Sunday, April 17, 2011

Like Yourself More

Mr. Thomas,
If you answer YES to any of these questions, this article is for you:
  • Is second guessing yourself holding you back in love and relationships?
  • Do you wonder whether you're "good enough" to get that date you want?
  • Do you question what your partner sees in you sometimes and why they are with you?

If you said yes to any of those questions (or even thought about it for a second), then your life will greatly improve when you learn to like yourself just a little bit more. Fortunately, liking yourself more is easier than you might think. In fact, you're already on the right path, just caring enough about yourself and others to read this blog.

Read on and we'll discuss other ways to like yourself more...

How to Improve Your Self-Esteem

Liking yourself is often called "self-esteem". We all have an intuitive sense of what self-esteem means. It is that feeling on some spectrum from "good" to "bad" that you get when you think about yourself. Most of the time, it isn't given much thought. But, as research has found, it's structure is pretty interesting. Using that knowledge to move your meter to "good" isn't all that hard either!

Here are some tips:

1) Give Yourself a Break - When something difficult happens, how often do you jump to the best possible interpretation? How often are you easy on yourself? When do you give yourself a break?

If you're being hard on yourself, or seeing the world in a negative light, learn to be a bit more optimistic. Trust me, you really are a good person. That date who didn't call, it wasn't about you. That partner who couldn't stay faithful...that was his/her "issues" not you. Learn to see the better (and true) interpretations of the world.

If you need help, make a list. This will help train your brain to be more flexible. When something happens and you look at it negatively, write that explanation down. Take a few minutes if you need to, then go back to it. Now look at the situation again. Can you think of a more optimistic or positive explanation for what happened? I bet you can... Write them down and keep track. Train your brain to see the positive, the truth, that you are a good person.

2) Know Your Strengths - How often do you think about your good qualities? Can you name them? Are they on the tip of your tongue? If I asked you to write a list of your strengths and weaknesses, which list would be longer?

It is important to know what you're good at in the world. I'm not taking "nothing" for an answer. You're breathing, sitting up, able to read and comprehend this blog. That alone means you're reasonably healthy, intelligent, and a caring human being. That is a lot more than some people have in this world. So, learn to count that and appreciate it!

Beyond that, you're active in the world. You have talents, skills, connections, friendships. Make a list of all of your good points. If you get stuck, ask people you care about to add to the list. Make a big one! Keep it handy for reference.

3) Be Happy With What You Have - Do you appreciate what you have in life? Are you thankful for your talents, strengths, and gifts? Are you happy with your individuality?

Break away from the feeling of "wanting". You are complete as you are. You really don't need a nose job, or to be more athletic. You don't need to grow two more inches, lose 20 pounds, or become a rock star. To like yourself more and get the love life you want, you just need to appreciate who you are right now. Think about what you do have and be grateful for it. Enjoy it too.

When you appreciate what you have, it suddenly becomes enough for you...and for others too. So, spend some time enjoying your life, your strengths, and your experiences. Don't put off living, loving, and sharing until that "one thing is fixed". It doesn't matter. All that matters is that you are enjoying your life...and you're inviting others along for the ride!

The Structure of Self-Esteem

How do I know this stuff works? I do my homework! Some of my favorite research on this has been around since the late 80's. According to Pelham and Swann (1989), there are three pieces that make up self-esteem:

1) People's tendencies overall to be "positive" or "negative" (called Affective State for the Psych nerds).

2) People's conceptions of their strengths and weaknesses (essentially, what they are "good" and "bad" at).

3) The relative importance people place on their strengths and weaknesses (Framing, again for the Psych nerds).

If you look hard, you'll find that we hit all three of these pieces above. A triple whammy!

How this Works in Real Life

Still not convinced this works? To see these pieces in action, we'll take two examples. Let's talk about "Bill" and "Ed".

Bill has "everything" going for him. He gets straight A's, has pearly-white teeth, athletic, etc. By everyone else's account, he has life made.

Ed, in contrast, isn't so lucky. He's barely getting by. He's almost flunking out of school, his life is a mess, and he has no job. The only thing decent in Ed's life is that he plays in a rock band and loves it.

So, who should have better self-esteem? You might be surprised...

Despite all of Bill's "strengths", he sells himself short. He puts so much pressure on himself. He doesn't like anything. His glass is always "half empty". There is always some way (in his mind) that he's falling short. He constantly harps on his own weaknesses and appreciates none of his strengths. As a result, Bill sits home on the weekends. He can't figure out what any person would want in him, so he never asks anybody out (despite several people wanting him too). He just doesn't see it.

Ed, in contrast, is the eternal optimist. He's happy for the small things in life. He also thinks that being a rocker is the best thing anyone could do in life. So, he basically thinks he is awesome. He can't even see any of his flaws...or at least, doesn't spend time dwelling on them. As a result of this positive self-esteem, his is confident all the time. He has an amazing social life. He loves what he does and who he is...and that self-love is contagious to others.

Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes. They have more going on for themselves than Ed does. But, they don't give themselves as much credit as Ed does either. As a result, they miss bits and pieces of the cool person they really are overall. They also don't share it with others.

Don't be a an Ed! Follow the steps above.


What can we learn from all this?

Well, we can learn that you're a pretty great person. You have a lot of talents. You make life better by being on this planet. You just need to take a deep breath, reflect on how cool some things in your life really are, and let that change how you feel for the better.

Make your lists if you need to. Enjoy the life you are living. Then, go share that wonderful life with someone else...

Sometimes, to have the social life you want, you just need to rekindle the most important relationship - the relationship with yourself. It may seem like having a partner (or multiple partners) is the missing piece that will make life truly "happy". To be sure, it can add to your life. But, as cliché as it sounds, true happiness begins with liking yourself first...just a little bit more.


Pelham, B.W., & Swann, W.B. (1989). From self-conceptions to self-worth: On the sources and structure of global self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5(4), 672-680.

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