How to build self-esteem. 6 practices for building self-esteem

Building Self-esteem in the modern world

Building self-esteem is essential in the modern world. This is because in the rapidly changing world, to be capable and confident, we need a strong sense of identity and self-worth.

In a time like this, it is a massive disadvantage to live without knowing who we are or without trusting ourselves.

This article makes a case for why you should read the bestselling book by Nathaniel Branden called Six pillars of self-esteem.

What makes self-esteem?

Our self-esteem derives from internal as well as external factors. The internal factors are the ideas, behaviors, or beliefs that reside within the individual.

building self-esteem

The external factors consist of messages verbal or nonverbal or experiences with authority figures, partners, or even cultures or organizations.

Do we understand what self-esteem really means?

The word self-esteem has become fashionable in the modern world and thus it is popular and yet isn’t much understood.

The lack of a complete understanding of self-esteem in some cases gives way to generalizations or oversimplifications of what it means or requires. That leads to the pursuit of quick fixes or shortcuts.

In other cases, it gives way to fatalism or determinism-based thinking, which accepts reality as is with no intention towards improvement.

building self-esteem

Both cases lead to passivity and thus it is important to understand what self-esteem truly means. Self-esteem is more than a judgment or a feeling. It is a motivator and it inspires behavior.

The actions we take affect our self-esteem consequently and thus we cannot alter our self-esteem by itself, however, by taking actions over time we can improve our self-esteem, which in turn will lead to better actions and thus continue a feedback loop.

As Mr. Branden explains it Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as being worthy of happiness. The definition has two parts to it.

The first part talks about how confident we are with our ability to tackle the unpredictable challenges life throws at us.

The second part talks about our self-worth as an individual in our own mind. Do we believe we have value and are we capable of self-love?

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

– Buddha

Self-esteem as fuel for self-fulfilling Prophecies.

The self-esteem we have, creates a set of expectations subconsciously that we think are possible and appropriate.

These expectations inspire actions that lead to the expected results and thus strengthen the previously held beliefs. It becomes a feedback loop that enforces the implicit belief that yesterday’s patterns will continue tomorrow.

This shows us why self-esteem is important in our life as it affects every aspect of it, be it our work, hobbies, or relationships.

building self-esteem

We constantly keep living in the realm of expectations we have for ourselves. Even if we do manage to outperform our limiting beliefs we tend to sabotage it in the long term and end up believing that it was never meant to be in the first place.

This will make us feel miserable in our defeats, and unable to enjoy in times of our victories, as we will feel unworthy.

What drives people with high self-esteem?

When we have high self-esteem, we are driven by joy and not fear. Thus, our decisions come from the happiness we wish to experience not the sufferings we want to avoid.

We are not worried about proving our self-worth and instead, we feel the need to explore the possibilities. A high self-esteem individual is driven by creativity and growth not safety or the need for security.

“High self-esteem seeks the challenge and stimulation of worthwhile and demanding goals, low self-esteem seeks the safety of the familiar and undemanding.”

– Nathaniel Branden

Why building Self-esteem is essential?

As we know now Self-esteem is closely related to everything we do in our lives. It does not matter if we admit or not, we ignore or run from it, decide that we are only interested in serious matters of the economy or world or politics, etc, self-esteem is a fundamental human need.

It works within us with or without our consent and thus the choice we have is either we understand how it works or we stay ignorant of its workings.

building self-esteem

However, in the latter case, we will forever be a mystery to ourselves and face the consequences.   

 6 practices of building self-esteem

  1. The Practice of Living consciously
  2. The Practice of Self-acceptance
  3. The Practice of Self-responsibility
  4. The Practice of Self-assertiveness
  5. The Practice of Living purposefully
  6. The Practice of Personal integrity

If you notice above, every one of those starts with practice further emphasizing the fact that the way to improve self-esteem is with consistent action.

Mr. Nathaniel says that practice implies a discipline of acting a certain way. It is almost like a way of being i.e. how you behave consistently day by day in issues whether they are big or small. 

Building self-esteem by practicing Living Consciously

Consciousness is the most essential and basic tool for survival i.e. the ability to be aware of your environment to some level and to take actions accordingly.

We, humans, have the ability to choose our level of consciousness. We can choose to seek awareness or we can avoid it and go down to a lower level of consciousness where we live through life as if it is a blur.

The penalty of not living mindfully is a diminished sense of self-efficacy and self-respect, this is because we will not feel competent or worthy when we live in this way.

Self-esteem as a summation of subconscious choices

Every day we make countless choices between thinking and not thinking, by those choices we establish a sense of self.

Even though the conscious mind has no memory of the choices we make, they are added up in our subconscious and the summation is what we call self-esteem.

