I know how it feels to struggle with finding inner happiness. While on paper I had a dream life and high-powered job, despite the trappings of success I battled eating disorders and low self-esteem for most of my teens and twenties. My life looked great to others, but felt like crap in real life because I was pressurising myself to be perfect. I have since changed the way I think and live and turned my life around. Self-care has been my biggest teacher. Here is what I’ve learnt…
1) Banish ‘All Or Nothing’ thinking
‘All or nothing’ thinking creates a problem as it only gives us two options. We’re either brilliant or dreadful, we’re successful or worthless. This ‘black and white’ way of seeing the world creates impossible standards, leaving little room for error. By limiting our choices and options, we set ourselves up for failure; we either have to be perfect in every way or we’re failures, which can lead to issues with self-esteem and anxiety. This kind of thinking can also lead to us abandoning goals as we feel if we make a ‘mistake’ then the whole thing is blown – and we might as well not bother. Give yourself permission to see the grey aspects of life so you can make mistakes and grow.
2) Practise daily gratitude
When we regularly take time out to notice all the good things in our lives, we can quickly turn negativity around. There are numerous studies and pieces of research that show gratitude positively impacts our mental wellbeing and encourages us to seek out more positivity in our lives. So keep a gratitude jar or diary, making a note of something you’re grateful for or happy about at the end of each day and popping it in the jar or your diary. Be specific about what you’re grateful for – the sunrise, a warm drink on a cold day, some positive feedback, etc – and look for small pleasures as well as bigger ones. If you review your ‘reasons to be grateful’ regularly you’ll soon feel more positive about your life.
3) Obsess about what you love
When we focus on something we start drawing all our attention to it. So if you develop an interest in red cars, for instance, suddenly you’ll start seeing them everywhere. Similarly if you’re drawn to bad news, you’re likely to hear it wherever you go. Our brains make us aware of every possible instance in which a piece of information might help in the current situation, drawing on past memories and experiences as well as new information to help us understand the current situation better and make decisions about it. In which case rather than making yourself hyper-conscious of negative stuff it’s far better to focus on what you love about your life, yourself, your work, your family and friends and you’ll start seeing good everywhere. Feed yourself positivity wherever you can.
4) Stop comparing your worst bits to someone else’s edited highlights
Assessing our self-worth by comparing ourselves to other people is a natural human tendency. But with the rise of social media and the Internet we are now comparing ourselves to potentially the whole world, which can make us feel small and worthless. So while fun, social media can also have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing and feelings of self-esteem. Remember that people only tend to show their edited highlights, not their down days or bad moments, which can have the effect of making you feel your life just doesn’t measure up. So do a digital audit, un-following or blocking anyone who triggers feelings of low self-esteem and staying away from websites and social media that bring you down. Give yourself a whole day a week when you switch off entirely and live only in the real world.
5) The power of positive affirmations
It may feel a bit weird to wander round repeating empowering statements to yourself, but in fact the repetition of positive affirmations builds new neural pathways in our brain. This really works. It’s a bit like building up strength through weightlifting: the more you repeat a phrase, the stronger your brain’s link with it becomes and the more quickly and easily your brain is able to access a particular thought. So choose a really positive affirmation, in the first person and in the present tense, eg “I am in charge of my destiny” or “I am more than good enough”. Repeat your affirmation often, perhaps 15 times each morning and each evening and that positivity will start to permeate your life.
6) Set your boundaries
Boundaries are the way we let the world know how to treat us, so think of them as an invisible shield. Having no boundaries means we’re effectively letting people walk all over us and we all know how that feels. Setting boundaries will signal to the world that you value yourself, so work out what’s important to you when it comes to the behaviour you expect from others and from yourself and start to live according to those boundaries. If you feel guilty at the thought of saying no, just keep reminding yourself where you chose to set your boundaries and why. You need to start living your life by your rules, and calmly but firmly standing up for yourself when those boundaries get ignored.
7) Let’s overcome perfectionism
The pressure to be perfect and ‘always on’ can be overwhelming. Whether the aim is to be the perfect boss, employee or partner, or have the perfect house, body or children, it’s a struggle to keep up with the never-ending stream of perfectionism. Psychologists have found there’s a tipping point at which perfectionism can backfire and have serious implications for our health, increasing our risk of burn-out, mental health disorders, stress and anxiety. Rather than striving for perfection, strive for progress, for growth and for the opportunity to learn. Imperfect action is always infinitely better than perfect inaction.