A lot of people these days lack self-esteem and do not know how to build self-esteem, let alone: how to improve it. Not knowing how to build self-esteem makes building self esteem already seem like an impossible task. This feeling takes away the motivation to start building self-esteem and the resulting feelings may even get closer to depression than before. So here is a ‘How to build self-esteem‘ guide. It’s a simple and uncomplicated guide that gives you some exercises to boost your self-esteem, and explains you why they are important and why they work.
Why do I need self-esteem?
Self-esteem is important because:
- it makes you feel more confident in daily life. A healthy amount of self-esteem boosts hapiness, quality of life, and subjective well-being .
- boosts social interaction. People with high self-esteem are more comfortable in social interaction and can cope with negative feedback much better .
- it makes you more productive. People with high self-esteem are more successful in their jobs, on an academic level, and report more job satisfaction than people with low self-esteem .
- it helps you cope with set-backs. High self-esteem functions as a protective factor in coping with chronic diseases or mental illness , as well as stress and physical illness .
At Barends Psychology Practice, we help people boost their self-esteem by working on their core beliefs and by neutralizing traumatic events that may contribute to low self-esteem. Contact us to schedule your first, free of charge session.
How to build self-esteem – 10 easy steps.
This page will discuss the following topics:
- Stop comparing yourself with others.
- Don’t put yourself down.
- Body language.
- Accept compliments.
- Focus on the positive things.
- Evaluate certain friendships.
- Invest more time and effort in others.
- Live your own life.
- Set realistic goals.
- Talk to yourself.
1. Stop comparing yourself with others.
People with low self-esteem have the tendency to compare themselves with people who achieved much more than they did. Subconsciously, they are testing a negative belief about themselves, such as ‘I am not good enough’. By comparing themselves with someone who is better than they are, they conform this negative belief about themselves, which makes them feel worse.
The problem with comparisons is that they are always based on only a couple of characteristics or achievements and are never based on the whole picture. The hard working boss who is really good at his job, may have relationship issues, for instance.
How to build self-esteem? The first step is: stop comparing yourself with others, because you are only fooling yourself. Instead, focus on what really makes you happy and start living by your own standards. For some people it may even be a good idea to avoid social media, because social media unconsciously triggers people to start comparing themselves with others.
2. Don’t put yourself down.
The way you talk about yourself affects the way you feel about yourself. By putting yourself down, you tell yourself that you are a bad person, or not good enough. And consequently you will perform worse when you think you are not good enough. So it’s a vicious cycle.
How to build self-esteem? As long as you don’t break this cycle you will probably continue to have a low self-esteem. So how can you break the cycle?
- Write down a few good features about yourself. Start with five things you like about yourself. And read them every morning when you wake up. At the end of each day, write down three things you have done that day that made you feel good/positive/productive. Try to come up with three new things every day. Start each day by reading this list. Preferably look at yourself in the mirror when you say these things to yourself.
- Whenever you realize you are putting yourself down, tell yourself: “I have negative thoughts about myself. These thoughts are wrong.” The next step is to counter these negative thoughts as follows: for each negative thought you have to come up with two positive thoughts about yourself.
- Ask others around you to write down a couple of good features about yourself. Do not disregard them, but accept them as the truth.
- Identify which cognitive distortions you use to put yourself down. By identifying your cognitive distortions, it is easier to distance yourself from them.
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3. Body language.
Body language is very important when you want to build self-esteem or when you want to improve it. People with low self-esteem show this in their body language. They have an arched back, hanging shoulders, walk around with their head down, and are often insecure in communication. Research shows that the way people walk around affects the way they feel. Walking around with an arched back and head down will make you feel more depressed than when you walk around with a straight back and your face up. How to build self-esteem? Walk around with a straight back, face up and shoulders pushed back. It will make you feel a little weird in the beginning, but trust me, you’ll get used to it soon enough. And you’ll feel more confident. People with low self-esteem usually have a bad articulation, a soft voice and talk fast. When you are communicating: (try to) make more eye contact, smile more, articulate well and talk more slowly.
4. Accept compliments.
This may be a tough one for most of the people with low self-esteem, but it is an essential part of the answer to the big question: how to build self-esteem?
Accept compliments other people make you. Whenever an acquaintance, friend or relative tells you that you look great, wear nice clothes or did a good job, then simply say: “Thank you.” Nothing more, nothing less. You do not have to tell people where you bought something, or how you achieved something, or that it was not much work at all. <— all these ‘reasons and explanations’ take away the compliment’s impact and power. If you continue to have difficulty accepting compliments, then write down why it is difficult for you. You will see that you have a different view on yourself than the person who made you the compliment. In other words: you value your opinion more than that of someone else. Usually, this is not a problem, but when you have a low self-esteem, your opinion about yourself may not be that accurate.
