Learn how to raise your self-esteem and be happier with these habits.
Self-love doesn’t just mean feeling good.
It is not something that can be achieved by taking care of the image, through inspiring readings or sharing quality time with loved ones, or enjoying activities that we do alone.
I believe that it is not only to love and accept ourselves; it is also to appreciate what we do and value who we are.
Self-love is that muscle that we should all exercise perfectly every time. More than an action, it is a mental and emotional state, the one in which we feel good about ourselves.
In this sense, self-love is important to live well.
It influences the way we relate to others, the image we project at work, and the way we deal with problems.
“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”
— M. Scott Peck
Here are 8 self-love practices scientifically endorsed that will help you raise your self-esteem and live happier with yourself.
What doesn’t work
I want to start the article by saying what tips don’t work to grow your self-esteem and what many people consider when they are trying to be happier and more positive.
The first one is “searching the positive side to everything”. This would be excellent advice if it weren’t for the fact that your mind isn’t really programmed to do it.
Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but we are meant to suffer.
For example, what if after presenting something you are proud to five people, four of them congratulate you but one tells you it was full of mistakes? What opinion do you think will weigh the most about your emotional state?
Exactly, the bad one.
As studies have shown, humans are designed to value the negative more than the positive. We become obsessed with the bad and forget the good more quickly. Our mind wishes to be unhappy.
This is known in psychology as the negativity bias, a common phenomenon in people who suffer from anxiety or depression. So negativity is not a conscious choice, but something that is deeply embedded within us.
We are not meant to be happy all the time, so “searching for the positive to everything” will not work to grow your self-esteem.
The other one is “you must program your mind with positive affirmations”.
A study published in 2009 in Psychological Science wanted to verify the effectiveness of this type of reprogramming.
The result was that the participants who used these positive affirmations not only did not improve, but they ended up feeling worse.
The reason is that when you repeat to yourself that you are exceptional or wonderful, your brain immediately asks a question: “Why?”.
Your brain is not naive.
If they can’t find the answer, they won’t believe what you’re saying. They will reject the claim and they will feel worse.
1. Replace your goals with values.
A psychologist once gave me the following advice that I will never forget:
“The key to happiness and finding real purpose in your life is replacing your goals with values”.
At first, it was a bit shocking for me since I have always heard everywhere that a life with goals helps you find a purpose.
But after researching, I discovered that setting big goals is often a source of frustration and disappointment.
Values are our most fundamental definition. They set the direction for us when we think we are losing ourselves and give us the energy to keep fighting.
Imagine you were training to finish a marathon. Your values would probably be effort, perseverance, self-improvement, and the capacity for sacrifice, right?
Even if you could not finish the marathon, by putting in the effort and sacrificing yourself, you could still remain true to your values.
Unlike the objectives, your values will always be there for you to fulfill and make you feel proud of yourself.
Now, every time I have to face a challenge, I take out a list of personal values; I choose one, and for a couple of minutes, I remember why it is important to me.
In this way, if I fail or succeed in that goal, what really matters is how faithful I was to those values I chose.
This has also helped me not to give up on my personal goals.
For example, for many of you, having a large following or making money can be a goal when starting a project. For me, it is more worthwhile to have perseverance or to follow my life philosophy.
2. Identify your true strengths.
Besides your values, to build your self-esteem, you need to convince yourself that there is something good in you.
I assure you we all have strengths; the problem is that people with low self-esteem do not know how to identify them.
Something that helped me find my strengths was writing a list of the things I like to do. Then, I analyzed how good I was at doing that and what I can do to keep improving.
It is scientifically proven that this way you will feel more confident about yourself. A group of students thought about their strengths when studying a test and doing it made them get better grades.
3. Turn your negative thoughts into rational responses.
Even you have your set of values and strengths to believe in yourself, our experiences, can affect our lives as an “inner voice.”
In people with healthy self-esteem, this voice is usually kind and comforting. But in those with low self-esteem, he becomes their worst critic, punishing them for their mistakes and despising their achievements.
This internal dialogue causes anxiety and locks us into our circle of comfort, so we must learn to overcome it.
The problem is that this inner voice is irrational.
It usually interprets any situation in the worst possible way, even when there is no aim evidence to reach your conclusion.
Since these irrational thoughts do not need any real basis to exist, you must use your mind to overcome them.
The process I beat them is:
Identify in which situations they appear and what they tell you. Your negative thoughts are usually always the same, so how do they make you interpret situations? What emotions do they provoke in you?
The better you understand the emotions that cause you feel like that, the less power they will have over you.
One study found that when participants identified and named their emotions aloud, the frontal cortex did not have as high a limbic response to them. In other words, acknowledging the emotion you are feeling reduces its impact on you.
Finally, rationalize your irrational negative thoughts by answering these three questions:
- Are you sure that is going to happen?
- If it really happens, how will you be in a year?
- What would you say to a friend who was telling you that?
Normally, when I ask myself these questions, I realize that my concerns are only in my head.
4. Separate yourself from your fears with acceptance and commitment.
It is possible that after identifying and rationalizing your negative thoughts you still have some fears so deep that they continue to block you.
