How to build self-esteem

(Note: this article is for the average person who wants to boost their self-esteem, if you feel you have more serious problems, such as addiction or depression, which may be causing low self-esteem, please consult your doctor).

We all have beliefs about others: how likely they are to stick to their promises, how reliable they are, how positive-minded and competent they are. We also have such beliefs about ourselves. Self-esteem is just a name for the collection of beliefs you hold about yourself.

Although the concept of ‘self-esteem’ is just a theory and not everyone accepts it as useful, there does seem to be growing evidence that its an important part of our lives, and can predict things like how well we’ll do at work and in our relationships with others.

In 1969, the psychologist Nathaniel Brandon defined self-esteem as "the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life, and being worthy of happiness."

This shows that there are two sides to self-esteem: how competent you feel, and how deserving or worthy you feel. It’s possible to have one without the other. For instance, you can imagine a well-loved friend or relative who you feel deserves to be happy, even if they are incompetent! Likewise, you can imagine someone who is highly competent, but not a nice person, and perhaps (if you were feeling un-generous!) you might think that they don’t deserve to be happy. However, if you want to improve your own self-esteem, then you are going to need to pay attention to both sides.

Low self-esteem will hit your confidence and potentially harm your personal relationships, social and work life. You may become so nervous of any type of criticism or situation in which you may feel judged that you shy away from activities that may enhance your life.

Live up to your own morals

This article is not about trying to impose any particular moral code on you, but if you don’t live up to your own moral code it will harm your self-esteem. May I suggest that a good starting position is the idea of treating others as you would wish to be treated. Treating others with respect and fairness will help increase the respect you have for yourself. After all, what would you think of someone who constantly expected to be treated well, but treats others poorly?

Challenge negative beliefs

It’s important to realize that the beliefs you hold about yourself are just that: beliefs and not necessarily facts. Challenging negative beliefs is not just a matter of trying to think positively. Positive thinking is useful, but so is questioning your negative beliefs and asking yourself: “Is this really true?”

Beware, in particular, any tendency you have to allow yourself to think any set-back is a catastrophe. Challenge your thinking so that you don’t immediately jump to the extreme of believing that

Also, avoid constantly comparing yourself with others. Everyone is different, and has different strengths and weaknesses. If you are comparing yourself unfavorably with someone, it maybe that you just can’t see their weaknesses. Also, avoid rumination: the tendency to worry about the same thing over and over. Next time you find yourself thinking over and over on the same thing, imagine the word ‘Stop!’ and make yourself think of something else.

Recognize past achievements

Some people can easily forget the things they’ve accomplished in the past, artificially lowering their self-esteem. Try making a list of past accomplishments; they don’t have to be world-changing, they can just be any time you overcome a challenge, solved a problem or made a difference to someone. Or, try writing on a small credit-sized card a list of 10 positive words that describe you. Carry the card around with you in your wallet or purse and read it regularly.

Challenge yourself

The ability to grow through taking on new challenges, stretching yourself, will help contribute to healthy self-esteem. Set yourself practical, achievable goals and work towards them.

As personal development author Dale Carnegie wrote: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Get healthy

If you are regularly active and making an effort to stay fit, then you will feel better about yourself. Equally, if you eat healthily you will almost certainly feel better than if you eat a lot of junk food. Also, minimize stress and feelings of being overwhelmed by modern life by making some quite time for yourself.


Self-esteem is all about your own attitude towards yourself. It’s something that you are in charge of. It’s not controlled by factors outside of yourself such as your level of material success. There are many rich and famous people who suffer from poor self-esteem despite of their wealth and accomplishments. Take some steps to keep your own self-esteem at healthy levels and it will help your life enormously.