The term “self-esteem” may be somewhat overused these days. That’s hard to avoid when it appears everywhere we turn—in ads, magazines, book titles, and on every TV talk show. Still, no matter what words you use to describe it, the way you see yourself—and how that makes you feel—plays a vital role in every aspect of your life. A prospective partner will take his or her cue from you when sizing you up. But self-esteem is not a change of clothes you throw on before every date. It requires that you actually be someone and do something you can feel good about.
Here are 15 ideas to choose from:
1. Volunteer. There is no faster way to boost your own sense of self-worth than making someone else’s life a little brighter. Hospitals, museums, animal rescue centers, homeless shelters, and food pantries are always needing new volunteers. Find something that appeals to you and lend a hand.
2. Forgive somebody. This could range from someone you have not seen in years to the barista who was rude when you ordered coffee this morning. But forgiving somebody is not about them—it’s about lightening your emotional load and feeling better about yourself for it.
3. Do your best—all the time. Sometimes low self-esteem is well deserved—because you’ve been letting things slide. Tighten the ship to feel better.
4. Have a giant yard sale. The point is not to make a little extra money, though that never hurts. The real payoff lies in how good it feels to simplify your life and get rid of excess stuff.
5. Purge your life of toxic relationships. Stuff is not the only thing clogging the arteries of your self-image. Some people do that too. You can know who they are by asking yourself a simple question: Does being with this person make me feel energized and alive or drive me to shut the blinds and watch depressing movies all weekend? If you answered the latter, graciously bow out of the draining relationship.
6. Donate some money. Worthy causes abound. Support your favorite one with a financial sacrifice, and you’ll have yet another reason to feel good.
7. Teach a continuing education class. There is an old adage among educators: “There’s no better way to learn something than to teach it to someone else.” It’s also hard to find a better feeling than helping someone else master a new skill.
8. Smile more often. It isn’t necessary to wait for a reason. Research has documented a direct link between smiling or laughter and the neurochemicals of happiness and well-being. Give yourself a regular dose.
9. Change your look. Hair, clothes, music, favorite restaurant, books, TV shows—all can become a rut you fall into without knowing it. Like the old saying goes, “A change is as good as a rest.” Or a boost in how you feel about yourself.
10. Get in shape. Do it for you.
11. Pursue something on your bucket list. Low self-esteem is often triggered by the feeling of being stuck in neutral in your life, so shift gears and hit the gas.
12. Learn a new language. The first time you order dinner at an ethnic restaurant and exchange a phrase or two with the waiter in his native language, you will feel like a million bucks.
13. Throw a party. It can be anything from an elegant dinner party to a bad science fiction movie viewing night. Nothing beats a little fun for raising your spirits.
14. Take dance lessons. This item is good for several self-esteem boosters in one: exercise, new friends, and making it look good on Friday night.
15. Take a risk. Step outside your comfort zone and reach for something you want—and for a greater sense of empowerment. Start a business, move to a new neighborhood, publish your poetry, audition for a play, ask for a raise, get to know somebody new—you name it.