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20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem--page 3
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Step 3. Examine Your Self-labels

How often do you call yourself names or label yourself in a negative way? Many times in the first session with someone when I notice their excessive negative self-labeling I will say, “Do you realize you have called yourself names or put yourself down in some way at least a half dozen times in the last 10 minutes?” Often, I find they aren't even aware of their self-talk.

golf counter

Awareness is an important part of change. Start noticing when you label yourself. Pay attention to the words you use in your self-talk such as “That was stupid” or “I can't do anything right.” Keep a log of how many times you use negative labels over several days and find your average. All you need to do is keep a count such as making a little mark on a piece of paper (something you can carry with you). Golf counters are a nice tool to keep track of a count because you can keep them in your pocket and just click them whenever the behavior occurs.

At this point you are not trying to change the labels. It is first necessary to develop greater awareness of the labeling. In addition, obtaining a baseline which is the average number of times you apply a negative label to yourself will make it easier to determine progress.

Often people will want to skip this step, “I know I'm using negative labels so I'll just focus on stopping.” However, change is not that simple and taking such an approach can lead to not fully recognizing the self-talk, forgetting to pay attention to the self-talk, and frustration about lack of change. I know it can be annoying to have to carry a piece of paper or a golf counter but by getting in the habit of recording your negative labels you will be more effective at reducing them.

In addition, progress isn't all-or-nothing which is discouraging for many people. However, seeing the numbers decrease over time can encourage you to keep trying. Once you have your average, write that number down so you can keep it in mind as you work to change.

If you have trouble with awareness of your self-labels, you can solicit help from people close to you. Have them give you a sign when you engage in negative labeling. It is important that the helper do this in a non-judgmental way. “There you go again!” is not helpful. You could have them just use a word or a signal that the two of you agree upon.


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