1. Boost Self-Esteem by Cutting Yourself Some Slack
Imagine a good friend accidentally switched the a.m. to p.m. on her alarm clock and missed a major appointment. Or that same friend lost the election for condo board president. You’d probably comfort this person and explain that setbacks and screw-ups are just part of life. Now imagine the person in need of a supportive shoulder was not your friend, but you.
“We tend to be so much harder on ourselves than we are on our friends,” says Kristin Neff, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas and the founder of the emerging field of self-compassion. A cousin of confidence rooted in Buddhist practices, this approach encourages people to boost self-esteem by viewing hardship and failure as reasons to be kinder to ourselves, instead of more critical.
In her popular TEDx Talk, “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion,” Neff explains that we’re tough on ourselves in part because we believe self-criticism is what keeps us from being lazy and self-indulgent. In fact, the opposite is true. Over more than a million years of evolution, our brains have been programmed to attack any problems we encounter; this dates back to when threats to our success (i.e., basic survival) were physical in nature. Today, it’s not our selves so much as our self-concept that’s under siege; when we become overly critical, Neff explains, we act as “both the attacker and the attacked.” This can increase stress and may trigger depression. “Most of us know how to be kind, caring, understanding people,” says Neff. “We’re just not used to treating ourselves that way.”