It’s like magic…
If you are currently in a place where life doesn’t feel like much fun, you may be surprised to learn there are many, many “micro” actions you can take that don’t require a lot of effort, but can make a huge difference in how you feel about yourself and about your life..
In this final installment of our 3 part series, we’re going to show you an easy way to implement these micro actions, one at a time, to eliminate self-sabotaging behaviors and vastly increase your sense of self-worth.
NOTE – if you missed the first 2 parts of this series, you may want to go back and read them first: Success Blueprint: How to Get Out of Your Way and Success Blueprint: Traits of Wildly Successful People.
The Power of “Micro” Actions
Take the advice of my friend Dr. Julia Scalise, author of the bestseller “Do One Thing,” as well as Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi, authors of “Super Genes.” Pick one thing from the “micro” action list below and do it consistently for a period of time – we recommend at least a week or so. When that action becomes part of your routine, add something else and do it for a week.
Rinse and Repeat
The key is to not attempt to change everything at once. While that is very tempting, trying to make too many changes in a short period of time usually results in overwhelm and abandonment, and you can feel worse than when you started.
In this day and age of the quick fix, that may sound like it takes too long. But as the saying goes, “TIME FLIES,” and you will find yourself feeling better and better.
Getting Started: 7 Ways to Raise Self-Esteem and Eliminate Self-Sabotage
Although there is no set order in which action or category you start with, we recommend that you start with the REDUCE STRESS category, since being highly stressed makes it very difficult to make changes. The slow, deep breathing described below is an easy (and quick!) way to change your physiology and reset your stress response so that you are better able to make other changes. But if another category appeals to you more – go for it! Pick something that feels easy to implement and you will set yourself up for success.
You will find that there are a few actions that fall into multiple categories, and those are great choices to get more bang for your Change Buck!
1. Reduce Stress
One of the things that happens to us when under chronic stress is that we tend to snap back to old, familiar behaviors – even when they just make the situation worse. Reducing stress can help get you to a state where you can begin to change old, limiting beliefs and habits with far less chance of reverting to the familiar but harmful patterns.
- Meditation. Many people have the wrong idea about meditation, thinking that it takes a lot of effort. It doesn’t have to – there are many types of meditation out there, just pick one that appeals to you. Here are a few:
- Breathing meditation, where you simply focus on your inhale and exhale.
- Mindfulness meditation, where you focus on the moment, and pay attention to thoughts and sensations in a non-judgmental way.
- Loving Kindness meditation, where you start with loving-kindness for yourself and then progressively send that feeling to specific people, then more generally, ending with sending it to everyone.
- These are just a few examples, you can find descriptions of how to practice these and many other types of meditation.
- Slow, Deep Breathing. There are lots of studies that show the powerful benefits of practicing slow, deep breathing regularly. As in meditation, there are many different techniques, all with different advantages. We like practicing 6 breaths a minute because of the positive impact that has on the autonomic nervous system. This is a 10 second breath cycle, ideally 4 second inhale and a longer 6 second exhale. It is easily done by looking at a clock or watch that displays seconds. For other types of breathing exercises check out this article from Time Magazine: 6 Breathing Exercises to Relax in 10 Minutes or Less.
- Spend time with animals. For instance, dog owners (cat owners too!) tend to have lower blood pressure and fewer doctor’s visits than those who have no pets. If you don’t want or cannot have a dog or cat, you could still take advantage of the benefits of having a pet by volunteering at a shelter, pet-sitting, etc. Petting a dog or cat increases levels of oxytocin, a “feel-good” hormone.
- Get some exercise. Have you heard the stress response also called the fight or flight response? That means your physiology changes as the perceived stressor looms, by diverting your blood flow from your organs to your extremities so that you can either fight off that saber-toothed tiger or run from him. (There are a host of other physiological changes, but you get the idea.) Once the threat has been dealt with, the “fight or flight” response subsides, and the relaxation response kicks in. When you get moderate to intense aerobic exercise, that checks the “flight” block (the stress has been handled) and can help reduce the stress hormones in your body and allow you to relax.
- Volunteer. The altruistic helping of others has been shown to reduce the stress response. At the same time you can learn new skills and make contacts that you could potentially use in networking down the road.
2. Change your Inner Dialog or Self-Talk
Notice the negative things you are saying to yourself about yourself. Spend a few days writing down what you notice – you may be amazed at how much time you spend putting yourself down. Many people treat themselves with far more disgust and disdain than they would anyone else. Once you have spent some time analyzing what you say to yourself, these things can help reduce the negative chatter:
- Repeat positive affirmations to yourself. Go gently with this practice – do not try telling yourself something that you really don’t believe as your mind will tend to resist and light up your “B.S.” meter. Start out with general statements that feel good and are plausible. As you begin to feel better, you can start making the affirmations more specific. If you initially have trouble repeating affirmations you may want to listen to professionally produced subliminal affirmation recordings. These are very effective as support for your goals when produced according to high standards
- Write down a list of your own positive aspects, and review the list daily.
- What are your strengths?
- What are the many roles you fill?
- What are you good at?
- What adversities have you dealt with and put behind you?
Here’s a fun one…
- Change the characteristics of the voice that you use when you are talking to yourself.
- As an example, what does the voice sound like when you talk to yourself? Is it your voice? Does it sound like your Mother? Like your first-grade teacher? Is it some big bully with a deep voice? What would happen if you change the sound of that voice? Try playing with that and make the voice sound like Mickey Mouse – or maybe Donald Duck. Does that change the emotional impact of what you are saying inside?
- Where does it come from; above, in front? Is it close or far away? What happens when you change the location?
