Photo: Evgeny Krutakov via 123RF

Many people talk about self-esteem frequently, but do we truly understand it?

And do you know why having high self-esteem is essential? Self-esteem is more than having a confident and cheery disposition. It is crucial for lifelong well-being and success.

What is Self-Esteem?

The American Psychological Association defines self-esteem, in part, as “the degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one’s self-concept are perceived to be positive. It reflects a person’s physical self-image, view of his or her accomplishments and capabilities, and values and perceived success in living up to them, as well as the ways in which others view and respond to that person.

It’s critical to note that self-esteem is different than your mood on any given day. Feeling down about a mistake or disappointment does not necessarily equate with low self-esteem, just as having a successful day at the office doesn’t automatically lead to higher self-esteem.

The cumulative effect of how you view all the parts of yourself that make you, you are what builds your self-esteem profile over time. Because how we think others view us influences self-esteem, our relationships can also heavily affect our self-esteem.

Why is High Self-Esteem Important?

Having high self-esteem can positively impact many areas of your life. In fact, some studies show that “people with higher self-esteem are happier in their jobs, have better social relationships, and generally, a more positive sense of well-being.” Conversely, “people with low self-esteem [can be] more reactive to day-to-day circumstances and personal interactions. Those with lower self-esteem are also less likely to keep their emotions in check, cope well with challenges, and look at life from a healthy perspective.”

When you view yourself as capable, deserving, and valuable, you can overcome adversity more easily, whether in academics, social situations, or interpersonal conflicts. Similarly, research shows that people with higher self-esteem are more likely to be empathetic towards others and reach out for social connections in new situations, thus improving their overall situation in life. Not only do you have a happier outlook on life, but it can also impact your physical health. High self-esteem tends to correlate with lower levels of stress, reducing the adverse effects of high-pressure situations.

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How Can You Build Self-Esteem?

Although various factors influence self-esteem, and it is something you build over time, it’s possible to improve your self-esteem with intentional effort and persistence; small, lasting steps are vital to a lifelong change.

Step One: Accept what you can and can’t change.

Self-esteem is mostly about your thoughts and responses rather than the facts and events of your life. Too much focus on changing your circumstances can disappoint you when a new environment (or job/house/social circle) doesn’t improve your self-esteem. Instead, commit to the idea that your self-esteem comes from how you think about yourself rather than how you actually are.

Step Two: Commit to giving yourself grace.

Improving your self-esteem mirrors what it’s like to actually have high self-esteem. In other words, it involves some “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality. Those with high self-esteem give themselves grace during challenging situations, noting that adversity is often out of their control and doesn’t define their worth. Because improving your self-esteem will be arduous, it’s essential to remember throughout that giving yourself grace and permission to make mistakes is necessary.

Step Three: Treat yourself like a friend.

To begin changing how you view yourself, step outside your usual thoughts and view yourself as a valued friend. Actively respond to your actions as you would a friend’s. It can even be helpful to write these responses or say them aloud! Practicing this way may feel silly, but you’ll be more comfortable thinking about yourself in these positive terms over time.

Step Four: Actively engage with positive and negative thoughts.

Are you quick to dismiss compliments but easily accept criticism? Try engaging with positive thoughts (from yourself and others) rather than immediately dismissing them. Keep a journal where you can read through these comments regularly. Similarly, notice any negative thoughts and decide to either work through the related issues (make a concrete plan!) or let them go. Avoiding positive or negative thoughts entirely won’t help you develop new thought patterns.

Step Five: Celebrate and invest in yourself.

A lifelong commitment to investing in yourself (because you’re worth it) is an ever-present part of having high self-esteem. If you’re unhappy with aspects of your life, work to change them! If you’ve overcome an obstacle, celebrate your success! People who value themselves don’t shy away from this self-focused energy.

Although changing your self-esteem can be difficult, it’s possible when you commit to making small changes over time that lead to lasting improvement.