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Combat low self-esteem with these positive thinking exercises

Low self-confidence can become a bad habit. However, you can overcome it with the right attitude and some simple changes.

It’s not quite as easy as ‘wishing’ yourself more confident. But by spotting the things that contribute to your low self-confidence and eliminating them, you’ll soon find that inner strength you’ve hidden away.

Luckily, experts have identified several thought patterns that turn the brain against itself – the kind that make it ignore positives and magnify potential negatives. Here’s how you can use this knowledge to nip low self-esteem in the bud.

All-or-nothing thinking

What is it?

You see things as either good or bad, and put much more emphasis on the bad.

What does it sound like?

“If I succeed, it won’t achieve much. But if I fail… it will be a complete catastrophe.”

Instead try…

Searching for grey areas to open up your perspective. Recognise absolutes and replace them with ‘grey’ statements. Then reverse the statement, even if you don’t believe it right away. Try: “If I succeed, it might be fantastic, but if I fail, it might not be all that bad.”

Mental filtering

What is it?

You pay little attention to positive comments, but even the slightest negative comment eats away at you.

What does it sound like?

If someone says “I trust your judgment, because nine times out of ten you’re right,” you immediately begin to wonder about the other one time out of ten.

Instead try…

Figuring out your mental filters. Learn when they activate and what they typically say to you, or about you. The next time you receive either a positive or a negative comment, try judging it objectively. “It’s fair for this person to include a little criticism, because I’m not perfect. But I appreciate the positive comments they’ve made, and understand that they’re truly supporting me.”

Jumping to negative conclusions

What is it?

You immediately assume the worst without any evidence to support that judgment. You forego all alternative suspicions because you only believe in the worst-case scenario.

What does it sound like?

“My friend hasn’t texted me back since this morning. It must be because he hates me.”

Instead try…

Recognising when you’re jumping to a conclusion, pausing your emotions, then going back to the start. Revisit the thought process and list the alternatives to your last conclusion. Maybe your friend hasn’t texted you back because he’s busy, or it’s late, or he hasn’t got his phone on him. We all have straightforward reasons for not immediately returning a text.

Compare and despair

What is it?

You only compare yourself to those better than you, leading you to forever believe you are not good enough.

What does it sound like?

“It doesn’t matter that I’m intelligent,” you might say, “because I’ll never be as smart as that scientist.”

Instead try…

Forgetting everyone else, and asking yourself the question “am I satisfied?” Maybe you’re improving, and soon you’ll be at the level you aspire to. Maybe you’re not satisfied, but there are changes you can make to get to that level. Maybe – in the grand scheme of things – you’re exactly where you need to be.

Should-and-must thinking

What is it?

You put extraordinary pressure on yourself by frequently using absolutes like should and must in your thinking.

What does it sound like?

“I must get a promotion; I should be earning more money.” You use the same thinking patterns to anger yourself when someone else makes a mistake too: “He shouldn’t have done that; he must have been being careless.”

Instead try…

Noticing when you’re thinking in ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’, and instead adding could and might to the equation. Think instead “I could get a promotion and I might earn more money – but if I don’t, it’s not that bad.” You’ll soon notice there are very few ‘musts’ in the world – and the only time you hear them is when you’re talking to yourself.

Mind reading

What is it?

You jump to conclusions about the way a person is thinking – usually negatively. You do this without evidence, basing it just on your suspicions.

What does it sound like?

Your friend seems a bit unhappy, but when you ask them what’s wrong they just tell you not to worry. That just leads you to assume you’ve done something wrong – you may even tell yourself “they’re unhappy because of me.”

Instead try…

Asking questions instead of making assumptions. Usually, when you see someone behaving a certain way, there’s a reason for it. Empathise with that person; if they seem sad, approach the subject, but don’t assume it has something to do with you. Try asking “Is something making you sad?” – not “Is something I’ve done making you sad?”

Mistaking feelings for facts

What is it?

You assume all of your beliefs to be true.

What does it sound like?

“I feel worthless. Therefore, I am indeed worthless.”

Instead try…

Noticing when you’re thinking emotionally, distancing yourself from that emotion, then finding evidence to support the alternatives. You feel worthless when you’re sad, so try saying: “I feel worthless because I’m sad. If I was happy, I wouldn’t feel worthless, so it can’t be true that I am worthless. In fact I have worth as a mother, a wife…” and so on.

Personalising

What is it?

You unnecessarily assume that all bad things are a fault of you as a person – and the more responsibility you take, the stronger the guilt you feel.

What does it sound like?

Let’s say your daughter scores badly on a test. Straight away you jump to the conclusion: “This is because I’m a bad parent. It’s all my fault.”

Instead try…

Removing the personal element and applying narrative to the situation. Look at bad things from every angle – not to arrive at a conclusion, but to see what can be improved in the future. There’s never a single, arbitrary reason for things – your daughter’s test scores are more likely a result of lack of revision, her not understanding the subject, or her not having access to the right textbooks – all things that can be changed.

Converting positives to negatives

What is it?

Although you’re quick to take the blame for your failures, you have myriad excuses for your achievements. Whenever something good happens, you attribute it to luck or the influence of others.

What does it sound like?

“I didn’t perform well today. It only looked like I did, because everyone else was so bad.”

Instead try…

Celebrate achievements as a priority. Focus on the positives and stop trying to find excuses for them. If you do resort to negative thinking, flip these thoughts back on themselves. In the last example, you could go on to think: “Maybe everyone else did perform badly, but I still deserve to celebrate my success because I earned it.”

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Published 19/01/16