11 Ways To Build Self-Esteem And Increase Your Confidence


You can be confident and yet still have low self-esteem. When it comes to the question on ways to build self esteem, the latter is more about knowing your worth.

In his bestselling book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994), the Canadian–American psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden identified six cornerstones that affect your self esteem: living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, purposefulness, and integrity.

Branden also argues that no one can simply “give” you your self esteem. If you can’t see your own value, there’s a high chance that others won’t either.

As a result, you may end up settling for less than you deserve. You might even let others make decisions for you or find yourself chasing after love.

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It is true that our self esteem and identity is partly shaped by the feedback we receive from those around us. This occurs through the comments, compliments, criticisms and non-verbal messaging that we consciously and subconsciously absorbed. As the common saying goes, words can cut deeper than a knife.

Body language cues can be subtle yet similarly impactful. Building self esteem can be compromised by the smallest of gestures: an eye-roll, a smirk, a cynical smile.

As humans, we are social creatures. Our sense of self worth is inevitably tied to how other people interact with us on a day-to-day basis.

We have limited control over how other people perceive us – or how they react to our presence, our words and our actions. We do, however, have significant agency about how we view ourselves.

A person with low self esteem and one with high self esteem can react very differently to the same negative feedback. Even individuals with high self esteem are not immune to social rejection, losing some social standing and feeling bad about themselves.

On the other hand, however, a 2018 study that was published in the journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that individuals with low self esteem are more affected by negative feedback.

They were also less able to differentiate between applicable and non-applicable negative feedback. They are unlike their counterparts with high self esteem, who can easily dismiss irrelevant comments that do not match their sense of self.

People with lower self esteem also react differently to positive feedback. Even when complimented for something that matches their sense of self, they did not necessarily feel good about the mutual understanding and positive reinforcement that just occurred. They also experienced a weaker connection to the person who provided positive feedback.

In order to take charge of your own life and avoid being taken for granted, it’s important to learn to value yourself more. To ensure that you get the most, I’ve also put together 11 effective confidence building activities you can start working on straight away.

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11 Ways to Build Self Esteem and Increase Your Confidence

  1. Stop Criticizing Yourself
  2. Think Positive
  3. Put Yourself First
  4. Identify What You Need And Want
  5. Look for the Good
  6. Quit Focusing on your Weaknesses
  7. Take Risks
  8. Don’t Forget your Rights
  9. Practice Saying ‘No’
  10. Do the Things You Enjoy
  11. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

1. Stop Criticizing Yourself


Always remember that no one is perfect. Be kind to yourself. Change what you can and accept what you can’t. Embrace your imperfections.

As Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Click To Tweet

Einstein, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, is widely recognized as a scientific genius. He was also very good at playing the violin.

Einstein’s quote, however, is a recognition of the fact that even he was not good at everything.

He once failed his exams in literature, French and politics. After earning his diploma (as a teacher of physics and mathematics), he was unable to find the job he wanted.

Throughout his life, he was an unfaithful husband and a negligent father.

Everyone has their own set of flaws, weaknesses, and insecurities.

People with high self esteem, however, base their self worth and confidence on their strengths. This is even more important when you suffer through a failure or setback. Accept your shortcomings, but focus on affirming yourself when the going gets tough.

2. Think Positive


Negative self-talk will have an impact on your self esteem. Whenever you feel like you can’t do something, try spinning it around and tell yourself that you’ve got this.

Individuals with low self esteem can become trapped in an endless spiral of self-defeating negativity.

If you keep telling yourself that you are worthless, you eventually believe that this is true – and that there is nothing you can do about it.

"Don't let the bad days make you think you have a bad life." Click To Tweet

If you find yourself in this position, take out a piece of paper. Write down all the positive traits that you have. Write it again and again if you have to. This will help you to focus on the silver lining – and to make improvements in your life.

Losing a job, failing an exam, or getting a divorce will take its toll on your self esteem.

You must accept your failures, but you don’t have to internalize it. Individuals with high self esteem will still be affected by these failures, but it will not diminish their sense of self worth or permanently damage their confidence.

They will eventually pick up the pieces and try again.  

11 Ways To Build Your Self-Esteem

3. Put Yourself First


Don’t let people walk all over you. Remind yourself that you are worthy and you deserve to be treated fairly. Sometimes, it’s okay to be selfish.

Love yourself!

This does not mean that you should ignore the needs of those who matter to you. Fulfilling our duties and responsibilities as a spouse, parent, employee, or boss is also an important part of our sense of self.

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." Click To Tweet

Our actions can speak louder than our words (or our thoughts) in building our self esteem. When you help others who are less fortunate or those who are in need, you help improve your sense of self as you help them.

