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How To Feel Good About Yourself
by Serge Kahili King

If you don't feel good about yourself for any reason, it's possible to change that. If you feel good about yourself only when doing certain things or with certain people or at certain times, it's possible to feel good about yourself all the time. If you already feel good about yourself all the time, it's possible to feel even better. Here are some ideas and techniques to help you make that happen.

The main thing that keeps us from feeling good about ourselves is our Self Image. This is the set of ideas that we have about ourselves. It doesn't have to be an actual image. As a fertilized egg we don't have any preconceptions about who we are or what we can do. Once we start being an embryo, however, and for the rest of our lives, we are influenced by our environment to think about ourselves in certain ways.

Of course, we are also influenced by our DNA--our ancestors--but that includes millions or perhaps billions of people, so for our own reasons we pick only certain qualities and characteristics out of the pool of possibility, and they do not determine how we think about ourselves.

I said we are influenced by our environment, and that's what I mean. We are not controlled by it. First there is our physical environment--where and when we were born. Many people change this influence by moving to a different physical environment.

Second is our cultural environment, which includes language and traditions and customs. Many people change this influence by learning new languages, new traditions, and new customs, without necessarily giving up their original ones.

Third is the influence of our social environment, including family, friends, acquaintances, associates, authorities, teachers, healers, and so on. It also includes communications, the media, histories, and literature (digital or print). Many people change this influence by choosing to interact with different people or different groups.

Fourth is the influence of our internal environment, meaning our memories and expectations, our reflections and speculations, our rules about people and things and our own selves and life in general. This is the MOST important influence of all, and too many people never bother to change or even think about changing it. Still, even this can be changed if you really want to do it.

One big reason for not feeling good about ourselves is guilt about something we've done or not done in the past. Interestingly, the Hawaiian language doesn't even have a word for guilt in the Western sense. It has one word, hewa, that means to do something wrong, or to be found guilty, as of a crime, but nothing like the Western feeling of guilt, which can occur even when you haven't done anything wrong. Perhaps it's because the language doesn't have a past tense.

The feeling of guilt comes from the idea that you have done something wrong and because of that there is something wrong with you, not just with what you did. Of course, it's wrong to break the law, according to the standards of law, but it's much worse and harder to deal with all the other kinds of standards that people set for others as well as for themselves. It is always good to forgive others for not acting up to your standards--that can save you a lot of unnecessary unhappiness--but in order to feel good about yourself it is essential to forgive yourself for not acting up to your own standards from time to time or, if you dare, any time.

Forgiveness doesn't mean saying that what you did or didn't do was good or okay. It means to admit you made a mistake according to your rules or someone else's and to stop feeling bad about it. The way to stop feeling bad about it is to do something to make up for it if you can, and whether you can or not, STOP dwelling on it. It isn't the event itself that makes you feel bad after a while, it's the constant rehashing of it in your mind.

Another big reason for feeling bad about ourselves is the frequent--and for some people constant--thinking about our faults and lacks. This gets even worse when such thinking includes comparing ourselves to someone else who we think is better than us in some way.

This problem is caused by thinking that we SHOULD be better than we are. Once we introduce this kind of "should" into our thinking we fall into a trap that's very hard to get out of.

Rather than a long, detailed explanation, here's what the trap is like: we should be better, but we aren't, but we should be, but we aren't, but we should be, but we aren't, but we should be, but we aren't, but we should be, but we aren't...

It's a trap, because while you are thinking about "shoulds" you are draining away your incentive to do anything about it. The way out takes mental effort that sometimes feels like physical effort: STOP comparing yourself to anyone; STOP using the word "should" in relation to yourself; STOP trying to be perfect (i.e., to meet some standard of what "perfect" is suppost to be); START working to improve what you want to improve.

This may be a surprise to you: It's very hard to feel bad about yourself when you are fully involved in the present moment. Feeling bad about yourself almost always requires remembering past misdeeds, or wondering what others will think about you in the future.

The more you stay focused in the present moment, the easier it is to feel good about yourself with hardly any effort. However, it's so easy to slip into a negative past or future that we often find ourselves there without remembering how it happened.

So here's something you can do. It takes practice, but it works really well. The moment that you notice that you are dwelling on a negative past experience, purposely shift your mind to a positive past experience and keep it there until you can move back into the present and feel better.

Likewise, the moment you notice that you are dwelling on a negative future possibility, purposely shift your mind to a positive future possibility. A stock phrase for this is: "What if something bad happens? Okay, but what if something good happens instead?"

One of the worst of all human experiences is to grow up amid frequent or constant criticism. Admittedly, it's very hard for most people to ignore that kind of influence, and very easy to let the criticisms of others become the model for our own self image.

The way out of this one is both simple and hard: you have to practice appreciating yourself and you have to practice a lot. Here are some ways to do that.
a) Every morning after waking up and every night before bed thank your body, mind, and spirit for doing the best they can. And forgive yourself if you don't do it every morning and night. Actually, it's okay to do it during the day, too.
b) Become aware of how much you criticize yourself and others and do your best to reduce it.
c) Practice noticing and acknowledging any good thing you see, hear, or do during the day with a mental statement like "Thank you" or "Good job."
d) Practice imagining yourself being complimented or applauded for anything at all. (WARNING: this may shake you up to the roots of your hair at first, but you'll get use to it).
e) Don't compare yourself to anyone else, even in a good way.

Here's an easier one: develop one or more skills in any are that interests you. Skill development helps to increase self confidence, and self confidence helps you feel better about yourself. Just remember not to compare yourself to others and to appreciate whatever level of skill you can attain.

Finally, help others in some way that helps them feel good. Make this the reason you do it. Don't expect gratitude, but enjoy it if you get it. Helping others helps you feel good, too, as long as you don't tie any strings or conditions to it.

Getting paid for helping people is fine. Almost any job can be looked at as a way of helping people in some fashion. And most such jobs have strings and conditions for the people being helped. What I'm talking about, however, is going beyond that and finding some way to help people, personally, without pay, without strings, without conditions. Not because it needs to be done, or should be done, or is a good thing to do (by someone's standards), but because it helps you feel good about yourself.

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