There is nothing more unfortunate for a person than feeling unworthy of love, respect and happiness. These are our basic humanistic needs which give us the confidence and courage to experience life in a fulfilling way. Many people even indulge in ridiculous and unreasonable activities to fulfill those needs. Our self-esteem stands on the pillars of self-worth, self-respect and trust in our capabilities. If they are missing from arsenal of our life tools, then we would not be able to experience joy, freedom and true fulfillment in our lives.
It is very challenging for a person with low self-esteem to figure out the ways to start improving self-esteem. There are hundreds of articles and books available on the topic that give varying opinions on how to improve self-esteem. Some provide long term solutions and others give quick fixes to deal with the problem of low self-esteem. This could become overwhelming and confusing for a person who is in desperate need for guidance and help to improve his/her self-esteem.
In this article, we will take a balanced approach by sharing with you short term solutions as well as long term strategies to help you improve your self-esteem and maintain it on constant basis. You will be able to easily implement these simple ideas into your life to improve your self-esteem. In a short period of time, you will start feeling the positive effects on your mindset and approach towards yourself and your circumstances.
STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE SELF-ESTEEM
Here are the 12 strategies to help you improve your self-esteem:
1. GET RID OF NEGATIVE THINKING HABIT
If someone asks just one suggestion to improve their self-esteem, I would give them this advice: “Put a hold on your negative thoughts”. We hear about positivity and optimism so often that we don’t give any more importance to it. Letting go of negative thinking habit could transform your life beyond your measures, but only if you implement it in true spirit.
Let me explain why this is a revolutionary idea. Everything you see around you starts from a thought. So thought is actually a source of all things. It is also a source of our feelings and emotions. Our dominant feelings led to certain behaviors which influence our actions and decisions. Therefore, learning to control our thoughts is a crucial skill for managing our emotions and making rational decisions and taking appropriate actions. Taking control of our thinking may appear simple but in reality it is quite challenging task.
Our brain runs on autopilot most of the time. On average, we think more than 50,000 thoughts every day. The real problem is that most of those thoughts are repetitive and negative. We think negatively about ourselves, our circumstances and also about other people. The negative thoughts are really harmful. If we are not aware of what is happening in our mind, then we are at the mercy of our circumstances, because our environment may give us negative clues and may lead us to think destructively.
Our feelings of self-worth mostly come from our self-talk. What we say to ourselves about ourselves determine how much value we give to ourselves. We are way too much judgmental about who we are. As the old say goes ‘what you sow, so shall you reap’. The thoughts we put into our mind, our mind creates more of those thoughts as well as behaviors and actions. Our habit of negative thinking is a major culprit that takes away the joy of life.
Some examples of negative thinking about ourselves:
- No one likes me
- I am not good enough
- I don’t look attractive
- I don’t deserve her because she is gorgeous
- I am not confident enough to speak up in front of them
- I am not worthy of love and respect
- I am incompetent
- I don’t deserve to be happy
- I am not just good enough to succeed
- I don’t have knowledge, skills and luck to be wealthy
- I can’t forgive myself for what I did in the past
- Yes they ridiculed and humiliated me. I don’t deserve respect anyway
- I am not as lucky as other people
- I can never become better than I am today
Just look at above examples. They are all judgments. The good thing about judgments is that they are mostly untrue. It is quite possible that the judgments you have about yourself are probably wrong. It means you can create new perception of yourself in your mind by thinking different thoughts. But easier said than done, the ability to observe, manage and direct continuous stream of our thoughts require great level of awareness, discipline and persistence.
You may not be able to acquire monk-like control over your thinking mind, but you can certainly develop the ability to overcome the common thoughts that make you feel unhappy, fearful, unworthy and incompetent on regular basis.
Here are a couple of ways to get rid of negative thinking habit that will help you improve self-esteem:
Affirmations: Affirmations are certain words and phrases you keep repeating to yourself again and again until you mind starts believing them to be true. It is proven that if something is repeated to us enough times, we start believing that to be true. This concept is called ‘frequent exposure bias.’ This same principle is used by politicians, religious leaders and social activities to make us believe in their ideology.
