Aug. 8, 2013 at 4:00 PM ET
Everyone's been there: gotten dumped, messed up at work, not received an invite to an event. These crummy situations can cause a serious self-esteem blow. But if you rely on generic positive statements to feel better -- things like "You'll get through this in no time at all!" or "Don't even worry about it; you're amazing" -- it'll probably just backfire, says Guy Winch, PhD, a clinical psychologist, in his new book, Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (out July 25).
The problem: "If something falls too far outside our belief system, it won't persuade us," says Winch. For example, let's say your crush turns you down. Your friends and family begin showering you with compliments: "You're such an amazing catch" and "He's missing out on the most fantastic woman he's ever met." Unless you actually believe these super general statements about yourself -- and that's really hard to do since they don't actually say anything concrete -- they're not going to help your confidence level. In fact, you'll likely reject them -- consciously or unconsciously -- and even feel worse, says Winch, citing past research.
What WILL Work
The better option: coming up with specific, personalized statements about attributes or qualities that you have and pride yourself on -- which Winch calls self-affirmations. You won't reject the statements because you came up with them yourself and really do believe them, he says.
So going back to the crush example from above, instead of repeating those generic, blanket statements to yourself, think about all of the things you know you have to offer to a romantic partner, says Winch; maybe it's that you're supportive, loyal, and affectionate, he says. These super-specific self-affirmations will help to remind you of your awesomeness -- and that even if this one person didn't recognize it, some other, better match will.
More: 4 Ways to Be Happier
How to Make Them Stick
Writing down these positive attributes won't just help you remember them -- the act of writing itself helps ingrain it in your mind. (Bonus points if you read them out loud, too, which will help drill them into you even more.) Create a list of five to 10 things you value about yourself, suggests Winch, then choose one of them and write a couple of paragraphs about why it's so crucial. "If you do that once a day with each item from your list, that would be a really great thing in terms of restoring your self-esteem when it's sustained an injury," says Winch.
© 2013 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.