Locations:
Search IconSearch

How To Be More Confident and Improve Your Self-Esteem

Ignore the negative self-talk, practice positive affirmations and remember, you’re not perfect — and that’s OK!

Sad person holding smaller version of themselves in their hands

You make a mistake at work, a friend criticizes you or you embarrass yourself during a PTA meeting.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

We’ve all been there. There are plenty of situations in life when our self-esteem takes a hit and we struggle with how to be more confident.

But what exactly is self-esteem?

Whether it’s going up, down or hovering somewhere in the middle, our self-esteem impacts how we view ourselves. Self-esteem is an important building block for many things: Our confidence in our abilities, our sense of self-worth and how we compare ourselves to others.

Low self-esteem — when you’re critical of yourself — can develop over time, but you can bring it back up by changing the way you perceive yourself and your negative thoughts.

And having good self-esteem isn’t just feeling good about yourself. Your sense of self-worth can profoundly affect your mental health, too.

“I think it’s incredibly important for your mental health to have confidence in your abilities so you have a good sense of self-worth,” reinforces psychologist Lauren Alexander, PhD. “And that you have the ability to grow and recognize that mistakes are normal.”

Low self-esteem can lead to bigger issues like depression and anxiety. In fact, they often go hand in hand.

“Anytime you are struggling with a mental health issue, it’s good to think about your self-worth and how you see yourself,” Dr. Alexander says.

Dr. Alexander explains how to build confidence and how to improve self-esteem.

Signs of a low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can come across in many ways — but in simple terms, it’s being excessively mean to yourself. It can be hard to accept that you might be experiencing low self-esteem. But recognizing it is the first important step to working against those negative thoughts.

You may have low self-esteem if you:

Advertisement

You don’t feel confident in your abilities

Are you always second-guessing yourself? Maybe you’re not sure about a project at work or you’re dealing with a challenging parenting situation. Either way, you may think you don’t have the right skills or experience to handle it.

“If you become preoccupied with excessive doubt of yourself and your abilities, it’s going to become apparent in your work and personal life,” says Dr. Alexander. “Even if it’s not apparent to everyone else, the quality of your relationships and your work life will decline and you’ll definitely notice it.”

You’re constantly comparing yourself to others in a negative way

Sure, who hasn’t compared themselves to others — it’s hard not to. But it might be a problem if you’re doing so in a negative way by judging yourself against others and beating yourself up for not being pretty enough, being a model parent, having a bigger house, taking social media-worthy vacations (the list of how you think you might not stack up may be long).

“You’re living one life and that’s yours. If you’re spending your precious mental energy focused on other people’s lives, then you’re only half-heartedly living yours,” stresses Dr. Alexander. “This means you won’t be making the best decisions to advance your life.”

You feel triggered when you make a mistake

Failure happens to all of us. But when you make a mistake — even a teeny, tiny one — it can be hard for you not to spiral into negative self-talk.

“Triggers vary widely amongst people,” says Dr. Alexander. “Common indicators of being triggered include any strong, uncomfortable emotion such as sadness and anger and/or engaging in unhelpful behaviors for example, eating when not hungry, drinking/drug use, avoiding social interactions.”

You find yourself resistant to any kind of criticism

Whether it’s coming from your partner, your boss, your parent or a friend, it can be difficult for you to hear any kind of feedback (even constructive criticism) on how you do X, Y or Z.

“In general, we want to hear about what’s good about us rather than what’s not good about us or we need to do better,” relates Dr. Alexander. “What’s not good or needs improved indicates that we need to change and change can be threatening for a variety of reasons such as inflexibility or doubt in our ability to change.”

You focus on your failures

So, not only do you feel triggered when you make a mistake, but it can also be hard for you to let those situations go. You dwell on your failures — replaying situations in your head, over and over, to figure out how you could have avoided the failure. Practicing self-compassion and self-love is hard for you.

“Often, we’re thrown off by mistakes rather than learn from them. Then, we struggle to regulate the emotions associated with the failure and hyperfocus on them,” notes Dr. Alexander.

You feel anxious about everything you do

You’re so down on yourself and your abilities that it can zap you of any enthusiasm or interest you may feel about upcoming activities, celebrations or work projects. You become anxious that you’re going to mess up, make a mistake and cause it all to go wrong.

Advertisement

“Anxiety can definitely reinforce low self-esteem. For instance, anxiety interferes with task initiation, meaning that you may not end up completing something you need to do,” explains Dr. Alexander. “Then, you use this instance as ‘proof’ of why you’re a failure. Then, those negative emotions make it less likely for you to do another task that could be helpful and the cycle repeats itself.”

Tips on how to build self-confidence

If you’ve recognized low self-esteem in yourself, you may want to think about some of the possible root causes. Dr. Alexander says negative self-talk and thoughts often stem from things in our past.

“It’s rarely just one, single event,” she says. “It’s usually an accumulation of events that contribute to low self-esteem.”