If you don’t feel that you deserve happiness; you will not do the things that make you happy. You will also not demand from other people the things that can make you happy. Therefore until you change your mental programming with constant reminders that you are worthy of happiness, you will not be able to change your behavior and demand from the world what gives you happiness.
If you regularly experience repeated influx of certain negative thoughts in your mind, then create positive alternates of those negative thoughts and repeat them to yourself as often as possible. When doing these affirmations, feel the conviction and emotion those positive thoughts are conveying. In a few week’s time you will feel that negative thoughts are losing power and their positive alternates are becoming new normal. Your positive mindset will play a huge role in improving your self-esteem.
Meditation: Meditation is an old and most effective way to take back control of your mind. It is no longer a strange Buddhist practice reserved only for monks and you don’t need a guru to teach you how to do it. In last couple of decades, it has become a mainstream concept that the modern chaotic world desperately needed.
Just sit in a quiet place that is free from distractions for 10 to 20 minutes and observe the thoughts that are running in your mind. After five minutes of active observation, now start taking control of your mind by trying to keep it empty from thoughts. Whenever you feel that a thought is entering your mind, just flush it off, and keep yourself focused on the emptiness of mind.
There will be constant battle between your conscious mind and your thoughts. You may get ruthlessly defeated in first few rounds. But the only way to win this battle is to play it long term, to keep fighting on daily basis. Over a considerable period of time, you will feel that you are now in charge of own thoughts and not the other way around. With practice, you will become more mindful, calm and positive.
2. SET LONG-TERM GOALS
Human beings are purpose-driven creatures. We need a goal, an aim and a target to keep ourselves motivated, excited and interested in our day to day activities. Lack of goals means lack of passion, charm and enthusiasm. Having a worthy goal in not a luxury, it is a necessity for our psychological health and well-being.
During the World War II, an experiment was conducted on prisoners in Nazi concentration camp in Poland to observe the effect of continuous meaningless work on their psychological health. Prisoners were asked to move a mountain of dirt from one place to another. When they finished the task after a few days’ effort, they were again asked to put it back to its original place. The prisoners were compelled to repeat the same activity many times. This process had created dire consequences on their emotional health. As a result, a number of prisoners took their own lives. Bear in mind, these were the same people who endured and survived the most harsh conditions and torture of the concentration camps. However, the lack of meaningful activity took a heavily toll on their emotional health. Ultimately, it became so unbearable that they had to take the extreme step to free themselves from this suffering.
A person who has no goal or purpose does not consider his life worth living. Without a clearly defined destination, the journey becomes meaningless. When the traveler has no direction, anything he or she does has no importance.
On the same note, if you have no long-term goals set for yourself, you will not feel that you are an important person. You will neither be able to improve self-esteem nor could you derive any value from your activities. You would just feel like a useless prisoner confined in the concentration camp of your mind doing insignificant tasks.
Therefore, if you want to improve self-esteem, set some big, challenging and inspiring long term personal, professional or community goals that give you a direction and make your life more meaningful.
3. ACCEPT YOUR IMPERFECTIONS
There is a famous Japanese business philosophy called ‘Kaizen’ popularized in the west in 1980s after boom of Japanese auto industry. Kaizen stands for continues improvement in the processes and functions of a business enterprise. This is based on the idea that there is always room for improvement.
This is not only true in business settings but equally applicable on personal level. No one can claim to be perfect in any aspect of his or her life. We are all work in progress, and we need constant effort to keep improving ourselves whether it is our professional skills, emotional maturity, social etiquettes or relationship management.
Perfection is a disease which could discourage even the most ambitious people because it is unattainable target. If you are aiming to become perfect in an aspect of your life, you are going to be disappointed; you are doomed to fail with such unrealistic and unachievable goal.