5. Focus on the positive things.
People with low self esteem rather focus on the negative things: how horrible they look like, how bad they are at their job, how horrible it is to be single. On top of that they emphasize every little mistake they make. The positive things, however, are being ignored or made unimportant (because “everybody would do this”). How to build self esteem? Stop highlighting the negative things and focus on the positive things. How can you do that?
- Whenever you experience something write down everything that was positive about that experience. For instance, you took the initiative, you put yourself out there, you made brief eye contact and so on.
- After every negative thought about an experience, immediately sum up all the positive things you experienced and learned.
- Tell yourself that everybody makes mistakes and that mistakes are a way of learning instead of something to be ashamed of.
- At the end of each day, tell yourself in the mirror about some positive things you experienced, discovered or learned about yourself.
- Do not measure the success of something by looking at the outcome, but instead by looking at the process. For instance: if you ask a girl out on a date and she refuses, you were courageous, you still walked up to her, you gave it a shot, you spoke to her briefly. Remember that 90% of the people around you probably would not have the guts to do what you just did.
6. Evaluate certain friendships.
This sounds a bit harsh and perhaps it is a difficult task. However, for some people this is necessary. Some so-called friends only spend time with you so they feel better themselves. They have the feeling they get more attention in your presence (than you), or compare their good points with your negative points all the time. You can recognize them by a combination of the following features: they never make you a compliment, they often discourage you to do certain things, they gossip behind your back, they are self centered and do not pay attention to your life, they are not sincere, they keep reminding you that you do not have a partner, a car, a job or anything else. On top of that it’s always you who gives and makes an effort, in stead of your so-called friend. When it comes to building self-esteem, it is important to get rid of those things and people that make you feel bad about yourself all the time.
So how to build self-esteem? Stop making an effort to meet/talk/interact with people who do not show a similar amount of interest in you as you do in them. If they really care about you, they will make an effort to interact with you once they notice you are not reaching out to them anymore.
7. Invest more time and effort in others.
Investing time and effort in other people pays off, on the long run (there are exceptions, see point 6). By investing time and effort in others you will feel better, because you make other people happy or feel appreciated. So you are building self-esteem and strengthening friendships at the same time. Perhaps you will not see the desired effect in the short run, but in the long run, you will notice that friends will also invest more time and effort in you. And this is what makes you feel good as well: friends investing time and effort in you. For those who are not convinced yet, consider not investing any time or effort in your friends. Do you think your friends will start investing more time and effort in you or do you think they will slowly ‘forget’ about you?
How to build self-esteem? Invest time and effort in the people around you.
8. Live your own life.
Live the life you want to live, and not what someone else thinks you should do. By living your own life you will become a happier and more confident person. It is okay to listen to advice others give you, but follow your own intuition and make your own decisions. Although your friend always seems to be such a happy person doing what he does, this does not mean it will make you happy as well. By always pleasing other, you will become more frustrated and feel less free. How to build self-esteem? Make yourself happy by living the life you want to live. This will make you a more confident person and you will see that you will enjoy life a lot more.
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9. Set realistic goals.
Setting goals is an important step when it comes to building self-esteem. By setting and achieving goals, your self-esteem grows automatically. Unfortunately, setting unrealistic goals will make achieving them more difficult and that has a negative effect on your self esteem. So it is important to set realistic goals: goals that are challenging and can be achieved by making an effort. Please note, that the process of achieving a goal is as important as achieving the goal itself. In the process of achieving a goal you can easily find other sub-goals you achieve on your way to the main goal.
How to build self-esteem? Set realistic goals. It’s better to set more smaller goals that you can achieve, than setting one or two big goals which are difficult to achieve. This gives you the positive experience of achieving goals and makes your confidence grow.
10. Talk to yourself.
Self talk is an important way of boosting your self-esteem. By talking to yourself you encourage yourself and convince yourself (on an unconscious level) that you can do it. The mechanism behind self talk is the same as using your body language to convince yourself that you are confident. Listening to (your own) compliments makes you feel better and more confident and this has a positive effect on your performance.
 Mann, M. M., Hosman, C. M., Schaalma, H. P., & De Vries, N. K. (2004). Self-esteem in a broad-spectrum approach for mental health promotion. Health education research, 19, 357-372.