Self-esteem is important and it affects how we behave at home and work. Our self-esteem impacts our relationships with our family, friends and colleagues. But what is self-esteem? And what are the pillars of self-esteem?

The Meaning of Self-Esteem

Imagine a “psychological mirror” that reflects not just your physical appearance, but also your personality traits, abilities, values, beliefs, and preferences.

Self-esteem is like looking into this “psychological mirror” and then liking—or disliking—what you see. It is your overall personal evaluation of yourself.

Healthy Self-Esteem

Having healthy self-esteem means having a positive outlook in life and accepting yourself for who you are.

Healthy self-esteem will also help you to achieve and stick to your health goals. It helps you believe in your ability to overcome difficulties and seek help when you need it.

Hence, people with positive self-esteem have the ability to think competently, make wise choices, feel good about relationships with friends and families, and cope with the inevitable challenges of life.

While we can occasionally be affected by events, such as receiving negative feedback from colleagues or eating too many chocolates instead of exercising, we need to recognise that we are human and making mistakes is a normal part of life.

Instead of beating ourselves up and feeling bad, we should look forward and start afresh. Healthy self-esteem makes it easier for us to start over and continue towards our goals even after we have faltered.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem occurs when people constantly worry about not being good enough. As a result, low self-esteem may make everything in life seem difficult. Sometimes, having low self-esteem results from not being able to accept one’s own limitations.

A person’s thinking patterns have the biggest effects on self-esteem. For example, if you tend to think you cannot do many things, or you constantly focus on your flaws, you will have a higher chance of experiencing low self-esteem.

Improving your self-esteem is not easy but it can help you to be more open to trying new experiences, more flexible in problem-solving, and give you the confidence to stand up for your ideas and opinions.

How to Improve Your Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is shaped by many factors including how you think about yourself i.e. your self-image. Changing the way you think about yourself will change how you feel and improve your self-esteem. The key is to become aware of your thinking patterns. Once you recognise your thinking patterns, you can work to improve your self-esteem.

No one knows yourself better than you. You are the only person who knows what you are truly proud of and what you are insecure about. This also means that you are the only one who is capable of boosting your self-esteem.

People with high self-esteem already know that their worth is not dependent on their successes. They know their strengths and also accept their weaknesses and past mistakes. They understand that failure is a part of changes and personal growth.

Working on your self-esteem is an inside-out process. You have to depend on yourself as much as possible to work on positive self-esteem. While this could even seem like a daunting task at first, a little practice in understanding and accepting yourself helps. Below are some ways to practice self-acceptance and raise your self-esteem.

8 Self-Acceptance Tips

  1. Set Realistic and Achievable Goals

    Learn your strengths and capabilities. Set goals that are not too easy (otherwise you’ll get bored) but not overly challenging (otherwise you’ll get frustrated and disappointed).

  2. Stop Comparing

    Don’t compare yourself to people who are smarter, better looking, or richer than you. There are seven billion people on this planet: there will always be someone smarter, more beautiful, or richer than you. Set a realistic standard for yourself and use that benchmark to achieve your goals.

  3. Forgive Yourself

    Everybody makes mistakes. Doing so doesn’t make you a bad person.

  4. Encourage Yourself

    Encourage yourself to make positive changes. Even if things don’t go exactly the way you want them to, give yourself credit for the effort, and try again.

  5. Talk to Yourself Positively

    When you notice that you doubt, judge, or say unkind things to yourself, stop. These are negative thoughts. Take a few deep breaths and focus on something more positive.

  6. Accept Compliments

    Accept compliments from others with genuine thanks and appreciation.

  7. Express Gratitude

    The more you focus on the good things in your life, the better you’ll feel about what your life has to offer.

  8. Try Something New

    Take a cooking class, learn a new language, or try rock climbing. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself for your efforts!

5 Techniques to Improve Your Self-Esteem

#1 Create a List of Positives

In stressful situations, it can be difficult to feel good about yourself. Making a list of positives about yourself can serve as a handy reminder that you’re not too bad a person after all.

