Self-esteem affects all areas of your life. What you do, how you do it, how you treat yourself and others, and how much you enjoy life are all affected by your level of self-esteem. If you have low esteem you’re unlikely to be as motivated to take care of yourself physically, or achieve your goals, as someone with higher self-esteem; and that means weight control will be more difficult for you.
The benefits of good self-esteem don’t stop at your waistline, though; improving your self-esteem affects your whole life, and the lives of those around you, for the better.
Test your self-esteem
Before we go any further, try this three-step evaluation to determine the state of your self-esteem.
1. What sort of person are you? The first thoughts that come to mind in response to this question will give you insight into whether you have high or low self-esteem.
If your first thoughts run along these lines: “I’m not really good at anything, I’m not very smart, I’m such a negative person, I’m unattractive…” you probably have low self-esteem.
If your first thoughts run along these lines: “I really like myself, I’m competent, I measure up reasonably well when it comes to most things in life” your self-esteem is fairly high.
2. Put this analysis to a further test by answering these questions:
- Do you deserve to be happy?
- Do you feel competent and comfortable in most situations?
- Do you think you can manage life’s basic challenges?
The higher your self-esteem, the more likely you are to answer “Yes, I deserve to be happy, I feel competent in most situations, and I also have the guts and common sense to manage life’s basic challenges.” If you have low or iffy self-esteem you're more likely to respond to these questions in the negative.
3. Which of these traits would you expect to see on a “report card” of yourself? You’re likely to have a mixture of responses, but the balance will give some indication of the level of your self-esteem.
High self-esteem traits
Low self-esteem traits
Involved in healthy relationships
Someone who exercises good judgment
Willing to take risks
Able to handle criticism well
Someone who takes pride in accomplishments
Caring of myself and others
Fearful, especially of failure
Unable to readily set or achieve goals
Rarely able to look people in the eye
Susceptible to eating disorders, drug abuse or violence
Over-analytical of myself
Disrespectful of myself and others
A blame-shifter. I have trouble saying “sorry”.
Lacking in confidence
Doubtful of myself and others
Always trying to impress people
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is a hard concept to pin down, but basically it has to do with the way you perceive and experience yourself and your life. It shows through in the attitudes, beliefs, and opinions you have about yourself; it affects all aspects of your life, including what you think, how you act and feel, and how you interact with other people.
If you have good self-esteem, you believe in yourself and have confidence in your ability to think and make good decisions. You also value yourself and know that you are valuable to others. This shows in the way you take care of yourself and those around you.
If you have low self-esteem, you tend to doubt yourself and your ability to achieve things. You focus on all your negative characteristics, while ignoring or invalidating your positive characteristics. This thinking often comes across in destructive behavior toward yourself and others.
What self-esteem is not
People often confuse high self-esteem with happiness or outgoing confidence. But high self-esteem is not just about “feeling good” or being a loud, outspoken person.
Lots of things make us feel good for a while, but most of them are external to our selves and they pass. The euphoria from a drug, or a compliment, or falling in love, as examples, is not the same as the consistent affirmation that comes with high self-esteem.
Plenty of people also think they’re heaven’s gift to humankind and others tend to equate this thinking with "high" self-esteem. But high self-esteem is not just ego-driven; it’s demonstrated in positive thoughts and actions towards others as well. Anyone who is egocentric, conceited, boastful, bullying, or takes advantage of or harms others, really exhibits traits of low self-esteem, or pseudo self-esteem, rather than high self-esteem.
Weight control made (more) difficult
Losing weight is challenging at the best of times, but with poor self-esteem it becomes even more difficult. If you don’t think you deserve to look and feel good, why bother?
Poor self-esteem encourages a negative and distorted body image, meaning you drastically undervalue your body and appearance; this in turn discourages you from taking care of yourself. And if you don’t want to take care of yourself, where is your motivation to control your weight?
If you have low self-esteem it's also likely that you don’t give yourself enough credit for achievements, focusing on what you haven’t done instead of what you have. For example, if you go for a twenty-minute walk, you tell yourself you should have gone for forty minutes. This sort of self-discouragement can be a major problem for achieving goals; who wants to keep trying when they feel they are constantly failing?