A better alternate to perfection is desire for constant improvement. However it requires acceptance of the truth that we are imperfect and will remain so. Our egoistic mind does not like the idea of imperfection as it requires us to accept our mistakes and flaws. However, it is crucial to suppress our ego and accept undesirable aspects of our personality so that we could work to get rid of them.
Accepting our imperfections gives us the perspective as to where we stand and what we are striving for. It would keep us humble when we are winning, achieving and becoming wildly ambitious. It would also give us encouragement when we face setbacks, disappointments and failures. Just knowing your own limits improve self-esteem. So always see yourself as someone who is full of flaws and imperfections but striving to become better and improved version of himself.
4. DEVELOP AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
It is a universal human problem that we overestimate the value of things we don’t have and underestimate the importance of things that are already in our lives. We somehow believe that quality of our lives would increase dramatically if we achieve some arbitrary goals or we could become much happier if we get some fancy stuff or attract a beautiful person (which quite contrarily becomes a source of constant headache for most people).
With such mindset of craving and wanting more and more, we are constantly chasing our own tails, with no positive effects on our lives. We are making our happiness and well-being conditional to some future event that may or may not happen.
You may have observed that most of the time, people don’t appreciate the importance of something until they lose it. They become complacent and take things for granted before something tragic happens and takes away their precious belongings, be it people, time, health or material possessions. But we don’t have to lose something in order to realize its importance.
That’s why it is important to continuously remind ourselves of the blessings we already have. Let’s appreciate a bit more of the things and people who are source of comfort and joy in our lives. Let’s just imagine if they were not there, how our life would have been. This may give us a new perspective to value what we earlier perceive as our birthright.
Let’s become a bit more grateful of each and every thing that is bringing joy, comfort, ease, happiness and fulfillment into our lives. Let us make gratitude our default mode of thinking because it is impossible to be grateful and depressed at the same time. Gratitude is an antidote to depression. It is a door to peace and true fulfillment.
You self-esteem is influenced by how much satisfaction you derive from your life experiences. It depends on whether you consider yourself victim or thrive even in adverse circumstances. You can improve self-esteem by maintaining a positive outlook towards your life.
Keep a daily gratitude journal to write down 3 things, people or events that you are grateful for. Take a couple of minute each day to reflects on the benefits and blessings those three things are bringing into your life.
5. KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
You may have come across an old Greek saying ‘know thyself’ many times before. What does that actually mean and what purpose it serves? It denotes awareness of oneself in all aspects of being. If you have no idea who you are, what are your beliefs, hopes and ambitions, then you are living an unconscious life. There is no way you could reach your full potential and experience life in a meaningful way without self-awareness.
Most of us have abstract idea of who we are and what we stand for. However, deep clarity and understanding of one’s own abilities and shortcomings is crucial to grow as a human being especially if you want to improve your self-esteem. When we know what our strengths are, we are better able to focus on those activities where we could use those strengths efficiently and achieve best results. Consequently, the more success we achieve, the higher our self-esteem becomes.
In the similar way, when we know what our weaknesses, shortcomings, and deficiencies are, we are more likely to consciously make effort to improve ourselves in those areas. Overcoming our weaknesses increases our confidence and belief in our abilities, which ultimately improves our self-esteem.
Moreover, when someone criticizes us for our flaws which we are already aware of, it does not come as a surprise and does not hurt our self-esteem. Rather, we are more likely to acknowledge that feedback and push ourselves to improve ourselves by overcoming those shortcomings.
Here are a few ways to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses:
- What are you passionate about? Our passions tell a lot about our unique talents and strengths. First, know your passions and then evaluate what attracts you towards them.
- Indulge in new activities and experiences: Sometimes the best way know about yourself is by doing completely know things which you have never experienced before. It is revealing to observe how you react to new situations and events. It could be visiting new city, meeting new people, dressing in a different way visiting a new restaurant or playing a new sport.
- Focus on the feedback: If you are continuously receiving similar feedback (be it positive or negative) from multiple people, then it is probably true.
