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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Stuck in a Rut? 6 Steps to Break Free and Live a Happy Life Again

Stuck in a Rut? 6 Steps to Break Free and Live a Happy Life Again

So it has come this far. You’re stuck in a rut and feel like you’re not living your life to the fullest. You can feel it, but you find it more and more difficult to get rid of this feeling…

That’s why you are here, right?

Some of your friends or colleagues might say to you: “just cheer up!”. But you already know that it’s not that easy.

So instead of offering shallow advice on what to do, this article contains a clear 6-step plan to get you out of your rut and to live a happy life again. These are actionable things you can do right now, that don’t involve anything bizarre or life-changing.

Step 1: Write down What’s Keeping You Down

This first step might sound rather anti-climatic. You’ve come all this way to find this article, and now you’re asked to write down your feelings?

Even though it might sound silly at first, writing down whatever is keeping you in a rut will allow you to become more familiar with the issues you’re having.

What to write about? Don’t think too much about it and just start writing! If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, you’ll probably feel unhappy right now.

Write it down! “I’m feeling unhappy right now”. That could be your first sentence. Now ask yourself why. Why am I feeling unhappy right now?

“Because I feel unmotivated and don’t have any ambitions or goals”.

Or maybe it’s “because I feel like my love life is slowly evaporating”.

It could be anything. What I want you to do is to just start writing and keep going. Be critical and curious about the things you are feeling.

Keep asking “why” and soon enough you’ll have a clear idea of what issues are causing you to feel unhappy and stuck in a rut.

Step 2: Create a Plan and Set Small Goals

So you’ve filled a good page with why you are feeling stuck in a rut? Good! Did you fill multiple pages? Even better!

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Now it’s time to create a plan based on the root causes of your negative feelings. This plan must be specific and should contain small goals.

Why small goals?

Because it’s more difficult to measure progress on a big goal.

Imagine you found out in step 1 that you severely dislike your job, so you’re thinking of a goal like: I want to find a better suiting job.

Now, that goal in itself might be great, but it’s better to slice it up into smaller, more attainable goals. Think about it like this:

  • Update my resume
  • Start looking for openings
  • Send out 3 applications
  • Schedule my first interview at a different company
  • Get hired at a new job

See how this is practically the same goal, but seems much more attainable?

Also, tracking progress is much easier when you create smaller sub-goals like this.

This is a vital part of your plan: it needs to contain measurable and attainable goals. This will help you stay motivated, instead of forcing you to become paralyzed by the shear size of your goal.

You’ll notice that you can find your way out of this rut by taking small steps like this. This brings me to the next step of this action plan:

Step 3: Accept That This Process Takes Time

After having written down your feelings in step 1, you probably found out that change won’t happen overnight.

The negative feelings that you’re experiencing right now are a result of a lot of things that may have already been going on for years. These habits that you’ve slowly built during your life won’t always be easy to change.

That’s why you need to accept that it takes time to get out of a rut like this. Finding long-term happiness again is a delicate process that cannot be rushed.

You have created a plan with actionable steps that you can take to get you back on your feet. Now do what it takes and move forwards, one step at a time.

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What if you failed to move forward after a bad day?

Don’t sweat it! We are all human, so we are eventually going to encounter some rough weather or bad decision-making along the way.

It’s crucial that you recognize this for what it is: small speed-bumps rather than complete failures.

What if you’ve had a bad day? Sleep it off, and start fresh again tomorrow.

Step 4: Prioritize Your Sleep

Now, this step might seem silly to you. How is sleep going to help me get out of this rut?

It turns out that sleep plays a gigantic role in our mental health. Even though you may not feel tired after sleeping only 5 hours for three nights in a row, you’ll be surprised by the potential lasting effects of this sleep deprivation.

The USA is one of the most developed countries in the world. A worrying trend that developed countries are showing is that the workforce is becoming more and more sleep deprived. Phrases like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “work hard, play hard” are becoming more regular every day.

Anecdotally, sometimes when I mention I try to sleep 8 hours a day, I sometimes get strange looks from my colleagues. Like I’m some sort of loser that doesn’t know how to live life to the fullest.

“Sleep is for the weak!”

This kind of thinking is extremely flawed, and one of the reasons why chronic depression is on the rise. It shouldn’t surprise you now that depression rates are the highest in developed countries like the USA.

