16 ways to improve your confidence and self-esteem

There are many reasons why you might be struggling with a loss of confidence or self-esteem. The disruption that the pandemic caused to our daily lives is one of them. Other reasons might include being made redundant, being turned away from a job that you interviewed for and believed you were sure to get, the breakup of a relationship, or being involved in a traumatic situation – whether it be an accident or an abusive relationship.

Whatever has led to your loss of confidence and self-esteem, it’s important to first acknowledge this loss, and to recognise how it could be impacting your quality of life. Admitting how you feel isn’t always easy, but it’s an important step towards starting to believe in yourself again.

Below we’ll take an in-depth look at what confidence and self-esteem are, and how you can start to rebuild them.

What are confidence and self-esteem?

The terms confidence and self-esteem are closely linked, but are not the same.

Self-confidence is having confidence in one’s own powers and judgment. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and have a feeling of control in your life. Examples of self-confidence include having the confidence to make tough decisions or give presentations in front of large groups of people.

Self-esteem refers to self-acceptance, and how we view ourselves. For example, how valuable we see our place in the world. The word “esteem” means to have great respect or high regard for. When it is applied to ourselves and it is high, then we consider ourselves highly. When our self-esteem is low, we regard ourselves poorly. Put simply, self-esteem is our evaluation of ourselves as human beings.

While the two terms might sound similar, in reality, they are quite different. You can still be self-confident, but have low self-esteem, and vice versa. In a nutshell, self-confidence is predominantly linked to a gauge of trust in our abilities, while self-esteem is more closely linked to our sense of self. But both can influence how we see others, and how we interact with the world.

Some of the common characteristics of a lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem are:

  • Avoiding social situations
  • Being depressed or sad
  • Comparing yourself negatively to others
  • Difficulty trusting your own judgement
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Having a low mood
  • Having difficulty accepting compliments
  • Neglecting your own needs, in particular your emotional ones

Why might we develop low confidence or self-esteem?

There are a vast number of reasons why someone might develop low self-confidence or self-esteem. But some common examples include:

  • Early disapproval from parents, or from other influential people (such as teachers). Or disapproval at any age from people who we trust and are close to, such as friends or partners.
  • Ongoing stressful life events, like problems at work, and/or financial or relationship issues. When something important in our life isn’t going well, we can start to hone in on what we might have done wrong, which can affect how we see ourselves, and how capable we feel we are.
  • Fear of the unknown, and worrying about what might happen if we make a mistake. This can stop us from doing the things we want to do because we believe the consequences will be too embarrassing or painful.
  • Going through a life-altering illness, which affects our ability to do certain things.
  • Being bullied or intimidated by people around us e.g. by colleagues at work, or by a partner at home.

16 ways to improve your confidence and self-esteem

If you’re struggling with your own confidence and/or self-esteem, then the good news is that there are things that you can do to restore them, and start feeling happier and more comfortable in your own skin.

1. Be kind to yourself and practice self-love

Being kind to yourself means being gentle with yourself when you feel like being self-critical. A good tip is to think about what you would say to a friend or a family member who is battling with negative or self-limiting  thoughts, and to take your own advice (as tricky as that can be!). Being kind to ourselves can come easier if we treat ourselves in the same way we would a loved one.

It’s also important to practice self-care (both physically and emotionally), as this can lend weight to self-love. We can be harder on ourselves than we can on anybody else – but we shouldn’t be, as the relationship that we have with ourselves is the most important relationship there is. 

Rather than falling into the trap of self-denigration and letting it sap your energy, instead look at ways of learning to love yourself instead. Perhaps this could take the form of allowing yourself “me time” – which should be time set aside to do something that you enjoy, whether that means going on a long walk, having a relaxing bath, or reading a good book.  It can also involve celebrating your achievements (even the small ones), and recognising your strengths.

2. Offer to help someone else

Ask your partner or a friend if you can do something for them. It can be as basic as helping them with a task you know they have been putting off. By helping them, you’ll probably find that you will feel better about yourself and your capabilities.

You could also volunteer for a good cause. Why not look for an organisation that you are interested in and see what kind of volunteering vacancies they have, or search for wider volunteering opportunities in your local area?

3. Keep a gratitude journal, and write a to-do list

Another helpful way to improve confidence and self-esteem is to spend some time each day or week thinking about what in your life makes you feel good, and keeping a gratitude journal. The things you write down could be as big or as small as you like – for example, you might feel grateful for your morning dog walk, your favourite piece of music, or for time spent with your partner, children and grandchildren.

A gratitude journal can help you feel more optimistic about yourself and your life, leading to an improvement in your mental wellbeing. It’s worth keeping the list close by for those times when you’re feeling negative and need a reminder of the good things in your life.

In addition, writing a to-do list is always a positive action to take, whether or not you need to boost your confidence and self-esteem. As you complete an item on your list, you can tick it off, feel a sense of accomplishment, and take the opportunity to give yourself some praise.

