The self-esteem / ‘accurate self-assessment’ exercise – CBT Dublin Ireland

selfassessmentscalesSucessful CBT requires that we examine our thinking, and that ideally we write things down to help us figure them out. The following ‘self esteem’ exercise is one of the best known with the best results. It allows you to build awareness of possible distortions in the way you perceive yourself, distortions that make you feel bad and behave awkwardly or unhelpfully in life.  More importantly, it is a practical model that will guide and help you to make a new self assessment of yourself from your findings. When we have self awareness, we can make changes. Feel good. Live better. Good luck.

If your stress has become a disorder, and caused a shift in thinking so that you have a negative bias and a gloomy view, it is likely that the way you view yourself is distorted in a negative way – and that you are filtering out awareness of your positive qualities, and only seeing and magnifying what you see as weaknesses or flaws.

Low self esteem prevents a clear view of yourself.
You may have an off track hyper alertness to how you think others view you and treat you.
You may have developed an unhelpful ‘inner critic’ who is the source of your ‘self talk, and of the meaning and significance you assign to events and situations.
You may have an inappropriate over-upsettness in response to events, which in turn causes self sabotaging behaviour.

Go through the following checklist to see if this task would be helpful for you:

  • Do you have a negative opinion of yourself and your future?
  • Do you over-emphasise what you perceive as your flaws?
  • Do you filter out awareness of positives?
  • Do you constantly ‘mind read’ what other people are thinking and feeling in regards to you?
  • Do you constantly compare and rate yourself against others?

If the answer to most of these is yes, this 5 part ‘self-concept inventory’ written exercise, (adapted from the book ‘Self Esteem’, with kind permission of the author Patrick Fanning), will help you to to accurately assess your particular balance of strengths and weaknesses – in order to recognise the person you actually are, and to help to change distorted negative self-talk to a healthy rational view…

This is a biggie, and takes time. But it’s a proven ‘best practice’ model (and it was literally a life changer for me back in the day, and my clients have had great results with it). And, it only has to be done once if it’s done right – and you will then have the tools and learning and clarity to think clearly, and to feel differently and to behave differently. Put the time in to do it right. It is so worth it. Set aside an afternoon or evening and get stuck in. Good luck!

First exercise:
Write down as many words or phrases you can to describe yourself in the following areas:

  1. self-esteem-tabletsPhysical appearance – include descriptions of your height, weight, facial appearance, quality of skin, hair, style of dress, as well as descriptions of specific body areas such as your neck, chest, waist and legs.
  2. How you relate to others – include descriptions of your strengths and weaknesses in intimate relationships and in relationships to friends, family and co-workers, as well as how you relate to strangers in social settings.
  3. Personality – describe your positive and negative personality traits.
  4. How other people see you – describe the strengths and weaknesses that your friends and family see.
  5. Performance (work or school or other) – include descriptions of the way you handle the major tasks.
  6. Performance (in life’s everyday tasks) – descriptions should be included in such areas as hygiene, health, maintenance of your living environment, food preparation, caring for your children, and any other ways you take care of personal or family needs.
  7. Mental functioning – include here an assessment of how well you reason and solve problems your capacity for learning and creativity, your general fund of knowledge, your areas of special knowledge, wisdom you have acquired, insight, and so on.
  8. Sexuality – how you see and feel about yourself as a sexual person.

When finished, go back and put a + (plus sign) by items that represent things you like about yourself, and put a (minus sign) beside items that you don’t like about yourself. Don’t mark items that are just neutral factual observations about yourself.


TWOSecond exercise: New page… 2 columns…
One column to list the minuses, the other for reviewing and revising.

On the left write down each –’, leaving several lines / space between each item.

On the right, review and revise each statement carefully – take your time, doing the following:

  • Eliminate pejorative language.
  • Use ‘accurate’ language (go a bit ‘Spock’ here, distance yourself, confine yourself to the facts, be purely descriptive).
  • Use specifics rather than generalisations, eliminate ‘everything / always / never..’ completely, and so on. (Maybe you only do some things on some occasions?)
  • Find exceptions or corresponding strengths (eg if you label yourself stupid because you’re not interested in exploring politics, you might counter it with ‘but I love to read true life stories and I think deeply about behaviour and psychology..).


THREEThird exercise: New page – write down your list of strengths.

Eg.: special qualities or abilities – compliments you’ve been given – remember little successes –  what you’ve overcome and what you’ve cared about – include prizes/awards/ achievements.


FOURFourth exercise: New page – go over your strengths one more time!

Rewrite them in complete sentences. Get rid of negatives and back handed compliments.


FIVEFifth exercise: New, final, page – make a new self-description.

Use what you’ve learned in the other exercises to describe who you really are. You’ve been spending years focusing on your negatives, now eliminate the irrational extreme statements and descriptions, and use rational realistic healthy language to yourself about yourself – recognising your strengths, your pluses – and accepting things that are not perfect or that you would prefer were another way.

It is what it is. We are all imperfect, and what of it?! You are good enough. 


Download as a PDF handout: selfesteemhandout


youaregoodenoughalways aim for unconditional self-acceptance, and unconditional other / world acceptance

remember: nothing is good or bad, thinking makes it so…

work on acceptance and living in the present, it could change your life…


selfesteembookcoverThis exercise is outlined in much greater detail in the book ‘Self Esteem, by McKay and Fanning’, which I highly recommend – it is a ‘proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving and maintaining your self esteem’. 

“Since its first publication in 1987, Self-Esteem has become the first choice of therapists and savvy readers looking for a comprehensive, self-care approach to improving self-image, increasing personal power, and defining core values. More than 600,000 copies of this book have helped literally millions of readers feel better about themselves, achieve greater success, and enjoy their lives to the fullest.” It is available from /


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