There are many reasons why you might be struggling with a lack of confidence or self-esteem. Maybe you’ve been made redundant, are struggling to find a job, are going through a relationship breakup, or have been involved in a traumatic situation. Or perhaps you’ve just not been feeling your usual self recently.

Whatever has or is currently contributing to your lack of confidence and self-esteem, these feelings can impact your quality of life – so it’s important to acknowledge them. Admitting how you feel isn’t often easy, but it’s an important step to take towards believing in yourself again.

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

What are confidence and self-esteem?

What are confidence and self esteem

The terms confidence and self-esteem are closely linked, but they aren’t exactly the same.

Self-confidence is having confidence in your own powers and judgement. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and have a sense of control in your life. Examples of self-confidence include being able 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. So when our self-esteem is high, we understand our self-worth. But when it’s low, we tend to regard ourselves poorly.

While the two terms may sound similar, in reality, they’re 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 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 interact with the world.

Some of the common characteristics of a lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem include…

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

Why might we develop low confidence or self-esteem?

There are various reasons why someone might lack self-confidence or self-esteem. But some common examples include…

  • Early disapproval from parents or 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, for example, 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 things 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 – for example, by colleagues at work or a partner at home.

16 ways to improve your confidence and self-esteem

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

We’ll cover some of these below.

1. Be kind to yourself and practise self-love

Be kind to yourself and practise self-love

Being kind to yourself means being gentle and understanding when you’re being self-critical.

A good tip when it comes to self-love is to think about what you’d say to friends or family members who were struggling with negative or self-limiting thoughts – and to take your own advice (as tricky as that can be!).

We can often be harder on ourselves than anybody else – but we shouldn’t be, as the relationship that we have with ourselves is the most important relationship of all.

There are many ways to practise self-love – for example, allowing yourself ‘me time’ – which can be time set aside to do something that you enjoy, like going for a long walk, having a relaxing bath, or reading a 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’ve been putting off. By helping them, you’ll probably find that you’ll feel better about yourself and your capabilities.

You could also volunteer for a good cause. Why not look for an organisation that you’re 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 keep a gratitude journal. The things you write down could be as big or as small as you like: a morning dog walk, your favourite piece of music, time spent with your partner, children, and grandchildren, and so on.

A gratitude journal can help you feel more optimistic about yourself and your life. For this reason, some people find it useful to keep their journal or gratitude list close by for times when they’re feeling negative and need a reminder of the good things. If you’re interested in the prospect of journaling, you might like to check out our article; The power of journaling as a life habit.

In addition to keeping a gratitude journal, writing to-do lists 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, enjoy a sense of accomplishment, and take the opportunity to give yourself some praise. You could even start with something small to tick off like making the bed in the morning.

4. Practise positive thinking

Practise positive thinking

Try practising 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 like to read 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 just like our thoughts, our actions can have a powerful influence on our confidence and self-esteem too.

For example, if you meet up with a friend and spend the whole time listing off everything in life you’re unhappy with, it’s likely you’ll walk away feeling down. Whereas, if you spend a few hours having more positive, constructive conversations with a friend, you’re more likely to feel empowered and inspired.

It can be difficult to shift negative behaviour patterns towards more positive ones, but once you do, it’s likely that your confidence and self-esteem will improve.

To practise (and get used to) being more positive, you could try writing down something good you’ve achieved each day or something 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 tasks even if we don’t want to because it’s easier than saying no. However, if you find yourself saying yes to everything, there’s a risk that you may begin to feel resentful and overwhelmed by commitments.

This can then wreak havoc on your self-esteem because you might feel that you’re not behaving in a way that’s true to yourself or what you want. But, the good news is that there are ways to politely say no without having to create excuses. You can read more about this in our article; The power of saying no: 8 ways to say no and why it’s important.

Generally, saying no doesn’t cause problems with relationships, and if it does, then it’s important to question why (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 says no sometimes.

Remember, when you first start saying no, it might take a few attempts for the person you’re talking to to understand that no really means no. This can be tricky, but it’s important to stand by your decision if you know it’s best for you.

6. Learn something new 

Whether online or in-person, there are courses on all types of topics you might be interested in on the learning section of our website. Or, if you don’t want to take a course, why not read a book on a topic that you’d like to learn more about?

You’ll find plenty of reading inspiration in the books and literature section of our website.

By learning something new, you’ll stretch your abilities and keep your mind active. If the idea of learning a new skill feels daunting, perhaps you could start by taking a short course and slowly progress towards 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’ll hopefully achieve a sense of satisfaction when you’ve picked up a new skill or developed an existing one. It’ll 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 like to have a read our article; 18 ways to step outside of your comfort zone.

7. Trust your instincts

There’ll be situations when your gut feelings are telling you what to do or how you feel about a situation. Listening to your gut instinct more often and letting it guide you towards the correct path can help to build up confidence in your own intuition.

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

8. Get to know yourself

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 really listen to your thoughts.

If you’re experiencing low confidence and self-esteem, start by asking yourself why you’re 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’ve imagined? The more you explore questions like these, the better you’ll get to know yourself and (hopefully) the more confident you’ll become. Our article, 10 practices for self-exploration, has some ideas for additional questions you can ask yourself.

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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.

If you have a negative view of your body, there are some simple steps to take to help, such as staying active, eating a healthy diet, and dressing in a way that makes you feel good.

Walking is good exercise, as is dancing – and there are plenty of classes to join on our Rest Less Events platform from belly dancing to jazz. Meanwhile, adjusting your diet can be a matter of making some small, healthy swaps; for example, keeping condiments to a minimum and using Greek yoghurt instead of cream.

Dressing smartly also doesn’t require spending large sums of money on expensive clothing, because you can pick up plenty of bargains from high quality brands on eBay, Vinted, or in charity shops.

For more tips and advice, our article, 15 things you can do to start loving and accepting your body, is worth a read.

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’re assertive, then making decisions and putting them into action is often easier. This is because you’re acting in a way that’s 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’ll be, because you’ll be taking control of your life. 

11. Plan and prepare

When facing a new or potentially difficult situation, it’s important to plan for it.

For example, applying for a new job when you’ve been out of the workforce for some time can be daunting. But by preparing and planning for interviews, you’ll hopefully feel more confident.

Think about some of the questions you could be asked and prepare answers. You could see if you can get some interview practise by asking a friend to role-play an interview with you. 

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

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

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

Admit when you're wrong or have made a mistake

It’s a sign of strength to admit when you’ve made a mistake or are wrong. It isn’t always easy to do, but when you do, you’ll be respected. Accept that, although not every idea you have will work, it’s important to be honest about the final outcome.

Everyone makes mistakes, but your mistakes don’t define you. Instead, try to see mistakes as opportunities you can learn from, so you can move forward and look to do better next time.

13. Keep going when you want to give up

There’ll 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.

It might be that you promised to start an exercise routine, and 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 and are having doubts about whether you’ll complete it.

In both scenarios, you might feel like giving up altogether. However, it’s important to keep going as 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

It’s easy to compare ourselves to others – especially nowadays when we see people’s seemingly picture-perfect lives on social media.

But self-comparison is never helpful and can leave you feeling low, not good enough, and lacking the confidence to go after your goals. Instead, it can be more helpful to focus on what you’ve achieved in the past and what you hope to achieve in the future.

If you feel social media is fuelling your habit of comparing yourself to others, it can be helpful to take a break from social media from time to time. This can help you to concentrate on all the good things in your life 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. Remember, we all have weaknesses.

It can also be useful to talk to a trusted friend or family member about what they see as your strengths and weaknesses too, to get an external perspective. Sometimes, others see us as strong in areas we feel 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 start feeling more self-confident. Chances are, you’ll also find hidden strengths – ones you can call on when times are tough.

For example, being an introvert can sometimes be seen as a weakness, but it isn’t. Introverts often have good listening skills, are observant and compassionate, and think before they speak.

16. Practise speaking more slowly

Practise speaking more slowly

Speaking more slowly might sound like a simple thing to do, but it can make a difference as to how you’re viewed by others.

If you listen to those in a position of authority, they speak slowly – which suggests confidence. The person who believes they’re not worth listening to will rush through what they have to say because they don’t want to waste their audience’s time.

Try practising speaking slowly in the mirror. 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 like to have a read of our article; How to become a more confident speaker.

Final thoughts...

There are many ways to help yourself regain your self-confidence and self-esteem. However, if you feel you need further support, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be useful.

Overcoming your lack of confidence and self-esteem can be challenging, but it’s possible. If it takes longer to regain it than you’d hoped for, in the meantime try to simply pretend that you feel confident – you might be surprised by how much this can help to give your real confidence and self-esteem a boost.

Keep in mind that you’re more courageous and stronger than you believe. Try to trust yourself and work on loving the person you are, and your confidence and self-esteem will start to build.

For more personal development content, head over to the healthy mind section of our website. Here you’ll find articles on everything from how to develop a sense of belonging to ways to tackle loneliness.

Have you experienced a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem? What things have helped you rebuild your confidence? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.