If you struggle with low self-worth and haven’t found anything that seems to help long-term, some of these ideas might be useful:
1. Live your life as if you had no willpower
One of the biggest sources of low-self worth is habitually breaking promises to ourselves:
- You tell yourself you’re going to work out today after work. But as soon as you get home, you hit the couch instead of the gym.
- You tell yourself you’re going to be a better listener the next time your spouse talks about stress at work. But you find yourself “checked out” in your very next conversation with them.
- You tell yourself just one portion of dinner tonight and end up with a heaping pile of seconds.
If you chronically break your promises to yourself, is it any surprise that your self-worth is low?
But why does this happen? Why is it so hard to follow through on even relatively simple commitments?
Well, there are lots of reasons. But here’s one that’s often under appreciated:
Relying on willpower is a terrible strategy for following through on your commitments.
Willpower is like your car’s emergency brake: Nice to have in a pinch but not something you should rely on for day-to-day driving because really, it’s just not that powerful.
Concrete plans, however, are powerful. But they’re also time-consuming and effortful to create (not to mention kinda unsexy).
For example, if you want to actually follow-through and go to the gym today after work, which is more likely to help you do it:
- Hopefully willpower will kick in this evening…
- I’ve set an alarm on my phone to go off a half an hour before work ends to remind me; I’ve got my gym bag packed and in the car; I’ve decided on what workout I’m going to do and for how long; I’ve told my spouse about it so that they’re not expecting me ‘till a bit later; and I called up a friend to meet me there so we can work out together.
Obviously, your odds are better with option 2.
If you want to improve your self-worth, you need to get better at following through on the promises you make yourself. And if you want to start keeping your promises to yourself, live life as if you had no willpower so that you’ll be forced to rely on something more effective like good planning.
- 4 Habits You Should Give Up to Be More Disciplined
- 10 Psychological Tricks to Stay Motivated and Stick with Your Goals
2. Substitute self-compassion for self-criticism
Strange fact about people with low self-worth: They’re incredibly kind to other people and utter jerks to themselves.
If you think about it, how could you have a decent sense of self-worth if you’re constantly:
- Criticizing yourself for anything less than perfect
- Judging yourself for things that aren’t even under your control
- Incessantly replaying past mistakes and shortcomings
You don’t need a PhD in psychology to see that constantly criticizing yourself is going to hurt your sense of self worth. But the question is: Why do you criticize yourself so much in the first place? And why is it so hard to stop?
Everything from early childhood role modeling to personality style probably plays some role in the tendency to be self-critical. But here’s the missing piece most people, well, miss:
It’s hard to stop your self-criticism habit if you don’t have a better alternative to replace it with.
Most people struggle to stop being so hard on themselves because, frankly, they don’t know any other way to be. And when you don’t have viable alternatives, you tend to fall back to what you know, however unhelpful it may be.
So the secret to not being so self-critical (and improving your self-worth along the way) is to learn to be self-compassionate. And luckily, this is a skill you likely already have.
If you think about it, you’re probably already quite kind and compassionate with other people when they struggle or make mistakes. So replacing self-criticism with self-compassion is as simple as this:
When you struggle, treat yourself like you would treat a good friend—with support, compassion, and kindness.
3. Worry on purpose, not on accident
It’s not a coincidence that people who struggle with low self-worth also tend to be worriers: Worry erodes our self-worth because it makes us feel helpless and incompetent.
By definition, worry is unhelpful thinking about potential problems:
- Imagining your son getting in a car crash as he drives back to school after summer vacation.
- Playing out scenarios of your boss criticizing you and then firing you for doing a poor job on your presentation.
- Running though dozens of obscure diagnoses—from lymphoma to Malaria—in an attempt to explain that mild and perfectly normal pain in your shoulder.
If you’re constantly putting yourself in hypothetical scenarios that have no good outcome, you’re gonna constantly feel like a failure.
And if you constantly feel like a failure, that’s not gonna do much good for your self-worth.
Of course, worry is a habit. And like most ingrained habits, it can be hard to break.
One of the best tricks to break the habit of worry—and improve your self-worth along the way—is to only worry on purpose instead of anytime your mind feels like it.
See, just because your mind throws a worry at you doesn’t mean you have to engage with it and elaborate on it. While tough, it is possible to control your attention and resist the pull to worry.
