10 Tips to Improve Your Self-Esteem That Actually Work

Boosting your self-esteem can be a bit like tidying up a messy room. At first glance, it might seem daunting or even overwhelming, but things get clearer once you know where to start. Did you know that according to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, about 80% of Americans sometimes deal with low self-esteem? That’s quite a lot of us feeling less than great about ourselves. So what’s the solution? Here are some real, doable steps anyone can take to improve their self-esteem starting right here, right now.

It’s Not About Being Perfect

Chasing perfection is like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands—it’s impossible, and trying to do so can actually make us feel down. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill highlights that striving for perfection can lead to feelings of depression. Meanwhile, Carol S. Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, encourages us to focus on progress, not perfection. She teaches us the value of “not yet”—meaning if you haven’t achieved something yet, it’s not a failure but an opportunity for growth.

Change Your Thinking

Ever find yourself stuck in a loop of negative thoughts? You’re not alone. The American Psychological Association discusses how these patterns can affect our self-esteem. David D. Burns’ Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy offers a way out through cognitive reframing, helping us to challenge and change those negative thoughts into something more positive and realistic.

Self-Care is Key

Never underestimate the power of taking care of yourself. According to Harvard Health Publishing, healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and regular exercising can drastically improve your mental and physical well-being. Studies have shown that getting enough sleep can improve cognitive function and mood, while regular exercise releases endorphins, natural mood elevators that can boost self-esteem.

Avoid the Comparison Trap

We’re living in the age of social media, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. But remember, you’re seeing their highlights, not their outtakes. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin reminds us to focus on our journey and celebrate others’ successes without comparing them to ours. Research suggests that social media comparison can be detrimental to self-esteem, with a study by the University of Pennsylvania finding that increased Facebook use has links to lower self-esteem, particularly among young adults.

Be Your Own Best Friend

When was the last time you showed yourself the same regard and affection as you show your loved ones? Kristin Neff, Ph.D., is a leading voice in the world of self-compassion. She teaches us to treat ourselves with the same kindness, understanding, and support we’d offer a good friend. This approach, as detailed on self-compassion.org, is a proven way to boost our self-esteem and overall well-being.

Shine a Spotlight on Your Strengths

Recognizing and celebrating our own strengths and talents is crucial. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests acknowledging our abilities can significantly boost our self-esteem. Sometimes, it helps to ask friends or colleagues for their perspective, offering insights we might have overlooked.

Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve

It’s easy to get carried away when thinking big. Ambition in life is good, but unrealistic goals can quickly lead to disappointment. Psychology Today emphasizes the importance of setting attainable goals to avoid this pitfall. Adopting the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal framework, as Mind Tools outlines, can help create a clear roadmap to success and, by extension, boost self-esteem.

Find Gratitude in the Everyday

Did you know that being grateful can make you feel better about yourself? Far from simply being an age-old adage, research by Robert Emmons, shared by The Journal of Positive Psychology, confirms this. Numerous authorities, including the Greater Good Science Center, agree that keeping a gratitude journal or practicing daily affirmations of thankfulness can shift our focus to the positive, enhancing our self-esteem.

Lend a Hand

There’s nothing quite like the joy of helping others. But did you know that helping others isn’t just good for them – it’s great for our self-esteem, too? Interestingly, the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteering can significantly boost our sense of purpose and connection to the community. Meanwhile, another study by the Corporation found that volunteers experienced a 20% increase in feelings of well-being and a 15% decrease in symptoms of depression! (Both are factors that contribute to positive self-esteem)

Mistakes Are Just Opportunities in Disguise

So many of us live in fear of making mistakes. Psych Central highlights the importance of viewing mistakes as learning opportunities. This mindset can alleviate the fear of failure and help us grow and improve our self-esteem. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that individuals who view mistakes as opportunities for growth tend to be more resilient and have higher self-esteem.

Cultivate Positive Relationships

The people we choose to spend our time with can significantly impact how we see ourselves. The Mayo Clinic advises surrounding ourselves with positive, supportive people who uplift us and contribute to our sense of self-worth. Studies have shown that strong social connections can buffer against stress and contribute to overall well-being, both of which can positively impact self-esteem.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Finally, the American Psychological Association advocates for challenging ourselves with new experiences. Stepping out of our comfort zone can be daunting, but it’s also where we find growth and build confidence, boosting our self-esteem in the process. Their research suggests that trying new things can increase self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to succeed) and lead to greater self-esteem.

Challenge Negative Self-Talk

Our inner voice can be our harshest critic. But, research suggests that we can learn to challenge negative self-talk and replace it with more positive and empowering thoughts. A study published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches techniques for identifying and reframing negative thoughts, can be highly effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety while also boosting self-esteem.

Celebrate Small Wins

Focusing solely on achieving major goals can leave us feeling discouraged. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests celebrating small wins along the way instead. This practice helps us stay motivated and recognize our progress, ultimately contributing to stronger self-esteem. Further proving the point, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that individuals who acknowledged and celebrated their accomplishments, big or small, reported marked improvements in well-being and positive self-esteem.

Practice Mindfulness

Last but not least, here’s a tool proven to help improve not just our self-esteem but our overall quality of life: Mindfulness. It is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Becoming more aware of our thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally helps us begin to accept ourselves more fully and, in turn, fosters a positive self-image. Scientific evidence supports this: A study published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment found that mindfulness training led to decreased self-criticism and increased self-compassion among participants.

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