NYC Oct 2012

In our society, our physical appearance gets top billing. That’s why so many people focus so hard on wanting to be thin or muscular or whatever. We assume that a societally-acceptable appearance will bring us more confidence.

We’ll lose a few pounds and suddenly gain a backbone and a better self-image. We’ll have super-strength self-esteem, impervious to insults, cruel remarks, stress and anything else unpleasant and hurtful.

But we know this idea is pure fairytale. Because how you feel about yourself can’t be dependent on something as fleeting and on-the-surface as body size or weight.

And as we all know (but probably find it harder and harder to truly believe thanks to our society and other influences), we’re so much more than our body parts. Than a lifted butt, flat abs, perky breasts and slim, sculpted thighs.

Your body image and self-esteem are intertwined. But no amount of weight loss can give you a strong foundation of positive self-worth.

In addition to feeling good about our bodies, it’s important to feel good about ourselves as human beings. To like who we are, to know we’re deserving of respect, compassion, contentment and other great things. To know that our needs and wants matter.

Of course, all of this sounds well and good, but what if your self-esteem is shaky?

Like I always say, small steps. One step leads to another that leads to another.

Therese Borchard, an amazing mental health advocate, talented writer and author of the blog Beyond Blue, recently posted about a practical tool that’s helped her gain a sense of self and faith in herself. It’s called a “self-esteem file,” and I think it’s a great place to start. She gives 10 tips on how to create one here.

Basically, a self-esteem file contains anything and everything that says something positive about you. Maybe you print out an email from your boss that thanks you for a job well done or include an old birthday card that thanks you for being a great friend.

As Therese writes in her step one:

My therapist first told me to try to identify ten of my strengths–ten positive qualities about myself—and to write them down on a piece of paper. This first step, trying to recognize your own assets, and to begin, ever so slightly, to believe in yourself again, is the most important. And the most difficult.

Think hard about what people have told you in the past: things that you do especially well, or about personality traits they admire. Think about your job. Why are you good at it? Or about your hobby. What makes you enjoy it? What is that something special about you?

You might also go through old birthday cards, or report cards, or annual reviews (excerpting ONLY the positive), think back to past conversations with friends, page through photo albums and scrap books—anything to recall those times when people recognized your talents and assets and expressed appreciation for them.

I also love this step about collecting affirmations — regularly:

Become an affirmation hoarder. That’s right. Whenever anyone says anything remotely positive (“You smell interesting today”), record it: on a post-it, legal pad, receipt, or on anything that you can shove into your self-esteem file. Pretend you are a New York Times reporter with the assignment of breaking the case that you are a precious, loveable, wonderful human being that so many people in this world appreciate, love, respect, and admire.

Put into your file all those letters and cards and notes and e-mails that are complimentary in any way. Look also for “proof” in the past that you are worthy and loveable with more than 10 positive attributes: professional feedback, birthday cards, thank-you notes, Mother’s Day presents (if they are made of paper), Valentines.

And in her last step, Therese writes:

As you watch your self-esteem file widen, and fatten, and thicken, and grow, a curious thing might happen … you might not depend on it so much. You’ll graduate to what David Burns, M.D., author of “10 Days to Self-Esteem” calls “unconditional self-esteem.” Explains Burns: “You realize that self-esteem is a gift that you and all human beings receive at birth. Your worthwhileness is already there and you don’t have to earn it.”

Have fun with this. Go to the store and get a pretty file folder, and create an e-folder in your email, too. If you’d like, you can even involve your family or friends in the process.

What’s been the hardest part for you in improving your self-esteem? What do you think about creating a self-esteem file? What are your strengths? Please share and let’s celebrate them!