4. Practice positive thinking

Try to practice thinking positively rather than negatively. When you start thinking you aren’t good enough, or won’t be able to achieve your goals, why not tell yourself that you are good enough, and that you will succeed in attaining what you want? You might want to have a read of our articles, How to learn the skill of optimism and 7 powerful ways to conquer self-limiting beliefs, to learn more about how to challenge negative thoughts.

And while our thoughts can have a powerful influence on our confidence and self-esteem, so can our actions. For example, if you meet up with a friend and spend the whole time listing off everything in life you are unhappy with, it’s likely you will walk away feeling very down about your current situation – and potentially even trapped. Whereas if you spend a few hours having some more positive, constructive conversations with a friend, you are more likely to walk away feeling empowered and inspired. It can be difficult to shift negative behaviour patterns towards more positive ones, but once you do, it’s likely your confidence and self-esteem will improve.

To practice (and get used to) being more positive, you could try writing down something good that you have achieved each day, or that you remember achieving in the past. You could also include encouraging things that others have said about you. Then make time each day or week to add to your list, and keep it close -, so that in the event of a dip in your self-confidence or self-esteem, you’ll have a gentle reminder of all the positive things that you’ve achieved.

5. Learn to say no

Many of us are guilty of agreeing to take on a task even if we don’t want to, because it is easier to do that than causing a problem by saying no. But, whilst you might feel you’re being helpful by saying yes to everything, the danger is that you could eventually become angry, depressed and overwhelmed by these commitments. This can then wreak havoc with our self-esteem because we feel that we are not behaving in a way that is true to ourselves and what we want. There are ways to politely say no without having to create excuses. Grammarly has a good blog post about saying no which is worth a read.

Generally, saying no doesn’t cause problems with relationships, and if it does, then it’s important to question why (as people who respect you, should also respect your decisions). It might, however, take the people around you some time to adjust to you being someone that now says no sometimes. When you first start saying no, it might take a few attempts to get your point across, until the person you’re talking to understands that no really means no. If a person doesn’t take your first no at face value, then it’s important to stand by your decision, and not to give in.

6. Learn something new 

Whether you take an online course or, as we ease out of lockdown, an in-person class. There are plenty of classes on all types of topics on the learning section of our website here. Or, if you don’t want to take a class, then why not read a book on a topic that you would like to learn more about?

By learning something new, you will stretch your abilities, and keep your mind active. If the idea of learning a new skill feels daunting, then perhaps you could start off by taking a short course, and then slowly progress to taking longer courses, or learning about topics in more depth.

Whether the topic you choose to learn about is work related or purely for pleasure, you will hopefully achieve a sense of satisfaction when you’ve picked up a new skill or developed an existing one. It will also boost your confidence knowing that you can take on new activities and succeed. For more ideas and inspiration on challenging yourself to try new things, you might want to read our article 18 ways to step outside of your comfort zone.

7. Trust your instincts

There will be situations when your gut feelings are telling you what to do or how you feel about a situation. By listening to our gut instincts more, and letting these guide us towards the correct path, we can start to build up confidence in our own intuition.

Trusting your instincts is also a large part of learning to trust yourself. If you have feelings of self-doubt about your instincts, then this will undermine you and affect your confidence. Instead, believe that you have gut instincts for a reason, and that your opinions and decisions are perfectly valid.

8. Get to know yourself

Getting to know who you are is an integral part of forming a positive, healthy relationship with yourself. It’s important to take a deeper look at who you are from time to time, and to really listen to your thoughts – you might want to write them down in a journal if helpful.

If you’re experiencing low confidence and self-esteem, then start by asking yourself why you are having negative thoughts and self-doubts, and try to identify what these insecurities are. Then contrast these with some of your strengths, and things that you like about yourself. Ask yourself: are the limitations you impose on yourself real, or ones you have imagined? The more you explore questions like these, the better you will get to know yourself, and (hopefully) the more confident you will become. Our article, 10 practices for self-exploration has some ideas for additional questions to ask yourself.

9. Get comfortable in your own skin

Body image also plays a part in how confident you are. If you don’t feel good about the way you look, it can dent your confidence. Should you have a negative view of your body image, then there are some simple steps to take, like getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and dressing in a way that makes you feel good which can help. None of these need to cost a vast amount of money either.

Walking is good exercise, and diet is a matter of looking to see if there are items you can cut out of your diet that are causing weight gain. Dressing smartly doesn’t require spending large sums of money on expensive clothing, as you can pick up plenty of bargains from high-quality brands on eBay or in charity shops. Once you start to feel more confident in your own skin, you’ll be ready to tackle the world.

10. Be more assertive

An assertive person stands up for what they believe in and follows through with it. They don’t let people make them feel small or talk down to them. If you are assertive, then making decisions and putting them into action is often easier. This is because you are acting in a way that is true to what you believe, rather than succumbing to pressure from others.