- Understand your fears: most of the time we are aware of what makes us frightened. Going a little deep into the source of our fears could reveal a lot about the real reasons behind fears.
- Evaluate your past successes and failures: It is said that intelligent people learn from failures and wise people also learn from their successes. Successes and failures do not come by chance. There are certain traits in people that make them happen. Get to know yours.
6. DETERMINE YOUR VALUES
Our values act as our compass and give us direction when we have no clue about our destination. Our values give perspective and purpose to everything we do. Our values keep us aligned with our ultimate purpose and goal. Desires push our outwards whereas values pull us inwards. They keep us balanced when we could go astray in mindless and egoist pursuit of momentary pleasures and attractions.
You must have a value hierarchy of your life. If you are not aware of your values, it does not mean they don’t exist. They may be working on sub-conscious level and making decisions for you. However, you must consciously decide what things you value the most and what are the things that are less important than others.
You may have self-respect as your most prioritized value. But for someone else, money may be more important and he may be ready to trade off self-respect to acquire money. A person may prioritize personal freedom over relationships but another may consider love more important than fame or even freedom.
It is completely your own inner calling how you want to experience your life. But you must decide your values carefully and then live by them through your words, decisions and actions. Everything you say and do must be aligned with your values. Your values represent your promise with yourself. If you don’t keep your promises, your self-esteem suffers. If you are really serious about improving your self-esteem, then determine your values and make effort to live by them.
7. BECOME MORE ASSERTIVE
Assertiveness is an important skill that could play a big role in improving self-esteem. Our ability to assert ourselves gives us confidence and courage to express our true selves. Assertiveness means expressing our thoughts, ideas, and opinions even when we know we could be rejected, ridiculed or criticized.
Assertiveness helps us acknowledge and express our feelings, desires, hopes and fears. It also means keeping and protecting our boundaries, respecting ourselves, demanding respect from others and standing up for our rights. Assertiveness helps us to speak up when needed even if there are consequences. It gives us the right to respond strongly to inappropriate behaviors and actions of other people towards us.
However, assertiveness does not mean that you become arrogant, egotist or rude in your behavior. You do not need to be angry or disrespectful to assert yourself. You can be humble and assertive at the same time. An assertive person does not let anyone control or manipulate her neither she tries to control anyone else. Assertiveness requires that you know your rights and responsibility as well as rights and responsibilities of other people.
Becoming assertive is not something you learn in a day. It is like developing body muscles. You must practice assertive behavior in small situations before you are able to effectively assert yourself in situations where it really matters. When you start observing, you will find ample opportunities to assert yourself no matter who you are and what are your circumstances.
So start practicing assertive behavior at every opportunity that comes your way. Once you practice enough, it becomes your natural way of being and you will observe yourself behaving like an assertive person.
8. DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY
Whenever someone says something about you, which is not nice, how do you feel? Of course you feel bad. We all do. We prefer praise and admiration over criticism and disrespect. But the question is; is it in our control to avoid negative feedback from people. Can we become free from ridicule, rejection and disrespect? No we can’t. You have no control over other people’s actions and behaviors. People are going to believe and say whatever they want, no matter how you feel about it.
If you have the problem of taking things too personally, then you are doomed for misery. It may lead you towards dark emotions of hate, revenge or self-loathing. Taking things personally is the easiest way to lose self-esteem because it makes you believe that other people’s opinions about you are more important than your own. A person with such mindset will struggle to improve his self-esteem. Taking things personally is a two-edged sword. It is the cause as well as the result of low self-esteem.
You need to see things in perspective if you are a victim of this habit. What people think about you is actually not about you. Their opinions define who they are, not who you are. No one knows enough about you to define you correctly. However, we make our ego so big that we think that everything that happens around us has something to do with us.
Whatever happens to you or whatever people say about you is also not about you. It is about who they are. People make their judgments based on their own beliefs, experiences, observations and limited knowledge they have about other people and events. They cannot understand you from their frame of mind. Therefore, opinions of people should not be treated seriously. No one’s opinion is worthy enough to be taken for granted.
