We all want to feel better about ourselves. We want to feel confident about our way in the world and let go of the negative self-talk, anxiety, and self-consciousness. Having higher self-esteem and confidence are linked to more robust physical and mental health, less pain with failure or rejection, more resiliency and less vulnerability to anxiety.
In general, confident people are more positive, they believe in themselves and their abilities (self-efficacy), and they want to live their lives to the fullest. They’re not ruled by fear, self-consciousness and what others think. They’re ruled by their own internal compass. They might ask opinions and gather data but, at the end of the day, they follow their internal guidance system.
But how do you get there?
Today I’m going to teach you:
- The important ways self-confidence and self-esteem are linked
- Why those affirmations and positive thoughts haven’t worked in the past
- My top 8 tips for building up both in your life
- Oh, and since a lot of people mix up self-confidence with self-esteem, I’ve got a great Self-Confidence Quiz for you!
Self-confidence is all about how you feel and think about your skills and abilities and can vary greatly depending on the situation. You can also have low confidence, even if you have decent self-esteem. For example, maybe you think you’re the bee’s knees but you don’t feel confident when it comes to something like reading, math, sports, art, or cooking.
To build your self-confidence effectively, you have to understand that there are two main players: self-efficacy and self-esteem (hence the link between the two).
Self-efficacy is your belief that you can do stuff. You gain a feeling of self-efficacy when you master something and achieve goals. The sweet spot is when something is a little difficult so it stretches you a bit, but not so difficult that you can’t see any improvement. Little by little, as you move through obstacles, you gain that sense of mastery and this is really how you start feeling good about yourself.
You become confident that, if you put in effort and work at something, you can overcome challenges. You gain grit and resiliency as you push through setbacks believing that you can do this thing and achieve your goal.
OK, Then What Exactly is Self-Esteem?
You can call it healthy self-esteem, positive self-regard or self-love but it all boils down to having a good opinion of yourself. It means you don’t exaggerate your good or bad qualities and that you appreciate who you are in the world, warts and all.
Your self-esteem develops from a perfect storm of your temperament, your family of origin, and your life experiences, big and small. All these things come together and shape how you see yourself.
One of my gurus, Dr. Maxwell Maltz (who wrote the book Psycho-Cybernetics, which changed my life) said:
“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand brake on.”
When you have low self-esteem you’re holding yourself back from so much. You end up making things harder than they need to be and limit your future with your constant berating and self-flagellation.
The Self-Confidence/Self-Esteem Link
Since self-confidence is comprised of self-efficacy and self-esteem, there’s really not a way to effectively discuss one without the other.
Self-esteem and self-confidence are connected because when you like who you are, your self-esteem goes up and this makes you more confident. When you’re confident in different parts of your life, you improve your overall self-esteem.
Since they feed one another, you’ve got to work on both at the same time. Basically, the more you can change your negative self-talk and the more you focus on areas where you’re confident and believe in yourself, the higher both your self-confidence and self-esteem will become.
Why Affirmations/Positive Thoughts Haven’t Worked
Positive thinking and saying affirmations are great, but those things are working on your negative self-talk, which is directly related to raising your self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.
As you just learned, self-confidence is a combination of self-efficacy and self-esteem. Affirmations are only working on one part of the equation. So, in addition to the affirmations and positive self-talk, you need to simultaneously work on building your “I can do it!” muscles.
In fact, studies have shown that positive affirmations actually make people with low self-esteem feel worse! When you say something that doesn’t jibe with what you believe, your bullshit meter or lie detector goes off in your head.
Let’s face it, if I feel like poop and try to tell myself, “You can do it! You’re a rock star!” I won’t believe it and I’ll start thinking things like, “No I’m not! I’m so far from a rock star it’s not funny. I suck!”
However, when you’re also building your confidence, you start to feel differently about yourself. A part of you thinks you can do it, because you just did!
With all that in mind, here are my…
Top 8 Tips for Improving Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
Tip #1: Ask a Friend
If you’re having trouble thinking of an area you’re confident about, ask three people what they think you excel in. Try to believe them (even a tiny bit helps) and think more about these areas and look to cultivate them.
Tip #2: List a Win Every Single Day.
Each night, before you go to bed, think back on your day and identify one win. This doesn’t have to be anything big! Maybe you spoke up at a meeting when you normally keep your mouth closed or maybe you took time out to give yourself a pedicure (because you’re worth it). Note the win, feel it for a moment (let yourself be a little proud of you) and get to sleep.
Tip #3: Accept that Compliment
Learning to accept compliments, for real, is a great way to boost confidence and self-esteem. It’s going to be uncomfortable in the beginning and your mind will race with all kinds of negative chatter (they don’t really mean that; they’re just being nice; if they really knew me they wouldn’t say that). It’s your job to ignore the chatter, suspend your disbelief and take in the compliment.
Specifically, I want you to put your hand over your heart and say, “Thank you.” You will be amazed at how well this works. The first time I did it (years ago at my therapist’s request), I was shocked when tears sprang up in my eyes!
Take in the compliment and feel it as if it’s true, even for a few seconds.
Tip #4: Stop the Negative Self-Talk
Don’t believe everything you think. You’ve got to notice that negative chatter in your head and consistently stop it in its tracks.
A great tip is to have a mantra at the ready when you notice that inner critic. A great one could be, “Thoughts and feelings are NOT facts.” Repeat that as much as needed to give yourself perspective and break out of the lies that your inner voice is saying.
Tip #5: You Do You
It’s time to stop comparing! Comparing yourself to others is one of the quickest routes to depression, low self-esteem, low confidence and basically feeling like poop. It’s especially hard these days with social media where everyone’s best, curated self is on display, but you have to stop falling into that ditch!
Focus on your own goals and achievements without comparing them to anyone else’s.
If you find yourself in this trap, the best antidote (besides the obvious one of getting off social media) is to volunteer. When we give our time to others less fortunate or to worthy causes, it fills us with feelings such as appreciation, pride, and gratitude; all boosters to our self-esteem. When we help others, we naturally get out of our own head and gain perspective and distance from our own monkey minds.
Tip #6: Focus on Your Strengths
Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Focus solely on yourself and what feels right to you. We all have different strengths – play from those, NOT your limitations.
Instead of trying to get better at what you’re not good at, start focusing and building what you are good at.
Tip #7: Speak Up!
You can’t be passive and build your self-esteem and self-confidence. When you don’t speak up and express yourself, you’re putting the control outside of yourself. Think about it – why aren’t you saying what you want? It’s because you’re afraid of what others will think or afraid of what their reaction will be.
Operating from this fear-based, anxious mindset is creating a cycle of low self-esteem and low self-confidence. It’s time to stop hesitating. If you want to “say the thing” do it right away. If you stop to think about it, you’ll never do it and you’ll just beat yourself up for days (or years).
Tip #8: Question Your Inner Critic and Answer with Self-Compassion
Louise Hay said, “You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
Without a doubt, some of the meanest, harshest comments come from your very own mind. And your inner critic isn’t just a judgmental jerk, they’re also WRONG and woefully inaccurate!
I talk A LOT about our hard-wired negativity bias and how it lies to us. This holdover from when we had to worry about all the things that were trying to kill us on a daily basis skews reality. Our brains are wired to overestimate the negative and forget the positive.
As author and researcher Dr. Rick Hanson says, “Our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones.”