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Four Steps To Self-Esteem

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Low self-esteem can negatively affect virtually every facet of your life, including your relationships, your job and your health. But you can take steps to boost your self-esteem, even if you’ve been harboring a poor opinion of yourself since childhood. Start with these four steps.

STEP 1: Identify troubling conditions or situations
Think about the conditions or situations that seem to deflate your self-esteem. Common triggers might include:

A business presentation

A crisis at work or home

A challenge with a spouse, loved one, co-worker or other close contact

A change in life circumstances, such as a job loss or a child leaving home

STEP 2: Become aware of thoughts and beliefs

Once you’ve identified troubling conditions or situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them. This includes your self-talk — what you tell yourself — and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts, or irrational, based on false ideas.

STEP 3: Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking

Your initial thoughts might not be the only possible way to view a situation — so test the accuracy of your thoughts. Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether other explanations for the situation might be plausible.

Be aware that it’s sometimes tough to recognize inaccuracies in thinking, though. Most people have automatic, long-standing ways of thinking about their lives and themselves. These long-held thoughts and beliefs can feel normal and factual, but many are actually just opinions or perceptions.

Also pay attention to thought patterns that tend to erode self-esteem:

All-or-nothing thinking. You see things as either all good or all bad. For example, “If I don’t succeed in this task, I’m a total failure.”

Mental filtering. You see only negatives and dwell on them, distorting your view of a person or situation. For example, “I made a mistake on that report and now everyone will realize I’m not up to this job.”

Converting positives into negatives. You reject your achievements and other positive experiences by insisting that they don’t count. For example, “I only did well on that test because it was so easy.”

Jumping to negative conclusions. You reach a negative conclusion when little or no evidence supports it. For example, “My friend hasn’t replied to my email, so I must have done something to make her angry.”

Mistaking feelings for facts. You confuse feelings or beliefs with facts. For example, “I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure.”

Self put-downs. You undervalue yourself, put yourself down or use self-deprecating humor. This can result from overreacting to a situation, such as making a mistake. For example, “I don’t deserve anything better.”

Step 4: Adjust your thoughts and beliefs

Now replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with accurate, constructive thoughts. Try these strategies:

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