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Self-Esteem: How To Develop It

Updated on June 26, 2010
self-esteem is essential to your mental health
self-esteem is essential to your mental health


Our self-esteem can decrease in ways that are imperceptible to us. Over a period of time, we can gradually buy into a reduced sense of our own possibilities in life. This makes it less likely that we will take risks, create a vision for the future, and accomplish our goals.

In the past 30 years, psychologists have conducted several key studies about self-efficacy. This word refers to your belief in your ability to determine the outcome of events - especially outcomes that are strongly influenced by your behavior. A strong sense of self-efficacy enables you to take on problems with confidence, set long term goals, and see hard tasks as a creative challenge instead of potential disasters.

The field of self-efficacy research is closely associated with psychologist Albert Bandura of Stanford University. While self esteem refers to an overall impression of your abilities, self-efficacy is more exact - pointing to specific factors that influence the way you think, act, and feel. According to Bandura, self-efficacy has several sources. You can use specific strategies to strengthen them.

Albert Bandura's Theory

Set Up Situations You Can Win

Start out by planning scenarios in which you can succeed. Bandora calls scenarios "Mastery Situations." For example, set yourself up to succeed by breaking a big project down into small tasks. Then tackle and complete the first task. This accomplishment will help you move on to the next task with higher self-efficacy. Success comes with MORE succsess.

setting goals for yourself is important
setting goals for yourself is important

Set Goals

If you want to boost self-efficacy, you have to be picky about the goals you set. According to research, goals that you find easy to meet won't build your self-efficacy. Instead set goals that challenge you to overcome obstacles, make continuous effort, and even fail once in a while.

At the same time, it is important to avoids situations which you are often likely to fail. Setting goals that you have little chance of meeting can undermine your self-efficacy. Ideal goals are both challenging and achievable.

Have A Model

In self-efficacy research, the word model has a special definition.  The term refers to someone who is similar to you in certain ways and who succeeds at things that you want to succeed in.  To find a model, gather with people who share your interests.  Look for people that you have a lot in common with - and who have mastered the skills  that you want to master.  Besides demonstrating strategies and techniques for you to use, these people hold out a real possibility of success for you.

Challenge The Conversation About Yourself

Monitor what you think and say about yourself. This self-talk might be so habitual that you don't even notice it.  Whether or not you are fully aware of them or not, your thoughts and thinking can make or break your self-efficacy.

Try to pay close attention and notice when you speak or think negatively about yourself.  Telling the truth about your weaknesses is one thing.  Constantly underrating yourself is another thing. In the conversation about yourself, go for balance.  Tell the truth about the times you set a goal and didn't achieve it.  Take the time to write and think about the goals you achieve and what works well in your life.

Those with a strong sense of self-efficacy attribute their failures to the skills that you currently lack - and that they can acquire in the future.  This strategy chooses not to look on failures as permanent, personal defects.  Instead of saying "I just don't have what it takes to become a skilled test taker," say "I can develop techniques to help me remember key facts even when I feel stressed." 

stress doesn't have to control you
stress doesn't have to control you

Interpret Stress In A Different Way

Accomplishing your goals might put you in the middle of situations that make you feel stress. You may find yourself meeting new people, holding a meeting, speaking in public, or doing something else that you have never done before. That can feel scary.

Remember that stress comes in two forms - thoughts, and physical sensations. Thoughts include mental pictures of yourself making mistakes, being publicly humiliated, and statements like "This is the worst possible thing that could happen to me." Sensations include shortness of breath, dry mouth, knots in your stomach, headaches, tingling feelings, and other forms of discomfort.

The way you interpret stress as you become aware of it can make a huge difference in your sense of self-efficacy. At times when you want to do well, you might rely on personal impressions in order to judge your performance. At these times, see if you can focus your attention. Instead of attaching negative interpretations to your experience of stress, simply notice your thoughts and sensations. Release them instead of dwelling on them or trying to resist them. As you observe yourself over time, you may find that the physical sensations associated with your sense of stress and your sense of excitement are largely the same. Instead of viewing these sensations as signs of of doom, see them as a boost of energy and enthusiasm that you can channel into performing well.

Compare Yourself To Yourself

Our own failures are often more dramatic to us than the failures of others, our own successes are often more invisible.  When we are unsure of ourselves, we can look in any direction and see people who seem more competent and more confident than we do.  When we start the comparison game, we open the door to self-doubt.

There is a way to play the comparison game and win.  Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself.  Measure your success in terms of self-improvement rather than of others triumphs.  Take time to note any progress you have made toward your goals over time. Celebrate your success in any area of life, no matter how small that success might seem.

Take In The Acknowledgements Of Others

Instead of deflecting compliments ("It was nothing"), fully receive the positive things that others say about you ("Thank you").  Also take public credit for your successes.  "Well, I was just lucky" can change into "I worked hard to achieve that goal."


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a really great hub and you offer some excellent advice. Thanks

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      8 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Thoughts are powerful - we can be anything we want to be! Great Hub! Motivation but concrete too!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      That self-fulfilling prophecy says that whatever we tell ourselves we are, we will be. If we tell ourselves that people like us, they generally will. If we tell ourselves that we're a loser and nobody likes us, it'll probably turn out that way.


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