- Usually when we talk to ourselves, we have visual, auditory (sound) and kinesthetic (feeling) components that go along with it. Are you making pictures as you talk to yourself? Are they in color or black and white? Are the focused or not? Close or far away? These are all visual characteristics. Notice also how changing the voice characteristics can change the visual, auditory and kinesthetic components automatically and vice versa! Go wild and notice how playing with this can be very powerful and fun!
- What we have given here is a very small sample. For a broader understanding here is a more in-depth discussion of these characteristics also know as “submodalities.”
3. Raise your Mood
When you are feeling down, it is difficult to feel motivation to make changes. We are not talking about clinical depression, you should seek medical attention for this serious condition. We all go through times when we look at everything through a negative lens, and the following actions can help to shift that:
- Spend time outdoors, especially in sunshine.
- Get some exercise – it will boost levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain (and help reduce stress as well!)
- Get your daily dose of Vitamin D3, it has been linked to mood. You may also want to consider reducing the amount of sugar in your diet and getting plenty of healthy protein.
- Stop catastrophizing. If you feel yourself becoming stressed or anxious, listen to your language and what kind of words you are using. Are you generalizing? Look for words like ALWAYS and NEVER and ask yourself if the statement is true. It only takes one counter-example to bust the “always” and “never” myth. Once you realize you are engaging in this type of thinking, you can reel yourself in.
- Deliberately spend some time thinking about the good side of any situation. On a rainy day, imagine how good it is for the trees and other vegetation. If you are upset with someone in your life, think about what you LIKE about that person.
- Practice gratitude (this is a biggie!). At the end of every day write down 3 things that you feel grateful for. Spend some time reviewing what you have written in detail and how they make you feel. It can be helpful to keep a Gratitude Journal.
- Daydream. You may have been told that daydreaming is a waste of time, but studies have shown that is not true. Daydreaming helps us reflect on and learn from past experiences, come up with creative ideas, and possibly consolidate memories. Don’t forget to daydream about big, even outrageous things that make you feel good!
4. Sharpen the Saw
At BrainSpeak, this is what we call doing things that strengthen your “thinking muscle” that super-charge your ability to make changes.
- Learn something new. This helps to keep your brain sharp, can give you more fodder for conversation, and improve your job outlook.
- Learn a language. Learning a new language helps to keep your brain fit and can open the door to making new friends. Some careers require a second language, so it can also open the door to new job opportunities. Obviously this requires a longer-term commitment than some of these other suggestions, but it can be worthwhile. See this PsyBlog article for a more complete list of benefits.
- Get some exercise (seen this one before?). This is a key pursuit for brain fitness!
- Drink more water. One of the signs of dehydration is tiredness and lack of focus, so drinking more water can make you feel more alert and ready to go!
5. Increase Your Confidence to Help End Self-Sabotage
Lack of confidence can hold you back from an infinite number of wonderful experiences! Implementing some of the suggestions already made can help increase your confidence, like exercise. When you feel strong and fit your confidence cannot help but rise! Here are some others:
Most activities that raise your mood will also increase confidence. When you are feeling happier and more positive, your confidence comes along for the ride. Here are some others:
- Join Toastmasters. This may sound like a scary option at first, but remember the others in the group started out scared of public speaking too! They are very kind and encouraging. As you gain more speaking skills, your confidence will improve (and you may just make some new friends!).
- Work on your posture and become a “Super Hero!” Here’s a great article about the power of the “Super Hero Pose!” . When your posture is good, your muscles feel better, blood flow is better and you just LOOK more confident. (A note about this article – since the Ted Talk was created, there has been subsequent research that indicates the changes in testosterone do not occur – but the research still agrees that the pose helps confidence!)
- Another quick way to improve posture (and your confidence) is to focus on putting your palms up. We are so used to having our palms down, you probably haven never considered how much difference this can make. Try this now – from a sitting position, turn your hands so that both palms are facing the ceiling. This immediately shifts our hunched shoulders backwards. When walking, try turning your hands so that your thumbs are pointing away from your body.
- You can also try improving your posture through specific exercises. My favorite one is Janice Novak’s “Posture, Get it Straight!”
6. Cultivate Relationships (Not Just Romantic Ones)
Positive connections with others can improve your health and lengthen your life expectancy. It can also keep your brain sharp and increase happiness. Creating good relationships can help you end self-sabotage!
- Listen more. Make it a goal to really listen to people as you move through the day. Talk less. Focus on being more “interested” and less “interesting” and see how your relationships improve!
- Don’t hold your feelings inside. People in your life are not mind-readers. If something is important to you, find a way to express it in an appropriate way.
- Express appreciation (another biggie!). Let the people in your life know how much who they are and what they are doing means to you, and look for things you can complement them on – but make sure it is genuine. If you don’t like that yellow dress, don’t say that you do!!
7. Increase Your Sense of Accomplishment
This is one place where the practice of mindfulness can really help your awareness. Every day you accomplish many smaller tasks that you probably don’t even notice. Try to start paying attention – writing them down can help, especially when you are first starting to notice.
If you have tasks that take 5 minutes or less to do, don’t put them off. You will get an instant feeling of accomplishment, and they won’t be weighing you down as “shoulds” for the rest of the day.
- Make your bed every morning
- After a meal, wash your dishes and put them away
- If you are starting a new exercise program, workout for 5 minutes – you don’t have to do an entire hour the very first day!
- Go through the mail as soon as you bring it in the house – toss, shred, pay the bill, etc. It will be done, you won’t get any late payments, and you will reduce clutter!
So, to summarize…
1. Pick only one micro action from one of the seven categories above.
2. Implement that action in your daily routine for a week or so or until it becomes a habit.
3. Rinse and repeat.
4. Watch as your self-confidence increases and self-sabotaging behaviors fade into the sunset!
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to short-cut this process and end self-sabotage in only minutes a day, click here for more information…