I don't know many people who are completely happy with themselves, do you?
Everyone I know has had times when they were down on themselves.
“I hate the way I look.”
“Why do I always say such stupid things?”
“I just don't measure up.”
We hit those troughs of low self-esteem when we just want to jump out of our own bodies and go inhabit some other more attractive, intelligent, successful person. Ironically, other people can view you as attractive and competent, but your view of yourself is entirely different.
For most people, the days when our self-image takes a nose dive are infrequent. We get back to the business of life and recognize we're not all that bad. In spite of our flaws and mishaps, we feel relatively confident in ourselves and what we can achieve.
But sometimes you can get stuck for months or even years in a deep hole of self-loathing and low confidence. You feel so bad about yourself that you stay contained in a tiny box of insecurity and fear.
The longer you stay in this box, the more you mentally reinforce your poor self-image. You feel so bad about yourself, you can't take action on anything. You're plagued with uncertainty, and you fear everyone is judging you and seeing you for the loser you think you are.
Eventually the whole mess becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People do start to view you differently because you think so little of yourself. This is a rugged hole to dig yourself out of. It's hard to take action and improve yourself when you feel like a speck of dirt.
But it is possible to dig yourself out of that hole and rebuild your self-esteem and confidence. It doesn't happen overnight, but if you're tired of feeling this way, and you're willing to take small but consistent actions, you can change.
If you have self-image issues, here are 11 confidence strategies that actually work:
1. Pay attention to your internal voice.
Our feelings of low self-esteem shut us down and cause so much pain, but it's our thoughts that create these feelings. We may have reinforced the habit of negative thinking for so long that our thoughts don't seem separate from our feelings.
The first place to begin healing is by noticing how often you have self-limiting beliefs.
- How many times a day or an hour are you thinking something bad about yourself?
- To give you an accurate read on it, keep a tally in a small notebook or on your phone for a few days.
- Every time you catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself, add to the tally.
You'll soon realize how difficult it is to fight against that constant voice in your head. It wears down your energy and keeps you trapped in debilitating emotions.
2. Call out exaggerations.
Once you start noticing your negative thoughts, you'll see how many of them are exaggerated.
“I'm just stupid.”
“I'm so fat no one will ever want me.”
“I never succeed at anything.”
This all or nothing thinking blinds you to the reality of who you are and how others perceive you. When you notice these thoughts, call yourself out on them. Is your thought really true? Is it 100% true? You'll see how your extreme thinking is deceiving you.
3. Replace negative thoughts.
It's difficult to drop your pattern of limiting thoughts, because it's become a habit. It's much easier to keep the habit in place but change the thoughts.
When you notice a limiting thought, intentionally shift it to something positive.
Look for even the smallest ray of sunshine in a negative belief or situation. If you're focused on your appearance, find something you like about your appearance and focus on that. If you felt awkward in a social setting, find one positive thing that occurred and think about it.
You don't have to make things up — there's always something positive you can find in every situation.
Remember, what you focus on becomes your reality. It may feel unnatural at first to focus on positive things, but keep practicing and it will feel more normal in time.
4. Do something you're good at.
We all feel better about ourselves when we're doing something we enjoy and do well. This could be anything from organizing a closet to building a birdhouse.
If you have a hobby or interest, get busy working on it so that your mind is occupied and you feel successful at what you're doing. This may not permanently boost your self-image, but it will keep you focused on something positive and rewarding.
5. Put your flaws in perspective.
You've probably trained yourself to believe you must measure up to a certain standard, and if you don't, you see yourself as a flawed and undesirable person.
Learning to accept yourself and look past your flaws is a real step toward permanent change. Everyone, yes everyone, has flaws — even if they appear perfect to you. Everyone makes mistakes, fails to live up to their own expectations, and lets others down from time to time.
If you see areas for realistic self-improvement, by all means work toward becoming better. But never expect perfection.
