Praise, flattery, and compliments all stimulate positive emotions. When people praise us or tell us we’re good at something, we feel better about ourselves. However, these feelings usually fade away quickly.
On the other hand, criticism, insults, and name-calling affect us much more negatively than praise does positively. As soon as someone criticizes or insults us, we immediately become defensive. Even if we don’t defend ourselves verbally, our internal walls go up, and sometimes we prepare to fight. We begin defending ourselves because we're trying to preserve our egos. It’s difficult to improve our self-esteem when we are in a defensive mode.
If confidence built from compliments doesn’t last and criticism is taken to heart, how can we ever overcome low self-esteem? How do we become confident in who we are without relying on the praise of others? How can we build an unshakeable center that is not easily defeated by criticism?
1) Get to Know Yourself.
Have you ever felt like you don't know yourself? Like life is happening around you and not for you? Or like you can’t figure out what makes you happy? It's hard to feel good about yourself when you don't know who you are. The first step is to get to know yourself better by exploring and answering these questions:
- Who am I?
- What makes me happy?
- Where do I want to be in five years?
- What does my future look like?
Write down your answers and then read them back, remembering they're all part of the person that is YOU!
2) Replace Self-Deprecating Thoughts with Positive Thoughts.
Pay attention to the things you think about yourself. We tend to judge ourselves or talk about ourselves in very negative and degrading ways. For example, when we feel like we made a mistake, we may jump to statements like “Ugh, why am I so stupid?”.
Being able to take this negative thought and replace it with something more positive can change our view of ourselves both in the moment and in future situations. For instance, replace this thought with:
“No, I’m not stupid. I just made a small mistake and that is okay."
3) Work on Your Flaws.
Can you recognize your flaws, and take an honest look at where you can improve? We all have flaws—being too prideful, quick to react, or quick to judge are just a few examples. Don’t let your flaws rule your life. Finding ways to overcome them will allow you to fully develop greater self-esteem.
4) Stop Comparing Yourself to Others.
If you are serious about building and maintaining self-esteem, don’t compare yourself to others. Instead of thinking, "I will never be able to do that," think about what you are good at. We all have our own unique talents. You are different for a reason, so embrace it!
5) Do Things That Build Confidence.
If you are not comfortable enough to jump on stage or join a sports team, find small ways to get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try baking something new, take a dance class, go on a trip alone, pick up a new hobby, or take an exercise class. Joining after-school clubs, sports, or even making a new friend can remind you of who you are and help you develop confidence. Get out of your comfort zone. You may surprise yourself.
6) Create Affirmations
Affirmations are a way to tell yourself what you want, need, and deserve. They help you become more confident in your abilities and inspire success. You can use affirmations for anything from exercising to eating healthy, or just being able to go out into the world without feeling overwhelmed by anxiety.
According to author Napoleon Hill (who popularized the idea of affirmations as far back as the late 1930s):
"Thoughts are things that act as powerful forces on our minds and bodies at large."
If you think something enough, then your brain will believe it! (And there's lots of science to back this up).
Here are some examples:
- I am strong
- I am courageous
- I am loved by my family
- I am important
- I am smart
- I am worthy
Affirmations are most effective if you say or write them at a consistent time—every morning, before bed, or even when you're walking from class to class.
Pro tip: Record yourself saying affirmations specific to the things you want to believe about yourself. Then you can listen to the recording while walking to class, in the car, and in front of a mirror.
7) Read Self Development/Self-Help Books
Self-help books such as, "How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Your Self," by Nicole LePera and "The Gift of Imperfection," by Brené Brown can provide great insight into building self-confidence. Here is a list of books to help you build your self-esteem.
8) Set Goals for Yourself
One way to increase self-esteem is to set goals. However, it isn’t as simple as setting them and forgetting them. Only when you work towards your goals every day, will you begin to believe they are achievable.
9) Give Yourself Credit Where It's Due
Self-esteem can also come from positive reinforcement. Instead of looking to others for validation and recognition (which may not always be readily available when you feel down), give it to yourself. Make a list of all the things you are good at. Read over this list every morning to help you remember why you are worthy. Little things like this can change the outcome of your day; so today (right now!) is the perfect time to start.
10) Talk to a Professional
Therapy is an amazing way to help build your self-esteem. Talking to a professional is a great way to resolve any issues in a quick and efficient manner. Therapists can help you feel less alone and not only guide but expedite your journey to a more confident you. Online therapy is a great way to get started no matter where you are in the world.
Don't Give Up
It may seem challenging at times to build ourselves up when our brains are actually wired to focus on the negative. Realize that things aren't going to always be bad—this too shall pass. Knowing your worth and believing in yourself can change your life.