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Want Self-Esteem? Do Something Esteemable

When we think about self-esteem, often we think in terms of how to change the way we feel about ourselves. But my favorite fast-acting strategy to boost self-esteem takes an outside-in approach. If you want to experience higher self-esteem, do something that makes you feel strong, competent, compassionate, self-compassionate, brave, and upstanding. If you want self-esteem, do something esteemable.

Whatever the problem is—you want to be more confident at work, you’re worried that you’re coming off needy in a relationship, you’re feeling anxious, you’ve been feeling anxious all the time—start by doing something that will make you feel like you’re in an upward spiral. The desired feelings may come sooner than you think.

Want self-esteem? Do something esteemable.


10 “Esteemable” Things You Can Do Right Now:

  1. Take on a longstanding nagging task, finish the task, and scratch it off your mental to-do list. Positive psychology researchers say that tackling a nagging task, even if it’s something as simple as decluttering a drawer, gives you a happiness and self-esteem boost
  2. Look up that local organization that you’ve been wanting to volunteer with, call them, and get the process started. Volunteering is one of the best ways to get a self-esteem and happiness boost.
  3. Connect two people in your professional network who you sense would benefit from knowing one another
  4. Text a friend who might be struggling, or recently overcame a big struggle, to tell her you are thinking of her
  5. Clean your car. Do a DIY mini-detail. The next time you drive your car, you’ll feel like you’re driving a chariot. Really: “boring self-care” is sometimes the best self-care.
  6. Send an email to a friend or professional connection who you have lost touch with, to say hello and to let them know that you’re always game to help them out should they need a professional favor
  7. Offer to give a coworker a hand if he or she seems swamped, even if you could totally get away with kicking back and playing on your phone right now
  8. Reach out to a professional you’ve recently met who is new to your industry or younger than you and offer yourself as a resource to them for career advice
  9. Catch up on email. Get as close as you can to hitting inbox zero.
  10. Sit down and read a book in print. If it’s not something you do regularly, reading will make you feel like an owl wearing glasses and a graduation cap.

What “esteemable” things could you do today?

Self-Care Will Change Your Life

Do you have a self-care routine? If not, get excited: self-care gives you energy, improves your productivity, and adds depth to the relationship you have with yourself. If you know how to take care of yourself and preventatively self-soothe, or self-soothe in healthy ways, that’s a really powerful thing. Self-care can be little things you do every day to maintain your physical and mental health, or it can be an activity that charges your batteries and makes you feel taken care of.
Woman in nature


Self-care will look different for everyone.

Self-care can be an indulgence or it can be doing activities that aren’t necessarily pleasurable but yield great dividends. For some people, self-care is brushing their teeth, eating healthy, and making time for 8 hours of sleep. For some people, it’s going to SoulCycle. For others, it’s avoiding the gym at all costs and starfishing on their bed. It can be a walk around your favorite park, to be in nature and recharge. It can be getting extra dressed up for work or it can be having a favorite outfit you wear for lounging around at home. It can be buying—and regularly enjoying—an extra-soft blanket. Self-care is often manifested in the divine feeling of sliding into crisp, fresh sheets on “change the sheets day.”

When you have awareness of the activities you do (or could do) to make yourself feel really taken care of, you can create new and improved self-care rituals that are a match for your preferences and values.  Explore and experiment, to figure out how to charge your batteries most effectively in the time allotted.


Self-Care is Powerful

If we think of ourselves as having imaginary iPhone batteries next to our heads, self-care keeps the percentage as close to 100% as possible. Self-care is also powerful in that it reinforces that we can take care of ourselves, that we can self-soothe when we need to, that we can self-soothe in healthy ways, and that we can implement systems in our lives to be happier, healthier, and high-functioning. Self-care can be a slowed down activity (like watching Netflix or reading magazines), but it also requires action: a commitment to make the time and follow through.


Integrate Self-Care Into Your Daily Life

Set your alarm for five minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush in the morning. Make your bed every morning. Buy perfume or cologne that you like, to wear every day. Identify something fun you can listen to, like a podcast or standup comedians’ albums, to make your commute more pleasant. Take your lunch break. Create a ritual for relaxing during your commute home from work. Tidy up your apartment. Nap whenever possible. Take a shower or baths, and take deep breaths in the steam. Curl up with a nice blanket. Meditate. Whatever you do, when you do it, make a mental note: “This is self care.”


Test Out “Big Ticket” Self-Care Strategies

Try these on a weekly basis or when you need a life boost: Carve out an afternoon at work to devote to getting to inbox zero. Take an Uber home if it’s late and you’re super tired, instead of taking public transportation home. Deep clean your apartment (including your bathtub). Plan a lazy Sunday (and plan out your lazy activities so you don’t go insane without structure). Get a haircut. Change your sheets. Buy new sheets. Get a massage. Turn your phone off for thirty minutes. Go away for the weekend.

