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10 strategies to improve self-esteem, part 1

It’s probably no secret around here that I have fairly low self-esteem. Self-confidence, feeling good about myself, believing in my talents and abilities are all rare forms of currency in these parts.

But I’m working on it.

When I was in therapy, my counselor and I talked about ways to undo the “maps” in my brain that automatically took me to the places where I feel worthless. We went over the whole “would you say that stuff to a friend or family member so why do you say it to yourself?” business. We discussed methods for acknowledging achievements, accepting praise and compliments, and all the other things that people with healthy doses of self-confidence do regularly and without having to think to hard about it.

She didn’t do a very good job of helping me because our sessions usually made me feel worse. It’s only now, about a year after I fired her and stopped attending therapy completely, that I’m able to truly work on building myself up after tearing myself down for so many years. I don’t know if it’s because now I’m actually at a point where I can fully commit to working on it or if the changes I’ve put in place since I’ve let her go are finally bearing fruit or something else that I can’t explain or maybe some combination of all of the above.

I do know that I took the first step to changing a few months ago when I decided I would just stop hating myself. It’s hard–and maybe too painful–to discuss why exactly I have such hard feelings towards myself but it might have something to do with impossible standards that I expect myself to achieve. In fact, I typically set standards too high, knowing that I’ll never achieve them in the limited and ridiculously short time frame I give myself so that when I inevitably fail because I’ve created a situation where it’s almost impossible to succeed, I can admonish myself failing.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t recommend doing that. It doesn’t work. Actually, it makes things worse.

Because I recognize that what I’d been doing wasn’t working, I realized a few months ago that I really need to change my strategy and my thinking, if for no other reason than I needed to think about the example I was setting for my daughter. How could I encourage her to have high self-esteem and think she can conquer anything when I couldn’t do that for myself? I need to live the example I was setting as words are meaningless without action.

So I started implementing 10 strategies. I’m still working on them, and I encourage you, if you’re in a similar situation, to start doing the same. We can be a team, even.

  1. Forgiveness. Forgive the people who’ve hurt you, forgive yourself for making mistakes, forgive yourself for not living up to the standards you or someone else has set for you, forgive past behaviors and mistakes. Something I’ve had to learn is that forgiving does not equal forgetting but when you forgive, it makes it so those behaviors and choices aren’t eating away at your heart and soul, and it makes it easier to move on. forgiveness quote
  2. Eliminate negative influences. We all have people in our lives who drag us down. They constantly make mean spirited comments, put us and our choices down, and go out of their way to make us feel worthless and unimportant. They’re unsupportive, condescending, and rude. And they need to go. Admittedly, this is harder to do with family than with friends but if you have friends like this in your life, they’re not really friends. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk but friends also don’t make friends feel like shit. It’s hard to feel better about yourself when someone else is making you feel bad.
  3. Have a mantra. Remember the old Stuart Smalley skit on SNL? The one where he would look into a mirror and say “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me”? It’s that concept. While it’s funny to think about, having a mantra is essential. Having those inspirational words to repeat to yourself in moments of self-doubt does wonders to combat the creeping negative feelings. A mantra doesn’t have to be a self-affirming statement, either. It can be a quote, a movie line, a song (these work best for me). Anything that you can say to yourself that makes you feel better. (If you’re stuck, you can follow my quotes and sayings board on Pinterest as a starting point)
  4. Accept flaws, quirks, and imperfections. It’s okay to be weird and have quirks. I have plenty of them. Instead of feeling bad or embarrassed by them, embrace them. Instead of apologizing for them, wear them proudly like a badge or medal. The flaws, quirks, and imperfections are what make you uniquely you. They help give you perspective and also maybe make you fun at parties. Trying to be whatever “normal” is doesn’t work for everyone and feeling bad about the fact that you’re different is pointless. Don’t be like everyone else. You are great the way you are. Even Billy Joel thinks so.

5. Do something every day that makes you happy. I had to work on this–and still have to work on this–every day to help combat my depression. Taking a few minutes out of every single day, even if it’s only 5 minutes, to do something that’s just for me, that put the emphasis on me, reminds me that I, too, am important. We live in a culture that praises selfless acts and condemns perceived selfishness, and thinking about others is really important. It’s crucial, in fact. But taking a few minutes every day to do something just for you makes it so that you are more able to care for others. When you’re happy, it’s easier for you to project that onto the world. And using 5 or 10 minutes a day to do that is okay.

That’s the beginning of my 10 point strategy to feel better about myself. It’s working so far and while I’m far from the most confident person in the world, I’m no longer the LEAST confident person in the world.

Which is a huge, monumental step.



