Self-compassion is a general approach to combating self-doubt, and something that each of us would do well to practice every day. But let’s zoom in a little and consider some more detailed, practical ways of tackling feelings of inferiority or low self-esteem. Let’s return to our process of uncover, remove, reduce and transform and see how someone might use these tactics to dismantle self-doubt narratives in real life.
Let’s imagine someone who is in the grips of the curse called “making comparisons.” You know how this goes: you feel pretty OK about yourself until you look at someone else’s achievements, and you’re suddenly overwhelmed by a crushing sense of failure and inadequacy.
Social media almost seems like a machine designed to make this painful comparison game as efficient as possible—we are bombarded with images of people living amazing lives, and we feel worthless in comparison.
Imagine a woman who regularly sees pictures of her friends and acquaintances going on expensive holidays to exotic locations, succeeding at work and living the high life, bragging about their workouts, their glittering social lives, showing off their beautiful homes, their beautiful families, their beautiful selves… it’s enough to make anyone feel like their life is a total failure by comparison.
The narrative goes like this: “Look at all those awesome people out there. Everyone else is living their best life and I’m just here on the sofa in my pajamas, with my life passing me by. Compared to them I’m so fat/poor/ugly/stupid…”
Can you immediately see how this thought process can totally undermine intentional and conscious thinking? Comparing yourself to others does a few things (none of them good): it makes you feel awful, it distorts your perceptions, and most importantly, it disempowers you.
Comparisons are disempowering because they place your self-worth and identify outside of yourself, rather than inside. Rather than proactively deciding what’s important to you based on your own desires and values, you look to others and respond passively to what you see, behaving out of fear and a sense of lack rather than being genuinely motivated and inspired to act with passion.
A narrative in which you compare yourself to others is particularly damaging for a few reasons:
• You’re not basing your comparisons on accurate data, anyway. Social media is, as they say, the “highlights reel” and curated to contain only the best bits. You don’t see your idols sitting on the sofa feeling like failures themselves!
• You’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to enjoy your life, right now, as it is. Whenever you compare the current situation with some hypothetical better one, you devalue what is, and set yourself up for perpetual dissatisfaction. The truth is, there’s always going to be someone smarter, more attractive, and wealthier than you. Does it make sense to allow this fact to drain your life of any potential joy you could experience from being just as you are?
• You’re disregarding your own uniqueness. Sure, some success can be measured quantitatively, i.e. how much money we earn. But most things in life, the things that truly matter, are not so easily comparable in the first place. How can you really measure happiness? Fulfilment? Purpose? When you rank yourself against others, you do everyone a disservice, because you’re ignoring how everyone is 100 percent a unique individual.
• You’re missing the opportunity to be inspired by those who could teach you something, or become your mentors. When you compare yourself to others, you cultivate jealousy, envy and resentment. What would happen instead if you celebrated others’ achievements, complimented them and sought their advice and help in your own life? Instead of being passively jealous, what if you were inspired to be the best version of yourself?
The woman in our example could begin by uncovering the root of her feelings of self-doubt, and why she feels compelled to compare herself to others. She may find that she was taught from a young age to value physical appearances and external markers of status and success, and may also discover a simpler fact that daily social media use is bad for her mental health.
She can look at these facts with compassion, and forgive herself for getting a little addicted to social media but also develop a kind concern about the core beliefs of low self-worth she may be holding.
Next, she could become aware of these thoughts and feelings when they emerge, and seek to remove them. For example, every time she notices herself feeling bad about her life, she can reach for a gratitude journal and write down three things she is grateful for. She could compile a list of good qualities she knows she has and read them to herself when in self-doubt.
She can repeat the mantra “I am enough” over and over again, focusing on the feeling and not just the words. She could simply step away from the screen and go for a walk, reminding herself of her ultimate values and life purpose.
In time, she can reduce her self-doubt mental block, and the compulsion to compare herself to others will diminish. She realizes that it’s OK to be impressed and inspired by others, but she commits to using this impulse to look more honestly into herself: are there any dreams that she has been ignoring? What does her envy for others say about her own life purpose? Rather than getting lost in shame and self-hate, can she find ways to express her unique self, and shine a little more?
In this way, comparisons and self-doubt are transformed. Awareness and conscious intention change everything. The great thing about intentional thinking is that it’s somehow both a cause and an effect of a well-lived life. The more we engage in purpose-driven, decisive action powered by our own values, the easier it is to feel confident in ourselves and set up a “virtuous cycle.”
This woman could put away her phone and ask herself honestly what she wants to achieve in life, then go out and start taking actions toward that goal. This boosts her self-esteem and strengthens her internal locus of control, both of which make it so that she genuinely cares less and less about what other people are doing. Rather than passively responding to images of other peoples’ lives, she is out there actively creating her own.
Practical ways to have less self-doubt and more confidence in yourself
Act the part
Dress nicely. Spend time on grooming, taking care of your appearance, getting a nice haircut, wearing fragrance, and standing up straight, shoulders back and chin up. No, looking good isn’t the answer to a low self-esteem, but it does subtly communicate the message to your unconscious mind: you are worth the effort. You are valuable and need to be taken care of. If you treat yourself, your body and your appearance with disrespect or disinterest, you’re conveying to others that you’re not valuable. It might feel vain at first, but eventually you’ll notice the impact your clothes and grooming can have on your confidence and self-esteem. Similarly, seeing that you value yourself will make other people treat you as important as well.
Cultivate the right kind of mental bias
Deliberately seek the generous, positive interpretation of events. It may sound cheesy, but the more you smile, the kinder you feel. The more you put an optimistic spin on things, the more you’ll start to believe it and act accordingly. Your mom was kind of right when she told you, “If you haven’t got something nice to say, then don’t say anything.” Watch your language: get rid of harsh words, swearing, criticism, judgment. Replace “can’t” with “won’t” or talk about “challenges” rather than “problems.” Remember, your mind is a program. Input positivity, and it’ll put out positivity as well. Find the silver lining in every negative outcome—there will always be one waiting to be discovered.
Slow down and go small
There’s no rush. Talk more slowly and clearly, and give yourself the opportunity to think things over—plus you’ll present yourself as more deliberate and trustworthy to others. Don’t stress about making quantum leaps. Just make one small change and stick to it for the long term, then make another. Pace yourself. Working consistently on small goals that build over time is more powerful—and achievable and sustainable—than making impressive improvements all in one go. Focus on small, manageable habits: the little things add up more quickly than you realize.