Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I think those are beautiful words to live by. I have loved that quote ever since I saw it printed on my junior high school walls. But, these words are just as hard to live by as they are beautiful.
Sometimes, it’s not only other people that make us feel inferior. Perhaps, more often than not, we make ourselves feel bad. At times it’s hardest to stop giving consent to our own thoughts that continually dwell on our negative traits and failures.
Having high self-esteem and self-confidence in today’s world can be really difficult. Pretty much everyone I know has struggled with low self-esteem at some point of their lives. Boosting self-esteem is one of the most common objectives I heard in therapy.
Even though low self-esteem is overarching in its reach in our lives, there are many simple exercises that can be done to slowly chip away at low self-esteem and replace it with confidence. Many of these exercises involve working on changing your thoughts. Without further ado, here is my summary of two 1-minute exercises that, when practiced consistently, can slowly but surely help build self-confidence and high self-esteem.
A 1 Minute Self-Esteem Exercise
Pick an Area to Work On
First, identify a specific belief or area of your life that you want to work on feeling better about. This might be recognizing your competency in work, knowing you are valued by your friends, or believing that you have the ability to take the next step in your musical dreams. I would recommend starting with a small belief and working your way up. It’ll be easier to change more minor beliefs involving low self-esteem than major beliefs that have been engrained in your brain for a long time. Once you have mastered this exercise with this belief then you can move onto the next low confidence belief.
After you have your area to work on, summarize in one sentence why this area is hard for you to feel good about yourself. Outline the reasons why you believe this self-defeating thought. Cognitive psychology uses this in something called thought records. You provide this reasoning so that you are able to come up with a positive solution that is believable and not just some unbelievable cheerleading phrase. Recognizing obstacles also helps you become more aware; you’re really addressing the negative arguments instead of floating wherever your thoughts take you.
Next, Identify the Positives
Next, recognize the positives about yourself- the other side of the debate mentioned above. Positives can be a really hard to identify, I know. If it came easily then you probably wouldn’t be reading this post. Here are some ideas for coming up with the positives:
- Play devil’s advocate. Just start debating all the negative thoughts you have in your head. This involves finding balance, which is really important.
- Ask yourself what your best friend or more supportive loved one would say to you. Better yet, ask them personally.
- Challenge yourself to notice when you are doing good things and add them to the list.
- Start small. Positives don’t have to be earth-shattering. They just have to positive.
- Google it. Everything’s on the internet at this point. I’m sure there are countless lists that can help you brainstorm the positives.
Sum It All Up with the New Thought You Want to Teach Your Brain
Lastly, come up with a therefore/sum-it-all-up sentence. This is the whole point of the exercise. Ask yourself: what am I trying to teach my brain? For example: Even though I sometimes makes mistakes, like I did today, I am learning and I know that I produce good work that my boss values.
Repeat this 10 Times a Day
By now you should have created a 4-sentence phrase that you can repeat to yourself. Now, your homework is to repeat this to yourself 10 times a day. Set a reminder on your phone. Text yourself. Write it on your mirror. Make a habit to think it as you eat your breakfast or drive to work in the morning. Read a note card 10 times a day. However you do it, just make sure you think it with purpose several times a day.
When you making this a habit, you are able to slow down your brain and act more intentionally instead of letting your thoughts run away from you.
For more information about this exercise, you can learn generally about Cognitive Therapy and thought records in workbooks such as “Mind Over Mood.” You can read up on Aaron Beck (he’s a founder in the Cognitive Psychology world). Or, read more specifically about self-esteem and exercises to boost it in “Marilyn Sorensen’s book, “Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem.” Another option is, “Reinventing Your Life” by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko; it outlines several “lifetraps” that people feel caught in, such as not feeling like you fit in. They too offer cognitive thought exercises (including notecard templates to read and repeat) to help identify challenges and slowly change thinking.
I have tried these exercises in my own life when I was struggling with various life challenges, and it helped me continue through and become more confident. It’s not easy, nor is it quick, but it’s simple and applicable. I have used this exercise numerous times with clients, and it’s always awesome to me to watch them make important discoveries and improve their self-esteem.
Another 1 Minute Self-Esteem Exercise: The 3 to 1 Ratio
The second exercise to increase your feelings of confidence is something Dr. Manning uses to help high-performing athletes. No matter what the objective is, athletic or otherwise, the principles are the same and so I include it here.
First, identify 3 Positives for the Day
It doesn’t matter what the positives are. The more you do it, the easier it will become to identify positives. I have learned this in a different, but similar way, how identifying positives has helped me feel happier. You can also (and maybe especially) focus your positives on specific areas you are working on. For example, as an athlete you identify 3 positives surrounding practices that day.
Second, identify 1 thing you want to work on.
Like the first exercise above, this exercise isn’t only about trying to be a positive cheerleader. Instead, you also acknowledge what there is to work on so the result is real and genuine.
When you do this exercise, you will end up with a 3:1 ratio of positives to negatives. Dr. Manning said that the 3:1 ratio was really important. You are intentionally trying to combat the low confidence and replace it with positives. You’re making an effort to stop your negative thoughts, sometimes unconscious, from running the show. Being intentional was part of the whole point of his counsel to the youth group I heard him speak to.
Do this thought exercise every night
Make an effort to identify these 4 things every night. Dr. Manning told the youth group that he has been working with a quarterback on this exercise for the last 7 years. That’s right- 7 years! Incidentally, this quarterback is on the Heisman watch list. So apparently it’s paying off for him.
Why These Ways to Boost Self Esteem Exercises Work
Your brain can be exercised and changed just like other muscles in your body. The more that you think about and focus on something, the stronger the neural pathway becomes in your brain. The more repetitions, the more your brain forms connections. The opposite is also true. The less that you use something in your brain, the connections stop forming and become lessened. For example, did you know that if kittens are blindfolded, or forced to have an eye shut, when they are little then their eyes will be either temporarily or even permanently blind? Nothing is wrong biologically, but the brain wasn’t able to strengthen the connections it needed to interpret what messages the eye was sending.
I saw an example of this when I recently went to a corn maze. The first time that someone went off the beaten path, I’m sure nothing happened and the corn sprang right back up. But, when people went off the beaten path several of time, I could start to notice and a small path was forged. I’m sure if people went off the beaten path dozens or hundreds of time then it would look like a well-worn trail.
The same goes for our brain. The more we practice confident, positive, and self-affirming thoughts, the more we believe it. Our brain will strengthen the positive connections and we will we ignoring the negative connections. Eventually, the corn can start growing back in the field of self-beliefs.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Like Dr. Manning said, practice makes permanent. While the individual exercises last only a minute or so, they have to be done repeatedly to make a difference. Lots of work goes into it. Remember the quarterback and 7 years that he was working on this? These exercises have been very helpful for some people, including me, and I hope they’ll be helpful for you, too.
These are just 2 simple exercises, but there are many, many more ways and theories to help boost self-esteem. This post is in no way meant to provide comprehensive means to improve self-esteem. If you struggle with perceived failures and imperfections, you can also check out this article on gaining confidence and living a full, loving life even through and especially with human imperfections. You may also be interested in our article on self-compassion, how it differs from self-esteem, and how to apply it in your life.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to provide therapeutic services. If you are struggling with low self-esteem and intense negative feelings (such as depression) that is more than you can handle, seek help from a professional. As mentioned above, these are 2 exercises and not meant to provide definitive, end-all means to improve self-esteem or negative moods.