Do you currently have routines that make you feel healthy and vital? Can you make yourself accountable to a self-care routine, so you know that your batteries will stay consistently charged? What’s one thing you can do to take great care of yourself today?

So what do you do for fun?

This is such a loaded question. “Fun” is an innocent thing. But if someone asks us, ‘So what do you do for fun?’ and we can’t think of something quickly enough or if our idea of fun is Netflix, playing on our phones in bed, and going to bars, we feel like pieces of shit.

This is an area where having OCD is an advantage over the rest of the population.

When you have OCD, your OCD thoughts/worries can sneak up out of nowhere. Your plans for the evening may have been to watch a hockey game/ see a movie/ have a nice Italian dinner with a friend, but in your peripheral vision, it’s as though your OCD worry is perched on a stationary bike, working up a sweat, and yelling, “Hey! I’m going strong over here! How’s the piccata? Are you remembering to worry about ‘x’?”

When you have OCD, sometimes things that you intended on being fully relaxing aren’t relaxing at all. As said before, OCD has ruined many a Saturday. When OCD elects to join you during what was supposed to be a fun activity, and you do your best to enjoy whatever it was that you were doing and you keep living your life, you get an A+. But that doesn’t mean that it was relaxing. To the contrary, it’s a mental workout to be present when your brain is thinking itself in circles around a problem that doesn’t exist.

So, people with OCD need to be a little more proactive about having fun, because every now and then OCD crashes the party.

For people with OCD, fun is for a mental release, to experience joy, to develop mastery around a new skill or hobby, and, of course, to press re-set when we’re anxious.

Consider this: Ways to Have More Formal Fun

  1. Make a Google Map of restaurants where you want to eat and work your way down your list
  2. Ditto for movies
  3. Make a list of “culturally important” movies you want to watch (that can be Casablanca or it can be Fight Club—both count)
  4. Cut pictures out of magazines and decoupage them onto wine bottles or old furniture around your house
  5. Go hiking.
  6. Read books. You use Amazon Prime for everything else, so splurge on some really good books. Here are three “fun” recommendations (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Heart and Brain, and Bossypants) and three “thinky” recommendations (Superbrain, The Happiness Project, and Come As You Are).
  7. Join an ultimate Frisbee league
  8. Take a class. It can be cake decorating, Spanish for beginners, or a weekly drop-in yoga class. Either way, you’ll create new fibers in your brain.
  9. Research recipes and cook an elaborate dinner for you and a friend
  10. Go to a hockey game. Seriously, they’re riveting.

How can you make this list your own?

Consider the Fun You Already Have

If you approach the things you do with a more formal mindset, you can see that you have fun way more often than you think you do. You just aren’t noticing it or categorizing your fun as fun.  Eating at restaurants can be a hobby, especially if you are trying different cuisines, appreciating the interior architecture, or trying to find the best fish tacos in the city.  Taking showers can be fun—entire careers are built around the pleasures of grooming.  Upgrade to using a set of scented bath products and your showers will feel like spas. If you like watching movies, great! Structure the activity so you’re working through a list of “Movies to Watch.”

The distinction is mindfulness: when you’re doing an activity, take pause and notice when it’s fun.  Then, you can recognize, “Oh, this is fun! This is how I have fun!”  You have more information for the future, when someone asks you what you do for fun or if you need to do something to cheer yourself up.

Schedule time for fun.

If you do have clear-cut hobbies—like playing an instrument, browsing at thrift stores, or reading business magazines—but the issue is that you can’t find time to do these things, schedule them.  Use the “Saturday” and “Sunday” pages in your planner, and block out an hour or an afternoon to enjoy your hobby.  Observe the time commitment the way you would an appointment with a personal trainer or a mentor.  As in, you can’t miss it.  If you do this enough consecutive weekends, you’ll find yourself drifting towards your more active, engaging hobbies, instead of crashing onto the couch with your laptop and grappling with decision gridlock while staring at your Netflix home screen. When you think about it that way, the way we use Netflix doesn’t sound like fun at all!  Let’s be more proactive about better alternatives.

Get Yourself Back to Normal

When you’re upset, stressed, or anxious, do you know how to bring yourself back to normal?  Whether you consider yourself an anxious person, whether you have OCD, or whether you have an above-average ability to think yourself in circles until you’re sweating from stress, we all occasionally feel outside ourselves with stress. Sometimes a mood takes over. Sometimes we’re just plain agitated. When this happens, do you know how to bring yourself back to normal? Do you know what you specifically can do that helps you shake it off?

