Do you often feel powerless to make a change? Do you criticize yourself? Are you convinced you’re not good enough? You might have low self-esteem.
You are not low self-esteem.
Everyone has accrued thoughts about themselves, whether positive or negative over time. These ideas form an identity—a sense of solidity that makes us feel secure when the world around us is unpredictable.
I struggled with confidence throughout my life. From the 4th grade through high school, people teased how I looked and started rumors about me. The constant harassment left me feeling inadequate and powerless.
After I graduated high school, low self-esteem affected my work and academics. I flunked my first year of college and couldn’t keep jobs. I thought there was something inherently wrong with me.
That was seven years ago. Soon after, I started meditating every day and began feeling more confident. I discovered how thoughts of low self-esteem were separate from myself and did not define my life. This insight helped me break free.
Like most people though, I’ve had setbacks. After a recent break-up, I felt “unworthy” of love. I equated personal shortcomings as the reason for the relationship failing. Fortunately, I recognized this thinking as false and took the experience as an incentive to learn more about how self-esteem can be improved through mindfulness.
Here are some techniques that will help you build confidence:
Be aware of negative self-talk
Our confidence is contingent on how we talk to ourselves. Take a few minutes and pay attention to your thoughts. Are they critical, encouraging, happy, angry, sad, or neutral?
Often, thoughts escape our awareness in daily life. When we can’t look objectively at our thoughts, we believe them.
Start taking mental notes. Here’s an example:
Reality: You presented a proposal. You’re not sure if the client was interested.
Thought: “You blew it. You’ll never be good enough.”
See the difference between reality, and what your critical voice says?
Make sure not to judge the thought or fight back. Just be aware of it.
Label — “thinking” or “critical voice.”
Often, thoughts are snapshots or movies we play in our minds:
Loss of a relationship
Label — “longing” or “sadness.”
Obsessing over mistakes after a performance
Label – “analyzing” or “obsessing.”
Labeling creates space in our mind. It reassures us we are observing thoughts objectively, and not engaging with them. When we no longer identify low self-esteem as who we are, we understand our lives in a more rational perspective.
As you practice labeling, list habits you partake in daily life caused by low self-esteem.
Do you avoid situations that cause discomfort or anxiety? This could mean asking for dates, expressing disagreements in a business meeting, asking for a raise, or resolving issues with a partner.
If you label your thoughts and emotions, and still indulge habits to lessen them, you’re letting false identity control you.
“You are not your brain: The 4-step solution for changing bad habits, ending unhealthy thinking, and taking control of your life”, discusses how seeking momentary relief from discomfort causes the brain to reinforce habits. There are three parts:
1. Thoughts: “Don’t say that idea. You’ll make a fool of yourself.”
2. Physical sensations: “FEAR,” “ANXIETY.”
3. Reinforcing actions: Not speaking up. (avoidance)
The key to breaking habits that lower self-esteem, is holding awareness of thoughts and sensations as they arise. Understand which thoughts or feelings trigger you.
Recognize that giving in to bad habits, keeps you stuck. Next time you feel the urge, slow down and breathe. Feel the air moving in and out of your lungs. Let the sensation build and peak. Remember habits are a result of brain wiring, not who you are.
Build trust that you can handle any emotion or thought that arises in you. Even when you fail, you’re growing. If you’re aware of habits and are making an effort to change them that is progress.
Low self-esteem is partly being self-absorbed.
What if for one day you dropped the storyline of “me”?
Take this as a fun experiment. No need to put any expectations on how you should feel, or what you’ll do.
Plan one day, to hit the reset button. Go for an adventure. Treat yourself like a host would for a friend visiting from out of town. As painful as circumstances might be, let them go. There’s always tomorrow if you want to think about them more.
The point of this exercise is not to neglect our responsibilities, but to notice we’re not always experiencing low self-esteem.
Statements like: “I am…”, “She is…”, “I’ll always…”, “They’ll never…”
They are inaccurate. Nothing is static. People, places, and events are continually shifting. Recognize these thoughts as concepts we create—not reality.
It’s easy to think we are who we are, and that’s the way it is.
The truth is, we can veto thoughts and habits unsuitable for us long-term, but don’t expect results right away. Distancing ourselves from these patterns takes time. We’ve likely been controlled by them for many years.
You will endure discomfort and pain to build confidence, but it’s short-lived. Think of the life you create without low-self esteem. No longer will you be defined by limitations but possibilities.