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9 Tips for Better Self-Esteem

Photo by kris krüg
Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand brake on. ~Maxwell Maltz

You know you’re clever and capable and can achieve great things. You have dreams of going places and doing things. Incredible, fulfilling things. But you’re not reaching for those goals. You’re not striving to achieve your dreams.

Something is stopping you.

It’s like you have a hand brake on. No matter how far down on the accelerator you press, you’re not going anywhere.

You want to go. Part of you knows you’re capable of going. But another part is preventing you from taking action.

Let Me Tell You a Secret

I have a secret. It’s a secret that a lot of people share, so it’s not special or unique.

It’s the knowledge that I’m not good enough.

  • Not clever enough or creative enough to reach people or make a difference in other people’s lives
  • Not a good enough writer
  • Not a good enough parent
  • Not a strong enough person

It’s the shackle of low self-esteem, and it stopped me for a long time. It stopped me from daring to try. Daring to risk. Daring to write.

Daring to live.

It’s those insidious thoughts that wriggle out and wrap themselves around my mind.

  • “You’re not worthy.”
  • “You’re not capable.”
  • “You’re not as good as the others.”

I used to listen and do nothing. I used to let it control me and prevent me from living my dreams.

But I’ve learned a few tricks, and now I don’t listen to it any more. It’s not that I don’t hear it, it’s just that it has less power.

I’ve learned how to release the hand brake — at least a little. Enough that I’ve started moving towards my dreams.

And you can too.

Here are nine ways to overcome low self-esteem that helped me.

1. Accept It

This is a simple but challenging strategy. It’s easy to say “sit with it and accept it”, but it’s harder to do.

The thing to remember is that when you fight something, you’re giving it power. When someone starts a conflict, and you argue back, you fuel their anger.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to deflate a conflict is to agree with the other person. You say, “You’re right!” (even if they’re only right about something small). Their anger deflates and they have nowhere to go.

The same is true of accepting low self-esteem. So, when you feel it, close your eyes and look inwards. What do you feel? Where in your body is the feeling? What does it look like?

Pretend you’re a scientist, examining your own body. Get curious and observe, but don’t judge.

If you do this for a minute or two you’ll feel a sense of calm acceptance and the power will deflate. With practice you’ll begin to think “that’s just my self-esteem” and be able to move on.

2. Nurture Yourself

Make an active decision to nurture your body with good food and exercise that you enjoy. Nurture your soul by doing the things you love and being around those people who make your feel good.

Nurture your emotions by searching out people and entertainment that make you laugh. Taking action to love yourself in this way will boost your self-esteem.

3. Take Charge Of Your Thoughts

You can control your mind just as you control your body. You know those truly crazy thoughts that pop into your mind from time to time — the ones you dismiss because they’re really wacky? We all have those.

The thing is that we set the bar too low — we should also be dismissing the thoughts that are more plausible but unhelpful. Those self-doubting thoughts.

The next time you get one of those thoughts, stop and think “Thanks Mind”, and move on to a more positive thought.

If you find yourself thinking “I can’t do this”, thank your mind for the thought and then consciously think to yourself “HOW can I do this?”

4. Pay Attention To Triggers

Consider whether certain things trigger your negative thoughts and feelings.

If you regularly feel really low self-esteem doing certain activities or in specific situations, then take steps to stop doing those things or being around those people.

If you can’t stop doing those things immediately, put plans in place to stop. For example, if your job gets you down and you can’t leave immediately, put an exit strategy in place. Start an active campaign to change jobs.

Taking the steps to get your resume updated, registering with employment agencies and doing weekly job searches will give you a feeling of control and improve your self-esteem.

If certain people have a negative influence on your life, minimize your contact with them. If you have to see them, ensure you look after yourself after an encounter.

5. Practice Being Calm

Find a calming technique, or a range of techniques, that work for you and practice them regularly. There are heaps to choose from, so you’re sure to find something that fits.

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Hypnosis
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Emotional freedom technique (EFT)

The list is endless, really. Even if you’ve tried some of these before, consider them again. Trying them in a different form (like a walking meditation) or having a different instructor can improve your experience.

6. Be In The Here And Now

Whenever I get overwhelmed by the path I’ve set and start convincing myself I’m not good enough, I focus on what I’m doing right now.

So, just say you decided you wanted to run a marathon. When you start to feel daunted by the amount of training involved, worried about your physical limitations or fitness and then get all freaked out “because-it’s-so-much-work-how-will-I-ever-get-there …”

Stop and think, “But right now I don’t have to do that. Right now I just need to be able to walk around the block without getting puffed out.”