Now, this does not mean that I am continuously anxious and paying nightmarish attention to everything happening around me.

building self-esteem

Context determines the mental state. One has to take into account the needs, wants and emotions of one’s inner self to know what to prioritize.

Thus being ‘in the moment’ is the idea of being present to what one is doing. If your goal is to relax while listening to music sure your thoughts can drift, however, if you are engaged in solving a complex problem your focus is there.

When I say you focusing on the problem you aren’t disconnected from the wider context of your knowledge with an awareness reduced to the immediate sensory experience, instead you maintain a resourceful balance.

You are in the moment but not trapped in it. A general rule of thumb is if you are choosing a passive state that avoids effort, you are not living consciously.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

– Dale Carnegie

When you live consciously-

  • You are active.
  • You try to reach out to relevant facts. Concerned to know if your actions are in alignment with your purposes.
  • You are receptive to knowledge and constantly challenge your old assumptions.
  • You are concerned about not only the external but also your internal reality.
  • You dig to the roots of your values and try to discern whether they are in line with you or uncritically accepted by others.

The practice of living consciously is critical to building self-esteem. We go much in-depth on this here

Building self-esteem by practicing Self-Acceptance

Inner critic and our circle of control

Do you accept yourself as you are or do you constantly criticize yourself for not being able to do certain things?

If you always criticize yourself for everything that you do or avoid you might not have high self-esteem. Thus, the first thing for self-acceptance is to root for yourself.

You must learn to know what is in your circle of control and then start improving the things that are within it and accept the things that are not.

That constitutes the willingness to accept and experience. It means that you do not shun away from any experience of what you think or feel or even want as a part of you and do not think of it as something alien to you.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

– Mark Twain

If you have a thought that was unpleasant and the first thing you do is shun it away as if it were not you, then you are trying to repress a part of you.

Acceptance does not mean that you like it; you just understand that what you feel is a way of you expressing yourself. Therefore, the second thing required for self-acceptance is that we do not alienate parts of ourselves.

When you try to resist negative emotions, you actually feel them as they gain more power in our subconscious. However, when you accept the negative emotions they begin to melt away.

If you resist the urge to cry at a funeral you just keep feeling more and more grief, however, if you just accept the loss and cry you begin to feel light.

Self-acceptance is self-improvement

The third and most crucial part of self-acceptance is that we become a compassionate-friend to ourselves. By accepting the way we are, we can engage in a conversation with ourselves.

Say you did not study for a test or did not prepare a presentation at work well, instead of beating yourself up for it you should try to analyze why you did that. This way you can find the root causes and motives of that behavior and avoid those things in the future.

We talk about it much more in-depth on our blog about the internal critic

There may be a misconception in some people that self-acceptance and self-improvement are somehow opposites.

That is not true, accepting something does not mean that we give up on it. Only by accepting something can we begin to work on improving.

If I cannot accept that I am not good at a skill, I would never work to improve.

Building Self-Esteem by practicing Self-Responsibility

Do we take responsibility for the good as well as the bad things that happen in our lives? Until and unless we do that, we will be stuck in a victim mentality and blame game. There isn’t a single person that loves playing the victim that has high self-esteem. 

To live a life with high self-esteem you need to have a sense of control over your life. The only way to have it is to take responsibility of your life completely.

Even though you might feel good blaming someone else for the problems you face, what you are doing is giving them control of your own life.

We must realize that no one else owes us the fulfillment of our needs.

No one else is coming to solve the problems you face or save you. If you aren’t going to take responsibility and help yourself, you will stay where you are. 

Building Self-Esteem by practicing Self-Assertiveness

Do you stay grounded in the things you believe unapologetically? If you do then you have high self-esteem. Many of the times people just sort-of believe something and with a little bit of pressure, they are swayed or manipulated by others.

They are afraid of people, afraid of dealing with negative emotions. They are scared that others might judge them or label them if they stand up for themselves and be who they really are.

To have high self-esteem you have to be assertive around other people about your values and principles. If at any time, you deny yourself and do not fight for yourself, you lose confidence and self-esteem.

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Thus, say you do not smoke, no matter how many people around you do or even pressure you to, you won’t do it.

If you believe that, something is wrong at work you will stand up, voice your opinion, and even fight for it. Because if you don’t fight for yourself, no one else will.

Building self-esteem by practicing Living Purposefully

One of the most important ideas in personal development revolves around finding our purpose in life. Do you have a purpose in life that you live for? It is essential to have a peaceful, happy, and successful life.

Mr. Brandon says that to live purposefully is to using the actions that fall in our circle of control for the attainment of the goals we have selected.

If you aren’t living purposefully you are just drifting through life with no sense of direction. You are leaving your life to chance.

