When your daughter asks for help with her math homework, you look it over with her without hesitation.
When you join a group fitness class, you proudly make every move called out by the instructor.
When you sit in a business meeting, you’re the first to share your thoughts and ideas.
This is living, breathing self-esteem—strong expressions of your security and belief in who you are. While we all want to feel that way in whatever situation we’re in, the truth is that most of us do feel inadequate at some time or another.
A big reason for that is that so many aspects of our lives affect how we feel about ourselves, and they all tend to be constantly shifting and challenging us. “Your self-esteem is the confidence you have in your abilities as a result of all the interactions and experiences you have over the course of your life,” says Ann Pardo, director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “It’s the combination of the criticism you received from your elementary school teacher and the encouragement you received from your mother; the struggle you experience at your job and the satisfaction you felt after running a half-marathon. It’s all of those conversations and circumstances, past and present—and how they make you feel about your worth.”
Working to better your self-esteem can help you have more days like the above. Though, as you can imagine, that important work does take time. Committing to holding on to the words and experiences that help you see yourself for all that you are, though, is what will strengthen your confidence.
And you’re worth the effort: “When you aim to improve what’s making you feel ‘less than,’ you think in a healthier way. And healthier thinking leads to healthier emotions, which lead to healthier behavior,” says Pardo. A boosted self-esteem also makes you stronger during difficult situations, building an emotional resilience that helps you better handle tough times. Give yourself this gift.
Be mindful of how you feel. With so many aspects of your life playing a part in your self-esteem, it’s important to take time to actually recognize how you’re feeling as you move through each day. “Think about the emotions you have when you talk with your kids, exercise, engage in a hobby,” says Pardo. You may be happy with who you are in these circumstances—embrace, appreciate and foster that. Or, you may see room for improvement. “This self-awareness may encourage you to work on areas that you’re not entirely proud of…yet.”
Surround yourself with good examples of self-esteem. Spending time with people who burst with pride and an uplifting, assured attitude supports your own positive thinking. Draw on, and internalize, their positive energy to keep fueling your own. Their company may also help you see things in a new way, prompting you to do something about whatever might be holding you back from fully loving yourself.
Show your 100 percent. “Having a strong self-esteem requires you to declare your authenticity,” says Pardo. For example, you may work in a corporate setting but love exploring the outdoors—share that with your coworkers. Expressing all of who you are—the things you’re excited about or are having a hard time with—is freeing and defining, and it can start conversations that invite positive feedback and support from others.
Take on exciting projects. Setting goals and working on things that stimulate you is crucial in supporting and boosting your self-esteem. “You’re reaching toward something important…something fulfilling,” says Pardo. “Otherwise, you’ll find yourself living in repetition without challenge, which inhibits your motivation to embrace your strengths, grow, learn, and recognize your potential.”
Put meaning into the center of your life. Doing this reminds you of what’s important to you, and focusing on those things gives you a sense of purpose and drive—feelings that can help motivate you to express and be proud of who you are, set goals you want to achieve and recognize your abilities. “Think about what is meaningful to you and make it a priority,” says Pardo. “Maybe it’s spending time with your family, taking photography classes, traveling, cooking healthy meals—whatever it is, make time for it.”
Live with integrity. This means matching what you believe to what you do. “If you believe you’re a good friend and you take actions to demonstrate that, like staying in touch, listening and offering advice, then you’re living with integrity,” notes Pardo. “Living in such an honest way can validate how you present yourself, interact with others and share your true self.”
Recognize your whole beauty. A big part of our self-esteem grows out of how we feel about our physical body. “We often struggle with comparing ourselves—our weight, height, hair, skin, and so on—to others, which comes from our rear brain naturally wondering whether someone is a threat to us,” says Pardo. “But it’s our mid- and front-brain that tells us, ‘Hey, relax. You have your own worth.’” Listening to those messages and understanding that who you are is made up of more than what you see in the mirror takes practice. But once we’re able to focus on the soulfulness and spirit of our bodies, we’re more aware of other wonderful things about ourselves, like our kindness and generosity.
A Lifelong Project
Life takes twists and turns, putting you in situations that affect you in ways you never expected—which is why achieving and sustaining a strong self-esteem is really an ongoing process. “We’ll always keep circling back and working on ourselves, but it’s important to recognize the great things about yourself—aspects that make you happy to be you,” says Pardo. “You’ll know when you’re in a good place…you’ll feel it.”