I’ve personally analyzed 1,000 days of my happiness and sleep habits over the last 3 years. I tracked my sleep every night and rates my feeling of happiness on a scale from 1 to 10. What I found out was very interesting:

  • I am constantly experiencing a social jet lag
  • I sleep much less than average on weekdays, and have to make it up on the weekend days
  • I have only been truly unhappy on days where I was heavily sleep deprived

These where the biggest lessons I learned after analyzing my sleep and happiness.[1]

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your feeling of unhappiness is a result of bad sleep habits, but if there’s one thing that most people seem to neglect, then that’s sleep. Don’t make that same mistake.

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Step 5: Spend More Time with the People You Love

Almost everybody has a small circle of people that they trust and love, whether that’s a partner, family or friends. These people have a positive influence on your happiness.

I want you to focus on spending more time with these people. When you’re feeling stuck in a rut, you are more likely to postpone activities that require you to be outgoing. You’d rather be lazy and watch Netflix all day than to go outside and meet up with your friend.

You must try to break out of your comfort zone and spend more time with the people who actually have a positive influence on your happiness.

These are the people that can help you to get out of your rut. You can even share the plan that you’ve made in step 2 of this article.

If these people truly love you, then they can act as a support net for the moments when you’re feeling down. This might sound intimidating and scary, but it’s a step that should not be underestimated.

Even when you don’t feel comfortable sharing your plan with these people, there’s another thing you can actively do: be grateful that these people are in your life:

  • Be grateful that you have parents who support you, no matter what you do.
  • Be grateful for the friends with whom you can laugh your ass off.
  • Be grateful that you have a healthy and loving partner.
  • Be grateful that you have a kid that looks up to you and thinks you are the best.

Being grateful might sound like a rather pointless thing to do. Why would being grateful help me become happier again?

Well, the answer is simple.

Being grateful forces you to think of the positive things that you already have in your life. This allows you to face your issues with optimism. People that actively practice gratitude are better able to deal with toxic emotions.[2]

So what do you have to do?

Go out there and meet up with the people you love, and be grateful for having these people in your life. Even better: add these things as actionable and attainable goals in your plan!

Step 6: Try to Spread Happiness to People Around You

Wait. What? You’re asking me to spread my happiness, even though I’m looking for ways to be happier myself? Where’s the logic in that?

Well, it may surprise you, but happiness is a funny concept in more than one way.

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My personal favorite is this:

When you are trying to make others happier, you will paradoxically find happiness yourself.

How does that work? Here are some examples:

  • When we make somebody else laugh, we tend to laugh ourselves as well.
  • Giving something to others can give us a feeling of having a positive influence on another life.
  • Focusing on helping others allows us to not worry about our own problems for a moment.

These are just a few specific examples that you can probably recognize yourself. Even though they might sound simple and painfully obvious, it doesn’t change the fact that spreading happiness can have a positive influence on your own life as well.

It will definitely help you to break free from your rut and find happiness again.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that this article is different from other “get happier” articles that you have come across already. This list includes steps that you can take and plan for right now. No bullshit advice such as “just cheer up”.

It all starts with a plan, though.

I can’t stress this enough:

Write down what your issues are, and make an actionable and realistic plan to get back on top.

Set small goals.

Accept that this process takes time, take it one step at a time.

Prioritize your sleep.

Spend time with people you actually care about. People who have a positive influence on your happiness.

Spread happiness, even though you might feel like this is not possible because you’re stuck in a rut. Happiness can be shared in many ways!

More Resources to Help You Get Unstuck

Featured photo credit: Paul Gilmore via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Tracking Happiness: The Effect Of Sleep On Happiness
[2] Greater Good Magazine: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain

More by this author

Hugo Huyer

Author at Tracking Happiness, lifelong happiness tracker and passionate about all things mental health and well-being.

13 Ways to Seize the Moment and Enjoy Life More How to Think Positive and Eliminate Negative Thoughts Stuck in a Rut? 6 Steps to Break Free and Live a Happy Life Again 8 Tips for Coping with Anxiety During the Midlife Crisis The Key to Happiness and Leading a Fulfilling Life

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Last Updated on March 30, 2021

How to Build Self-Esteem: A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power

How to Build Self-Esteem: A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power

Self-esteem is a driving force behind our confidence and how we see and feel about ourselves. It encompasses our sense of value, significance, and self-worth. That’s why learning how to build self-esteem is essential to personal growth and happiness.