Your goal should be to do your best, or at least try hard to do your best. And forgive yourself when you fall short of that. Then try again.
6. Be a friend, not a bully.
You would never talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself. Some of the things we say to ourselves are worse than the cruelest comment from a schoolyard bully.
Who better to treat you with loving kindness than yourself? Create a mindset that you are your own very best friend.
- How would you encourage and support a best friend?
- What would you say to be kind and supportive of your friend?
There's no reward in shaming yourself. Shame won't change your life for the better. But encouragement and positive thinking will.
7. Practice “exposure” therapy.
Exposure therapy involves exposing yourself to the things you fear in small, manageable ways. This is usually practiced in a therapist's office as part of cognitive behavioral therapy.
But you can try stretching yourself to do small things you feel anxious or doubtful about. If you feel uncomfortable speaking up in social settings, make yourself go to an event and talk to one or two people before leaving.
If you think you're incapable of doing something or fear you'll fail, take a few actions to test out your theory. Create a little momentum to show yourself you aren't stuck.
The goal here is to just try — to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Don't get attached to the outcome.
Just prove to yourself that you can take action. Then the next time you try, you won't feel as anxious or exposed.
8. Spend time with the right people.
When you have a poor self-image, you tend to isolate yourself. You feel down and worry that others will judge you. With no social connection or positive feedback, you become lost in your negative thoughts.
Make yourself spend time with family and friends who see the best in you. Socializing is essential to mental health anyway, but it's particularly important for someone with low self-esteem to be with loving and supportive people.
Conversely, you want to make a point of minimizing time with those who diminish you or make you feel bad about yourself.
Don't fall into the trap of people pleasing or hanging out with controlling people in order to boost your self-esteem. Ultimately it will have the opposite effect.
9. List your positive qualities.
Sometimes seeing things on paper can be transformative. Grab a pen and paper and write down all of the positive qualities about yourself you can think of.
Don't be shy or self-effacing with this exercise. Be completely free to acknowledge every good quality you have.
- Are you kind-hearted?
- A good listener?
You may take these qualities for granted, but they are essential to who you are and how others see you. Let yourself enjoy the good feelings that come with knowing you have these qualities. Let these qualities sit at the forefront of your thoughts, rather than allowing your negative perceptions to dominate.
10. Role play difficult situations.
Think about situations that have highlighted your feelings of low self-esteem. If you have a therapist or even a close friend, review these situations with them and how you reacted and responded.
How would you go back and change your reactions based on having a better self-image? What would you do differently?If you aren't sure, talk it through with your friend or therapist to get ideas on more positive ways of handling situations that make you feel insecure.
When you practice these situations in your mind or in the safety of your home or therapist's office, you'll feel more confident the next time you are in a similar situation. You'll be prepared with what to say and do, even if you still feel insecure. Your ability to take positive action, in spite of feeling insecure, will help you feel more secure over time.
11. Keep practicing.
As with any endeavor, to become skilled you must practice. There isn't a magic bullet to improve your self-image. You have to work on it and practice these strategies daily.
If you believe the payoff is worth it, you'll be more motivated to keep practicing. So what is the payoff?
It's that powerful feeling of confidence and freedom, knowing that you are a good person who is valuable and capable, flaws and all. When you feel this way, you have the motivation and emotional energy to pursue your goals without fear or shame.
Continue to catch yourself in negative thinking loops. Substitute positive thoughts for the negative ones and focus on your positive qualities. Stop bullying yourself and become your own best friend. Stretch and challenge yourself to do things that make you uncomfortable. Hang out with supportive people. Practice new ways of responding to challenging situations.
As you develop these new habits, your feelings about yourself with slowly but surely change.
Remember, your self-doubts and fears are much bigger than the reality. Reality is manageable, but self-doubt blinds you to that fact. Continue to bolster the foundation of your self-image by practicing these actions. Brick by brick, day by day, you'll change your perceptions about yourself and grow to love and accept the amazing person you are.