At least once a week I encounter a client who states a desire to improve their self-esteem. Self-esteem is pretty important to us; it is about how we see ourselves, how much value we believe we have, and for those reasons it impacts every area of our lives. Our interactions, relationships, thinking patterns, and so much more are impacted by the way we feel about ourselves. Here are some exercises to help you improve your self-esteem:
1. Cultivate self-awareness. Notice when you’re feeling down about yourself and take a moment to flip back to the moments just before that feeling started. Note your negative thoughts or words spoken to yourself prior to the onset of the feelings. Make a mental note of the impact of those thoughts and words. Use a CBT Thought Record or similar journal entry if you can find time to write. Ask a friend to help you stay self-aware and discuss these thoughts with you.
2. Practice self-compassion. The negative thoughts you’re having that lower self-esteem are hurtful, but we tend not to think of them that way. Imagine saying the same sorts of things to someone you love. Would you? Most likely not! You’re a kind person! So, reword things and say them to yourself as you would to a friend.
3. Create an “I Love Me” board or file. Get some poster board and draw pictures, cut and paste images, and write words of your personal highlights. Times that you said or did something or noticed something great within yourself. You can use pictures, magazine clippings, and doodle little memories with artful letters (or plain ones!). Add to this board or journal or file as often as you want to. Fill it up!
4. Create a “Kindness Journal”. Keep this journal by your bed and each night before you go to bed, write in three things you did that day that were a display of kindness or compassion to others. Did you hold a door for someone? Help someone carry a package? Smile at a stranger? Do laundry for your spouse? Pick up a child’s friend from school as a favor? All sorts of things count. If you can think of more than 3, keep that list going! Add to it daily just before you hit the hay. This puts you in a kind mindset about yourself before you go to sleep and helps you wake up the same way!
Check out this graphic that sums it up: