The importance of self-love, positivity and self-esteem
Published by: LifeWorks,
Did you know that happiness is the single best word that captures the construct, or concept, of well-being? When we are happy, we experience positive emotions that allow us to broaden our perspective and build our resources.
On the flip side, when we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed or are experiencing the symptoms of depression, we get tunnel vision and make shortsighted decisions out of our instinct for self-preservation. In these situations, we can often have trouble seeing the goodness in life, making it difficult to sustain the healthy habits that make us feel good and keep us on track. At its most basic level, stress can sabotage us and our best efforts.
Self-love is key to building happiness, but it’s also one of the things that tends to fall by the wayside when we’re feeling stressed or depressed. Some of the main ways to develop self-love are thorough positivity and self-esteem.
You’ve probably heard a lot about the need to build self-esteem in children but the ability to feel or think positively about yourself is just as important for adults.
No matter how old you are, self-esteem can help you set and achieve goals and take setbacks in stride. It’s a reflection of how you judge your own self-worth and includes the ability to have faith in yourself even if you sometimes make mistakes. Adults with healthy self-esteem accept responsibility for their own actions. They are motivated, set challenging goals for themselves, and take pride in their accomplishments. They have tolerance and respect for others and are able to forgive themselves and others. They have love for themselves.
Having healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean being perfect, but accepting yourself as you are. For most of us, our self-esteem will fluctuate throughout our lives. One study found that for both genders, self-esteem typically is high until about the age of nine. Then it declines in adolescence, goes up afterward, rises throughout adulthood (peaking in the mid-60s), and goes down in old age.
In addition to these fluctuations, most of us experience other shifts that reflect our unique experiences. You may feel very good about yourself when things are going well at home and at work, but find that harder to do if you develop serious family, health, or job problems. That’s why it’s important not to assume that because certain things happened to you, you will always have “high” or “low” self-esteem. Even if you’re having trouble feeling good about yourself, there are things you can do to strengthen your self-love.
Focus on your own unique set of strengths. Identify your strengths. If you know that you do a number of things well, a setback in one area is less likely to cause problems you can’t handle, or damage to your overall feeling of self-worth. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Make a list of your positive qualities, strengths, and accomplishments. Read over your list and add to it often. Make sure you incorporate these qualities into your life; the more you live from them the better you will feel.
Take inventory. Identify negative thoughts or feelings that you experience about yourself as well as the situations that cause those feelings. Challenge your thoughts and feelings, then ask yourself: “Do they really make sense in this situation?” Determine a more positive way to react to those situations next time they occur. Remember that self-talk affects the way you feel. So be kind to yourself. Eliminate calling yourself names like “stupid,” “idiot,” or “loser.” When you catch yourself talking negatively to yourself, tell yourself to stop. For example, if you make a mistake at work and your supervisor brings it to your attention, instead of saying, “I’m such an idiot. How could I have been so stupid?” say, “I made a mistake and I’ll learn from it.”
Do something every day that makes you feel good. Feeling a lot better about yourself overall often begins with feeling a little better every day. Depending on your interests, you might exercise, listen to music, say a prayer or recite an inspiring poem, cook a wonderful meal, read a story to your children, spend time with a pet, or pursue a rewarding hobby.
Many experts have written about strategies you can use to boost your level of happiness—the antidote to stress—in both the short term and long term:
Identify your unique “Flow states.” In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes Flow as the “sweet spot” between challenge and skill. To identify when you are in flow, ask yourself: What am I doing when I…
am at my most creative?
lose all sense of time?
feel most alive?
am so caught up in the moment that I cease to exist?
By using your flow states, you can expect to more effectively renew and recharge, positioning yourself for greater happiness, life satisfaction and optimal performance.
Practice “Gratitude Spotting” and journaling. Being mindful of and reflecting on the things we are grateful for is key to happiness. Martin E.P. Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, says that people who practice gratitude spotting and journaling are more optimistic and happier. Keep an electronic or paper journal and plan to find a quiet time and place every day to write down a minimum of three things you’re grateful for. By doing this you are establishing a happiness-enhancing habit.
Savour life’s pleasures. According to Seligman, savouring is an awareness of pleasure and the deliberate, conscious attention to the experience. Focus on these steps:
Be in the moment and tell others how much it means to you.
Take a mental or physical souvenir to build a memory, like a shell from the beach where you took your last holiday.
Fully appreciate and bask in the moment to remind yourself how long you’ve waited for this good thing.
Sharpen your perception by zeroing in on the “good stuff,” like closing your eyes while you enjoy a piece of music.
Afterward, absorb and marvel in how you lost yourself in the moment.
Research shows that there is a positive, cumulative effect when we increase our happiness, decrease our stress levels, and boost our resiliency in the long term.
Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, such as when you may be experiencing personal or family issues, a serious health concern, work stress, money worries, or other difficulties. It’s the ability to bounce back from challenges. One of the key ways to build resilience is to focus on self-care.
Reframe how you view problems and challenges
A key element of resilience is your perception of an event, according to the Columbia University psychologist, George Bonanno, who has been studying resilience for 25 years.
Reframe a difficult experience. Reframing means changing the way you think or “talk” to yourself about a stressful event. Instead of saying “I will never get through this,” you might try a more positive and realistic thought such as, “I will get through this by using the techniques that have helped when I’ve had difficult experiences in the past, including asking others for help and finding strength in my community.”
Remember that stressful events usually provide opportunities to learn and grow. Try to identify these, so they can help you in the future. For example, if you are dealing with significant financial concerns, try to understand the things that contributed to your situation and what you could do in the future to avoid repeating the same mistakes (i.e. fewer credit cards, not carrying a balance, making a budget, etc.)
Build your emotional resilience
Learn from others who are role models of resilience. Think about other people you know and admire who are resilient, whether they are public figures or people you may know in your personal or work life. What are some of the strategies you’ve noticed them using to deal with and stay strong through adversity? Think about how you could adapt and use some of those strategies in your own life.
“This too shall pass.” Try to see your situation as temporary, no matter how difficult. Life tends to ebb and flow in ways that are impossible to predict. This view can help you gain perspective and maintain momentum to work through the current circumstance.
Try to avoid catastrophic thinking. During times of uncertainty, we often try to fill in the blanks. We may wonder “what if this happens” and imagine worst-case scenarios. While it is good to be prepared, it is rare that worst-case scenarios come true.
Keep your life simple
Simplifying your life is especially important during stressful times.
Simplify your routines and set limits to protect your time. Plan simple meals. Resist signing up for too many activities or over committing yourself. Don’t be afraid to say “no.”
Make time for simple pleasures, such as watching the sunset, playing with your pet, or simply sitting and drinking a good cup of tea with someone you love.
Most of us feel more confident in some areas of our lives than others. If you have a strong sense of belonging to a family or group of friends, but lack confidence in your skills at work, you might upgrade your skills by taking a few courses at an adult education centre. If you have confidence in your skills but lack a sense of purpose or direction in life, you may want to get involved in a volunteer project that enables you to make a contribution to your community.