And it’s a lot easier if you can tell your brain, “Hey little buddy, I know you want to worry right now. But it’s not actually a great time for me… So how about this: Tonight at 6:30, we’ll sit down together and do some worrying. For now, I’m going to get back to my life.”
It’s counterintuitive but one of the best ways to train your brain out of worrying all the time is to dedicate some time to worrying on purpose. Like house-training a dog, you can’t tell it to stop pooping in all the wrong places—but if you want it to respect your carpet, you have to train it to poop in the right place.
So carve out a few minutes every day to worry on purpose—writing down those worries is especially helpful—and you’ll find that your brain becomes less intrusive with its worries, and as a result, your self-worth improving.
4. Spend more time around people who appreciate you
It’s a weird paradox that people who struggle with low self-worth seem drawn to people who don’t appreciate them—or even worse, actively make them feel bad.
For example, I had a client once who struggled with low self-worth because she was constantly comparing herself with her peers and fixating on all the ways she wasn’t as competent as them. One of the things we realized was that she had an unconscious pattern of avoiding people who appreciated her and inserting herself into social situations where everyone was dramatically more competent in some way. So even though she was doing a lot of work herself to create a better attitude and self-talk, her social environment was sabotaging her every step of the way.
If you’re constantly surrounded by people who don’t appreciate you, and rarely spend time with people who do, that’s gonna rub off on how you feel about yourself!
Human beings are social animals through and through. Which means the people we habitually spend time around will affect us, including how we feel about ourselves.
If you want to improve your self-worth, it’s worth asking:
Who are the people in my life who genuinely appreciate and value me, and how can I make a little more time to spend around them?
For better or worse, the people you spend time with have a profound impact on how you feel about yourself. You have two choices:
- Live in denial about this and keep trying to convince yourself that you can “hard work” your way into self-worth.
- Accept that it’s not all about you and take steps to create a more supportive social environment.
What’s it gonna be?
5. Stop thinking so much about self-worth
If you stop and think about it, the concept of self-worth is kinda weird…
- For one thing, the idea that you as a person are worthy or not is awfully vague and general. Are you worthy as a spouse? Employee? Human being?
- Furthermore, is worthiness something you either have or don’t have, like a ticket to a Broadway show? Or is it something you can have varying amounts of, like chest hair?
- Also, worthy of what, exactly? Praise? Love? Admiration? Wealth? Happiness? Joy? Fulfillment? Good sex? A dope sports car? Do you really know what you mean when you say you don’t feel worthy?
- Finally, how much does it actually matter? Like, does your estimation of your worthiness as a marketing director have much to do with your ability to create an effective ad campaign? In my experience, whether or not someone feels worthy or like an imposter or not-good-enough doesn’t really correlate all that well with their actual abilities and performance. There are plenty of people with confidence levels that are off the charts who suck at their job. And there are even more high-performers who struggle with imposter syndrome on a daily basis.
I’m not saying self-worth isn’t a thing. And I’m not saying your particular struggles with it aren’t painful. I’m just wondering how useful a concept it is to spend a lot of time thinking about?
I suspect self-worth, like happiness, is one of those things where the harder and more deliberately you try to get it, the more out of reach it becomes. Whereas, the more you stay focused on doing the things that are meaningful and important in your life, the more those things tend to take care of themselves.
If you don’t buy that, here’s a more straightforward argument for not spending too much time thinking about self-worth:
- Self-worth is an inherently judgy concept: You are literally judging whether or not you are worthy enough.
- And the more you think judgmentally—even if it’s justified in a specific case—the easier it is to slip into unhelpful forms of judgmental thinking like self-criticism that lead to shame, anxiety, regret, and ultimately, feeling unworthy.
- So why take the risk? If you don’t get any benefit out of assessing your worthiness, and you run a significant risk of falling into unhelpful thinking patterns and all the emotional turmoil that goes with it, why not just avoid the whole thing?
Here’s a final reflection question to ponder:
Would you struggle with self-worth more or less if you’d never heard the term before?
Kinda makes you wonder…
All You Need to Know
If you struggle with low self-worth, here are 5 ways to escape the cycle and cultivate a healthier sense of self:
- Live your life as if you had no willpower
- Substitute self-compassion for self-criticism
- Worry on purpose, not on accident
- Spend more time around people who appreciate you
- Stop thinking so much about self-worth