expectations or you’ll end up berating yourself for having not met them. Through trying to improve your self-esteem, you are not striving for perfection, so do not be disappointed if there are weaknesses you cannot change. And don’t be disheartened when others criticize your weaknesses, their criticisms should not affect how you view yourself.
- Reduce negative thoughts about yourself
Stop criticizing yourself. You probably criticize yourself more than others criticize you. This needs to stop. Once you set ridiculous standards for yourself you end up in a vicious cycle of negative thinking. I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim far, I’m saying if your expectations keep disappointing you, maybe you should review them. Accept that perfection is unreachable for anybody on the face of the earth. You’ll never have the perfect body or the perfect life. Don’t be deceived by the idea of perfection that media and society feeds you with, it’s an illusion. So reduce the negative criticism and praise yourself more often. Feel proud of even the littlest accomplishment instead of devaluing them by saying “anyone could do it, it’s no big deal”. Even when you make mistakes (like everyone else does), use them as an opportunity for growth instead of belittling yourself.
- Try new things
Open yourself to completely new experiences. Look for new opportunities, new friendships, challenges, viewpoints and thoughts. Be comfortable with exploring yourself. When you feel down you may feel that you have nothing to offer to others or the world. This may simply be because you don’t know what you’re capable of yet. So go ahead and consider things you haven’t yet thought of. Take risks and get to know yourself better.
- Compete against yourself, not others
Stop comparing yourself to that guy who has thousands of facebook friends, or that girl with the hourglass figure, that genius who wins everything, or that rich person who has everything. The reason you should stop comparing yourself to others is that you don’t know everything about their lives. Maybe that guy who has thousands of friends on facebook has poor relationships in real life, or the girl with the hour glass figure has to survive on salad to maintain it, or the genius does nothing but study all day, or the rich person was born with a silver spoon in their mouth and doesn’t know how to make it big on their own. So don’t compete with others who may be worse off than you, compete with yourself and each day try to produce a better version of YOU.
Improving your self-esteem is no easy task, it takes time, patience and effort. However it’s worth the effort when the end result is self-acceptance and happiness.
-Jessica De Silva