A key to improving self esteem is to recognize that it is an attitude. This is important because attitudes are easier to change than the external conditions of our lives that we wish we could change. An attitude is harder to change than your clothes but it is possible with effort.
What are Attitudes?
An attitude is a mental state. Some attitudes are lasting but many change constantly. They are less permanent than personality traits, so they are more like moods. Moods can shift up and down every day and several times during the day. Most of our attitudes are not as variable as moods perhaps but most people would agree that it is easier to change an attitude than it is a personality trait.
Attitudes are judgements. We judge things and people along a scale from very positive to very negative. Of course we judge some things on a one-off basis, like whether we liked that movie we say last night or that restaurant meal we had on Saturday. Attitudes are more enduring judgements, like "Jim is a lazy person" or "Studying for school is a waste of time" or "I'm an unattractive person."
We like to categorize things and people and it is efficient to put them in all-or-nothing categories, but we almost always over-generalize. Maybe Jim isn't generally lazy. Maybe he has some hobbies that he puts a lot of time and effort into. Maybe studying for some subjects is a waste of time but not for all of them. Maybe you have some unattractive qualities but also some attractive ones.
Changing your Attitude
First of all, it's important to recognize that attitudes are easier to change than external circumstances. We can't change much about how we look or our past. This is not to say that changing an attitude is as easy as choosing what you want to wear today.
Here are some key steps to take to change your attitude:
- Make a full list of all the things you like and don't like about yourself and your circumstances
- Push yourself to make your postive list as long as your negative one. This is vitally important!
- Go through your negative list and think about how you can view this situation differently, more positively
- Regularly look at your positive list as a reminder and add to it as often as you can, including nice things you do for others
- Catch yourself saying mean things about yourself and say STOP IT! Then list positive things to yourself instead
- When you find yourself self-absorbed, dwelling on negative things, force yourself to do something you enjoy doing to get out of yourself
Again, it is important to recognize that you can't expect to be high all the time. Attitudes, especially toward yourself, can fluctuate as often as moods. Confidence is good example and very much like self esteem. Even the best sports figures lose confidence from day to day.
A similar point is the fact that everyone has a degree of low self esteem, at least some of the time. The thing is though, they may not show it so we think they must be perfectly happy and content with themselves. As a result, we compare how we feel with how they behave and this leads us to feel even worse about ourselves. This is just a mistake.
Barriers to Attitude Change
Our efforts to change our attitudes can be self-defeating if we let ourselves wallow in self-pity, abuse substances or continue to expose ourselves to situations or people that make us feel bad. Try to analyze what situations make you feel bad and try to spend more time doing things or being with people who make us feel good.
A vital key in all this is to RECOGNIZE our good days and celebrate them. We fail to do this enough because, when we feel good, we are absorbed in whatever makes us feel good so we discount these days. Conversely, when we feel bad, we turn inward and dwell on ourselves. This is why these days are remembered more than the good days. So, we need to work at achieving a better balance. A good discipline is to take time at the end of each day and make a list of all the good things that happened or that you felt that day. A positive diary is a great idea!
What kind of judgements are attitudes?
This ia a key question because most negative judgements of things or people, or ourselves, aim to place BLAME. For example, I might blame my lack of success in attracting a partner to the fact that I am too short. Perversely, this act of blame makes me feel a little better. I can't help being short and it's easier to blame myself for something I can't help than to think about what I really could do differently to attract someone. Or to think that maybe I just don't know how to behave toward prospetive partners. Blaming something is a lame excuse, in other words but we do it for the same reason we use any excuse, to get us off the hook. So, avoiding this trap depends on recognizing that we are doing it in the first place. Then we need to honestly confront our tendency to look for excuses and to think more constructively about what we can do differently in a situation.