Having some self-knowledge and knowing what specific things you can do that act as a re-set button is empowering.  In fact, it may even be helpful to write down a list of what calms you down:

Tried-and-True Reset Button Remedies:

-Take a walk

-Get into nature

-Go running and listen to songs I have a happy, carefree association with

-Lose myself in my favorite comedian’s Instagram account

-Go somewhere where I know there are dogs, and ask to pet peoples’ dogs

-Watch an episode of a suspenseful, sucks-you-in TV show (like Breaking Bad or House of Cards) or a silly, escapist TV show (like Bob’s Burgers or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

-Put my phone on airplane mode and read a book

Tidy my apartment

-Swiffer my apartment

-Clean out a junk drawer

-Fold all my clothes and reorganize my dresser drawers



Seriously, Make Your Own List

When your brain is spinning out of control, it’s hard to go from sixty to zero (like if you were to try meditating at a moment you felt like screaming). What’s helpful about a list like this is that these activities are active and refocus your attention. What’s helpful about having a list like this is that when you’re having a freak out, if you try one of these activities and you feel better, great! If you’re still feeling agitated, you can try another activity, and then try another until you’re back to normal.

It’s also helpful to know what activities don’t help when you’re feeling agitated or make you feel worse instead of better. Personally, I find that going to the gym only has a 50% chance of being helpful. Half the time, if I show up cranky or anxious, I leave doing the shuffle. It’s exactly what I needed. The other half of the time, being in a loud, echo-y space with tons of people in my personal bubble and forcing myself to try to change my mood makes me seethe. So, the gym is not on my list; I go to the gym when I feel okay and don’t try to use the gym to change my mood.

When you can successfully self-soothe in healthy ways and come back to normal on your own, it makes having a slightly volatile temperament feel a lot more manageable.

So, what’s on your list?

In Praise of a Seasonal Bucket List

For those in the northeast, winter means staying inside, watching the snow through the windows, cozying up with a blanket, and reading a book while you listen to the whirr of your spaceheater. That is, it’s like that if you make a conscious effort to feel that way and create that scene. Realistically, winter looks like this cozy scene for sixty seconds while you take a photo for Instagram (#sundaymorning), and then you go back to being cold and coping with mild seasonal affective disorder. For most people in climates where winter is really a challenge, there’s a way to make the most of every season of your life: having a seasonal bucket list.

Let’s rewind: this past summer was the best summer I’ve ever had, and potentially one of the happiest periods of my life. It’s not because I was in a great new relationship (I actually swore off dating for the summer) or because I took a thrilling international vacation (I spent most of my free time hiking in western Massachusetts).  It’s because I sat down and wrote out a “sand pail list,” or rather, a summer bucket list.  I made a list of the specific things I wanted to do that summer, like go to art museums, go to the ballet, go see live music, read certain books, take a weekend vacation by myself, and start and finish a pleasant professional project. I kept my summer bucket list on my desk where I could see it every day. I bought tickets to shows, I wrote down on my calendar when I was going to which museum, and I carved out time to read. When that time came, I read or went to museums or I went to shows.  It was astounding to me how pleasurable it was to take all the things that I enjoy doing or wanted to try but “never got around to” and made plans to actually do them.

Excluding those who are avid skiiers and those who really, really love Christmas, winter isn’t most peoples’ favorite season. For those who struggle with mental health issues, the dark afternoons and cold temperatures aren’t helpful: the setting foments staying inside and isolating.

So, send a surge of power to your happiness circuits and make a winter bucket list (we can call it a “salt bucket list”).

If you’re not sure where to start, consider all the times you say to yourself, “I love ‘x,’ I just don’t seem to do it that often anymore’ and put them right on this list. If there is an activity that you enjoy, but it tends to require a bit of planning or a bit of outside-the-Saturday-night-box thinking, like going to live comedy shows or live jazz, it belongs on this list. If there’s a hobby you want to try, put it on the list!



If there are big tasks you want to accomplish and you sense that you’d feel amazing once you got them done, put them on the list, too. But, try to avoid letting your seasonal bucket list become a to-do list or full of resolutions. Instead, it’s about the sheer pleasure of identifying the things you really want to spend your free time doing, the meaningful fun, and finally doing them. To make finally doing them actually happen, schedule them. Once you have your list, sit down with your calendar and etch out what you’ll actually do when. Then knock down the walls of your comfort zone and go have fun!