Research has shown that over 80% of people struggle with varying levels of low self-esteem. Yet, having a solid sense of self-esteem has the chance to positively impact and powerfully transform every area of your life – from your relationships to your career, from your health and well-being, to your fulfillment and levels of success.

A deep feeling of self-esteem is something that needs to grow and be nurtured over time. In this article I will show you the things you can do right now to learn how to improve self-esteem. Then, you will realize your hidden potential and your self-worth.

What Is Self-Esteem?

While the dictionary defines it as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect,” put simply, self-esteem is the overall sense or feeling you have about your own self-worth or self-value.

Self-confidence, on the other hand, is more about how you feel about your abilities and will vary from situation to situation. You can have great self-esteem (feeling good about yourself overall) but low self-confidence about a particular situation or event (e.g. public speaking). Or, maybe you’ve got great self-confidence in an area (e.g. a sport that you play) but low self-esteem overall.

A strong and solid sense of self-esteem comes from deep within, from a belief in your importance, your value, and your worthiness. The good news is that there are many ways to improve self-esteem, which we will look at below.

Causes of Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can stem from many areas. It is largely influenced by how other people see and treat us, and our relationships, which is why the influence of our parents has the most significant impact on our self-esteem. Here are some of the most common causes of low self-esteem:

An Unhappy Childhood

Those who grew up with critical, abusive, or neglectful parents are more likely to face challenges with their own self-worth, while those who experienced acceptance, approval, and affection are more likely to have a higher sense of self-value.

Traumatic Experiences

Lower levels of self-esteem can also stem from bad experiences or traumatic events, such as being bullied or being in an emotionally abusive relationship. Essentially, it can stem from anything that has brought up feelings of shame, guilt, or worthlessness.

Experiences of Failure

For some, lower self-esteem is connected to their success and accomplishments, or lack thereof, including experiences of failure, or not achieving goals or expectations.

Negative Self-Talk

Many cases of low self-esteem are perpetuated by negative self-talk. This could be a story that you have created yourself or that someone else created for you long ago that you continue to believe, and it gets in the way of learning how to build self-esteem.

Maybe for you, like for many others, low self-esteem is rooted in your feelings about your appearance or body image. It’s not just about how you look; it’s about how you feel about how you look. We are bombarded with messages from an early age about being too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, or too much of anything, or not enough of something else.

What Happens When You Lack Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem can lead to significant physical and mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and addiction. In fact, research shows that adolescents who suffered from low self-esteem grew up to have more physical and mental problems, higher rates of criminal convictions, lower earnings, and challenges with long-term unemployment[1].

On the flipside, a strong sense of self-esteem will help you experience greater health and well-being, better relationships, and higher levels of happiness, fulfillment, and success. One study even correlated higher levels of self-esteem with higher earning potential[2].

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Assess Your Own Self-Esteem

Individuals with low or compromised self-esteem can see themselves as inadequate, incompetent, and even unlovable. While they often know at a “conscious” level that these things aren’t true, they still feel that way deep within. That’s what makes challenges with self-esteem so tricky; it’s often not about the reality of what is, but the perception of what someone feels.

Those with low self-esteem may appear socially withdrawn or quiet, negative, insecure, indecisive, unhappy, or even angry. They are more likely to find themselves in unhealthy relationships, have a fear of failure, and worry about what others think.

On the flipside, those with high self-esteem, more often than not, feel a strong sense of self-worth and value, feelings of confidence and acceptance. They tend to find themselves in healthy relationships (and ditch the bad ones), take care of themselves, and are more resilient when faced with setbacks, obstacles, and failures. In general, they tend to stand up more for what they believe in and aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

Self-esteem can be measured on a scale of high to low: while too little has its obvious downsides, you can also have too much of a good thing. Those with an overly strong sense of self-esteem may appear cocky, narcissistic, and self-important.

Finding the balance of a strong sense self of self-worth and humility is important as we go through life, which is why it’s so important to learn how to build self-esteem the right way.

How to Build Self-Esteem (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Self-esteem issues are generally found in the gap between who you are and who you think you should be. Paradoxically, most causes of low self-esteem stem from how others see or treat you, yet the solution to increasing your self-esteem is something that needs to come from the inside out, not from the outside in.

Learning how to increase self-esteem is not an easy task. While I wish I could wave a magic wand for you, what I’ve learned is that building and nurturing your self-esteem takes time. However, it is a worthwhile investment. Once you’ve done the work, you’ll reap the many rewards and benefits for a lifetime.

