Low self-esteem, more than anything, is blocking your way to audacious and exciting goals.
“I need to try harder, to be good enough.”
“It needs to be done perfectly, to be good enough.”
“I wonder what others will think of me.”
“They must think I am incompetent/selfish/stupid/ugly.”
“If I will say no, they will think I am selfish.”
“Why do I always make such mistakes?”
“Again, I said something so stupid.”
That is some of the negative self-talk going on in the minds of people with low self-esteem. Everyone lacks confidence occasionally, but people with low self-esteem are unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time.
However, low self-esteem is not our natural way of being. In fact, it is the distorted view of ourselves. It is a bias against ourselves. Low self-esteem comes from believing lies about ourselves and building up a whole life and reality out of those lies.
What Exactly is Low Self-Esteem?
Low self-esteem is feeling insecure and lacking confidence in ourselves. Low self-esteem is, indeed, very common. According to NBC News, 85% of Americans suffer from low self-esteem.
People with low self-esteem tend to see others as more valuable than they are, fear mistakes and failures, avoid risks, put themselves down with the words they say, fear speaking up for themselves, etc.
Common causes of low self-esteem are usually related to childhood, such as peer rejection in school, an unsupportive family environment, trauma or abuse, wrong perception about how our bodies need to look, unrealistic goals, previous bad choices, and negative thought patterns.
Here is an effective strategy with seven steps how to improve self-esteem.
1. Catch the Negative Stories You Tell Yourself
The first thing to get over a problem is to be aware of it. To change your low self-esteem, you need to be mindful of it and how it manifests in your life.
“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” — Patrick Rothfuss
Thoughts are running through your mind all the time, from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed. According to research conducted by the National Science Foundation, 80% of our thoughts are negative. Your thoughts as basically your self-talk.
All-day long, you tell yourself how you feel about what is going on, how it affects you, what you can, what you can’t, what is unfair in the world, who you are, etc.
Your self-talk makes up a story you tell about yourself.
People with low self-esteem tell the story about themselves as being inferior to others, fearful of negative consequences and public embarrassments, fear of being judged, and doubting their ability to succeed.
Become aware of your self-talk throughout the day. To really work this through, take a whole week to notice your self-talk. Start by one day at a time. Whenever you can, notice and write down the negative thoughts that come in your mind about yourself on a piece of paper or in phone notes.
Moments when you said you can’t, or you are not the right person for doing something. Moments when you compared yourself with others and criticized yourself. What you thought in moments when others judged you or misunderstood you.
You will be surprised about what has been going on in your head without you even being aware of it previously.
2. Realize Those Limiting Stories Are Not True
So whatever you had written down in the previous point, you need to shine light now on those toxic thoughts and beliefs about yourself and the world. You need to realize that it is not a truth; those are lies.
Those stories come from negative, traumatic situations that aimed to misconstrue the truth about your existence and value.
Babies don’t have low self-esteem. Low self-esteem comes when we become conscious of ourselves and value ourselves against the information we get from our environment.
Either in school, or at home, or somewhere else, we face situations that build negative beliefs in us as children.
For example, when children face bullying in school, whether verbal or physical, they start to see themselves as less valuable than others and believe their bullier’s actions.
But the bullying has nothing to do with this child and all to do with the bullies themselves. They are either badly raised or have their own insecurities, which they mask by abusing others.
I have heard many hurtful statements or opinions about myself in the past. At the time, it was painful and even impacted the way I see myself. Now, I know that the person has said that out of their own toxic thinking and attitude.
“The only limits you have, are the limits you believe.” — Wayne Dyer
When you realize that your “feeling not good enough” is not the objective reality but a subjective reality based on the past, you are willing to identify those limiting beliefs and stories and let them go as soon as possible.
3. Forgive Yourself
More often than not, we are the ones adding fire to our low self-esteem by judging ourselves. We let our inner critic roar and believe it above all other voices in our heads.
We have the subconscious belief that we need to be perfect to be good enough. Which is far from the truth. Our successes or the lack of them do not determine our value and worth — more about this in the next step.
A step towards improving self-esteem and gaining confidence is learning to let go of the mistakes and failures we encounter — to forgive ourselves. And to accept that there always will be mistakes and failures.
In the words of Matthew McConaughey from his book Greenlights,
“We are going to make mistakes — own them, make amends, and move on. Guilt and regret kill many a man before their time. Get off the ride. You are the author of the book of your life. Turn the page.”
There have been many times when looking back on my mistakes or failures, I have realized the good things coming out of them — either a lesson or a necessary change in the way I live my life.
When we look at mistakes and failures as opportunities for growth and the necessary experience we need for the next level of our lives, then it is an attitude that frees us. It frees us from the need to be perfect and the fear of failure. And that is a step towards confidence.
