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IF YOU'RE DOWN IN THE DUMPS, GET UP AND DO SOMETHING

When you're in the pits of low self-esteem, do something. Do anything. Wash the car. Scrub the floor. Rake leaves. Finish a project at work or even go for a walk.

"Success breeds success; finishing anything starts your energy moving in a positive direction," says Candace Semigran, author of "One Minute Self-Esteem" (Bantam, $4.95) and president of Educare, a foundation that helps children improve their self-esteem.Instead of "doing," those in the pits usually focus on excuses. Common ones: If I only had a better job, more money or a happier childhood. They blame someone else rather than taking responsibility for making necessary changes.

Signs that your self-esteem may need improvement are sloppy dress, lack of exercise, poor diet or a job or lifestyle that's unrewarding. The bad news is that no one has invented a wonder drug to cure it. Change requires effort. The good news is that action works.

When the task seems overwhelming, focus only on the very next thing to do - eating a healthy lunch rather than losing 40 pounds.

Self-esteem problems also show up in the way we talk to ourselves and others. It's almost as if people in the pits have a vulture sitting on their shoulders, telling them "You're not good enough. You're a failure. You shouldn't have done or said that." These are common vulturisms.

Vultures also don't allow compliments. Instead of "Thank you," their common reply is, "I could have done better" or "I bought it on sale."

"Thank you" is an important phrase for improving self-esteem, So are repeating positive statements to yourself. Stop yourself when you catch the vulture talking. Instead try, "Great, I'm becoming aware when I say negative things to myself, and I'm not doing that any more." Write out those negative thoughts, then tear them up and burn them.

Semigran suggests devoting 15 minutes a day to the task until you feel better.

She believes integrity is the foundation to a healthy self concept. If you say you'll do something, do it. That might, for example, mean making fewer commitments so you have time to keep the ones you make.