When you’re overwhelmed with a daunting project, stop and think about the immediate, small step (pardon the pun) that needs to be taken now.

Focus on the piece of the project that you can achieve now, and have faith that you’ll be ready for each step as it arrives.

7. Start A Self-Appreciation Diary

You know the good old gratitude diary that everyone says you should have? Well, this is similar, but different.

At the end of each day, instead of listing three things you’re grateful for, list three (or more) things that you’re proud of — things you’ve done well and can congratulate yourself for.

Practice patting yourself on the back to reinforce the things you’re proud of, and you’ll start to feel stronger and more competent.

8.Dominate Your Destiny

Invest the time to work out what you want from life, and start putting plans in place to make this happen. Putting plans in place and working towards them is empowering. You’ll feel a sense of purpose and achievement.

Sure you’ll experience setbacks. When this happens, amend your plans and move on. Don’t change your plans because of setbacks. Change your timeframes or your pathway, but not your destination.

9. Question the “Signs”

You know how we’ll often say things like, “I wonder if this is a sign from the universe that I shouldn’t be doing this?” But we only wonder this when we’re already in self-doubt.

  • If we’re driving home and we get a flat tire, we don’t wonder if it’s a sign we should go somewhere else. We change our course, but not our destination.
  • If we’re shopping for dinner ingredients and the supermarket is out of stock of a key item, we don’t wonder if it’s a sign that we shouldn’t eat. We change our plans and make something else for dinner.

It’s the same in life. You can change your life, even if you have low self-esteem. Because there’s one key thing I’ve discovered:

You don’t need high self-esteem to achieve great things.

You don’t need high self-esteem to dream big. Anyone can dream. You don’t need high self-esteem to put a plan in place and start taking action. Anyone can prepare a strategy and make a commitment.

You don’t need high self-esteem to achieve your goals. Anyone can follow through when they have a plan.

All you need is to start dreaming of the life you want to lead.

Start dreaming and planning for the great things you’re going to achieve. Take the handbrake off your life. Go and dream … and plan … and take action.

I know that you can do it.

And so do you.

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About the author

Cate is on a mission to help parents stop yelling and create families that listen to each other. She does this while imperfectly parenting two boisterous girls of her own and occasionally hanging out on Facebook. Download her free Cheat Sheet to Get Your Kids from "No" to "Yes" in Three Simple Steps and reduce your yelling today.

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30 thoughts on 9 Tips for Better Self-Esteem

  1. Hi Cate! Great article. Not being a “good enough parent” has been on my mind for a long time.
    In 2004, at the Port-au-Prince airport, someone put a 14-months boy into my arms. I paralyzed. And I din’t know what to do. I had to adapt, change timeframes, goals as you say, many, many times. Adoption is a real challenge for you confidence! Meditation is a good exercise on a daily basis, and especially trying to live the present moment, as Eckhart Tolle teaches.
    Now today, my son is graduating from primary school. Incredible :)

    • Hey Valerie,
      Wow. What a great story! It’s all too easy to think we’re not measuring up to our own parenting standards, let alone everyone else’s, isn’t it? And you’re right, meditation and living in the moment really help. :-)

  2. Nicely said Cate. Most people on the planet have some area where they feel ‘less than’ and just choosing one of your tips could make a huge difference in their life.

  3. Love these tips, Cate! It’s funny–writers tend to have this affliction more than the general population. Okay, so probably anyone in the artistic endeavors, but writing is what I know :) And healing has to begin with your number one: Accept It. I often counsel my writers (and myself!) to listen to that negative voice, hear it, and then say, “Okay, you’re probably correct. But right now I have this scene to write . . .” Just the acknowledging that voice calms it enough that you can get back to Being in the Here and Now–your number 6!
    I truly appreciate this post. Thank You!

    • Hi Susan,
      Yes it’s funny how writing, or creating something can make us so nervous. I can’t remember anything else that’s made me feel so vulnerable. Very strange indeed. But I know that sitting with it and accepting it can be powerful.
      Glad you liked the post.
      Cate

  4. Ann

    Cate,
    Certain people are a drain. How I wish I could eliminate them from my time…..but unfortunately I can only minimize the time I spend with them. I get drained just thinking about them.

    A well-written post.

    • Hey Ann,

      Yes, sometimes we can’t eliminate draining people from our lives (it’s particularly hard when we’re related to them, or work with them!). Minimising the time with them is a great strategy, as is minimising the time spent thinking about them. Mind you, it’s hard once they pop into your mind. It’s the old “Don’t think of an elephant”, isn’t it?
      Cate

  5. IBikeNYC

    I believe it’s a hand “brake.”

