If you want to learn how to build self-esteem, the first thing you have to do is
just believe in yourself.
Alright, that was a joke, but a dumb one. This is serious. Nobody wants to have low self-esteem. You feel down, you’re a drag, and everything hurts way than it does (and should). So I’ll level with you: If you really want to learn how to build self-esteem, the first thing you have to do is stop chasing it.
Because when you chase it, you just make it worse.
We all want to develop self-esteem for different reasons. For some, its success, for others its happiness – but whatever your reason is, the rule of self-esteem is always the same:
Self-esteem is the result of certain actions, not the cause of them.
You don’t fix your self-esteem and then start magically liking yourself more and achieving your goals. That’s not how it works, and in reality, thinking this way actually makes your self-esteem worse.
No, you build self-esteem by adopting a very simple rule:
Be the best parent you never had.
WHAT IS SELF-ESTEEM?
Self-esteem is pretty weird. It doesn’t really exist. At least in the sense that say, a heart or lungs do. But despite this, we all feel something that falls in line with the general idea of self-esteem – feeling good about ourselves and our ability.
And this is not only felt but felt to be more important to us than the heart and lungs that we know to be real.
Human life exists in irrationality. We feel things for no reason, we have thoughts that come from nowhere, and we make free choices that we can’t logically explain as free. Everything that we do and everything that is important to us is intangible and doesn’t make any sense.
Love, hate, enjoyment… and self-esteem. All of these are things we experience, but they are also things that come from somewhere.
WHAT IS LOW SELF-ESTEEM?
Have you ever tried to be happier? Or be more in love? Or be less sad?
Did you ever notice how the more you tried the more you failed, and that when you did feel happiness, love, or sadness, these feelings all seemed to arrive of their own volition?
It’s no different with self-esteem. Feeling good about ourselves isn’t something we can force, it’s something that arrives on its own.
A lot of advice I’ve read on how to build self-esteem follows a similar pattern. It usually says something to the effect of ‘think positive about yourself’, ‘assert yourself’, ‘remove negative friends’ and so on – but all of these put you at the mercy of something that’s either very difficult to do when you have low self-esteem, or they put you at the mercy of some external factor.
The advice is either unrealistic or just plain sucks.
The problem is that in the act of trying to build self-esteem what you inevitably end up doing is reinforcing all the ways in which you believe you suck and are doomed to suck forever.
Nobody wants to suck forever.
But if the answer isn’t to try to build self-esteem, then what is it?
HOW TO BUILD SELF-ESTEEM
Happiness tends to arrive when our life warrants it. Love shows up when we develop true intimacy with another person. Sadness comes when we have a reason to be sad. Like any of these, self-esteem is a product other things, it is not a thing in itself.
Self-esteem comes when you have a reason to feel it.
That is why you can’t pursue it as it is.
But what you can do, is develop an environment in which it’s more likely to blossom.
The first thing you have to understand is that self-esteem is hard work. You don’t get it for free, and it takes time and effort to develop and maintain.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty how to, you’re going to need two things:
Awareness and responsibility.
Awareness for when you’re investing your self-esteem in the wrong places, or when you’re protecting your low self-esteem through false, narcissistic delusions (that will come crashing down).
And responsibility, because it is through responsibility that you are going to steer your life (internally and externally) into a state where you can experience greater wellbeing.
This image has next to nothing to do with self-esteem. But it’s cool as fuck so I’m including it. Maybe pretend the rock is a symbol of the self, and the dust is all the…
5 STEPS TO BUILDING SELF-ESTEEM
Here is everything you need to know about how to build self-esteem:
1) REALIZE THAT YOUR IDEA OF SELF-ESTEEM IS LARGELY BULLSHIT
It’s easy to get lost in the idea that we need an abundance of self-esteem to do anything challenging but this is mistaken. We don’t actually need self-esteem to get started at the things we think we need it for. What happens instead is that once we start them, the self-esteem follows.
Research suggests that self-esteem isn’t really the cause of anything, but rather a pleasant effect. It’s a reward for taking initiative when there was no obvious reason to.
So if you’re ever wondering how to build self-esteem, first start with doing something (no matter how small) that’ll make you feel a sense of achievement. But make sure it’s something real, and not a false sense of achievement like a video game.
Although the research on this is light, I’d strongly wager that’s part of their popularity. A short-term self-esteem boost with rapidly diminishing returns.
2) SET GOALS AND STANDARDS THAT AREN’T TOXIC
If self-esteem is the result of a sense of achievement, then you have to set yourself things to do that are actually achievable. Therapists couches are strewn with people wounded by their parent’s impossible standards, don’t do the same to yourself in your own head.
This is something I fuck up all the time. I’m constantly, constantly setting myself unachievable goals, and as a result always slightly disappointed in myself. It’s something I’ve only just got a handle on, but it’s already benefiting my life and general wellbeing massively.
The way to do this is simple. Pick fewer goals, make sure you understand what is required to achieve them, what is realistic, and how much time you need. You also (and this is really important) need to understand your limitations.
