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How to Build Self-Esteem

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala (Psychiatrist) 

Last updated date : February 02, 2022

Simply put, self-esteem is your impression of yourself and whether you like yourself or not. Your self-esteem can be high, low or in the middle. Everyone occasionally doubts themselves—even celebrities and sports stars. However, with low self-esteem, the self-doubt is long-standing. It can leave you feeling insecure and unmotivated. Either way, if you are questioning how to build self-esteem, here are 13 of our best ideas on how to build confidence and self-esteem

1. Being social

It can help significantly to have someone to talk to. Find people who help you to feel good about yourself. Avoid like the plague those who trigger your negative thinking. That person doesn’t have to be a family member or friend. It could be a psychologist, counsellor, a neighbour or someone you trust. Being able to share will go a long way to helping with low self-esteem. You don’t need heaps of friends. It’s the quality, not the number of relationships, that counts.  

2. Read about low self-esteem

It helps to know more about low self-esteem. Here at Epsychonline, we have a six-week course on low self-esteem. There we go over different psychology skills and techniques to help.

If you are more aware of the causes, triggers, what low vs healthy self-esteem feels like, you will be well on your way to improving your self-esteem and general outlook.

3. Exercise

There is increasing evidence that exercise can improve mood and anxiety. People with low self-esteem simply don’t care about themselves. If you are exercising regularly, it can be a way of self-care and also a distraction from worries and negativity.   

4. Fun activities

Relaxing and fun activities are often the way to go. Pick something that you used to enjoy or a new hobby you want to pick up.

If you spend time doing what makes you happy, you will think more positively. Try to have a little you-time every week. That’s time for you to do something on your own, which you enjoy.

5. Be selective. Focus on what you control.

It’s easy to stress about things out of your control, but it won’t achieve much. Instead, try to focus your time on identifying things within your control and finding what you can do about them. For example, you might not have much control over the traffic on your way to work and back. However, you can control what you listen to on your headphones!

6. Nobody's perfect; everyone makes mistakes.

Aim to be the best version of yourself. There is a fair amount of overlap between low self-esteem and unhealthy perfectionism. It’s important to understand that perfection is an unworkable goal. Everyone makes mistakes. You have to make mistakes to learn and grow. Try not to beat yourself up. In turn, it will help build self-esteem.

Using positive affirmations are often touted as a how-to build self-esteem tool. They are extremely popular, but they have liability when it comes to people with low self-worth. Why? Because when someone’s self-esteem is low, they simply can’t relate to those affirmations. 

For positive affirmations to work when self-esteem is low, they need to be tweaked to sound more believable. For example, change “I’m going to win!” to “I’m going to keep trying my best till the very end”.

7. Accepting compliments

We need compliments the most when we are feeling down. However, when low self-esteem is rife, we tend to be more resistant to compliments.

Set yourself the aim to tolerate compliments when you get them, even if it feels uncomfortable. The best way to avoid shooting down compliments is to prepare a simple set of responses. For e.g., “Thank you” or “That’s nice of you to say that”.

Chapter 1:

Speak to an Expert

There is an overlap between anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. If you think your low self-esteem is bearing on your overall wellbeing significantly, it’s time to speak to an expert. Psychologists are trained to help people with low self-esteem and other mood symptoms.


Chapter 2:

Challenge Negative Self-Talk

Critical self-talk is part and parcel of low self-esteem. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular psychology therapy mode. With CBT, people learn to challenge their unfairly negative thoughts. Firstly, they begin to understand what negative thoughts are. Next, how to stop and challenge their negative thoughts with more constructive or balanced one. Over time, their negative thinking decreases. This is one of many CBT skills which help with how to build self-esteem. 


Chapter 3:

Overcoming Negative Beliefs

Underlying poor self-esteem is often a few negative self-beliefs. Examples of negative self-beliefs include “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t matter”, “nobody loves me”. Psychological therapies can help untangle these beliefs. Understandably, it’s hard to succeed and feel good about yourself when you carry with you negative self-beliefs. 


Chapter 4:

Helping Others 

Giving to others is one of the best ways to lift self-esteem. Help a classmate clean up your local neighbourhood, spend time supporting a local charity. Help out at home or at a friends place. Make it a habit to be fair and kind. . When you do things that make a positive contribution, your self-esteem should grow.


Chapter 5:

Focus On the Positives

Do you usually talk only about the problems that you are facing? It’s easy to stick in a cycle of negativity. Next time, when you notice yourself complaining about yourself or your day, stop yourself. Be mindful. Notice where your attention goes. If you see that you keep talking about your problems, try instead to find something that went. 

We hope you have learned something here on how to build confidence and self-esteem. Self-esteem is fundamental to our sense of self. Sadly a lot of people have negative views of themselves. Luckily, how to build self-esteem is within everyone’s grasp. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple psychological, professional supports and lifestyle tips can go a long way.