    :-)

  6. Great post Cate, and really good point about the signs. Our brains have evolved to spot danger and negativity, so they tend to be more attuned to that side of life – we’re never the rational, objective people we think we are!

    • Hey Ellen,

      So true! I know someone who thinks there’s a curse on their surname. Whenever anything negative happens, they think it’s the curse. Very self-fulfilling indeed, and a hard cycle to break when they’ve believed it all their lives. Sad.

  7. What a lovely and true post Cate! People indeed easily pull out the ‘accept it’ card where that’s pretty useless when you’re in a low like that.

    For me, I’ve learned that the ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy works quite well. It needs to be done authentically of course. Chris Guillebeau beautifully put it as ‘acting just a little bit bigger than you are/feel’

    • Hey Linda,

      I LOVE fake it till you make it (Amy Cuddy’s TED talk is fabulous, isn’t it?) I know a lot of people criticize it, but it works. I think you’ve got the key to it, though, which is the definition of faking it. It’s hard to pull off being someone you’re not, but being a little bigger, more confident, stronger (or whatever) then you are? That’s achievable, and worth striving for.
      Cate

  8. Hey Cate,

    Great post. Get busy walking to the success of your acquired dream. Love it. At the moment I have just started writing and I am keeping and obstacle diary. When I feel something is not right about writing, I note it. When I type it out, it is far easier to deal with. When I feel overwhelmed by a challenge of a topic, I get to my diary and keep note. And it has done wonders. I was doing so well, and then had the same feelings I did at the start of the process and it was wonderful to see and more than acceptable. Like you say, when you feel overwhelmed remember you are doing it and just get back to the this immediate minute. In this immediate minute you are not creating the new Rome, you are making steps towards it. And the small steps I have never been afraid of. I look forward to more.

    • Hey Rachel,

      It’s easy to get overwhelmed with writing, so I’m glad you find it useful to stay in the here and now. It helps me no end, and I’m glad it’s helping you too.
      Cate

  9. I just started this week to try and listen to my thoughts and pay attention when I use negative words. It is really tough to catch a lot of the critical thinking, but so worth it. Do you have any tips for catching more of them (watching for physical signs, mood swings…)?

    • Hey John,

      For me it’s just a matter of noticing how I feel when I do certain things. Last year I was doing this online business course and every time I went into the group postings I felt so low. I started to feel like a complete failure. So I decided that, if I didn’t feel good looking at the postings, I wouldn’t look at them.

      If I regularly feel unhappy or tense around certain people, or in certain situations, I accept that it’s OK. But if I don’t have to be around those people or situations, I won’t expose myself to them. Why should I feel bad if I don’t have to? It’s like a self-torture I don’t need to endure.

      I hope that helps,
      Cate

  10. Very actionable advice! I especially loved this explanation: “Pretend you’re a scientist, examining your own body. Get curious and observe, but don’t judge.”

  11. ST

    I love this article! Thanks for shedding new light on how to view self-esteem. I’ve read many articles & books on developing confidence & they’re good, but often the tips offered are very dry & regimented & make it sound as if you don’t have “success,” one isn’t doing something right. And often, these articles talk about being compassionate toward yourself. But your thoughtful article is different in that you really elaborate on why it’s important to not fight what you’re feeling, the importance of self acceptance & moving forward with one’s dreams even though you may not feel confident, & how to make life more light & enjoyable in this journey. These are life altering. Ideas. I know I’ll refer to this article over & over again until I build my self-esteem muscle. Thank you!

    • I’m so glad you found the post surprising, light and useful. Comments like yours keep me writing. It amazes me that I can write something that touches other people so much, and in such a positive way. Thank you for reaching out – your words made my day. :-)

      Cate

  12. Hi Cate – very helpful post in every way. I used to ignore all the symptoms, but now I know to act before I feel sucked in to such behaviour patterns.

  13. Cate, you’ve totally nailed the worst part of low self-esteem ‘ It stopped me from daring to try’. I love your strategies for beating those negative, self- depreciating thoughts #3 really shouts to me. A really encouraging and inspiring post, thanks for the great advice.

  14. Great article,
    It brings out clearly what self esteem is and how we can improve it to achieve the most out of life. I will start a self appreciation diary it is truly the beginning of seeing yourself through Gods eyes. To God i know i am precious and that is enough to make me feel special.

  15. You have pointed out really useful tips. I like your all the tips and specially the 2nd i.e Nurture Yourself.

    • Hi Lara,
      I’m glad you liked the article and find the tips useful. It’s comforting to know that simple things like eating well, and being around good people, can make us feel better. Take care of yourself.
      Cate

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