The solution is to become more immune to outside influence. Don’t let your ego take control of your emotions and behavior. Do not let other people pull your emotional strings, by giving preference to their judgments above your own. They cannot see how you see the world. The choices and decisions you make are based on your own personal experience and preference. No one can see the things from your eye balls. Therefore stop proving yourself right to other people because they may not be able to understand you.
Let go of your reputation, don’t try to control it. It is a construct of other people’s mind. It belongs to them; it has nothing to do with you. If you know 100 people, you have 100 reputations slightly different in each person’s mind.
Remember this powerful metaphor to liberate yourself from taking things personally:
There will always be one-third of people who like you, one-third who hate you and one-third who will not care about you at all.
9. BECOME A LIFELONG LEARNER
Our self-esteem is dependent upon our ability to amicably face and overcome the challenges of life that come our way. If we are not confident in our ability to solve problems, resolve conflicts, sustain failures and survive through crises, then we cannot ensure to maintain healthy level of self-esteem. Any challenge we face either improves our self-esteem or diminish it. Therefore, our self-esteem is largely dependent on how much mentally, physically and emotionally prepared we are to handle those challenges.
If you are really serious about improving your self-esteem, then you must commit to yourself to become a lifelong learner. You may have high level of formal education but that is not enough to prepare you for the journey of unforeseen events and novel circumstances ahead of you. It is unfortunate that our education systems are limited to training in vocational skills. It does not prepare us for the crucial life skills needed to create a healthy, abundant and socially rich life.
No one has taught us how to manage anger, hate, frustration or disappointment. We have not been trained how to develop and maintain nourishing relationships, how to overcome fear, how to keep our body and mind healthy and active. The weapons of basic skills are missing from the arsenal of today’s young generation being sent to the battleground of life.
The people who are constantly learning and improving feel more confident in their ability to navigate through life’s difficult situations. As today’s world demands constant improvement in one’s intellectual and emotional strength, the responsibility lies on our own shoulders to continue our learning and growth. We should not just focus on our jobs but also improve ourselves in different dimensions of life including our emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual development.
There are multitude of resources and number of ways we can use to acquire knowledge, develop skills, and enhance our capabilities. Books, either in physical or digital form are by far the most effective and popular medium to broaden our horizon. They give us the opportunity to gain valuable insights within a few days’ span from knowledge and expertise accumulated by an author throughout his life.
Online courses, audio books, podcasts and millions of Youtube videos are more than enough for someone with passion of learning to fulfill her intellectual appetite. So the tools to improve self-esteem are just a click away. Then why not make a commitment to read at least one book each month on a topic of your choice.
10. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
Your low self-esteem could be the result of your poor upbringing. This perception may encourage you put blame of your current circumstances on your parents, teachers, siblings, friends, boss, finances or may be on your fate. But what purpose will it serve if you transfer blame on others or even prove their fault? Your problems will not go away with such approach. You still have to take deal with problems of your life.
People are afraid to take responsibility for their life conditions. They also want to run away from the responsibility of their actions, because it entails that they may need to accept their mistake. Such people always have justifications for their faulty beliefs, wrong behaviors and inadequate actions. They want to prove themselves right even at the cost of their own progress and growth.
Do not be one of those people. You need to take responsibility for your current conditions and focus your attention towards changing them. There are only two ways to live life; either take responsibility for it or play the victim game. Responsible people do not want to be known as victim. They understand that whatever happened in the past may not be their fault but it is completely upto them to shape their future.
You life is in your control. You are the author of your story. You are the driver of your life’s vehicle. Every choice your make and every decision you take is leading you somewhere. Don’t blame the traffic, road or weather. It is your mindset and skills which will determine how far you can go with whatever resources you have.
