9 ways to build self-worth and confidence, according to modern psychology

by Roselle Umlas | February 15, 2024, 3:30 pm

It’s no secret that to feel fulfilled and have great relationships, we need to have a healthy sense of self-worth and confidence. 

While these two terms are often used interchangeably, there’s actually a distinction between them. 

According to Psych Central, “Self-worth is your deeply held feeling about your own value as a person. Self-confidence is how much you truly believe in yourself and what you can do.”

That difference aside, these two concepts are inherently connected and contribute to better relationships, work, health, and overall mental and emotional well-being. 

Unfortunately, because we all go through different experiences in life, we have varying levels of self-worth and confidence. 

But the good thing is, modern psychology offers us some insightful ways to improve them. 

Let’s take a look at some evidence-based methods we can use to build self-worth and confidence: 

1) Challenge negative thoughts

Before anything else, let’s get this straight – building self-worth and confidence is often a matter of first unlearning a lot of things, most notably negative thoughts. 

The human brain is a curious thing – it’s wired to pay attention to the negative more than to the positive. 

So, it gives the inner critic – which we all have – quite a large platform to talk. And if we listen to it all the time, accepting what it says without question, it can do a real number on our sense of self-worth and confidence

That’s why experts urge us to remember that thoughts are not facts. That they are, in fact, most of the time, distortions caused by the inner critic, stress, and situational demands.

What they suggest, aside from challenging those thoughts, is to replace them with positive self-talk (e.g. “I’ll ace this test!). 

Or better yet, positive “effort-talk”, in which we focus on what we can do (e.g. “I’ll do my best!”). 

An interesting study on the effects of self-talk on mindset showed that kids who practiced positive effort-talk did better than those who used positive self-talk or none at all. 

Keep that in mind the next time a negative thought pops up in your head. You don’t have to give it any power over you!

2) Look at what DOESN’T determine your worth and look at what DOES

Here’s what you might have forgotten as you grew older and the world started exerting so much pressure to succeed: You are a human BEING, not a human DOING. 

What exactly does that mean? 

Simply this – that your worth does not depend on what you do. That you have intrinsic worth, whether or not you get rich or get awards. Whether or not you have a fabulous job or a stable family. 

Whether or not you DO anything! 

So, what determines your worth, then? Well, it depends on what’s within you. Not on outside forces. Things like your values. Integrity. Kindness. Respect. 

If you’re struggling to gauge how you view and value yourself, clinical psychologist Dr. Sabrina Romanoff in VeryWellMind suggests these self-reflection questions:

  • How much do you like, respect, and value yourself?
  • Which words would you use to describe yourself to a stranger?
  • When you self-reflect and think about yourself, are your thoughts generally positive, negative, or somewhere in between?
  • Do you believe you are worthy of others’ love, respect, and consideration

3) Provide unconditional love, respect, and positive regard

I have to admit that I used to struggle with self-worth myself. I come from a broken family, so there was some degree of self-blame, a feeling that I wasn’t enough. You know, the typical complicated feelings that kids in such situations go through. 

Fortunately, I lived with my grandmother, who took it upon herself to raise me and fuse my broken parts together with unconditional love. 

No matter how badly I behaved, she was firm in her love for me. I’d get a tongue-lashing, sure, but never did I feel like she no longer loved me. 

I remember asking her once when I’d smushed her favorite lipstick, “How come you still love me even after I did that?” 

And I’ll never forget what she said: “Because I don’t love you for what you do or don’t do. I love you for who you are.”

In short, that love was a guiding light in my life. Despite my circumstances, I learned to love myself for who I was, not what I could do. 

That’s why psychologists say that unconditional love is key to building self-worth, especially in adolescents.

In fact, researchers at Michigan State University cite it as one of two main self-worth building strategies. The other one is…

4) Do things you enjoy and are good at

Or if you’re raising a child or a teenager, give them opportunities to experience success. 

You see, getting good at something – and enjoying it – can provide positive reinforcement and make you feel capable and proficient. 

Having regular reminders of your talents, strengths, and abilities can help make you more confident in other areas of your life as well.

5) Set achievable goals

Now, let’s talk about something that can make all the difference in giving us that feeling of being capable – goals. 

More specifically, realistic goals. 

Many people fall into the trap of having big dreams but setting unrealistic or vague goals towards them. The result? Mission fails. Bubble bursts. Self-confidence plummets. 

Psychologists recommend setting goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It’s a common psychological strategy to develop self-confidence. 

The idea operates on the same principle as what we discussed earlier – the opportunities to experience success. 

When you work towards smaller, more manageable goals, you have a better chance to succeed. Which then increases your confidence and emboldens you to take on bigger challenges. It’s really that simple. 

6) Get moving

Here’s another one that’s absolutely simple – move your body. 

Physical activity releases endorphins, which naturally elevates your mood. Whether it’s a brisk walk, a jog, or even dancing, exercise can make you feel better about yourself.

There’s real science behind that. According to a study, physical activity can help promote a positive self-concept and psychological well-being in adolescents. 

That’s because it improves physical perceptions and body satisfaction. 

Think about it – don’t you feel more in control of your body – and your life – when you exercise regularly? 

I know that I feel so much more capable when I finish a HIIT routine or lift weights. I feel like I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. 

Maybe it’s the endorphins talking or the vision of myself enduring and being strong in the mirror, but whatever it is, I’ll take it! 

7) Engage in mindfulness and meditation practices

Just as physical activity is important, so is knowing how to be still. How to be present. 

Why? Because it teaches you to be more thoughtful. That way, you don’t get overly reactive or overwhelmed by your surroundings or situation. 

The positive correlation between mindfulness and self-worth and confidence is kind of a three-step process: 

First, it reduces anxiety and stress. This is crucial because when you’re constantly stressed or anxious, you’re operating from a place of fear or insecurity, which isn’t conducive to building self-worth. 

Then, as you find yourself less burdened by these negative emotions, something amazing happens. You start feeling more capable, like you can actually handle what life throws your way. 

This greater sense of capability then leads to higher self-worth and confidence. You start to believe in your own ability to navigate challenges, and that belief is empowering. 

It’s a transformative cycle, one that begins with the simple act of being present. So if you don’t have a mindfulness practice yet, I urge you to start one today. 

8) Surround yourself with the right people

Going back to my story about my grandma shows how big a difference social support makes on one’s self-worth. 

Studies show that social support is crucial in building self-concept and self-esteem. 

Consider this – would you hold yourself in high esteem if everyone around you doesn’t? If the message you’re always hearing is, “You’re not good enough”?

That would be hard, right? 

So, choose the people you surround yourself with. Opt for relationships that are positive, supportive, and uplifting. 

9) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Like I said earlier, the way we perceive ourselves is typically a result of our past experiences. 

What if those perceptions are so deeply ingrained that we just can’t shake them off by sheer willpower or motivational quotes? 

For instance, folks who’ve had an unhappy childhood where they were often neglected or abused may have grown up believing that they’re not worth the attention. The love. The effort. 

That they’re a waste of space. Not capable of accomplishing anything in life.

I know just how deeply rooted those thoughts can be. So deep that they might have come across as “truth”. 

That’s where CBT comes in. This form of therapy helps you identify negative thought patterns and beliefs, and then challenge and change them.

It’s an evidence-based approach that has been found to effectively address some mental health issues, including low self-esteem and lack of confidence.

And if you cringe at the thought of therapy, remember this: there’s no shame in asking for help. In fact, it’s a sign of strength to recognize when you need assistance and seek it out.

Self-worth and self-confidence are an inside job, for sure, but there’s no reason why you have to struggle alone. 

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