One of the best ways to stay healthy is to feel healthy about yourself. In my work as a yoga teacher working with both adults and children, I find that often it’s the last person you’d expect to have low self-esteem that is struggling with putting themselves first.
There can be no typical profile for someone like this. Financial success, being in a relationship or having a great job can all exist in the life of someone who just doesn’t feel good about themselves.
Sometimes these habits are ingrained from patterns we learn as a child. While it can be helpful to go back in time to try to understand the origin of these behaviors, the bottom line is that if you’re in a cycle of feeling down about yourself, you just want it to stop. Here are some action-oriented things you can do to take control and start to feel better:
- Do things to challenge yourself: This could be training for a road race or booking a trip to an unfamiliar place. It could even be something as local and immediate as taking a yoga class in a style that is new to you. When we do new things, regardless of how we do, if we have the right attitude, it is a confidence builder.
- Have healthy boundaries with other people: This means you won’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of and you’re not afraid to say “no” when things don’t feel right to you. This could involve saying “no” to spending time with someone, taking on certain projects at work, loaning money to someone you love or continuing to stay in a relationship where your feelings keep getting hurt. Once we let these boundaries down, it’s a slippery slope to chipping away at our self-esteem and a surefire way to feel awful.
- Let go of past mistakes: Re-living your past mistakes will only continue to erode your self-esteem. Consider the past a learning experience and rather than promise yourself that you’ll never make the same mistake again (too much pressure), be willing to learn from what happened and be on your toes for situations that might put you in the same position again.
- Set specific goals for yourself and reward yourself when you achieve them: Many times in yoga classes I teach, I ask people to acknowledge themselves for showing up to practice. We’re all busy and to take time out of any day to practice yoga or do anything on a physical level for your health should be acknowledged. Set some achievable, specific goals for yourself and when you hit a goal, give yourself a reward. It could be as small as a flower or piece of candy. It’s more about taking a moment to tell yourself that you did a great job.
- Replace negative self-talk with positive thoughts: This is one of the hardest things to do if you find that you spend much of your time in negative self-talk. Negative thoughts can start when you wake up and look in the mirror and continue throughout your day. One technique I like to use is to set reminders on my phone that are positive affirmations. It could be something like, “Put yourself first,” or “ Do what makes you happy!” and I set them to go off throughout the day. Just as you learned to use negativity as a running dialogue, you can replace it with consistency and being committed to a new way of thinking.
- Spend time with positive people: We often surround ourselves with people who reflect what we believe about ourselves. So, if we’re shy, we tend to be with shy people. If we consider ourselves to be a risk-taker, we might spend time with people who like to do lots of crazy, challenging things. But when we feel badly about ourselves, or we have negative behaviors or habits, we tend to surround ourselves with people who share the same tendencies. This may help us feel understood but it does nothing to help us break the habit. If you want to be more positive about yourself, you must lose the people in your life who make you feel badly about yourself and start spending time with people who are positive, productive and healthy.
- Be open to learning new things: As we get older, we have less opportunity to learn something new. Just like the first idea to do something challenging, also make time to learn new things. Take a class in something new and different, watch a show or see a movie on a topic you’d otherwise ignore or read a book, watch a video or take a course to learn a new skill. Being closed-minded to other ideas is a reinforcement of the idea that you can never change. If you believe this, you’ll never move from your stuck, low self-esteem state to one of more strength and power.
- Meditate: When we experience low self-esteem, along with it comes painful emotions like fear and sadness. Rather than stuffing these feelings down, we need to acknowledge them and get them out. If you’re going through a tough time, take a few minutes every day to sit still, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. I do this with kids as young as 4 years old and after each session we talk about how we feel. It helps kids connect relaxing and breathing with being more in touch with how they feel, even if it’s not so good.
- Exercise of all kinds: Moving the body, elevating your heart rate and focusing on the physical is a great way to relieve stress. By the same token, taking a slow yoga class, going for a stroll on the beach or a hike can also be a great stress reliever. Relieving stress is a great way to improve one’s self-esteem because we start to feel good about our body.
- Have faith in a higher power: This doesn’t have to mean you are religious in the traditional sense. It simply means that you allow space in your life for the idea that you’re not fully in control and that you can’t possibly know all of what the future has in store for you. A great way to connect to this feeling is to spend time in nature. Being at the beach or hiking up a mountain can give you a sense of feeling part of something bigger than you, and this can help even the most skeptical person feel a little more connected to a larger force.
Having a healthy life is a combination of your physical as well as mental tendencies. If we eat junk, we won’t feel all that great and if we absorb negative thoughts about our life, our abilities and our future, our health will decline as well. Start to take control of your thoughts and take action to feeling great.