How Do You Work to Increase Your Self-Esteem?

I spoke with a job-seeker the other day. He needs a new job. He feels as if he made some bad choices for previous positions. Those (bad) choices weigh him down.

He’s not sure he has anything to offer a new company.

Here’s what he told me about his experience:

  • Several years of experience as a successful project manager.
  • At least a year as a successful program manager.
  • He’s good at helping people understand what they need in a product.

If he’s only half as successful as what he explained to me, he’ll be fine with a new company.

His problem? If we think of self-esteem on a range from 1 (low) to 10 (high), his self-esteem is zero.

I suggested several things I think will raise his self-esteem. But that got me thinking. How do we raise our self-esteem?

By trying, learning, and maybe succeeding. Sometimes, we “fail” but we learned so much that we make different choices. When we choose differently, we learn where we want to spend our energy.

The more we experiment, the better we might feel about ourselves. I don’t always feel better if I make a mistake. However, I feel better when I learn.

This is an example of using the growth mindset on ourselves. The more we use the growth mindset, the more self-esteem we have.

We can do at least two things to practice the growth mindset: positive self-talk and focus on possible solutions, not problems.

Practice Positive Self-Talk

Here’s an example of negative self-talk I heard:

  • I always make bad decisions.
  • I can’t do anything right.
  • I’m a miserable excuse for a human being.

Most of us make relatively good decisions most of the time. We do a lot of things right. Most of us are okay humans, if not excellent.

I suspect we practice negative self-talk when we sympathize with ourselves. “Oh, poor me.”

When we sympathize with ourselves, we might have a pity party. I do fall into those pity parties.

However, when we empathize with ourselves, we can create positive self-talk.

Here’s an example I use a lot for my positive self-talk.

  • I’m practicing with my fiction. I don’t have to be perfect—I do have to finish this piece.
  • When I finish, I can then assess my progress.
  • Finishing is how I can perfect my writing.

Notice several things: I acknowledge how I feel about my writing. I focus on a solution: finish the piece. Why? Because I can’t fix anything I don’t finish.

I need that solution piece to continue with the growth mindset for myself.

Practice Solution-Thinking

Solution-thinking helps me in several ways. I:

  • Focus on where I want to be in the future. Not necessarily the long term. Possibly just today, this week, and next week.
  • Choose how to assess the risks of where I want to go, not stay mired in where I am.
  • Create options. I use my positive self-talk to remind me of times I succeeded. How can I use those times to create more options for this time?

We build our self-esteem by practicing. Regardless of whether we “succeed,” we learn from the practice.

Practice Matters

If we don’t know how to create options for practice, we can ask other people. However, the best way I know to create options for practice is to do it.

My parents didn’t make things easy for me. They supported me, offering coaching if I asked for it. But no, they did not make things easy for me. They challenged me to practice at almost everything.

That practice built my self-esteem.

I continued to build my self-esteem, as I challenge myself. Are there things I choose to no longer do? Of course. But I had found ways to practice all my work, including my travel. I do need support, which is why I use a rollator. I might even need personal support for certain kinds of travel.

But I don’t feel bad about needing support. We all need support for some things. Just as we all need coaching for some of our practice.

Use the Growth Mindset on Yourself to Build Your Self-Esteem

Yes, I use the growth mindset on myself to build my self-esteem.

Here’s how I build my self-esteem:

  1. Acknowledge your reality. If you need a pity party, go ahead and take the time. I try to timebox my pity parties.
  2. Move into positive self-talk.
  3. Consider options with solutions, not reassessing your problems.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice and learn, the more you will build your self-esteem.

And if you’re looking for a job, generate a list of companies you want to work at. Use the ideas in Manage Your Job Search to reach people in those companies. Then, go for it!

I have questions for you: What did I miss? What else do you do?

That’s the question this week: How do you build your self-esteem?

10 thoughts on “How Do You Work to Increase Your Self-Esteem?”

  1. Yury Makedonov

    Johanna, is there any proof that advice like “Use more positive self-talk” actually works?
    If it works, what is an expected turnaround time?

    1. Yury, I assume you can search for positive self-talk yourself. Athletes use it to help them visualize their athletic success. I gave just one example of my positive self-talk.