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  2. Kerith Stull

    Wow. Big ditto here. I have exactly this same issue. It’s a constant struggle each day to get beyond this. Good suggestions for getting past it. Love #5. I recently added a daily alarm to my phone. It rings every day at 4:30 to tell me to “Do something fun for 30 minutes!” Simple, but it works because it forces me to pay attention to me…something I don’t naturally do. Looking forward to Part 2!
    Kerith Stull recently posted…Remembering 9/11…My Profile

    1. Andrea Anderson

      I love the idea of setting an alarm to remind yourself to have fun! I think I might have to set a few different alarms: breath, go for a walk, have some fun, are you smiling?, call a friend, etc.
      Andrea Anderson recently posted…National Emergency Preparedness Month SPECIALS!My Profile

  3. Laura

    Great advice! I think I struggle with 1 and 4.
    Laura recently posted…Mother of the YearMy Profile

  4. Andrea Anderson

    Ohhh! You are a tricky fish! I’m eager to know what the other five points are 🙂

    I continually work on all of the points you’ve mentioned, but for me the biggest thing is actually setting my bar too high. I am working on ALLOWING and ACCEPTING the occasional failure as a learning experience rather than letting those moments eat at me in a unhealthy manner.

    I’m pretty good about setting personal goals and usually they push me to reach new heights that I didn’t know were personally possible. Those goals are rewarding. One of those goals just earned me a trip to Mexico!
    BUT sometimes a goal is just too big and I end up stressing myself out to the point of insomnia and tearful break downs. I’ve been working on saying (and believing myself when I say) that whenever these “too big” goals come around, whatever reward I’m currently reaching for is not worth the negative effects I’m feeling. It takes a few tries, but once I allow myself to fail at whatever goal is causing me distress, I feel better. A short while after, I allow myself to re-evaluate where I went wrong (not enough time to complete goal, missing substeps, etc) and then reset and try again.

    I wrote a post a while back that details my method for setting goals. The example I used is for storing water, but I’ve adapted it for a many situations including being more positive. I hope it helps you a little bit:

    The good news is that my goal-setting experiences tend to be more positive than negative. It took some time, and lots of trial and error, but I’m a much happier and productive person now. I hope you see that same success in your goals 🙂
    Andrea Anderson recently posted…National Emergency Preparedness Month SPECIALS!My Profile

  5. Kimberly Ann Hawes

    Wonderful Wonderful post. I’m with you on this. I’ve had low self-esteem and my confidence level was on 0. But exactly how you listed those 10 strategies and with Feng Shui got me back on track.

    The most important one in getting rid of the negative influences; horrible friends, hanging out all the time and drinking excessively.

    And even now I still do all the above those feelings really never go away, they get out shined by all the positives things you bring into your life. Good luck to you!

    Kimberly Ann Hawes

  6. Lisa

    Thank you for this post. I truly believe most people struggle with this at some point if not always. I know I do. I work very hard on staying positive and finding the good in the world and it helps me feel better about myself too. I think that is one reason I blog too. It helps me figure myself out and find who I am.

  7. Kristen @ It Comes Full Circle

    Hi Jana – I love the Ghandi quote and image you shared here. Following your Pinterest board! 🙂 I most agree with #5 – we know ourselves the best so we are the only ones who know what we truly need. And we certainly can’t care for others if we’re not caring for ourselves, can we?
    Kristen @ It Comes Full Circle recently posted…It’s Kind Of A Big DealMy Profile

  8. Bobbi Parish-Logie

    This is a fantastic post, Jana! I’ve struggled with self-esteem issues myself and as a therapist work with people who also struggle with it. These are all great tips. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to keep this in my toolbox to share with clients. ~ Bobbi
    Bobbi Parish-Logie recently posted…Suicide Prevention: Acceptance, Compassion and CareMy Profile

  9. Jennifer S.

    It looks like you’ve put some good strategies in place to help yourself. Keep up the good work.

  10. danielle

    I have low self esteem and little confidence as well. I have really been working at improving this because I don’t want to pass it on to my kids. I notice as my daughter begins to get older, she has a lot of the same tendencies as me and is rather shy too.
    danielle recently posted…Diamond Candle Review + GiveawayMy Profile

  11. P.J.

    You have some good pointers here. I have a problem with the forgiveness one, sometimes. There’s a few people I just can’t bring myself to forgive, though I know one day I need to do it to help myself.
    P.J. recently posted…Age is but a numberMy Profile

  12. Lisa @ Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy

    #5 is my fave. I am often surprised how often fellow moms tell me they don’t have time for friends etc. If we don’t take time for ourselves what type of example are we setting for our kids
    Lisa @ Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy recently posted…Kindergarten ArtMy Profile

  13. Janmary, N Ireland

    Great points, and I especially love that quote on forgiveness
    Janmary, N Ireland recently posted…5 Best iPhone Photography Apps I use every dayMy Profile

  14. Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice

    These are excellent stratagies we all should embrace, no matter how high (or low) or self esteem. I work on your #2, 4, & 5 each day. Great post!
    Kerry Ann @Vinobaby’s Voice recently posted…Top 10 Tips from a Thrift Store FashionistaMy Profile

  15. Amanda Smith

    Good for you!! I think forgiveness has been the biggest key for me. Learning to forgive myself and others had been life changing. Your points are wonderful. This post will help many others, of that I am sure.