Below are some great strategies to start your journey.

1. Get to the Root Cause

Identifying the real, root cause(s) for your low self-esteem is one of the most important things you can do to build it back up.

We named many reasons above. Maybe one of them, in particular, resonated with you. Perhaps your parents said you were “never good enough” or that you wouldn’t amount to anything. I work with clients all the time who share stories of their parents’ behavior and the significant impact it has had on their self-esteem.

Whatever experiences you may have had, and whatever the root issue might be for you, I strongly recommend you get someone to support you through the process to identify and deal with it. Find a counselor, therapist, coach or someone who is trained in helping uncover and address these traumas, past experiences, and root issues. These folks have proven tools, tactics and strategies – and best of all, they help you experiment in a safe space.

While you may be able to do a lot of work on your own, my experience is that if you don’t address the root cause, that feeling will creep back in over time. You can’t run away from the truth, and you can’t band-aid over old wounds. You’ve got to get to the source, which won’t be easy, but if you want to learn how to build self-esteem, it needs to be done.

For this step, Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment may help. It can show you where you feel fulfilled and where you feel you are lacking. Try it today!

2. See Yourself How Others See You

See yourself how others see you, and talk to yourself as others would talk to you. What do I mean by this? Think about the person who loves you the most in this world.

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Now, take a moment, zoom out, and imagine you are standing in their shoes and watching through their eyes. Look from their perspective and see yourself as they see you.

What do you notice about you? What would they say to you? What do they love about you? What do they see in you?

3. Do Your Best

Simple advice is often the best advice. When you do your best and place your full effort into each and every day, you start to feel better about yourself.

Now, your best might change from day to day, and some days, your best won’t be as good as it was the day before. It’s important to remind yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you have, right now, in that situation, with that time frame, your level of skill or knowledge.

When you know you’ve done your best, you have no regrets and nothing about which to feel bad or guilty. If you do your best and then someone criticizes you, it’s easier to brush off when you know you did the best you could.

I ask my clients (and myself) this question all the time, whether they’re ruminating over something they’ve said, thinking about what they could have done better, or just disappointed about an outcome they had hoped to achieve. Did you do your best? If the answer is yes, then there’s nothing more you can do – until next time.

4. Engage in Activities That Satisfy You

The key word here is satisfy. Find things that give you a deep sense of satisfaction, a feeling of fullness and purpose.

Too often we engage in activities or relationships that leave us feeling self-conscious, empty, or terrible about ourselves. It’s time to put more focus, time, and effort to do those things that feel good for your body, mind, and spirit, and to engage in things that make you feel whole and full.

Identify what satisfies you mentally (e.g. solving a big problem or creating something new), emotionally (e.g. hanging out with friends or volunteering), physically (e.g. exercising, eating right, or taking care of your body), and spiritually (e.g. meditation or going to your place of worship).

When you engage in something that makes you feel good and, even more importantly, makes you feel worthwhile, you will experience greater self-esteem.

5. Identify Who You Are and Be True to That

Self-awareness and a little soul searching are critical to your success in life and key to learning how to build self-esteem. In some cases, lack of self-esteem stems from a lack of knowing the kind of person you truly are, and the value you bring. Many of us have spent so much time trying to fit in and please others that we’ve completely lost our sense of self.Spend time paying attention and getting to know yourself. Take time to identify who you are. Some things to think about include:

  • Identifying your strengths and talents
  • Acknowledging your value and worth, and uncovering your passions
  • Understanding your values and what’s important to you
  • Thinking about how you want to serve or contribute to the world
  • Acknowledging your blind spots

6. Accept Yourself

Make the decision to accept the imperfectly perfect you. Know that regardless of what you have been told, what has occurred, what wrong you have done, or what challenges you have faced, you are enough. You are doing the best you can with what you have.

We all want to be accepted for who we are. But first, we must accept ourselves.

7. Stop Compromising Yourself

When you let others push you around, put everyone else’s needs before your own, or cave in to what everyone else wants because you don’t want to rock the boat, it lowers your self-esteem. You are putting their needs ahead of yours, and your mind thinks to itself, “I guess I’m not that important.”

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I worked with two different clients just last week on this very thing. They were both putting everyone else’s needs ahead of their own, and it was having a significant and negative impact on their health and well-being.

Now, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t take care of your kids and spouse, meet your work deadlines, or be there for your friends. But you’ve also got to take care of you. We compromise ourselves to fit in, to be loved, and to be acknowledged. However, if you are constantly compromising yourself, you will never truly feel satisfied.

