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If you have low self-esteem, you aren’t alone. It’s a huge problem, not only in America but all over the world, and it appears to be growing with every year that passes. It starts at a young age, in grade school children, and ramps up to a peak in students who are in high school and college.
Sadly, most of us carry this baggage well into adulthood, and some of us never overcome it.
There are many factors involved — for example, various forms of modern tech addiction could be deeply connected with rising rates of depression and anxiety. If you feel so crippled by low self-esteem that your day-to-day life is hindered, you should seek professional guidance right away.
On the other hand, if your case of low self-esteem is mild, you may be able to manage it using a handful of quick tricks and tips. Here are some of the better ones I’ve picked up over the years. Consider mixing them with a few lifestyle changes as well, such as learning a creative hobby or two.
1. Create a Self-Esteem Inventory
Different experts have different ideas of what a “self-esteem inventory” should be. I’ve tried a number of them, but the one that was most effective for me was nothing more than a simple self-made list. All you need is a bit of honest self-reflection and the help of a good friend or two.
Here’s what you do: Grab a sheet of paper and divide it down the center. On the left side, list anywhere from 5–10 of your major weaknesses. On the right side, write down a list of all your major strengths. The goal is to find at least one authentic strength for every weakness.
The right side can be tough if you have low self-esteem, and that’s where your good friends come in. Often times we focus so much on what’s wrong with ourselves that we become blind to what’s right, and outsiders can spot strengths that we can’t see (or don’t consider to be strengths). Don’t brush off strengths that seem too small or insignificant — include everything!
When the list is done, pin it up where you can see it every day. It’s a great way to remind yourself of your real strengths, which can go a long way towards realizing maybe you aren’t so terrible after all.
2. Keep a Victory Journal
We’ve already written about keeping a gratitude journal and how it works to make you a happier person. The victory journal is a similar concept that can help rewire your brain and get you to start believing that you aren’t an incompetent mess.
Here’s what you do: Grab a physical notebook like a Moleskine or set up a digital note-taking app (I personally prefer to use OneNote) and designate a section of it for victories. Any time you accomplish something, jot it down on a new line. Any time someone gives you a compliment, write that too.
Each one of these things is a victory. It doesn’t matter how big or small the victories are — record all of them! It helps if you use a Moleskine or mobile notebook app because you can write down your victories as they happen. Whenever you’re feeling down or ineffective, just consult your past victories and remind yourself of what you can do.
3. Complete a One-Minute Task
Whether you have a victory journal or not, this tip is pretty much guaranteed to get your self-esteem juices flowing, and it’s built on the psychological power of small wins.
Here’s what you do: Think of the smallest possible task that you could do while still being productive. It could be as simple as taking out the trash, washing your face, changing your clothes, cleaning your coffee table, or emptying your inbox. Now go and do it.
The very act of completing a task gives your brain a “small win” to enjoy, and this victory is an instant confidence booster. It may not be a huge boost, but it’s enough to get the ball rolling — and if you chain multiple small wins together, the boost gets progressively bigger.
4. Do a One-Minute Exercise
Physical exercise is important for so many reasons. Not only does a lack of it impact mental health and physical wellness, but the very act of exercising can have psychological benefits. Think of each exercise as a “task” to be completed, and each routine as a series of victories.
Here’s what you do: You don’t need to go out and run a mile or head to the gym for an hour. If it’s been a while since you exercised, start small with a thirty-second plank or a minute of jumping jacks. No equipment needed, so you can do these anywhere and everywhere.
Need more ideas? Check out our compilation of exercises you can do right here and right now. Or if you want to start with something simpler and less intense, try these stretches that can help improve your posture.
5. Strike a Power Pose
Body language plays a huge role in self-esteem. A lot of people think that low self-esteem leads to weak and defensive postures, and that’s absolutely true, but the opposite is true as well: weak and defensive postures can erode your confidence and weaken your mindset.
Here’s what you do: Whenever you need a pick-me-up, take a moment to strike a power pose and hold it for a few minutes. There are all kinds of power poses out there, including the iconic stance with arms akimbo, so find one that works for you and strike it.
There’s a brilliant TED Talk that delves into this idea if you want to look more into it. And don’t forget to smile! Not only does smiling make others more likely to treat you positively, but it has also been proven to have therapeutic effects like reducing stress levels and increasing confidence.
6. Say “Thank You” Instead of “I’m Sorry”
This tip might sound funny and may even cause you to roll your eyes — that’s how I reacted when I first learned of it — but I swear it works. The goal is to change how you perceive your own mistakes.
Here’s what you do: Instead of “I’m sorry for being late,” say “Thank you for your patience.” Instead of “I’m sorry for being so uninteresting,” say “Thank you for hanging out with me.” Instead of “I’m sorry for rambling,” say “Thank you for listening.” Just flip it around.
Obviously it doesn’t work in all situations, and obviously you shouldn’t eliminate “I’m sorry” from your vocabulary. It’s important to take responsibility and apologize when the situation calls for it. But as an exercise, this is helpful because it shifts self-pity into gratitude and it causes you to focus more on others than on yourself.
7. Seek Out Low-Risk Failures
Fear is one of the chief causes of low self-esteem. You’re afraid that you aren’t good enough, that others are looking down on you, that nobody wants to be around you, that everything you do will blow up in your face. The fears are endless, and each one drags down your confidence.
Here’s what you do: Think of a low-risk activity that causes you discomfort and pursue it with the assumption that the worst will happen. For example, if you’re afraid to meet strangers, initiate a conversation with someone and expect it to be awkward. It’s okay if it is! Afraid that your writing sucks? Write an intentionally-crappy chapter. Afraid of rejection? Ask your friends for minor favors.
You’ll likely find two results. First, worst case scenarios usually aren’t as bad as you think they’ll be. Second, you’ll succeed far more often than you think you will. This is how you turn fear into success, and this is what defines most successful entrepreneurs: “Fail fast and fail often.”
You Can’t Cure Self-Esteem Overnight
For most of us, myself included, self-esteem issues have roots that reach deep into the very essence of who we are. Hacks like these may provide temporary boosts, and they may even help you to cultivate genuine confidence, but you have to have realistic expectations.
These aren’t meant to be shortcuts. You have to stick with them for weeks, months, or even years in order to reap the truest benefits. Fortunately, if you do stick with them, it will all be worth the effort.
If none of these are helpful, or if you feel that your self-esteem is so low as to be irreparably damaged, you should absolutely consult a professional right away. If you’re entertaining dark and/or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to these helpful online resources.