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  17. Angela Thiede

    Awesome post! I’ve had low self-confidence since…well, ever. Removing negative influences helped me so much. If there isn’t anyone telling you that you’re terrible at something…you might just believe you’re not.
    Angela Thiede recently posted…Morning Television for Toddlers: Sprout ChannelMy Profile

  18. Kerry

    I think more people deal with low self-esteem and self-confidence than they’d like to admit. I especially agree with getting rid of the negative influences in your life. I call this weeding your garden. Sometimes we just have to let go of those toxic relationships.
    Kerry recently posted…Open Letter to Trace Adkins: No, I’m Not Gonna Miss ThisMy Profile

  19. SheilaG @ Plum Doodles

    Great strategies- thank you so much for sharing. I call myself a frustrated perfectionist because I set the standards too high for myself and then get frustrated when I can’t meet those standards. Which I can never meet, so I’m constantly frustrated. Ack!
    SheilaG @ Plum Doodles recently posted…How to Cover Flower Pots with FabricMy Profile

  20. Narelle @ Cook Clean Craft

    I think more people struggle with self-esteem than you could possibly realise. I try to focus on what I’ve achieved and what I am grateful for. It’s a continual struggle.
    Narelle @ Cook Clean Craft recently posted…Sew Ready to Play – 2013 editionMy Profile

  21. Wren

    Great ideas that are simple to remember and relatively easy to implement. Thank you for sharing them!
    Wren recently posted…Things We Love: Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes….RebornMy Profile

  22. Linda

    Your first 5 strategies are excellent! The big one for me is forgiving myself. That ones really tough. Thank you for listing these out and sharing with us. I’m sure the next 5 will be just as insightful!
    Linda recently posted…The Great Semi-Annual Seasonal Clothing Switch-OverMy Profile

  23. Dawn

    This is great advice, thank you so much for sharing…I believe the majority of people struggle with this to some degree…I particularly like the advise to eliminate negative influences, not easy but so worthwhile 🙂

    Dawn from http://www.ithinkwecouldbefriends.com

  24. Carol Z

    Great points. I think what’s been most helpful for me is seeking out people who are positive and not critical. It’s easy to feel sad when someone is often disparaging and critical, especially when it’s in the guise of advice. It’s not advice, it’s nasty and negative. Positive people make positive feelings.

  25. Cecilia

    This is an absolutely wonderful post and I am looking forward to the next five strategies. I’ve employed nearly every one of these methods into my life daily since I was a teenager.

    At that time, all I knew is that it was self-preservation. When you mentioned firing your therapist, I thought of it as the epiphany to your self-preservation. So, stay positive. You will make it.
    Cecilia recently posted…Wheat Pasta with Meat SauceMy Profile

  26. Monica

    I was just trying to explain the Stuart Smalley skit to my daughter the other day. =) I think comparisons are my downfall…I just need to figure out how to not compare myself to other moms, other bloggers and be happy where I’m at.
    I like the points that you made. I think it’s important to surround yourself with good influences, good friends…and be a good friend and source of encouragement for others.
    Monica recently posted…Triumph of the Cross: September 14My Profile

  27. NAncy W

    Great post, I look forward to reading more. I think there are many of us that face these same struggles!
    NAncy W recently posted…Recipe Box: Peach Blueberry CobblerMy Profile

  28. Sandra

    Forgiveness is so much easier said than done but it’s the one thing I intend to conquer. Most often I find that I’m the only person in my way. So happy to know that I’m not alone.