People with responsible attitude are more likely to have high self-esteem. Therefore, take full responsibility for your thoughts, words and actions. It is only through the mindset of possibility, optimism and sheer commitment you can reach somewhere worthwhile and be proud of your journey.
11. LEARN TO FORGIVE
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.Mark Twain
The most beautiful gift you can give to yourself (yes yourself, not others) is developing the ability of forgiveness. Only a person familiar with the power of forgiveness could tell you how much beauty and freedom this strange quality can bring into your life. What is so great about forgiveness? It makes us free from the emotional burden of hate, revenge and misery.
But the question is why would you forgive someone who did something wrong to you? You may want to take revenge if possible. Yes, revenge can give some satisfaction to your ego, but it can’t heal the wound created by actions of another person. You may still continue to feel that pain and hate even after taking your revenge. So it does not solve the core problem of recovery from emotional injury.
The solution to this dilemma is to forgive others for their wrongdoings. I know it is not easy, but it is the only way to free ourselves from constant suffering. This has nothing to do with other person. You just need to forgive for your own sake, to recover your emotional wounds. This reason is more than enough to forego revenge and practice unconditional forgiveness. However, another important reason that will boost your self-esteem is the ability to forgive yourself. Once you learn to forgive others, it becomes much easier to forgive yourself.
Forgiveness is something that comes natural to some people and others have to learn this practice. Why I am saying this is a practice? because this is not a one-time activity. People will hurt you and your will hurt and disappoint yourself on constant basis. That’s why we should keep forgiving ourselves and others on regular basis. This may not be construed that you should tolerate inappropriate behaviors of other or don’t be concerned about making repeated blunders yourself.
You must learn from your mistakes, adapt yourself and respond to unreasonable actions of people. But don’t let those events make you a toxic or hateful person. Practice kindness and forgiveness at every opportunity that comes your way. This will create within you a sense of personal worth and self-respect that will definitely play a big role i improving your self-esteem.
12. BREAK THE COMPARISON TRAP
Are you the kind of person who constantly compares herself with other people? I am pessimistically hopeful that you are J. You are not different because we all are taught by our society to measure our worth based on where we stand compared to other people. You see ranking systems everywhere be it in our schools, jobs, sports, or our personal and social lives.
We are programmed from the very beginning to judge our worth, competence and success in terms of how far or behind we are to other people. This becomes our default way of thinking and our mental conditioning keeps enforcing this comparison trap throughout our lives.
But is this the only way to measure our worth? Fortunately, there is a more powerful perspective about evaluating our self-worth and measuring our success. Firstly, the comparison system is a very lousy tool to assess someone’s accomplishments because it judges a person’s performance based on how other people around him are doing.
For example, if others around him are extremely incompetent and unskilled whereas his performance is no more than average, then he will appear as top performer. In the same way, if a person is extremely competent and others around him are exceptionally talented even better than him, then he will look like a fool before them.
Therefore, it is not only irrational but a stupid idea to compare any aspect of your life with someone else’s. If you keep comparing yourself to people around you, your self-esteem will shrink severely. You cannot expect to improve your self-esteem until you free yourself by breaking the comparison trip. You must understand that your journey is unique. Your goals, values and vision for your life are also unique. Your skills, hopes, desires, ambitions and preferences are different from others.
Instead of trying to be a carbon copy of someone else, be comfortable in being your authentic self. Craft your own life’s journey and do not try to live someone else’s life by trying to imitate them, no matter how attractive it may look on the surface.
In this digital age, social media has immense power to manipulate our perspective and lure us to think, act and live in ways that are superficial, ego-centered, and fake to say the least. Therefore, do not let outside stimuli to influence your thinking and lifestyle. Remember, people on social medial are real but their lives you see there, are not. They are well crafted in ‘photoshop factories’ for your amusement and praise.
So don’t be fooled by their apparent charm. Never let the influence of outside world make you become and live the way that is not authentic and original. But for that to happen, you may need to first discover your true self.
I am leaving you with a beautiful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson to ponder and reflect upon:
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.