- To like ourselves more, we need to act in ways that make us feel likable.
- Doing kind things for others and leaving our comfort zone can boost our self-esteem and sense of competence.
- Calling to mind supportive people from our past and envisioning their encouragement can bolster confidence.
- Cultivating loving-kindness can foster more positive feelings towards ourselves, overriding self-criticism.
Not liking ourselves—indeed, hating ourselves—can have serious consequences for our mental and physical health. Individuals who express higher levels of self-dislike and self-hatred are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, self-harm, and disordered eating, and are more likely to endorse suicidal ideation.
To those with a strong sense of self-dislike, thinking about themselves in a more positive light can seem impossible. But there are practical ways to improve not only our moment-to-moment confidence and self-esteem but also our overall self-image—no matter how low those factors may be. Here are seven things we can all do to like ourselves a little bit more.
- Practice loving-kindness. Derived from Buddhism, loving-kindness is a mindset of unconditional acceptance and kindness to all beings—yourself included! One way to practice it is to place your hand on your heart and take a few deep breaths (being sure to extend your exhalation longer than your inhalation). As you breathe deeply, repeat on the out-breath the mantra "May you have confidence." Do this about five times. Then repeat, "May you feel worthy of love." Do this about five times, too. It may not feel believable at first, but repeat this practice every day for at least one week and, chances are, you'll start feeling a little more tender towards yourself—and a bit less self-critical (as the research on loving-kindness practices suggests).
- Remember past successes. When we're in a negative state of mind and feeling down about ourselves, we can fail to remember all the times in our life when we succeeded and felt pretty good about an accomplishment. Take five to ten minutes to write down a list of all the things you've felt good about doing in your lifetime, no matter how big or small. This will help remind you that you're actually capable of succeeding and that you do possess the capacity to celebrate your wins.
- Call to mind supportive others. Take a few moments to call to mind people throughout your life who believed in you or supported you in some fashion. (They don't need to still be in your life.) Imagine each one of them offering you words of encouragement, placing their hands on your back or shoulders, and saying, "You've got this." "You're so much more capable than you think." Or something else you remember them saying to you that boosted your confidence—or induced a state of calm.
- Do good things for others. If we're not doing many "good" things, it's unlikely we'll feel great about ourselves. That's why it's important to behave in ways that give us the feedback that we're decent human beings, even if we're not perfect. Most of us feel better about ourselves when we do good things for others. Consider doing one thing each day that helps someone out or brightens their day. This can be something as small as holding the door open for a neighbor, expressing gratitude to a coworker or friend, doing a favor for an acquaintance, or simply making brief pleasant small talk with a barista or server. It can also help increase your confidence (and sense of purpose, meaning, and connectedness) to make good deeds a more regular occurrence in your life by volunteering. Reach out to your local community center, or religious center, or search online for ways to help out in your community.
- Forgive yourself. It's impossible to meet every demand, do all tasks perfectly, and never make mistakes. You already know this, but when you screw up, you can—like many people—get lost in a rabbit hole of unhelpful negative thoughts that convince you you're always a failure, or that you never do anything well. That erroneous conclusion—enforced as it may have been by unhelpful people in your past, including your early caregivers—blinds you to the learning experience embedded in every mistake, and also to the many ways in which you can pick yourself back up and keep going, regardless of your error(s). Put a stop to ruminating over your assumed ineptitude by seeking out other peoples' stories of failure and recovery. Search online for media showing how other people have screwed up and clawed their way back to a dignified position. Or ask trusted friends and colleagues about their past mistakes. Seeing how common, even if unspoken, failure is can help you be a bit more forgiving towards yourself for your own "oops" moments. Learning of others' redemption stories can also help inspire you to recover from self-inflicted setbacks.
- Don't shy away from challenge. The more we cancel plans, turn down invitations to events, and shy away from challenging situations, the less evidence we amass that, actually, we can hack it out there—and survive even if we embarrass ourselves. Challenge yourself to do one thing each month that takes you a bit out of your comfort zone. Ask an acquaintance or colleague you'd like to get to know more out for a friendly coffee. Say yes to a social invitation you'd normally decline for fear of being judged. Enroll in a creative or educational course pertinent to a hobby or interest of yours. Check out a new neighborhood or store you've always been curious about. Or attend a religious service in your neighborhood. Brainstorm your own possibilities by writing down a list of things you're interested in but also intimidated by.
- Liking yourself for the long haul. It takes time to overhaul the negative core beliefs we hold about ourselves. In fact, this is a primary focus of cognitive behavioral therapy, and it doesn't just happen overnight. But a continuous effort to act in ways that genuinely make us feel better about who we are and what we've done, combined with a commitment to challenging faulty thinking patterns that lead us to conclude we're irredeemable does, ultimately, pay off. The more we behave in ways that are kind, forgiving, and encouraging or helpful—both to ourselves and to others—the more likely we are to conclude that, at the end of the day, we're really not so bad after all.
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