That’s what acceptance and commitment are for, a method to overcome those beliefs.
Most people, when there is something that worries them, try not to think about it. We try to block out our thoughts or distract ourselves by thinking about something else.
But not only has it been proven that it doesn’t work, but it also makes your fears come back stronger.
Instead of trying to ignore them, you have to learn to detach yourself from them.
The real reason your thoughts are blocking you is that you think you are them. You give them all the credibility in the world. But, as the philosopher Eckhart Tolle argues:
” You are not your thoughts.”
Something that helped me when this happens to me is thinking about why I’m afraid and what is the worst thing that could happen. Sometimes, our fears are bigger than the consequences.
Writing about what affects me and rereading it helps me understand that it is not as bad as it seems.
5. Forgive yourself.
You are your worst critic.
If, after preparing for two years to pass an examination, you failed, you would probably be very disappointed.
But if it happened to a friend of yours, wouldn’t you comfort him by telling him that the important thing was to try? That he will already have more opportunities?
Well, self-compassion consists of treating yourself with the same empathy with which you would treat that friend of yours.
It means being supportive and understanding of yourself, rather than criticizing and judging you. It involves learning to calm down and comfort yourself to try again, rather than punishing yourself every time you make a mistake.
This study showed that people who treat each other with more love and forgiveness experience much less anxiety and depression.
There are many ways to develop self-compassion, but the simplest of all is to talk to yourself as you would to a friend who is having a hard time.
Something that I do is a letter to myself writing all the good things that have and how I'm going to be better. One example could be:
“I am suffering because I feel that I have lost control of my life, it is a hard moment but I am going to fight to get out of this”.
Problems is something that you are experiencing, and not as something that defines you.
Every time I read a letter I have written to myself, I feel much better, because I know that my problems are momentary, but the love I have for myself can help me resist them.
6. Increase your confidence with power positions.
Can our body posture dictate how we feel or affect the way we think about ourselves?
Science says yes.
In this study, Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, showed that taking a posture in which we pretend to feel safe and powerful can precisely transform our thoughts, feelings, and physiology in real-time.
Although our initial focus stems from mistrust and insecurity, a change in posture induces a general change in our mind-body system.
Our posture is translated into hormonal signals that modify the way our body and mind operate on multiple levels. And what is more interesting: a simple change of posture can reduce our stress levels and improve our inner confidence in just 2 minutes.
When we feel helpless, desperate, or defeated, our body shrinks and contracts. This tension generates a sympathetic dominance, the mode of our nervous system that activates states of stress, overwhelm, threat, and insecurity.
When we feel confident, secure, and powerful, we do the opposite: our body widens and our posture opens to the world. So we must try to maintain this position as long as we can.
This advice has helped me mainly in oral exams. Whenever I feel confident and speak with security, I get better grades, even when I had no idea what I was talking about.
7. Think about others as often as yourself.
Thinking only about your problems does you no favors, according to this study at Yale and California universities.
In that study, the participants who performed altruistic actions maintained a much more positive state of mind than those who remained focused on themselves.
Helping people has beneficial effects on our self-esteem for two reasons:
- The first is because it helps you distract attention from yourself.
- The second is because it appears to stimulate certain biological systems that reduce anxiety-related emotional responses. It is as if we are programmed to help our fellow man.
Also, every time I think and help others, I feel better about myself because it helps me to think that I am doing something good for the world.
One of the things that helped me think about others is recycling. Every time I recycle I feel like I help the planet and that we can all live a little longer. Even when I help with small things.
8. Try it even if you think you’re going to fail.
It has been shown that the main enemy of our self-esteem is simply doing nothing.
When we feel threatened, our instinct is to seek escape routes because we believe that this will reduce our anxiety. So when you feel fear or discouragement, instead of facing them directly, you try to avoid them.
And it is logical: the moment you decide to avoid what worries you, you notice an immediate feeling of relief. The problem is that this behavior can end up becoming a habit.
Because how do you think you will end up feeling in the medium term?
Avoiding what you fear and acting like a coward is not something you can be proud of, and that closes the damn circle of low self-esteem again. So the more you avoid what worries, the worse you will feel about yourself.
The good news is that science has also proven that self-esteem does not depend on the outcome of your actions. It simply depends on your action.
It increases when you face circumstances, and decreases when you avoid them. As simple as that.
So it is better to do things even if you fail them, than not to try anything. I have never heard any old person saying that they should have been more afraid, on the contrary, they all say they should have risked more.
Something that has helped me a lot to put this advice into practice is asking myself the following questions:
- What am I going to do if I don’t keep trying?
- What would happen if I am successful?
- What would happen if I fail?
I have realized that it is better to keep failing than to stay in my comfort zone. Because the more I fail, the more I learn how to do it next time, while if I give up, I have no chance of succeeding in any way.
We could all be smarter, prettier, and richer. But it has been shown that self-esteem does not depend on what you have, what you know, or what you are. It depends on how you accept yourself.
Although people with high self-esteem were associated with narcissism relatively recently, scientific evidence denies it. Having solid self-esteem does not imply being arrogant, but being able to accept our strengths and weaknesses to recognize our own value.
What other self-love practices do you use to be happier with yourself?