Improving Self-Esteem

See also: Building Confidence

What does self-esteem mean to you?

You may think of it as your inner voice – the voice that tells you whether you are good enough to do or achieve something. Self-esteem is about how we value ourselves, our perceptions and beliefs in who we are and what we are capable of. Our self-esteem can be misaligned with other people's perception of who we are.

Interestingly enough, self-esteem has little to do with actual talent or ability. It’s quite possible for someone who is good at something to have poor self-esteem, while someone who struggles at a particular topic might have good self-esteem.

In the first case, the person might think “I have to give a speech tomorrow and I’m dreading it. I know I’m no good,” even though they are experienced and successful. The other person may be determined to give a good speech and focuses on feeling more confident about the result, even though they display less talent than the first person.

It is easy to see how a lack of self-esteem can influence how a person behaves, not to mention what they achieve in their lives.

(If you do have to give a speech tomorrow and are feeling nervous then see our page on Dealing with Presentation Nerves for some reassurance.)

Why Do People Experience Low Self-Esteem?

There are ways to boost your self-esteem, even if you feel as if you are struggling to do so.

There are many reasons why someone might have low self-esteem. A feeling of failure can stem from a poor decision or a series of experiences in life that lead to the person feeling down on themselves.

For example let’s say that you don’t have confidence in your own abilities and you don’t feel strong enough to resist falling in with the wrong crowd. In this situation you may feel powerless to refuse the offer of drugs when they are presented to you. Thus you take them so you can fit in and feel part of a group, hoping this will increase your self-esteem and confidence.

The effects of the drugs may make you feel more confident for a short time, but this is an external force – it does not come from within you. If you become addicted to drugs, any self-esteem you do have will eventually crumble. You will feel depressed at having succumbed to them and you may feel hopeless at the odds of beating the addiction. It sends you into a spiral that can be hard to escape from.

Watch Your Internal Dialogue

However, there are solutions. As you may have guessed, positive internal dialogue is a big part of improving your self-esteem.

Instead of saying things like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m a failure’ you can start to turn things around by saying ‘I can beat this’ and ‘I can become more confident by viewing myself in a more positive way.’

To begin with you will catch yourself falling back into old negative habits, but with regular effort you can start to feel more positive and build your self-esteem as well.

Help Yourself and Seek Help from Others

Self-esteem varies from situation to situation, from day to day and hour to hour. Some people feel relaxed and positive with friends and colleagues, but uneasy and shy with strangers. Others may feel totally in command of themselves at work but struggle socially (or vice versa).

Everybody is different. Some people are naturally positive and optimistic, maintaining equilibrium when faced with constant difficulties, while others are less so.

Some people are good at appearing to be positive and optimistic on the outside while they struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of self-doubt on the inside.

You cannot achieve everything in a day, but you can start taking steps to enhance the way you feel. If you are addicted to drugs or you have problems with overeating or drinking too much, take steps to get help.

Focus on changing your daily routine as well, so you become healthier and more positive too. Exercising for half an hour a day is recommended by the World Health Organisation, but it is also enough to improve your general mood.

Our page The Importance of Exercise explains this in more detail.

Watching what you eat and trying to maintain a healthy well-balanced diet will help your body and mind function well and could also help to lift your spirits.

See our pages on Nutrition for more information.

Adequate good-quality sleep will also help to ensure that your body and mind function optimally.

See our pages: What is Sleep? and The Importance of Sleep for more information.

A common symptom of low self-esteem is the feeling that you cannot perform well in public. Gaining confidence to function in public with ease depends largely on previous personal experiences.

Preparation is important - knowing your information and what you want to say. The key is to face up to your anxieties and not to walk away from them. Blocking out or refusing to think about fears allows fears to take over and damage your self-esteem.

Even the seemingly most confident people may feel insecure deep down. To feel nervous is not necessarily a bad thing.

Actors, singers and those who work in the media can be all but paralysed with nerves before a performance, but as soon as the moment of action comes their control and technique takes over. It can be the same for everyone if properly prepared. One trick is not to let nerves show, to appear confident however you feel inside, to learn to channel the nervous energy positively.

Once you are in control, the fear will subside and with it your self-esteem can improve.

Our Presentation Skills section has lots of information about how to prepare and relieved effective presentations.

Quick Tips to Help Improve Self-Esteem

  • Gain Control of Yourself: Do not be critical of yourself to others. Whilst it can be useful to confide your concerns to someone you trust, telling the world is something else. Be kind to yourself. Make a list of your good qualities and believe them, believe in yourself.
  • Don't Be A Complainer: Everyone has problems, so why should yours be greater than others? By being negative you can isolate yourself from others and cut yourself off from solutions to problems.
  • Learn to Relax: Allow time for yourself each day. This may only be a few minutes, but it is important to be quiet and to unwind. See our section on Relaxation Techniques for some ideas.
  • Boost Your Own Morale: Allow yourself a treat from time to time, especially if you have overcome a hurdle in personal presentation, particularly after your first formal talk or after a successful meeting. It does not have to be expensive - a cup of coffee at a pleasant place, or some other treat.
  • Congratulate Yourself on a job/task well done and perhaps tell a friend. Do not always be the one to give out praise, you need some too. Justified praise is a good boost to morale.
  • Learn to Channel Nerves and Tension Positively: when you are nervous, adrenalin is pumped through the body and you feel more keyed up and alert. This extra energy can be used to good effect; enabling you to communicate with greater enthusiasm and intensity, for example.
  • Learn to be Assertive: Stand up for what you believe in and do not be pressured by others. See our section on Assertiveness for lots more information about becoming more assertive.

Improvements Will Come in Small Steps

It is difficult to go from poor self-esteem to positive self-esteem overnight.

Instead you will find you make small improvements over a period of time. Try and stay in touch with how you feel during the day.

Do you feel good about yourself? Why is that?

If you feel low and you sense negative thoughts running through your mind, ask yourself why this is the case. Half the battle to conquering poor self-esteem is to identify when and why you feel a certain way.

If you find exercise is a big mood booster you can build more of it into your day. See our page The Importance of Exercise for more information.

If you find you feel low if you are on your own, you can make plans to get out and about more often.

You don’t have to live with poor self-esteem.

By taking positive steps towards practical solutions, you can start moving in the right direction and boost your self-esteem.