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How's Your Self-esteem? 5 Booster Shots for the Summer
by Janet Jacobsen
June 2004

So many times when people talk about their own problems or the difficulties in a relationship, they seem to conclude that an underlying cause is (or was) lack of self-esteem or self-confidence. “If only they (or I) were more self-confident,” they says, “we wouldn’t have these problems.”


In most cases I’m inclined to agree with the conclusion, but a bit more cautious about the spirit behind it. Self-confidence isn’t something we get, like a new sofa, and then we’ve got it forever. It’s more like a plant - something we develop that is always going to require some care and attention.


It’s well worth the effort, though. When we increase our self-esteem, we not only feel better about ourselves, but we also have more strength and energy to contribute to our social life in general and our relationships in particular, which generally leads to a better social life and better relationships.


Oh, sure, Janet, you say, and where am I supposed to go to get this? Well, remember that it’s like a plant -something you grow - and what I’m about to offer you are some seeds that I know (not just from research but also from personal experience) will give your self-confidence, social life, relationships and summer a terrific boost if you’ll start “growing” one or more in your life.

Learn Something
When you’ve learned something new - whether it’s a new skill or new information - you just naturally feel expanded as a person, more capable. Sure you can take college courses if you want, but it’s not necessary to make such a big commitment. The community centers and parks departments and community colleges always have one-shot or short course programs to teach you something new. Or ask a friend, who has a hobby you’d be interested in, to teach you. Or read on the subject - books, or even magazines. Your neighborhood librarian will be happy to help you plan a short reading list to get you started.
Computers, foreign language, wine appreciation? Learning not only makes you interested, it makes you more interesting.

Do Something
Forget what exercise does for the weight and muscle tone. Think of those side benefits. Regular exercise does incredible things for your mind! Sharpens you up, and just knowing that you’re out there doing builds your self-confidence.
And don’t grumble about expensive gym memberships. You don’t need all that. Splash in the city pool regularly. Or follow the advice of the woman who wrote us a while back and said that just getting out every morning to walk her dog had helped her health and her attitude. I go for walks at the golf coursenear where I live, in the early morning or just before sunset and there’s always lots of other folks out walking too. No promises you’ll meet someone (gyms are good for that, though!), but definite promise that - from my experience - a half hour walk 4-5 days a week for 6 weeks will definitely perk up your life.

Give Something
It’s so easy for singles - especially in the divorce recovery stage - to get so focused on what we want and what we need and what we’re getting or not getting. No wonder we start feeling like life’s a vicious circle; turns out we’re chasing our own tails. The fastest way to break the cycle is to reach out - and do something for others.
No need to join the Peace Corps or sign up to be a Scout leader for life (though those are fine activities). If this is new to you, try the short term. Look for a charity, church or nonprofit agency you’d like to help. Then call them and volunteer for one Saturday, or even one evening. (Habitat for Humanity often will have a day where you can pitch in, no building skills required.)
It’s a start. Your political party, cause, or candidate will be happy for whatever effort you can offer. Help out a singles group - or start one.
Listen to yourself. Are you fussing a lot about your life? This will fix it; the more you give, the more you get.

New Look
Shake yourself up a little. We knew a woman who - as part of her divorce recovery process - bought a couple of wigs. She’d wear one when she was going some place new, so she could pretend she was a whole different person if she wanted to.
Change your haircut. Change your hair color. The great thing about hair - it grows back! By the time you’re tired of the new look, your “old” look is back.
I once bought a red, white and blue satin skating jacket in a thrift shop. It was so “not me” that I really enjoyed wearing it; I’d always considered myself a woolen and tweeds kind of person.
Grow a beard; shave off your beard. Little changes can make a big difference. Shake yourself up.

Drop TV
A friend of mine, who doesn’t own a tv, had been sick and borrowed a tv while he was convalescing. Some time later I asked him how his weekend had gone and he answered that he didn’t know; it just seemed to have disappeared, life suddenly seemed to be passing him by. Since I have the same symptoms under similar conditions, I recognized the illness immediately.
“Have you still got that tv?” I asked.
He knew where this was leading. “Yes,” he said, sheepishly.
“And that’s what you did this weekend,” I said.
“That’s what I did,” he nodded.
“Get rid of the tv,” I advised.
“I’m getting rid of the tv,” he concurred.
If you’ve never (or not in recent years) had the experience of doing without television, it’s very difficult to realize how much it can affect your life. The average American watches more than 27 hours a week - more than a whole day, just watching.
If your first reaction is, “What would I do without the television!?” then that’s exactly the problem. What would you do? And whatever it is you decide, it’s bound to offer a lot more for your learning, doing, and giving than just “watching”does for you.
If that is more radical than you can bear, then just give up watching the news. Try it for a month. You’ll be surprised how much brighter the world becomes. (No, you don’t have to miss out on what’s going on. Listen to the radio.)
Of course, these days it may be that your time is all going to the computer - e-mailing, surfing the web, etc. Is it productive time, or killing time? If it’s killing time, cut back.

Our sense of self is a living, growing thing that can suffer a shock or a chill just the way a plant can. Or maybe it’s just suffering from neglect. Any one - or combination - of the items here can give you the boost you need. And the positive effects carry over into all of your relationships as well.


There’s a certain air about summer that invites experimenting with the new. Now’s your chance. Go for it.