  29. bolton carley

    Great list. Love the Billy Joel reference. I have struggled with self esteem issues, too, mostly due to negative influences. I am now blessed to have the best influence I could hope for. My husband builds me up when I need that reminder that I’m more than just a good laugh and a paycheck.
    bolton carley recently posted…Bolton’s Brief Rule #131: i’m sure you said “love ‘em” not “stuck with ‘em”My Profile

  30. Rachel

    Great post! I especially like #2 and #5. I completely agree that today’s society praises selflessness, but I honestly believe that we are able to help others more when we are nice to ourselves first.
    Rachel recently posted…10 (More) Things That Make Me Happy – Part ThreeMy Profile

  31. Heather

    Thanks for sharing these very practical tips.
    Heather recently posted…Discipline without DistressMy Profile

  32. Sarah @ Play 2 Learn with Sarah

    Great advice…thank you for sharing your story, struggles and successes! Keep it up!
    Sarah @ Play 2 Learn with Sarah recently posted…Two Years Ago Today…My Profile

  33. Tammy Doiel

    I love the first 5 of your strategies–and if we could all get #1, that might be enough! When we don’t forgive others or ourselves, we feel guilty, bitterness grows up inside of us stopping us from achieving our goals. I’m so thankful that Christ forgave me, and that because of that, He gives me the strength to forgive myself and others.
    Tammy Doiel recently posted…Scattered Saturdays: Back in the GrooveMy Profile

  34. Michelle Jones

    I can relate to a lot of this through parenthood. I am so hard on myself as a mother, and feel guilty when I can’t seem to do things exactly as I planned. I have learned to accept things will never go as proper as I would like, especially with kids. As long as we are improving ourselves each day over the last one, I think we deserve a good pat on the back. 🙂
    Michelle Jones recently posted…Homemade Caramel ApplesMy Profile

  35. Heather C

    Great advice. #2 is a BIG one. It has made a huge impact in my world.
    Heather C recently posted…#MondayMealRecapMy Profile

  36. Amy

    Your detailed insight is wonderful. I wish more people could see that these little steps, when broken down, are life changing. Keep going. You’re on the right path.
    Amy recently posted…When Challenge Turns to InjuryMy Profile

  37. Cindy Howell

    These are great tips! I struggle with self-esteem issues too. I love your tip #2. Facebook can really contribute to this problem. I have defriended or removed people from my newsfeed because of their negativity.
    Cindy Howell recently posted…Let’s Get Social SundayMy Profile

  38. Kelly

    These tips are great! I love your picture and quote on forgiveness, That has hit home the most for me in your post. I love that I can forgive and feel as though it has helped me live in so many ways. Unfortunately, so many around me have a difficult time with this. I will have to forward this to them! Thanks for sharing!
    Kelly recently posted…Essential Oil Spotlight: VetiverMy Profile

  39. Stephanie Bourne

    Thanks for your encouraging post. I struggle with low self-esteem and your ideas will certainly be helpful!
    Stephanie Bourne recently posted…Free Blogger Opp: Black Friday Shop Till You Drop $100 Giveaway (Sign-Ups close 10/27)My Profile

  40. Irene Soh

    I perfectly agree with all the points listed above. Especially about forgiveness. Love that quote on the picture too!!

  41. Ashley {The Game Day Gal}

    Doing things that make me happy is something that I need to work on. Being happy, and feeling good about yourself is so important. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  42. Ashley @ Joyful Thrifty Home

    You have some great points about having better self-esteem. Forgiveness is definitely important! I have heard that unforgiveness and bitterness actually hurts you more than the other person. I know this is true because I have witnessed this with some relatives of mine.
    Ashley @ Joyful Thrifty Home recently posted…How to Make Coffee House Quality Drinks at HomeMy Profile

    1. Jana (Post author)

      It definitely rots you from the inside out. I have to forgive some pretty big things that have happened but it’s made a huge difference.

  43. Tamara B.

    I like the reference of “maps” taking you down the same road again to feeling worthless. I think a lot of us have “maps” that take us to that same place we don’t really want to be in our emotions.

    A biggie for me, is to stay away from people that bring me down. So many people feed off of your energy and walk away feeling renewed, all the while leaving you drained and weak.
    Tamara B. recently posted…Flexi Leads, Just Say No!My Profile

    1. Jana (Post author)

      Most definitely! I feel so much better since I have eliminated several negative influences. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to my well being to have positive energy around me.

  44. Renata Wurster

    Self-esteem is such a struggle for so many! For me, affirmations have worked wonders – I never thought about using a song but I like that idea too. Thanks for sharing your journey and your tips!
    Renata Wurster recently posted…Wordless Wednesday: Kids’ Room Decor IIIMy Profile

    1. Jana (Post author)

      There are several songs that have changed my life and I listen to them when I need them. Books work well for this, too.

  45. Felicia

    These are really awesome tips! I wrote about self-esteem recently as well and it’s amazing how much is out there that you can do to improve it. I’m going to be adding some of your ideas to my own personal list because I sure as heck need them sometimes, haha. Thank you for sharing!
    Felicia recently posted…How to Combat Low Self-EsteemMy Profile


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