I’m reading a book right now about four middle-aged friends who gather to figure out what’s next in their lives. The four have been through various trials and tribulations recently and have come together to support each other. They spend a lot of time talking, that kind of raw, honest talk that leads to breakthroughs.
In one passage, one of the characters said she had lied to her husband about the gathering, telling him she was going to a “gratitude retreat,” something that she made up but was probably a “thing these days.” They proceeded to mock the idea, saying you shouldn’t have to try that hard to be grateful.
The irony was that all these women were miserable with their lives and spent a lot of time sitting around griping and complaining about it. Clearly something wasn’t working for them. So, before I move on to this week’s topic of believing in yourself, I want to address this idea of trying too hard.
Last week’s focus article was on gratitude, so it was certainly serendipitous that the book I happen to be reading, should mention it in this way. As the article states, so many of our behaviors, including our natural tendency towards negativity and dissatisfaction, are the result of our evolutionary process – you know, expect the worst so you’re not surprised by any danger lurking when you’re out and about. That doesn’t mean we are destined to a life of unhappiness. We all know people who appear to be “naturally happy” regardless of circumstances.
Any change takes a conscious, deliberate, sustained effort to take hold. Is it easy? Usually the answer is no, but we know that we create new habits through practice, and after a while it becomes our natural state. It’s all about re-wiring the brain. It’s all about science.
So, you can be miserable and unhappy and negative, or, through practice, you can live a life of happiness. The choice is yours.
And now, on to topic.
Let me start by saying that my life is infinitely better since I began practicing mindfulness over a decade ago. It’s certainly not perfect, and I continue to struggle at times, but when I begin to slip into old patterns, I don’t berate myself. I simply recognize it and respond. It’s all a work in progress.
One area that is particularly challenging for me is my self-esteem. Can anyone else relate to this? I know low self-esteem limits me in reaching my full potential, so I continue to move through these challenges, creating new habits that lead me towards a greater self image. I know this starts with changing my beliefs, and I recognize how difficult this can be, so I don’t give up.
Change is not always easy, usually quite the opposite. So where do you start? Well, here are some simple strategies that will help get you started. And remember, conscious, consistent practice is the key.
Ignore negativity from others
As I mentioned, we are sort of hard-wired for negativity and some people continue to make that their habit, always looking at the bad, putting other people down. It can be hurtful, especially when it comes from someone close to you. Remember their negativity is more about them, not you. Understanding that can not only help you to not take it personally, but also to have compassion for them.
Learn to accept compliments
This has always been a toughy for me. Most people mean it when they give you a compliment. Don’t try to negate it, a simply “thank you” is enough.
Mindfulness helps you to observe your thoughts without attachment to them. Doing this will help you to see where your low self-esteem comes from and learn to respond to it in an appropriate way. Works for other things you want to change as well!
No matter what you think of them, reading a daily affirmation is a powerful practice to confirm what you already know. And the daily practice can lead to writing your own affirmations. After all, no one knows you quite like you.
Avoid comparing yourself to others
Social media can be a great tool or a big problem. Actually, social media itself is not the problem, it’s only the medium, the way we use it. Often times, when we see posts about what a great life our friends have, we compare ourselves in a negative way. It’s easy to get in that habit. Just remind yourself we are all unique.
Part of a healthy self-esteem is having the drive to take action towards your goals. If you feel that you’ve improved your self-esteem, but then fail to take action towards your dream, your self-esteem will suffer. Building your self-esteem takes dedicated, consistent time and practice, so be kind and patient with yourself, and soon it will become second nature.