The more assertive you become (in a positive way of course), the more self-confident and self-assured you will become, because you will be taking control of your life. 

11. Plan and prepare

When facing a new or a potentially difficult situation, it’s important to plan for it. For example, applying for a new job when you have been out of the workforce for some time can be daunting. By preparing and planning for the interview, you will hopefully feel more confident. Think about some of the questions you could be asked and come up with answers. You could see if you can get some interview practice in the form of a role-play, by asking a friend to help you. 

Simple actions, like researching the company, will help with the interview. If the company is local, pay them a visit so you will know the best route to get there and how long it will take. These steps will all help your confidence.

Planning and preparation doesn’t just apply to employment opportunities, but to any new and/or potentially difficult situations. The more you can plan and prepare, the more confident you will be.

12. Admit when you're wrong or have made a mistake

It is a sign of strength to admit you have made a mistake or are wrong. It isn’t easy to do, but when you do, you will be respected. Accept that not every idea you have will work, but that regardless, you are prepared to be honest about the final outcome.

Understand that you will make mistakes, but that mistakes don’t have to equal failure. Instead, try to see mistakes as  opportunities that you will learn from, so you can move forward and look to do better next time.

13. Keep going when you want to give up

There will often be times when you want to give up on a goal – perhaps because it’s not going to plan and you feel disheartened and demoralised as a result. It might be that you promised to start an exercise routine, but have since had to be honest with yourself about the fact that you don’t have time to do it in the way you planned. Or perhaps you’ve started a course but are finding it more difficult than you thought it would be, and are having doubts about whether you’ll complete it.

In both scenarios, you might feel like giving up altogether, but it’s important not to do this – and to keep going the best you can. Even if that means cutting your exercise routine down, or seeking help from a tutor. Our confidence and self-esteem can often take a hit when we quit something because we decide that we aren’t good enough, so even if you have to adjust your original expectations of a situation, try to keep at it.

14. Avoid comparing yourself to others

If you find yourself comparing yourself to others, it’s best to avoid doing so. Why? Because it will make you feel bad about yourself. It also doesn’t help you accomplish your goals. Instead, look at what you have achieved in the past, and focus on what you hope to achieve in the future.

With the rise of social media, not comparing ourselves to others can be easier said than done. So, from time to time, it can help to take a social media break (for a few days or even weeks). This way, we can concentrate on our own lives and progress, and worry less about what others are doing.

15. Understand your strengths and weaknesses

Identifying your strengths and weaknesses can go a long way in helping to boost your confidence. Try writing down a list of your strengths and weaknesses – where any weaknesses are seen as points for improvement, rather than failures.

It can also be useful to talk to a trusted friend or family member (one who always has your best interests at heart) about what they see are your strengths and weaknesses too, to get an external perspective. Sometimes, others see us as strong in areas that we feel we are weak.

Look at your list, celebrate your strengths, and consider ways you can improve upon your weaknesses. Often, when we stop seeing weaknesses as things that define us, and we take steps to work on them, we can start to feel more self-confident. Chances are, you will also find that you do have hidden strengths – the ones that you do call upon when times are tough to pull you through those situations.

It’s interesting to note that being an introvert can be seen as a weakness, but it isn’t. Introverts have good listening skills; they are very observant, compassionate and think before they speak.

16. Consider speaking more slowly

Speaking more slowly might sound like a simple thing to do, but it can make a difference as to how you are viewed by others. If you listen to those in a position of authority, they speak slowly, showing confidence. The person who believes they are not worth listening to will rush through what they have to say because they don’t want to waste their audience’s time.

Try practicing speaking slowly a few times in the mirror, as this will hopefully help you to feel more confident about the real thing. Of course, there’s no need to take it to the extreme; it’s about finding a middle ground between speaking too slowly and speaking too fast. For more tips, you might want to check out our article on How to become a more confident speaker.

And finally...

There are many ways to help yourself regain your self-confidence and self-esteem, but there may come a time when you need to ask for support. There are therapies like counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which can help, which you can refer yourself to, or you might prefer to ask your GP to make a referral for you.

Overcoming your lack of confidence and self-esteem is going to be a challenge, but it is possible. If it takes longer to regain it than you hoped for, then a tip can be to pretend that you feel confident in the meantime – you might be surprised at how much this can help to give your real confidence and self-esteem a boost.

Always try to keep in mind that you are more courageous than you believe, and you are positively stronger than you think. Trust yourself. Having confidence allows you to have fun, and when you are having fun you can do some marvellous things. Love the person you are. When others see that you are confident and have high self-esteem they will be drawn to you. Just have the courage to believe in yourself, and your confidence and self-esteem will soon return.

Have you experienced loss of your self-confidence or self-esteem? Are you looking for support in your quest to regain them? Join the conversation on the Rest Less Community forum or leave a comment below.

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