Suggested points the list can include:

  • Three positive qualities you have, such as patience, compassion or a sense of humour

  • Three achievements you have done in your life so far, such as mastering a musical instrument or getting your driving license

  • Make a list of ten things you can do (e.g. play table tennis, speak Korean, sing karaoke)

  • Describe three achievements you are proud of (e.g. “I worked very hard to earn my promotion” or “I completed a 5k run.”)

  • Write down two past mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them or how you changed because of them (e.g. “I used to be impulsive and say mean things to people when I was angry. Even though they may forgive me afterwards, I have still hurt their feelings.”)

  • Describe your weaknesses or faults. Brainstorm ways to improve them. For the ones that cannot be changed (e.g. “I am too short”), accept and embrace them instead

Keep the list within easy reach so that you can update it to include new achievements.

Related: Loving and Accepting Yourself

#2 Reward Yourself

Most of us have to juggle multiple tasks and roles, e.g. both as an employee and a parent. We might be so busy at work that the last person we look after is ourselves. 

  • Starting a fun hobby or sport, like in-line skating

  • Spending time with friends or loved ones by meeting up for a meal

  • Setting aside half an hour for “me” time to do what you enjoy

#3 Prioritise Your Tasks

Sometimes, we can be overwhelmed by the number of tasks we have to do and feel useless when we fail to complete everything on hand. Such feelings can have a negative impact on our sense of self-worth.

Prioritisation and proper time management can help. Learn to differentiate between tasks that need immediate attention compared to other less urgent matters. Take one thing at a time. Completing one task means you have one less pressing item to complete.

#4 Do Something Nice for Someone Else

When we do something nice for another person, even a stranger, it can give our self-worth a boost.

It can be as simple as giving your neighbour a friendly smile as you leave for work in the morning or helping your spouse with a household chore. Such gestures go a long way in helping you feel good about yourself.

#5 Don’t Let Setbacks Define You

Running into setbacks is part and parcel of life. Don’t despair; remind yourself that the setbacks do not define who you are.

Fight against negative thoughts to give up and think less of yourself. Tell yourself that you are a valuable person with unique qualities and that the obstacles are opportunities to learn or grow.

If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to a trusted friend or family member for support. Even the act of talking to others can make a problem seem less insurmountable.

Building Your Self-Worth Is Worth It!

So, jumpstart your self-esteem by attempting some of these tips! If you practise building up your self-esteem and self-worth, you will be more flexible in problem-solving and you can easily overcome challenges that life throws at you. Focusing on your strengths, building new skills and improving on your old ones will make you extremely attractive not just to a potential mate, but to everyone around you.

Download "Develop your Self-Esteem tip sheet" [PDF](989KB)

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Read these next:

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  2. Wray-Lake, Laura & Stone, Eric. (2005). The role of self-esteem and anxiety in decision making for self versus others in relationships. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. 18. 125-144. 10.1002/bdm.490. 
  3. Harris, M. A., & Orth, U. (2020). The link between self-esteem and social relationships: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of personality and social psychology, 119(6), 1459–1477.
  4. Doron, Julie & Thomas-Ollivier, & Vachon, Hugo & Fortes-Bourbousson,. (2013). Relationships between cognitive coping, self-esteem, anxiety and depression: A cluster-analysis approach. Personality and Individual Differences. 55. 10.1016/j.paid.2013.04.017. 
  5. Vogel, Erin & Rose, Jason & Roberts, Lindsay & Eckles, Katheryn. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 3. 206-222. 10.1037/ppm0000047. 
  6. Kolubinski, D. C., Frings, D., Nikčević, A. V., Lawrence, J. A., & Spada, M. M. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of CBT interventions based on the Fennell model of low self-esteem. Psychiatry research, 267, 296–305.
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  10. Kolubinski, D. C., Frings, D., Nikčević, A. V., Lawrence, J. A., & Spada, M. M. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of CBT interventions based on the Fennell model of low self-esteem. Psychiatry research, 267, 296–305.
  11. Peixoto, Francisco & Almeida, Leandro. (2010). Self-concept, Self-esteem and Academic Achievement: Strategies for Maintaining Self-esteem in Students Experiencing Academic Failure. European Journal of Psychology of Education. 25. 157 - 175. 10.1007/s10212-010-0011-z. 
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