We hear it all the time. “If you don’t love yourself, how can you expect anyone else to love you?” “You should be friends with yourself.” “Wherever you go, there you are.” The aphorisms are endless. But self-esteem is a tricky thing; it’s always a work-in-progress, and no matter how great some things might be going in your life, sometimes you simply feel dissatisfied with who you are, what you’re doing, and any given thing in-between. Though we might facetiously wish that self-esteem could be sold in stores, the fact of the matter is that it’s something you decide you deserve, and then put in the work to cultivate.
1. Take yourself out on a date. Go to the movies by yourself. Sit in a coffee shop with a book you genuinely enjoy and read for an hour or two. Go for a walk in the park (with or without music blasting in your ears). The more time you spend with yourself and get used to the idea of being on your own for even a few hours a day, the more you’re going to be able to take on the thoughts and emotions that crop up when you’re not distracting yourself with other people.
2. Listen to your gut reaction. It’s there for a reason, and not listening to it is only going to lead to doubting yourself even more. Even if you think that someone else knows better than you do, ask yourself why you felt something crop up in your head or heart or wherever it is you felt that reaction. Allowing yourself to feel how you feel — whether or not you act on these feelings — helps you begin to trust yourself. (And, of course, trust is an integral part of any relationship, no matter if it’s between two or more people or the self.)
3. Get comfortable with your own skin. It’s easier said than done, I know, but sit in your room in your underwear for 10 minutes a day if that helps. Sleep naked. Take a bath and really take the time to go over whatever cleansing ritual helps you feel your best. Find a workout that makes you feel strong and capable. (I spent a recent afternoon wearing a crop top around my apartment before I had the guts to wear it outside, but that’s my personal journey, so yolo. You know what, though? It really did help.)
4. Treat yourself to something nice. Whether it’s something really nice that you’ve saved up for, or even a cupcake because it’s Tuesday and you can. Sometimes being nice to yourself is a little materialistic, but even if it’s treating yourself to the kind of latte you’d only get in your dreams, hey, you’ve just got to do you.
5. Challenge yourself. Take the slightly more difficult workout class. Sign up for a race. Offer to take on that project at work you’re not 100% sure you’ll nail. Set a goal, and then see what happens when you actually reach it. Chances are good you’ll surprise yourself with what you’re capable of.
6. Have a ritual. Whether it’s how you wake up and get ready for the day, what you do for your skincare routine before you go to bed, the place you like to grab coffee, the music playlist you turn to when you’re feeling low — whatever it is, if you can create a go-to for familiarity with what you like, you can learn to also honor not only what you want in that moment, but what you need.
7. … and then, sometimes, consciously break it. Try a different brunch place one weekend. Hang out with a slightly different group of friends. See why you feel strange if change happens. Examine that. Ask yourself questions about your discomfort (if there is any at all). Sometimes we need a change of pace just to recharge our mental states, but sometimes that change freaks us out. If you can feel solid in who you are and what you do no matter what, it’s a sign of a strong sense of self.
8. Stop apologizing when you don’t need to. We all do things that warrant apology, but anything more than a one time mea culpa more often than not sounds insincere. You don’t need to apologize for things that aren’t your fault — but you can think about what you might be able to do to prevent them from happening again. The more you apologize when you don’t need to, the less people are going to take the apology at face value, and the more you’re going to doubt yourself and wonder what you’re doing wrong.
9. Ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, and sometimes, all you need is a lifeline to help you feel that much more stable with where you are and what you’re doing. Use that as a springboard to continue on with your own path. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. It’s actually much more respectable than letting yourself drown.
10. Tell yourself you love yourself. Even if you don’t believe yourself when you say it. Especially if you don’t believe yourself when you say it. Because the more you say something, the greater the chances are that you’ll believe it one day. Take baby steps now. Tell yourself you love yourself — yes, out loud — and see how that sounds in your mind. Get comfortable with the idea that you’re worthy of your own love. Sooner or later, it honestly will creep up on you.