These are the things that point to a life in line with one’s purpose-

  1. Formulating one’s goals
  2. Identifying the actions necessary to achieve those goals
  3. Is our behavior in alignment with our goals
  4. Monitor the consequences of our actions and notice whether we are headed where we want to go

Thus, in essence, we need to know where we are going. Know how we are going to get there.

Observe if we are actually staying true to our goals or getting distracted and drifting off course due to say the emergence of unanticipated problems or resistance to effort or even unconscious reordering of priorities.

Lastly, we need to be aware that there will always be facts we failed to consider when we first started. In addition, sometimes the things that worked on some level do not work on another.

This is why we need to live consciously and analyze the feedback we gain from the environment every step of the way. To be purposeful is to be willing to adapt to reality, as it is not how we perceive it to be.

We have a free pdf that will help you find your purpose and true callings. You can get it here.

Building self-esteem by practicing Personal Integrity

Having personal Integrity is to be authentic to one’s self. We stay connected to our knowledge and whenever we have to make a choice, we do so with the best rational clarity we have.

However, in life, we use that rational clarity to make choices between better or worse instead of good and bad. That is where personal integrity comes in. Personal integrity rejects the trap of better or worse and forces us to choose what is good even at our own short-term expense.

One cannot practice personal integrity if he isn’t living consciously. Living with personal integrity means that we take responsibility for the actions we take and do not escape into the mental fog.

Mr. Branden says that Hypocrisy by its very nature is self-invalidating. When you act against what you regard as right, you are acting against your judgment and betraying your mind.

The damage done in that case to one’s own self-worth is more severe than what any external rejection or rebuke can ever do.

Integrity against our deeply held values

Sometimes we might even have to challenge the values that we hold deep inside ourselves.

Sometimes the deep-rooted beliefs we have might be irrational and in those circumstances having personal integrity would mean having the courage to challenge some of those deep-rooted assumptions.

Some of the examples given by Mr. Branden on these cases include a woman who is in a dilemma created by the Catholic Church’s prohibition of birth control.

Another is of a young person who is rebelling against the value system of his parents because he isn’t convinced that it is the best vision to live by.

Another example can be of a man who is dealing with the struggle of complying with or fleeing from military conscription.

Personal integrity might be the hardest pillar of self-esteem since it encompasses all the others. You can read much more about integrity in our blog here

The tool of sentence completion

Building self-esteem is a process that takes conscious time and effort and it affects every single area of our lives. It is one of the fundamental truths, which will affect our lives whether we want it to, or not.

A great way to work on the pillars of self-esteem is a tool of sentence completion that Mr. Branded recommends.

At the beginning of the week

Say if you are working with the pillar of practicing living consciously, what you can do is try to complete a sentence like

Living consciously to me means

  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my activities today…
  • If I pay more attention to how I deal with people today…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my insecurities then…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my priorities then…

By choosing just 5%, you are making the activity small and non-intimidating and most times 5% is plenty.

In addition, you do not have to worry if your endings are literal or profound; all you have to do is write anything that comes to mind as rapidly as possible without pausing for reflection.

You can write multiple endings to these sentences. Once you are finished with your day try to answer the following questions

When I reflect on how I would feel if I lived more consciously-

  • When I reflect on what happens when I bring 5 percent more awareness to my activities …
  • When I reflect on what happens when I pay more attention to how I deal with people …
  • When I reflect on what happens when I bring 5 percent more awareness to my insecurities …
  • When I reflect on what happens when I bring 5 percent more awareness to my priorities …

At the end of the week-

He suggests you do these exercises daily from Monday to Friday and do not read what you wrote the day before.

This way you are energizing all of your conscious capacity and though there might be repetitions in your answers sometimes, new endings will appear as well.

On the weekend re-read everything you wrote and answer at least 6 endings for the question.

If any of what I wrote this week is true, it would be helpful if I-

By doing this, you are clearing your mind of any expectations of anything you think is supposed to happen.

Doing this for a week you will discover a drastic difference in how you operate, it will be almost impossible for you to avoid being more conscious.

It is normal to feel resistance when you try to do this. That comes with you rationalizing or calculating or thinking too much if that happens.

When you feel that resistance pause for a moment and realize that, it is not the goal. What you have to do is to write whatever comes to mind spontaneously so you can avoid the overanalyzing trap.

In Conclusion

You may use the questions above or create incomplete sentences on your own for each pillar this way. It will not take more than 10 minutes each day to do this exercise and yet it will be really powerful and transformative to your personal awareness.

This can be a good first step towards your journey to building self-esteem. I recommend that you read the book as well and use what you learned today in the following weeks.

We urge you to explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them?

We provide a free ebook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.

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That is all for this week. I hope you have a good day and a good life.