Telling yourself, once or twenty thousand times, "I'm smart; I'm beautiful; everyone loves me" won't make it true (or untrue) but, more crucially, won't make you start believing it if you initially did not. Studies show that reciting affirmations makes people with high self-esteem feel better about themselves, but makes those with low self-esteem feel worse.
So here's another strategy: Identify which types of people you admire—and mimic them.
Yes, it's a form of acting, playing dress-up, faking it until we make it.
Each of us has certain groups or categories of people whom we admire fervently—and sometimes, to the casual observer, inexplicably. Typically unified by occupation, era and/or lifestyle, these groups are, for us, legions of heroes. In this generalized way, we might idolize not just John Glenn, say, but all astronauts.
Our legions of heroes might be present-day, human and current, but also might not: Surgeons and vestal virgins, say. Falcons and elves. Such groups inspire and excite us—such that even thinking of kachinas or skin divers soothes or energizes us and makes us want to dance under a desert sun or watch Finding Nemo again.
These passions can begin at any age, but many start in childhood, when enchantment still infuses every crayon, kitten, song and star and when certain things hurt so much that heroes are imperative.
My heroes happen to be hermits, nurses, Buddhist monks, solo sailors and Wild West pioneers. OK, so here's the plan:
Let's emulate at least one of our hero-legions at least once a day. The fact that they are legions makes them easier than individuals to emulate—e.g., I can't BE Usain Bolt or Snow White, but I CAN improve my speed and/or endurance as can all long-distance runners and I CAN appreciate my helpers and/or accept praise graciously as can all fairy-tale princesses.
By emulating our heroes, even in small ways, we choose to resemble people we admire. This forces us, against the will of our self-loathing, to admire ourselves.
We need not, and in many cases cannot, live our hero-legions' lifestyles to the letter: But our inability to simply, wholly be a king or NASCAR winner is a gift, because it forces us to realize what we truly love about such groups. Our answers might surprise us: glamour, power, fame and fortune, sure, but maybe also creativity. Liberty. Risk. Scholarship. Self-reliance. Exploration. Ingenuity. Spirituality. Agility. Companionship. Solitude. Humor. Helping. Independence. Play.
What inspires us about our hero-legions might be qualities, activities, environments—yay, mermaids get to live at sea, phoenixes fly and cowboys work with animals!—or subtler, yet still unifying, factors.
Don't be daunted by your hero-legions' non-reality or grandiosity. Just say:
Today, I'll emulate ninjas by listening intently in the dark, thus learning to appreciate my keen ears, my alertness and/or the richness of what others dismiss as silence.
Today, I'll emulate bears by protecting my child. I'll emulate sailors by marveling at water as a life-giving, life-taking force. I'll emulate artists, although I claim I cannot draw, by choosing outfits, crafting cocktails, gardening or doing anything in any way that makes me notice composition, color, texture, line.
Today, I'll emulate pixies by giving someone an unexpected gift. Today, I'll emulate ancient pilgrims by walking everywhere I want to go. Today, I'll emulate chess masters by planning ahead.
Today, I'll emulate nurses not by applying bandages but by writing these words, which might help someone somehow, somewhere, someday even just a bit.