The difficulty lies in finding a balance between self-care, self-compassion and our duty to others.

When you are stressed, overly stretched out, and emotionally drained, however, you are damaging yourself and those around you. When you sacrifice too much of yourself while attempting to put other people first, you also compromise your relationship with them.

4. Identify What You Need and Want


Know what you want in life and identify what’s important to you. Never compromise your own values or needs for anyone.

It is easier to mask our insecurities with a long list of awards, medals, promotions, social prestige, wealth, and material possessions.

This is not to say that you need to give up your aspirations to pursue a rewarding and successful career – or to abandon the traditional idea of “the good life”.

It is important, however, to focus on self growth as you make choices that affect your everyday behavior and the trajectory of your life.

"Your value doesn't decrease based on someone's inability to see your worth." Click To Tweet

Are your achievements a means of self-fulfilment or simply a way to conform with the expectations of those around you?

Are you doing things to fit in or because that’s what everyone expects you to do? Are you focusing your efforts towards something that you really value?

11 Ways To Build Your Self-Esteem

5. Look for the Good


Focus on what you’re doing right.

Instead of convincing yourself that your life is a mess, look for the silver lining and treat challenges as an opportunity for you to grow.

Everyone makes mistakes, both big and small. Some may be trivial and easily forgotten, but others can stay with us for a long time.

"Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts and successful people have worries. They just don't let these feelings stop them." Click To Tweet

Holding on to feelings of anger, bitterness, shame, fatalism and resentment for a long time will only hold us back. You have to forgive yourself and those around you in order to move on (and eventually forget the hurt or harm that was caused).   

This is easier when there are positives bundled along with a negative situation.

What about overwhelming traumas that do not seem to offer any possibilities for redemption or growth? (The glass can really be empty, after all).

In such situations, you have to realise that you have to separate your inner worth from your circumstances.

A natural disaster can destroy all the things you hold dear, but it has no bearing on your sense of self worth.

6. Quit Focusing on your Weaknesses


If you think you’re not good enough, then you will never be good enough.

Put all the negative thoughts you have about yourself aside and lock them up.

The point here is not to live in self-denial or self-exclusion, but to change the narrative you have internalized about ourselves.

"Don't be afraid of being different. Be afraid of being the same as everyone else." Click To Tweet

Take, for example, your physical appearance.

You might have heard the saying “looks don’t matter”, but we are also aware that society does place immense importance on beauty (especially for girls and women).

Social media, advertising culture and the tendency to idolize celebrities have intensified the pressure to attain physical perfection.

You probably don’t have to look too hard to find someone who seems to be gaining acceptance and social status from his or her good looks.

At the same time, beauty is more than skin deep. Looking good is also tied to our fitness, our mental health, our diet, our hygiene practices, the functioning of our immune system, our self-perception, and our self-esteem.

In Survival of the Prettiest, the psychologist Nancy Etcoff demonstrates how the obsession with beauty transcends history and geography.

She argues that we cannot simply dismiss our evolutionary history, but we do not need to base all our self-worth on our genes either.

If you only become obsessed with physical traits where you come up short, you are not doing yourself any favours.

Focus on improving your daily habits (getting enough sleep and exercise, for example) and your positive traits instead. You may never attain the same kind of awe and envy that a genetically-blessed model elicits from others, but that should not stop you from appreciating the good qualities that you have.

11 Ways To Build Your Self-Esteem

7. Take Risks


Try new things and challenge yourself. When you accomplish something you never thought you could do, you will feel a lot better about yourself.

The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore once wrote, “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them”.

"The best way to gain confidence is to do something you're terrified of doing." Click To Tweet

You might assume that anyone who is comfortably successful, wealthy and secure will have high self esteem.

They would probably be very confident in themselves (even to the point of arrogance and narcissism), but self-esteem is attained from personal growth rather than a sense of security (which can breed complacency).

The experience of facing and overcoming difficulties contributes to your self-growth and self esteem.

Related: 121 Self Esteem Quotes That’ll Increase Your Confidence

Compare, for example, someone who inherited a fortune to someone who amassed a similar fortune through his or her own effort.

Both individuals might be equally secure and comfortable in the world. It is the latter, however, who has the hard-won confidence gained from having the courage to take risks, experiencing failure and persevering through trying times.

In other words, look at the challenges at hand as a growth opportunity – rather than a symptom of your shortcomings.

It may sound paradoxical, but even failure (or negative experiences in general) can be fruitful if you were really invested in the process.

As the saying goes, it is the journey, and not the destination itself, that truly matters.

8. Don’t Forget your Rights


You have the right to wear whatever you want. You have the right to pursue your passion. You have the right to be happy.

Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise.

"Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask it." Click To Tweet

Individuals with low levels of self esteem often have a victim mentality.

They see the world as a difficult and treacherous place. They think that they should keep their heads down and avoid taking any risks. They feel powerless when it comes to improving their circumstances in life.

It can be difficult to find the courage and confidence to assert yourself.

If you do not express yourself or protect your own interests, however, many people will only take further advantage of your situation. They might treat you unfairly, or even abuse or exploit you.

Low levels of self esteem are often aggravated by factors beyond your control.

You may have had a traumatic childhood. Others may have endured poverty, racial discrimination, sexism, religious persecution, mental illness or a physical handicap.

You cannot rewrite or simply forget a painful past, but you can change your present mindset to pave the way for a better future.

Build your self-esteem by believing in your agency to improve your life and to address complex psychological issues.

Part of the process involves believing that you have the same fundamental rights as anyone else.

Ask for that raise or promotion. Apply for the job or fellowship that seems to be out of your reach.

You are not less deserving than anyone else, even if your attempt ultimately proves to be unsuccessful.

9. Practice Saying ‘No’


You don’t have to force yourself to something just to please others. If it goes against your beliefs or values, just politely say ‘no.’

People with low levels of self esteem often fear social disapproval or rejection from other people.

"You have within you right now, everything you need to deal with whatever the world can throw at you." Click To Tweet

Since they are anxious about their membership in a social group and insecure about their self-worth, they usually have a harder time putting their needs over others.

There are, of course, people who will take advantage of this. Your boss or co-worker might expect you to take on responsibilities at work that are not actually part of your job scope.

Saying no can be especially difficult when you are confronted with a power inequality – and when you have made it a habit of saying yes to unfair requests and demands.

Practice saying no in an assertive and confident manner. Do not be afraid of conflict or a negative reaction. You might experience disapproval or rejection in the short-term, but you will benefit from standing up for yourself in the long-term.

10. Do the Things You Enjoy


Modern life can stressful and overwhelming for everyone. You might feel the need to continuously improve yourself, work on your weaknesses, or be more productive.

Every now and then, you need to take a step back.

Do the little things that make you smile and make you feel good.

"Fall in love with taking care of yourself. Fall in love with the path of healing. Fall in love with becoming the best version of yourself but with patience, with compassion and respect to your own journey." Click To Tweet

Listen to your favourite songs. Put your thoughts on paper. Read a book, watch a movie, or go out for a walk. Pick up a hobby or resume an interest that you abandoned because you were too preoccupied with your education, career or family.

You need to put your happiness first sometimes. Having a healthy level of self esteem means that you can stop worrying about whether you are “good enough” or if you have “done enough” with your life.

Happiness can be found in a quiet and humble moment where you can simply enjoy the moment and appreciate the smaller things in life.  

11. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others


If you keep focusing on the success of others and thinking how far behind you are, you will never get anywhere.

Don’t waste your time and energy. It’s okay to go at your own pace.

Michael Norton is a Harvard Business School professor who has analysed the connections between happiness, life satisfaction and wealth.

He found that even millionaires usually ask themselves two questions to determine if they are satisfied with their life.

They ask “Am I doing better than I was before?” and “Am I doing better than other people?”.

"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be." Click To Tweet

We have to face the fact that many of the things we value in life are difficult to measure.

How do you know, for example, if you are a “better” mother or father than your neighbour?

This is why most people are obsessed with quantifiable and obvious indicators of wealth, status and prestige. It is easy to compare zip codes, car prices, and incomes.

People also tend to base these comparisons on others who are richer, more successful and more beautiful than themselves – which means that the competition never ends.

When you achieve a measure of success, you tend to change your baseline for comparisons, creating an ever-shifting goalpost.

Avoiding the tendency to make social comparisons to other people who seem to have so much more beauty, happiness, confidence, wealth and status than ourselves is not easy.

You have to be vigilant about these tendencies – especially when you are using social media or traditional media. (If you read the biographies of rich, famous and successful people, you will find that their lives are far from being perfect or ideal).

Making comparisons can be a good source of motivation for self-improvement, but they often engender negative thoughts, anxiety and unproductive stress.

Researchers have also found that individuals with low levels of self esteem tend to spend more time on social network platforms.

This pattern of behavior not only compromises their sense of self worth, but also affects their offline interpersonal relationships and prevents them from improving their social skills.

If you have to compare, use yourself as the baseline.

Are you a more confident and contented person today as compared to five years ago? This is a difficult question to answer, but it forces you to reflect more deeply on who you are, where you have been, what you have done and where you want to go.

how to build self esteem