On the other hand, if you have high self-esteem, you believe that you deserve to feel and look better, you congratulate yourself for small achievements, and believe in your ability to eventually achieve your long-term goal of permanent weight loss. Taking care of yourself and your body is a natural extension of high self-esteem.
Seven steps to better self-esteem
Self-esteem isn’t something set in concrete; if you want to improve it, you can. But it also doesn’t happen overnight. Finding the skills to manage your self-esteem takes time, commitment, support, and sometimes professional assistance.
Ultimately, improving your self-esteem is about changing your frame of mind. The best way to do this is to consistently affirm yourself while acting in ways that you find praiseworthy and which support your idea of what makes a good person.
For inspiration and guidance on improving self-esteem, we’ve come up with seven helpful steps. Dig deep with these; they may seem simple, but if you truly follow them, they will have a dramatic impact on your self-esteem.
- Redefine yourself. How do you see yourself? List your five best qualities. Now list your five worst qualities. If it took you a long time to come up with five good qualities, what are you forgetting? Have you overlooked the fact that you are a good friend, co-worker, sibling or parent? Have you remembered your intelligence and humor or the way people can depend on you?
Select positive aspects of your self-description and repeat these to yourself every day. When a weakness or flaw rears up, decide if, in the grand scheme of life, it's worth the effort to change. If it's worth changing, set some goals and work on it. If not, stop hanging on to it as evidence to support your low self-esteem!
- Live right. Increasing your self-esteem is not just about thinking positive, it’s about engaging in the kind of behaviors that will make you proud of yourself. This doesn’t imply that you have to climb Mt. Everest or earn six figures to be proud of yourself. It’s the small behaviors that matter.
Many people ignore the fact that having good self-esteem is largely about doing the right things in life; about being true to your own values, taking risks, accomplishing what you set out to accomplish, keeping promises, practicing tolerance, and thinking of and treating other people well.
Live right, and then next time you tell yourself how worthless you are, you will have concrete proof that your self-perception is inaccurate.
- Respect yourself. You're worth it. Respecting yourself means valuing your body, thoughts, and feelings. All of these affect your self-esteem in the long term. If you're exhausted, respect your body by getting a good night’s sleep. If you have an opinion on something, respect the value of your thoughts and don't be afraid to share them. If you're feeling stressed out, listen to your emotions and give yourself a break. Would you make excessive demands of a friend who was feeling tired and overloaded? Remember that you are valuable and worth taking care of – don’t discount yourself and your needs.
- Accomplish goals; acknowledge achievements. Setting goals and achieving them is vital to improving self-esteem. It doesn’t matter how small they are. Get started by doing something that you have been putting off - wash that car, call that friend, clean out that drawer, plant those flowers. Take note of all your accomplishments, no matter how small. This way, when you start tearing yourself down and saying you can’t do anything, you will have proof that you are wrong!
- Be good to yourself. Being good to yourself means treating yourself as the valuable person you are. It means eating wisely, exercising often, spoiling yourself sometimes, relaxing when you need to, and doing things you enjoy and that are important to you. It’s helpful to write down at the end of each day how you have treated yourself in terms of your health, what you have done for yourself, and how you have affirmed yourself.
- Accentuate the positive. Walk, talk, and dress in ways that accentuate everything that is positive about you. Avoid clothes, posture, and self-talk that emphasize your flaws. We all have flaws, but people with healthy self-esteem don't dwell on them. "Smile and the rest of you will catch up to it," as the saying goes.
- Recognize your talents and abilities and use them. Find the things you have a flair for, and do them for your own enjoyment and satisfaction – not to impress others. Everyone is good at something. What are your talents? Are you using them? Do you like to paint, write, garden, or play the guitar? Are you good at sports? Do you enjoy the outdoors? Are you a good listener? A devoted friend? An encourager? Remember, you don’t need to be Michelangelo, Mozart or Mother Teresa to use your gifts!