If you can’t focus for more than 2 seconds, are addicted to Doritos, and have never held down a steady job – then writing a book, getting sick pack abs, and starting a business all in 6 months probably aren’t realistic. (In fact, I’d just start with fixing the focus).
Part of the reason we set ourselves poor goals is that we’re disappointed with who we are and desperately want to change. But this is a toxic loop.
The more we set ourselves unachievable goals, the less we achieve them, and the less we get self-esteem as a result. Cue disappointment. Cue more unachievable goals.
Another thing to understand is that our goals are set to meet needs. Make sure your goal can actually meet that need. If you have a need for love which is unfulfilled, chasing it in shallow sexual encounters is not going to work. You’re just going to be disappointed.
And yeah, you know how that goes.
3) BUILD A LIFE THAT DOESN’T LEAVE YOU EMOTIONALLY ABANDONED
Here’s some really groundbreaking stuff:
If your life sucks, you’ll feel like you suck.
When we live a life that doesn’t take care of our fundamental needs, we’re constantly left is a state that lacks fulfillment, and makes us doubt ourselves. This is why one of the first things we need to do if we’re looking to build self-esteem is to take a serious look at our life and see what needs fixing.
We want to create a life that passively supports who we are.
Now, when I say needs I don’t mean warmth, shelter, food etc. That’s a given. I mean things like emotional connection, health, fun, and financial security.
Foster rewarding friendships with people where you are free to be vulnerable with your emotions and they are free to be vulnerable with theirs (instead of pretending to each other like you’re both ‘fine’ 24/7 – because who actually is?)
Take care of your health through a consistent diet, and have fun socializing and exercising. Not only is this good for literally your entire life, but you’ll also get into better shape and be much more likely to make new friends and date new people. It all compounds.
Avoid debt (like the plague) and build a career where your financial needs are taken care of and you’re saving, no matter how little, each month.
All these things pay off. And when it comes to self-esteem, they pay off big time by not having you constantly dragged down by things that you should have taken care of.
4) LEARN NEW SHIT, GET GOOD AT NEW THINGS
I’m partially inclined to believe this is where our some of our motivation to become ‘better’ comes from. Sure, a lot of it is driven by insecurity – but at the same time, there is a curiosity towards what we could do and how we could change, because fundamentally, we’re aware that we can.
In my own life, a hallmark of building self-esteem came from the fact that I always supported my interests and pushed my comfort zone to beyond what I knew or was comfortable with. This included things like traveling on my own, studying languages, reading countless books, and even starting this blog.
When we take small steps outside of your comfort zone and towards new learning experiences, or deeper understanding of skills, we are engaging with a process that embraces our own innate ability to improve ourselves. And where, with our unattainable goals, this is driven by insecurity – this is driven by self-love.
Yeah, I know. ‘Cool it with the hippy shit Visko’, but hear me out.
When you actively look at what you want to learn and do and push yourself to do it, you’re honoring your life, your interests, your ambitions and your values.
This is what kids do every day.
It’s no wonder they’re having such a good time.
5) YOU’RE ALL ALONE IN YOUR HEAD, SO DO THE SMART THING
If you want a phrase almost guaranteed to build self-esteem:
‘Yeah, I failed. So what? I’m okay.’
Yes – more hippy shit. But you’re here for self-esteem, and this stuff works. So deal with it.
No, I’m not asking you to throw on hemp, blast yourself with marijuana, and go on a spirit quest (although it sounds like a great time). All I’m asking you to do is pay attention to the relationship you have with yourself.
Because not only does that relationship affect your relationship with others, but it also hugely determines how you feel about yourself, in particular, when it comes to self-esteem.
Here’s a spoiler for life:
You’re going to fail, fuck up, get rejected, be a loser, and let yourself down over, and over, and over, and over again.
No, you’re not going to avoid the mistakes others have made. A best, you’ll dodge some of them. What’s going to happen is that you’re going to screw up.
It’s inevitable. And in many ways, it’s extremely difficult to control.
What you can control, however, is how you interact with those screw-ups and failures. You can either meet them with judgment and condemnation (which is how you’ll meet them in others), or you can meet them with acceptance and compassion (which is… yeah you get the point).
Judgment or compassion. Which of these do you think is going to help you understand your self better? Help you understand your mistakes better? And help you learn from them in the future?
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
As I said at the start of the article, the easiest way to think about building self-esteem is to be the best parent you never had. This counts even if you had good parents.
The more supportive and nonjudgmental your relationship with yourself is, the more you will develop self-esteem. The more you encourage your own curiosity, and set yourself achievable standards of success, the more you will develop self-esteem. The more you treat yourself with kindness, compassion, and love, the more you will develop self-esteem.
In other words, you have to come at it from just about the complete opposite motivation that most people come from. I.e. Insecurity and self-loathing,
This is for a simple reason:
The more you take care of yourself, the better you feel.
Not the other way around.