How often do you let what others think of you or need from you dictate your actions or decisions?

If you want to learn how to build self-esteem, be strong, and stand up for yourself. It’s time to identify what you need and want for your life.

Decide what is important to you. Naming these things will give you an inner compass to guide you. Then, identify your boundaries and the non-negotiables in your life. What are you not willing to put up with anymore? 

Get clear on these things now, so when the time comes to push back, stand up, or politely say no, you have the back-up and inner guidance to do so.

8. Look for the Good

We tend to find what we are looking for. Put simply, people tend to (often unconsciously) look for things that reinforce what they already believe to be true.

The same goes for how you see yourself. If you believe you are worthless or unlovable, you will find data to back that belief up. However, if you believe you are worthwhile and beautiful, or courageous and strong, you will soon find data to back that up instead.

The challenge with those who suffer from low self-esteem is that they have gotten into a habit of finding what’s wrong. Often, there is a negative message lodged in their subconscious mind. In some cases, they’ve just gotten really good at seeing all their faults and shortcomings.

The easiest way to change what you see is to change what you’re looking for. Catch yourself doing something right.

Try this: Grab a journal, and for the next 21 days, write down 3 things you value, appreciate, or like about yourself. This might include acknowledging your wins or successes, things you are proud of, or noticing what you feel good about. While it may feel challenging at first, you’ll soon start to rewire your brain to see more of what’s right and less of what’s wrong.

9. Stop Negative Self-Talk

Much of your belief systems come from the negative story you are telling yourself. Your mind believes what you tell it, and if the story you are playing (over and over again) in your mind is one of the horrible mistakes you’ve made, that’s what you will continue to reinforce and strengthen through negative thoughts, which makes building confidence very difficult.

Tell yourself you are worthless and incapable; your mind will believe that. Tell yourself you are able and awesome; your mind will believe that, too.

Catch the negative self-talk and replace it with positive self-talk today if you want to learn how to build self-esteem.

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10. Find Your Tribe

Since so much of our self-esteem is influenced by our relationships and how others see and treat us, it’s even more critical that you surround yourself with healthy, uplifting, encouraging, and supportive people.

Find people who know the real you, people who can speak to the value you bring, your talents and worth. These are people who can be real with you, sharing the positive and the constructive in an uplifting way.

11. Take Chances

Many great minds have shared that failure has been key to their success, the stepping stone to their greatness, and the catalyst to their growth. You might have heard the stories about Michael Jordan being cut from his varsity basketball team, Oprah Winfrey being told she wasn’t “meant to be on TV,” and Steven Spielberg being rejected for film school not just once, but three times.

Taking chances, experiencing failure, and building resilience is key to learning how to build self-esteem. After all, if you never take a chance, you will never know – and you’ll stay stuck in your story.

12. Find Meaning and Create Goals

As humans, we all need to learn, develop, grow, and contribute. When you are suffering from low self-esteem, this can create a vicious cycle:

You don’t feel great about yourself, so you don’t go out there and make stuff happen. Because you’re not being successful, you feel a lack of self-worth.

    It’s time to break the cycle.

    Take steps that allow you to become who you are truly capable of being. Perhaps this is about finding something that gives you meaning, or maybe it’s about the steps you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be. For example, the act of helping others (contributing, volunteering and being kind) have shown to not only increases self-esteem, but also happiness, health, and satisfaction[3].

    Start with something small and work your way up. Each small success will bring about greater confidence and, ultimately, a stronger sense of self-esteem.

    The Bottom Line

    The journey to higher self-esteem will be challenging, but the challenge is what builds depth, strength, character and resilience. If the reward is greater self-esteem, which leads to greater relationships, a better career, increased health and well being, more success, and a greater sense of self-worth, it’s worth it.

    While you live in a society where you are constantly bombarded with messages of not being enough and how you could be better, just remember this:

    You are deserving of love, happiness, and success. You are imperfectly perfect. It’s not by chance that you have arrived here, on this planet, at this very time, and even if you feel inadequate, unlovable, or unworthy, know that you are none of those things.

    You may not be able to believe this yet, but some part of you, deep down inside, knows this to be true.

    Now, it’s time to take the steps above and realize it for yourself.

    More on How to Build Self-Esteem

    Featured photo credit: Barbora Polednová via unsplash.com

    Reference

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