Do you find yourself deflecting compliments instead of accepting them? Or perhaps you tend to think your achievements are down to luck, but all your failures are your own fault? If you do, then maybe you’re just a very critical thinker, or more likely, you have low self-esteem. But lots of people have low self-esteem, right? What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that low self-esteem can lower your well-being and overall quality of life. This works the other way around, too, as low quality of life – which includes different factors like low socioeconomic status and loneliness – can lower self-esteem. Too high self-esteem can create its own problems – confidence may be sexy, but nobody likes a bragger. But a healthy, balanced level of self-esteem is often the key to success and a better, happier, and more fulfilled life.
And who wouldn’t want to be happy, right? Yet low self-esteem can often seem impossible to overcome because someone with low self-esteem doesn’t believe that they can do it. Luckily, there are some simple but effective ways of boosting self-esteem, and I will guide you through them in this article.
- Can you train your self-esteem?
- Actionable activities that will boost your self-esteem
- Closing words
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Can you train your self-esteem?
Self-esteem is influenced by a lot of factors, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Life experiences like bullying
- Parenting style
- Quality of life
- Socioeconomic status
- Social media use
Although there is some evidence that self-esteem is partly regulated by a certain gene, it is mostly affected by environmental factors such as the ones listed above. Research shows that bullying, distant parenting, lower socioeconomic status, and social media addiction all predict low self-esteem. The good news is that self-esteem seems to grow with age.
Another big part of low self-esteem is the negative thinking and attributional styles that color how you understand the world. People with low self-esteem tend to think that every negative event is their fault and their fault alone. As far as we can tell, these thoughts are not genetic, but rather a product of people’s experiences, and thus, they can be changed.
When psychologists talk about raising self-esteem, this is what they talk about: challenging and changing the negative thought patterns that don’t help anyone. In fact, Overcoming Low Self-Esteem by Melanie Fennell, one of the most popular self-help guides for raising self-esteem, is almost entirely dedicated to challenging negative and critical thoughts about oneself and forming new, positive ones. And really, that’s what raising self-esteem boils down to.
Research has shown that self-esteem can definitely be trained. Different forms of therapy, like art therapy, solution-focused brief therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy have been found to be successful in raising self-esteem in different age groups. But what if you favor a more DIY approach? Things that you can try without having to make an appointment or spending a lot of money. Can you still train your self-esteem without the help of a professional?
The answer is a resounding yes! (As long as you’re willing to put in a little bit of effort, of course.) Below are some self-esteem activities that are sure to give you that much-needed boost of confidence.
Actionable activities that will boost your self-esteem
Everybody deserves to feel good about themselves and take pride in their accomplishments, and luckily, healthy self-esteem is achievable for everyone. Here are 7 self-esteem activities that will help you get there.
1. Don’t deflect compliments – accept them!
I had just bought a new dress and it didn’t go unnoticed by my coworkers. “That’s a lovely dress and it suits you so well!” they would say. “Oh, it has pockets!” I would gush in response, showing off the pockets in question. Now, I was really proud of my pockets (they could fit my phone!), but what I should have said was: “Thank you!”. Many people from both ends of the self-esteem spectrum have trouble accepting compliments sometimes, but people with low self-esteem have a hard time accepting any positive feedback.
To boost your self-esteem, practice saying “Thank you!” when someone pays you a compliment instead of deflecting it.
2. Use positive affirmations (but only the right kind)
Positive affirmations are popular tools for promoting self-esteem and confidence, but they might not always work for you. If you’re used to thinking of yourself as unlovable, then the statement “I am a lovable person” seems jarring and repeating it may make you feel even worse.
To boost your self-esteem, use gentler affirmations, for example:
- I will persevere.
- I can do hard things.
- Mistakes help me learn and grow.
- Or even: I got this.
Choose an affirmation or two that work for you and write them down. Think about what you want to hear when you’re feeling low. Place the affirmation somewhere you look often – on your computer, in your wallet or planner, or you can even set the affirmation as the lock screen on your phone. Use it as a reminder that you do, in fact, got this.
3. Keep a self-esteem journal
Low self-esteem makes you look at the world in a negative light and positive journaling is a way to combat this.
The idea of a self-esteem journal is very simple: every day, sit down for a few minutes to write down the good things that happened that day. They may be hard to notice at first, but with practice, you’ll soon find that seeing the positive – in the world and yourself – comes naturally. Self-esteem journals are very similar to gratitude journals, which have been shown to boost overall well-being.
For your own journal, you can try a freeform approach and just write down the positive things that happened to you. You can also try this worksheet from Therapist Aid if you want some directions.
4. Set a goal and work towards it
As the psychologist Guy Winch puts it:
“Self-esteem is built by demonstrating real ability and achievement in areas of our lives that matter to us.“
One of the best ways to boost your self-esteem is to show yourself that you can meet your goals. For example, if you like running, set yourself a goal to run a certain amount of miles or sign up for a race. Work towards that goal and take pride in your progress. Once you’ve achieved your goal, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done and your self-esteem will rise, even if just by a little bit.
The goals should be realistic, though – if you’re a novice runner, don’t sign up for a marathon just yet. The other important point to consider is that the goals should be important to you. In other words, don’t set a goal to run a mile when you’d rather be swimming instead.
Even if you’re not big on running, you should still be getting regular exercise. Not only is it good for your mental health in general, research has shown that people engaged in physical exercise also have higher self-esteem. Find an activity that works for you and get physical! From running to rowing, dancing to duathlon, fencing to football and everything in between, the opportunities are endless.
One of the biggest self-esteem success stories I have ever seen came from a friend who took a pole dancing class and fell in love with it. Turns out that it’s hard to feel bad for yourself when you’re literally hanging onto a pole with only the strength of your thighs.
6. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is all about being present and not worrying over the past or the future. In contrast, people with low self-esteem worry a lot. Put 2 and 2 together and you’ll find that mindfulness can be an effective self-esteem booster, and research has shown that, too. Working at a school, self-esteem issues are my bread and butter, and simple mindfulness techniques have proved to be a surprisingly versatile tool in supporting my students’ confidence.
A great place to start is setting aside 10 minutes of your day for meditating. If you’ve never done that before, you can try this guide by Headspace or one of the 5 meditation apps recommended by mindful.org, which is a great resource itself.
7. Get off the ‘gram
If your Facebook and Instagram feeds are anything to go by, your friends are constantly on vacation, eating healthy, getting married, getting promotions and generally living a better life than you are. Deep down you know that you’re not getting the full picture, but it’s still difficult to feel good about yourself when you compare your own life to the highlight reels of others. While a little bit of upward comparison can be motivating, research has shown that in most cases, it just lowers your self-esteem.
So if you’re prone to such comparisons, the best gift you can give yourself is to log off for a while. If you can’t do that for some reason, then use of the mute function and unfollow features that don’t add any value to your life and curate yourself a feed that lifts you up instead of bringing you down.
Everybody deserves to feel good about themselves and take pride in their accomplishments, and luckily, healthy self-esteem is achievable for everyone. Although it may take a little bit of work, the rewards are worth it – not only will you feel better about yourself and your accomplishments, you’ll also live a better, more fulfilled life. If that is not a goal worth striving for, then I don’t know what is.
Maili TirelSchool psychologist
School psychologist, teacher and internet counselor from Estonia. Passionate about coffee, reading, dancing, and singing in the shower, much to the neighbors’ dismay. Counseling catchphrase: “It’s okay!“