Sometimes people have a poor self-image and dwell on their faults rather than their strengths. They measure themselves against an unrealistic ideal of the way that think they “should be.”

Where does that unrealistic ideal come from? People who grew up in families where there was a high demand for perfection or achievement sometimes struggle as adults to fulfill those expectations in their work or home lives. Others who were subject to criticism for the least little flaw grew to focus on those flaws as core parts of their self-image, not learning that, in essence, nobody’s perfect. If they do 99 out of 100 things right, they’ll dwell on the one “wrong” thing.

Does this sound familiar? Do you have a running narrative in your mind about how you are not living up to your own self-imposed standards? Do you criticize yourself or feel you are not “good enough”? What would it be like to embrace yourself fully, “warts and all”? Wouldn’t your day be a little easier, a little more pleasant?

Here are some ways that you can learn to improve your self-image:

  1. Challenge your negative thoughts. Listen closely to what your inner critic says. Ask yourself, is that actually true? Challenge those ingrained beliefs that bring down your self-esteem. Example: Instead of “I am not good enough,” try, “I am a worthy and capable human being with strengths and weaknesses.”

2. Develop a kind inner voice. When you hear your inner critical voice rear its familiar head, imagine that you’re listening to someone you care about. What would you want to say to them to help them feel better about themselves? Use those words and that kind tone with yourself too, and keep practicing making that shift for as long as you need.

3. Celebrate your accomplishment and strengths. People with a poor self-image often focus too much on what they haven’t done or accomplished versus what they have. Write below all the accomplishments you can think of, even from when you were little. They can be big or small, public or private ones.

4. Avoid “compare despair.” It’s easy to feel down about yourself if you’re always comparing yourself to others. This happens a lot on social media, where other people always seem to have everything that you want—whether it’s relationships or vacations or “perfect” children or professional success. Remember, those posts are just a selected reality, not real life itself. Refocus on your own strengths and work on not measuring yourself against others.

5. Notice what’s in your control and what isn’t. If your poor self-image is related to things you can’t control (“If only I were taller, I’d be happier,” “If only I looked like Beyoncé, I’d be sexy,” etc.), then you are setting yourself up for continued misery. Focus your energy on identifying things in your life that you can do something about and begin to act on those.

6. Do something you love to do! Are you passionate about cooking? Reading? Singing? Sports? Computers? Animals? What are you currently doing or not doing to invest time and energy into your passions? What would you like to do more of? Note any excuses or rationalizations you might think of that keep you from pursuing these activities.

7. Be grateful. Current research shows the establishing a “gratitude practice” every day can help boost your mood and your self-esteem. List here some things you are grateful for—it can be small, like the pleasure of chewing a tasty piece of cheese, or big, like your health or your family or having a warm bed at night.

8. Give Back/Pay It Forward. If you suffer from low self-esteem, it’s often hard to think about anything but your flaws and limitations. You might have trouble seeing other people’s needs sometimes. Consider volunteering some time or money to a cause that has meaning for you, such as the Food Bank or an animal shelter. You might also consider what skills and talents you have that you could pass along to someone else—look into being a mentor or volunteer who helps others to discover their own strengths. What goes around comes around, as they say. Studies show that the happiest people are the ones who are involved in serving others.

9. Find Positive People in Your Life. Maybe you feel down a lot and avoid hanging out with others whose lives might seem “better” than yours. Identify the people in your life whom you feel comfortable with, who bolster your self-esteem, who see your wonderful qualities and accept your flaws and mistakes. Make an effort to spend more time with them and less time with people who bring you down. What would you like to do toward meeting that goal?

10. Exercise! Sure, you’ve probably heard this a million times but it’s true. Exercise has been proven to be a true, natural anti-depressant and can help people with a poor self-image to feel better about themselves. Set small, realistic goals (e.g., walking for a few minutes a day) and build up to more if you wish. Releasing positive hormones such as endorphins can be a great side effect of increased movement. As they say, just do it!

11. Step Out of Your Bubble. Are you stuck in a routine? Do you feel like a stick-in-the-mud as a result? Make a plan to do something different—whether it’s driving a different route to work or visiting a place you’ve never been or reconnecting with an old friend or going to an event where you are likely to meet new people. It can feel challenging at first but moving out of your comfort zone can give you a boost of energy and a new perspective on the possibilities for your life.

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