For example, maybe a memory of a classmate who didn’t accept you into their group still lingers when you try to make new friends or connections. Or maybe you struggled after getting a bad grade on a test, and now, you still get the fear that any time you’re tested, you won’t succeed.

All of these experiences — and how we react to them — can accumulate and cause low self-esteem over time.

Here’s how to build self-esteem.

Challenge the way you think about yourself

So, how do you raise your self-esteem? Start by editing that negative narrative in your head.

Easier said than done, we know. But Dr. Alexander says there’s no better way to improve your self-esteem than to stop piling on those negative thoughts.

How do you change the way you think? The first step is recognizing these negative thoughts and acknowledging if they’re actually serving you or hurting you.

“A lot of times, people have very extreme styles of thinking, and they distort information and come up with very different assessments of the situation,” explains Dr. Alexander.

Think of it as detective work: You’re finding evidence that disproves all the negative facts you’re telling about yourself. Dr. Alexander says that this way, you’re sort of rewiring your brain to change how you view yourself.

Advertisement

For example, if you have the thought: I messed up this project at work, now I’ll never be able to do anything right, catch yourself and ask some rational questions like:

  • Is there any evidence to support my negative thinking?
  • What’s the evidence that goes against my negative thinking?
  • Am I jumping to a negative conclusion too fast?

“Changing your thinking is a big component. It’s important to change what is being repeated in your mind,” Dr. Alexander stresses. “You need to systematically start changing your thinking.”

Put thoughts into action

If those negative thoughts are still creeping through, it means you need to start putting positive ones into action. Just thinking better about yourself isn’t enough.

“You have to act the part of those new thoughts,” states Dr. Alexander.

One good way to do this is to engage with others. Many low self-esteem issues come from the fear of others not accepting you. But isolating yourself isn’t going to help.

“If you’re not giving yourself a chance to go out and interact with people, you won’t be able to see that maybe they, in fact, might really enjoy your company,” says Dr. Alexander. “The more you practice, the more it will become a part of you.”

Accept that you’re not perfect

No one — and we mean, no one — has ever gone through life without making even one mistake. Dr. Alexander explains that gracefully accepting errors will help your self-esteem grow.

“I think the one part of self-esteem that people struggle with the most is learning to accept errors,” she shares. “And also learning how to move past those errors.”

Advertisement

This can stem from a need to have everything go perfectly. In reality, mistakes are bound to happen.

Of course, we all want to succeed and pass with flying colors. But Dr. Alexander notes that you should never feel so afraid of failure that it stops you from trying. This can lead to paranoia, anxiety and shutting yourself away from others.

Try speaking positive affirmations

Sometimes, in order to change the story in your head, you need to say it out loud. Saying positive affirmations to yourself has been shown to help people with boosting their confidence and building better habits.

Try and write out specific affirmations that work best for you and your situation. These can be a powerful way to rewire the way you think about yourself.

Bottom line?

Learning how to increase your self-esteem is important, but you also want to have balance. You want to be confident in yourself, while still accepting room for growth. You can’t let the scale fall too far to the other side, Dr. Alexander says.

“A healthy self-esteem means you have a sense of your worth, you have confidence in your abilities, but that there’s also room for growth and for detecting errors,” she adds.

Whether you’re struggling with self-esteem related to work, body image or your general self-worth, it’s important to work toward a more positive outlook of yourself. Low self-esteem can build over time — usually due to negative thoughts. But thankfully, there are ways to challenge them through positive affirmations and mental exercises.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors
June 13, 2024/Mental Health
Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Rainbow-colored heart hovering above healthcare provider's hand, with child sitting in exam chair
June 12, 2024/Parenting
How To Find an LGBTQIA-Friendly Pediatrician for Your Child

Local LGBT centers, online directories, visual cues and gender-affirming care or non-discrimination policies can all be helpful resources and cues

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

Person checking watch at a rail station
June 5, 2024/Mental Health
How To Be Patient: 6 Strategies To Help You Keep Your Cool

In a world where instant gratification is the norm, you can train yourself to be more comfortable waiting patiently

People volunteering at a food drive
June 3, 2024/Mental Health
How To Make — and Nourish — New Friendships When You’re an Adult

Look to activities you enjoy — or try a new hobby — to help foster meeting new people

Partners sitting at breakfast table on their phones
May 31, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What It Means To Be ‘Aromantic’

This romantic orientation involves little to no romantic attraction to others and exists on a spectrum

Teen caged in their own mind
May 24, 2024/Children's Health
The Teen Mental Health Crisis: How To Help Your Child

American teens are facing unprecedented rates of depression and suicide, but you can be there to support and help them

Male sitting on couch with head in hand, looking forlorn
May 23, 2024/Men's Health
Men’s Mental Health: 11 Tips for Taking Care of Your Whole Self

Learn to build a strong support system, identify unhealthy coping mechanisms and tend to your physical health

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad