Self-Esteem is a Practice

Written by
Michael Wells

Self-Esteem is a Practice

Here's Where You Start

Written by
Michael Wells

Self-Esteem is a Practice

Here's Where You Start

Written by
Michael Wells

This article is part of the series 


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This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.


Recently I was asked this question;

“How does self-esteem work?
“Do we feel low self-esteem because others view us negatively? Or does low self-esteem cause others to have a negative view of us?”
“Or does low self-esteem cause us to highlight others' negative views and conclude that this is accurate feedback from the environment?”
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The answer is... all of the above.

But let’s get detailed, because that’s where we can win some important perspective on the dynamics behind self-esteem.

“Do other people view us negatively… ?”

Yes, all the time.

I’ve no doubt that everyone, at some point in life, will meet someone who does not really like them. I like to think I’m a pretty decent, likeable guy, and yet it happens to me all the time.

But so what? It’s good that there are different people out there. The world would be pretty boring if we were all a bunch of clones.

Stop and think for a moment about someone that you don’t really like. How do you approach this problem? Does this affect your world in a major way? Or, do you simply choose to spend time with other people who you click better with?

Chances are, it barely affects you at all. And if you’re honest, you probably don’t dislike them 100%. There may be some things you don’t understand, or that you dislike about them- but you can almost certainly find positive things as well.

Other people feel the same way about you and me, too.

Being different is a good thing. Let others be different, even if you don’t really appreciate those differences.

But make sure to let yourself be different, too. Other people do not need to like you for you to be perfectly awesome.

“Does low self-esteem cause others to have a negative view of us?”

Yes it does.

Go stand on a busy street corner, and look straight up at the sky. Just stand there, looking up, for about 10 minutes, while other people are walking by.

How many people do you think will stop and look up, too?

Probably, a lot of them.

We are social creatures, which means that we are subconsciously driven to react to our world the way other people around us do. If one person is reacting to something, then at an emotional level, others will tend to feel those emotions too, and feel the need to react similarly.

They can’t even explain why, because it’s an emotional experience, and not a rational one.

That’s why as kids - when we’re mostly emotion - it’s common for one kid to get shunned out of the pack, and no one will go near them. It’s not that this is a bad kid, or even that no one likes them- it’s groupthink.

In psychological terms, it’s known as The Bandwagon Effect.

Just like the looking-up-at-the-sky experiment, other people will automatically and subconsciously be affected by how you react to the world.

And that includes how you react to yourself.

How people see you is influenced by how you see yourself, and how people treat you is influenced by how you treat yourself.

Treat yourself well.

Does low self-esteem cause us to highlight others' negative views and conclude that this is accurate feedback from the environment?

Absolutely, and this is the most important one to understand.

I saved this one for last, because it’s the most interesting, and I’m very glad to see that you’re aware of it. Clearly you’re a deep thinker.

What you’re describing here is known as confirmation bias.

We’re rarely aware of it, but our brain operates in a specific order - emotion-than-thought. We feel something first, and then our rational mind seeks to confirm it.

  • If you feel scared, you’ll begin looking for a threat.
  • If you feel happy, you’ll begin looking for the good things that must be happening to you.
  • If you feel angry, you’ll be looking for the enemy. Clearly, someone is trying to hurt you.
  • If you have high self-esteem, you’ll notice the things about yourself that you appreciate, and you’ll blur out the few things you’re not yet proud of.
  • If you have low self-esteem, you’ll seek to confirm that feeling too. You’ll emphasize the things that you dislike, and you’ll blur out all of the great things about yourself.

There are a lot of reasons your mind has evolved to work this way, which are touched on in some great books- I recommend Sapiens, and Thinking Fast and Slow as good starting points.

More importantly is understanding this-

Just as your thoughts watch and react to your emotions, your emotions also watch and react to your thoughts.

This is your superpower- if you learn how to wield it.

We have very little direct control over our emotional brain. but we have the ability to direct our thoughts.

If you choose to direct your thoughts towards positive things about yourself, your emotions will react positively to those thoughts. Those positive emotions will generate more positive thoughts, which generate more positive emotions…

Soon your mind, and your life are on a constructive spiral, rather than a destructive one.

How to Practice Self-Esteem

This will sound shockingly simple, but trust me, it will change your world.

#1 - Invest in yourself.

  1. Invest in your mind. Learn things. Learn psychology. Study arts. Develop skills. Most importantly, choose things that interest you, and that you hold in high regard.
  2. Invest in your body. Go to the gym. Learn about nutrition. Set challenges like a marathon ( start reasonable, if you’re not there yet. ). Spend a bit on clothes you look good in.
  3. Invest in your social world. Make time for good friends even when you don’t feel like it. They’re important, and being around good people will improve your life in all kinds of ways.
  4. Invest in your future. What’s on your calendar? What goals do you have? Do you have a “bucket list?” People who are happy and successful are often quite clear about the future they are creating. Their mind simply doesn’t have time to be bored, and to engage in pointless self-torture.

#2 - Intentionally appreciate things.

  1. Make time to appreciate what you have. Go for a walk every day, simply to appreciate the fact that you can walk, and that fresh air smells great. It’s a great place to reflect on what you want from your life too.
  2. Make a list of 3 things that you like about yourself. Could be your health, your education, your looks, specific life experiences- anything at all. Keep that list handy. Any time you’re feeling down, focus on those 3 things. When you find a new one, add it to the list. As you build your life, and grow into the person you want to become, your list will grow too.

#3 - Reframe your negative emotions.

Any time you notice your mind doing negative self-esteem-lowering things, catch it, and redirect it. Use that as motivation. Instead of

“I’m unhappy, and I don’t like myself… let me list all of the ways I’m unhappy, and all the things I don’t like about myself.”

You want this reaction…

“I’m unhappy. Life could be better, and I’d like to feel more proud of who I am. What can I do right now towards that better me and better life?”

Then go do that. Right now.

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This article is part of the series 


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First published on 
. Last updated on 
November 22, 2021

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