4. Realize Your Self-Worth
Real confidence comes when you stop basing your self-worth upon external circumstances, such as achievements or lack of them and other people’s opinions.
We have the inner value as humans just for who we are, even before experiencing achievements, successes, failures, and mistakes.
Boost your self-esteem by using affirmations that build and strengthen your self-worth. Such as “I am worthy,” “I am confident,” “I am valuable,” “I matter,” “People like me,” “I am lovable,” etc.
I was using for two and half months such affirmations every morning in front of the mirror. It completely changed my self-image and was a massive factor in improving my self-esteem.
The world of social media, influencers, and fashion magazines put us in a place of constant comparison. That is a perfect ground for lowering the self-esteem even more. We need to choose to be aware and take conscious action daily to build our self-worth. Or rather, remind ourselves of our self-worth.
How to build confidence as a woman? Use affirmations “I am beautiful,” “I am worthy,” “I am lovely,” etc. The next time someone says a compliment that you are beautiful, you will answer confidently, “thank you,” instead of rejecting a compliment, as people with low self-esteem often do.
How to build confidence as a man? Use affirmations, “I am handsome,” “I am strong and powerful,” “I am a gentleman.” Even if you don’t possess all the right behavior of a gentleman yet, start saying that to yourself. Because it will make you feel like one, and you will start taking action to become one, instead of feeling guilty or insecure that you are not one.
We act based on the perceptions we have about ourselves — the way we see ourselves.
5. What Are Your Strengths?
Everyone has their weaknesses and their strengths. Embracing your weaknesses instead of being discouraged by them and acknowledging your strengths and gifts and how you can use them is a significant step towards real confidence.
Just like you don’t need to be perfect to show your work to others, you don’t need to be good at everything to be valuable.
Gardeners love the garden and are great at tending it, teachers love kids and are great at teaching them, doctors can stand seeing blood and are great at saving lives. But you can’t put a teacher in a doctor’s office and expect him to be a good doctor if he cannot even stand seeing blood.
Figure what you are good at and what you love to do, and then research or find a mentor that will help you turn your gifts and talents into a career or business you love.
When you do what you love and are good at, you live in your purpose, and you feel happy and confident.
6. Base Your Confidence Upon Controllables
What is not controllable in our lives?
Other people’s opinions, actions, and decisions. Recognition, followers, results, economic situation, pandemic, job loss, sales or the lack of them, etc.
What is controllable in our lives?
Your effort, work ethic, your attitude, self-talk, the way you treat others and respond to them, how many applications you send out for the job, how many people you speak to as potential prospects, how long you continue persisting on the dream you have, self-care, self-love, your choices, and decisions, etc.
Our confidence will always go up and down if we place it on the uncontrollables.
However, we can build unconditional confidence by placing it consistently on controllables, such as the effort we put in.
Confidence comes from taking action. Therefore, the more effort we will put in, the better we will feel. We will expect great results because we know we have done our part.
7. Take Bold Action
Confidence comes from taking action.
There is a difference between achievements and action. Action is controllable. Achievements are a by-product of taking consistent action. But we can never know when those achievements come. We need to trust that they will come at the right time.
To overcome low self-esteem or lack of confidence, choose controllable actions that build confidence.
Whenever you notice yourself analyzing and overthinking because you feel the need to be perfect, just take action no matter what. Even if it looks lame, and you have the fear inside what others will think about you.
Train yourself to stop caring about what others say by taking bold action no matter what. Put yourself in situations where you know that somebody might judge you. You can’t train that “confidence muscle” if you stay in the comfort zone of fear.
Even if you don’t believe yet that you can be a successful business owner, start taking action anyway, and trust that “how you can be” will show up along the way.
Even if you don’t believe you can deliver a good public speech, sign up for a speaking opportunity anyway, to push yourself to train and prepare.
Part of taking action is also starting positive self-talk daily.
Remember how I talked in step 1 and step 2 about catching negative thoughts and realizing they are lies?
You change the way you see yourself by changing the negative thoughts into positive affirmations and using those positive affirmations daily until you deep inside KNOW that those negative thoughts are really lies.
After consistent use daily, these new positive affirmations will form new neural pathways in your brain. And one day soon, you will see how you have become a completely new person by changing the way you think about yourself.
How long does it take to build self-esteem? It depends on you and how committed you are to putting these seven steps in your daily routines, being mindful, and practicing them. Not just occasionally when you remember or read them but every day until you get a tangible result.
It depends on how committed you are to let go of the past limiting beliefs that you know don’t serve you and step into the unknown — the new, confident version of yourself. You need to be bold or choose boldness to do that. The choice is entirely in your control.
In the words of Mark Twain,
“It is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog.”
If you have an exciting, bold, and clear vision of your life and what you want to achieve, then you will have the courage to face your fears and overcome your insecurities. You will do what it takes to get there.