      Let me go a little meta. Why do you want “proof?” What if positive self-talk is a placebo? Is that a problem? And, I hope you’ve read these books: Dweck’s Mindset book, and Duckworth’s Grit book, and Amabile and Kramer’s Progress book. All of them discuss how to turn negative feelings and thinking into positive thinking and feeling.

      We know that negative self-talk makes life much more difficult and can lead to depression. Why would you question positive self-talk?

      I’ve already heard from a half-dozen people that this post helped them. I’m not sure what you want to achieve.

  2. Thank you for this article about building self-esteem using the growth mindset. When I first learned of Carol Dweck’s studies and read her book, I found her ideas very beneficial. As I went further, I did need to reframe some things and add more tools. The either-or model: Fixed or Growth comes from the scientific method’s need to prove or disprove a theory. That leads to creating either-or thinking. We know the Rule of Three helps us get out of dilemmas.

    First let me address the reframing of the first belief of the Growth Mindset. For me “hard work” leads to stress and from their I easily go into flight/fright/freeze mode which prompts me to stop learning. In your article you use the word practice. So I would rephrase the first tenant to be:
    “Skills arise from gentle persistent practice. You can improve.”

    I added the word “gentle” so that I might avoid rigidity. I would have preferred to use playful, and maybe I should, because the best learning comes from being playful.

    I also rephrase “Effort is essential to mastery” to “Practice is essential to mastery” and “Setbacks are something you use to try harder the next time” to “Setback are something to use to reflect on how you might do things differently the next time.”

    Now, to open up the dilemma with a third option I add a physiological component to the mindset model. Recently I’ve learned how to use simple physical techniques to move me out of flight/fight/freeze mode. These come from studying the Eden Energy Method (EEM) and Emotional Freedom (EFT) Technique. Positive Self-Talk may not have an impact when the blood has left the forebrain due to fear. At those times an EEM or EFT technique may help. I find that simply holding one hand against my forehead and the other against the base of my skull for several minutes calms me and allows me to think differently. The EFT tapping is also beneficial when I have a specific emotional trigger I want to shift.

    1. Marianne, I love the way you adapted the ideas to make words that resonated with you. The physiological component is about physical resilience, the first level of our resilience. Lovely!

    1. Yury, I notice you ignored the book references. IMO, you made up your mind before you commented. Until you read Dweck, Duckworth, and Amabile, at the least, or any of the books I reference, I am not interested in your unsubstantiated opinions. I especially recommend the Survival books for the focus on positive self-talk.

  3. Thank you, Johanna.

    I reread your post and realized that it has a broader scope than just “Practice Positive Self-Talk”.
    It looks like when I was reading it first time I was triggered by “Practice Positive Self-Talk” heading and lost an opportunity to comprehend its second part.

    As for my personal experience I do not believe that “positive self-talk” approach actually works.
    I believe that you can change your attitude through slow and intentional progress brought by actual doing (that is somewhat consistent with a content of a 2nd half of your article).

    I read a couple of Lawrence Gonzales books and am a big fan of his writing (I am not just sure how this writing is related to positive self-talk).

    Have you mentioned the following books?
    “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck,

    “Grit” by Angela Duckworth,

    “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work” by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer,

    I read quite a few Self-help books and found that they have very limited value.
    On the other hand, I value your opinion and am willing to read the Dweck, Duckworth and Amabile books you have recommended.

    Thank you

    1. Yury, I can believe that positive self-talk does not work for everyone. Yes, I mentioned those books in my first response to you. In Surviving Survival, the second Gonzalez book on my Books page, he discusses a lot about self-talk, unrealistic optimism, and realistic optimism. That’s why I recommended it on my Books page. Learned Optimism is not a self-help book. Seligman explains why learning optimism helps us with life in general.

      Self-help books are not that valuable for me, either. However, they often appear to be pop culture, not grounded in research. All the books I mentioned in this thread are grounded in research. Which is why I recommend them.

      I believe I do not have a link to Amabile and Kramer on my Books page. I do refer to it in many of my product development books.

  4. For me the practice, practice, practice is even more important than the positive self talk because every improvement I make from practicing grows my self-confidence which is directly tied to growing my self-esteem. So spot on Johanna.

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