Self-Esteem, Part III: How Can I Increase My Self-Esteem?
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6 Ways to Optimize Performance Through Openness & Accountability

By: Will Schutz, Ph.D.

If an organization, or anyone, can’t increase my self- esteem, how can I do it myself?  Five methods are described here for beginning a process of improving self-esteem.


1. Affirmations

The first approach is at the behavior level. Although it does not get at the root of low self-esteem, it is helpful to practice more positive behavior while the pursuit of causes—the next four methods—is progressing.

At the level of behavior, these behaviors may be practiced as an aid for increasing self esteem:

  • Tell my truth, let myself and others know what my truth is.
  • Be aware that I am always choosing and accept responsibility without blame for everything happening in my life.
  • Seek deeper self-awareness, read, discuss, ponder, improve my awareness of old programs and deeper levels of being.
  • Give up blame, postpone judgment, listen and understand before defending or attacking or making others wrong.
  • Envision my ideal Keep in mind I am choosing the way I want to be.
  • Don’t lie, don’t blame, don’t withhold, don’t deceive myself.
  • Question my limiting beliefs.  I am aware that any time I tell myself I cannot do something, I am right.
  • Be in touch with my body, listen for ever present cues.
  • Treat my growth and myself with respect and patience, rather than irritation and judgment, and maintain the larger perspective of developing along my own path.

2. Ideal Self

This method converts into a measurement the concept that self-esteem depends on how much I am like my ideal self.  It helps me pinpoint which aspects of me are unsatisfactory and therefore prevent me from feeling better about myself.  Once I find the unsatisfactory parts, I can discover my payoffs for not being more the way I want to be. By taking the difference between what I am and what I want to be, I derive a measure of my self-esteem.

Example of items are:

  • I act more competent than I really feel.
  • I don’t feel alive enough.
  • I prevent people from seeing I am as significant as I am.

3. Choice

Now, I use the concept of choice, or self-responsibility, to take the next step. Rather than simply promise myself to “just change” those items I feel are unsatisfactory, I assume I choose to have these deficiencies because I get a payoff for it. To find the payoff, I remind myself that this is not an exercise in judging myself as good or bad. I must allow myself to see myself without judgment, in the spirit of exploration and understanding. After bringing my payoffs to my awareness, I am in a position to make a conscious decision about what I want to do. For each of the most unsatisfactory items I write down my payoff for feeling this way. The payoff must be positive and not flippant. I keep in mind that the payoffs are rewarding enough to prevent me from esteeming myself more, so they must be potent.

Example of a payoff: I act less competent than I am because I don’t want people to be disappointed in me because they expect too much.

4. Childhood

The next approach to improving the self-esteem is through exploring the origins of these unsatisfactory feelings and opinions about myself. Where did I get my ideas about who I am? As with the other approaches, this is not a panacea. It simply points me in directions that are relevant and potentially valuable for increasing my self-esteem. All of these approaches are even more valuable if I can gather another person, or even a group of friends, who will complete these exercises with me and participate in a discussion after we have finished.

Part I:

I explore how my feelings about myself may have started in each area of behavior and of feelings.  One  of the early sources from which I derive my picture of myself is the inferences I drew about myself from my parents’ actions around and toward me. This is not an exercise in blaming parents. It is an attempt to understand myself better. I keep in mind that these were always my interpretations of what they did. Examples:

How did my parents react when I said, implied, or felt:

… I want to be included? (Examples, “Can I go with you? Can I sit at the table with you? Can I come into your room? Can I go to the store with you? Can I go visiting with you?”)

… I want to be in control? (Examples, “I want to do it myself. I won’t do what you told me. I want to do it my way.”)

… I want to be open with you and have you be open with me? (Examples, “Tell me how you really feel about me. Tell me your real feelings about other people, events, or about yourselves. I want you to know how I really feel, what I am afraid of, what I like about myself.”)

Part II:

Using the results of this inquiry may help me find the origin of the decisions I made about myself that I am now not satisfied with. To explore where the decisions that determine my self-esteem originated, for each unsatisfactory item listed above I ask myself:

  • When is the first time I recall acting or feeling this way?
  • Did I ever act this way toward a parent or close relative?
  • Did any close relative act or feel this way toward me during my childhood?
  • What is my payoff now for acting or feeling this way?
  • Is this what I really want?
  • What am I willing to do about it?

5. Essence Imagery

The fifth technique uses a method to contact the unconscious and bring it under conscious control. Following are the instructions.

Please shut your eyes. Think of three things you like most about yourself. (Pause 10 seconds.) Now rank these three traits from the most important, number one, to the lesser important, numbers two and three. (Pause 10 seconds.) Now imagine yourself having traits one and two, but not three. Feel what that would be like, and get a picture of that situation. (Pause 10 seconds.) Now imagine yourself with trait one, but not two or three. (Pause 10 seconds.) Now imagine your have none of these traits. Notice how you feel. What pictures come into your head? (Pause 10 seconds.) Now please open your eyes, noticing your feelings as you open your eyes. (Pause 10 seconds.) What is it that is left after you have eliminated all three traits?

Participants have a variety of reactions from elation and freedom to fear and desolation. It is valuable to assume that what remains is your essence. You are not your traits. By reaching your essence in a tangible form, it is possible to alter it consciously. Participants may now go back to the picture of their essence and work with it. They are encouraged to strengthen it, if they wish, by talking to it, touching it, feeding it, seeing other people there to help them strengthen it, or whatever else they wish. In other words, they have an opportunity to reshape their own self-concept in the directions they wish. This is the deepest level of work with self esteem.

Completion of The Original Exercise

Picture this situation:

From a large group I take six volunteers to another room. I select a trio of the six and, out of earshot of the other three, give them a private communication.  I then take the trio back to the whole group and ask them to clean up the front of the room. They are sluggish, uncaring, clumsy, sloppy and slow. I thank them and ask them to sit down in the large group. I then return to the other room and give the remaining three volunteers another private communication. I escort them back into the room and also ask them to clean up the front of the room. They attack the task with vigor, divide the labor, go swiftly, and seem proud of their work.

My communication to each group was very simple. To the first group I said “You have very low self-esteem. By that I mean you don’t feel alive, you don’t control your life, you are not aware of yourself, and you feel insignificant, incompetent, and unlikable.” To the second group I said “You have very high self-esteem. By that I mean you feel alive, in charge of your life, aware of yourself, and your feel significant, competent, and likable.” AND THAT IS ALL.

This exercise illustrates that the feelings about self-esteem govern a vast amount of behavior. To bring about a poor or an excellent job from the trios, it is not necessary to be specific about what behaviors to perform. Their condition of self-esteem determines morale, efficiency, relationships, and other important aspects of human functioning. A change in self-esteem is so fundamental that it automatically changes specific behavior, as demonstrated by the dramatic difference between the two teams.