In case you want some inspiration/ a place to start, here’s my 2017 Winter Bucket List:

  1. Go to the movies once a month
  2. Practice one new kind of self-care once a month, like getting a facial, going to the mineral baths in Saratoga, or sitting in the dry sauna at the gym)
  3. Practice a low-key form of self-care once a week, like doing an detoxifying face mask, taking a bubble bath, watching a movie (something I never do–I usually can’t sit still at my own home long enough to watch a movie, so this counts)
  4. Cuddle up with a blanket and a book for an hour once a week
  5. Outline Core Desired Feelings/ Goals with Soul for 2017
  6. Winter hike at White Rocks in Bennington, VT
  7. Go skiing as soon as soon as it’s sufficiently snowy
  8. Make epic New Year’s plans
  9. Go to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
  10. Plan 2017 trip to California


The Life-Changing Magic of a Daily Mastery Experience

This is a cool experiment. Want to feel more powerful and capable within the next thirty days, by picking up an easy habit? Have a mastery experience every day.

Do one thing every day that makes you feel accomplished or skilled, because you completed it. A mastery experience could be finishing a big work project, initiating a new project, getting to the gym, or installing the air conditioner. A mastery experience can also be doing something that you didn’t think you could do. (Such as installing the air conditioner! Or installing the air conditioner and choosing not to worry that it could fall out the window and kill someone). A mastery experience can even be any time when you focus on getting better at what you’re best at: devoting uninterrupted time to do work and build your skills. A mastery experience trains your brain to see challenges as opportunities to grow and get shit done.

I’ll get off my high horse: a mastery experience could be finally cleaning out your car. Mastery experiences can feel like seemingly insignificant things, but they make you feel like a boss once you accomplish them. You feel a sense of pride. You radiate a nice glow for the rest of the day.

mastery experience photo


So, create a system to have mastery experiences and enjoy that glow. Make a commitment to having some kind of mastery experience every day. Set an alarm on your phone and take sixty seconds every evening to consider what you did that day, that helped you grow as a person, that gave you an opportunity to learn something, or that gave you information that you could do something you didn’t think you could do. Make it a daily exercise in bravery… and soon, taking action to create a bigger and better life will start to feel like “just something you do every day.”

Who do you have on your team?

Who do you have on your team? People who thrive have support networks. Support networks are people you can go to for advice, encouragement, and even collaboration when you have a challenge or goal. Most people have support networks for different areas of their lives (i.e. a professional support network, a personal support network, a mental health support network).

To put it in a fun way, you need a team. You need to have people who you can reach out to, who you know are rooting for you. These are people you can shoot a friendly email, just saying Hey and telling them what’s new and asking them about their lives. These are parents, mentors, friends, “friendtors,” former colleagues, people in your professional network, who you can approach to buoy you with advice or offer a listening ear when you need it. Even if you don’t approach people for advice often, it’s so important to know that your team is in place.

What if you read this and think to yourself, I don’t know enough people to have a team.

Are you sure? Can you dig deep into your past and list all the people you’ve interacted with in a meaningful context, who have supported you?

Sample team:

My parent

My coach

My sibling

My favorite cousin

My favorite aunt

A close friend from college

My best friend

My work best friend

My friend who is ten years older than me, who I see as older and wiser

My professional mentor

My downstairs neighbors


Now is the time to reach out and make those connections. (The best time to build your support network is before you need to lean on them for something) Reach out to people, say hello, ask what they’re up to, and offer to support their work in some way to get the conversation started. Ideally you can add value to the relationship in your own unique way. Ask, How can I help? And send lots of gratitude to the all people on your team.

It’s good to have a team.


What to Do When You Wonder, Is It Normal to…

…feel the way I’m feeling? If you want to fall into an excellent “Google black hole,” type the following words into Google search: Is it normal to…

Google will fill in what other Google users have searched for, when they’ve been unsure of whether the way they’re feeling or the way they’re reacting to something is normal.

In psychology terms, this inquiry is called “reality testing.” It’s taking yourself out of a situation and looking at it objectively.

If you want to get a better sense of whether your feelings or your reaction to something is normal, ask yourself:

In a group of 100 people my age and my gender, how many would have the reaction I’m having?


In a group of 100 people my age and my gender, how many would feel the way I’m feeling?

Use a the visualization  that works best for you: a busy city street, a sports arena, an airplane, or Grand Central Terminal.  Anywhere where you can picture 100 people.


What’s really neat about this exercise is that it provides pretty instant clarity.

If you say, “In a room of 100 people my age and my gender, how many would feel the way I’m feeling?” usually, your brain will serve up a clear answer, such as:

“…Only the ones who have OCD.”


“…Only the ones who tend to be high-anxiety.”


“…Most of them!”

Try it, the next time you’re asking yourself, Is it normal to… Not only does this exercise help right away with your current situation, but it also builds this valuable muscle. With enough repetition, you may not need to ask, Is it normal to…?  Instead, you’ll instinctively know if what you’re feeling is appropriate for the situation you’re in.

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