A man with confidence and high self-esteem walking outside after a workout.

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6 Simple but Effective Ways to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem

Mental health professionals explain how the two are correlated, plus share practical tips for strengthening both feelings.

By Blake BakkilaUpdated June 4, 2024


After training for months and running the New York City marathon in 2018, I feel confident saying that I could handle crossing another finish line. But a quick, lighthearted game of cornhole? You’re better off with anyone else as your partner—trust me. We all have our strengths, and those tend to give us the confidence to take on certain challenges. Self-esteem goes a bit deeper, but both “confidence” and “self-esteem” can feel like buzzwords used interchangeably. 

There’s a lot of value in understanding what confidence and self-esteem are, exactly, and how they work together to help you become your best self. To better understand this topic, we reached out to mental health experts, who also shared practical tips on how to build confidence and self-esteem. 

What Is Self-Esteem?

“Simply put, self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves,” says Joseph Galasso, PsyD, a clinical and sports psychologist and CEO of Baker Street Behavioral Health. “Self-esteem is a subjective process and the opinion is based on our own values and beliefs.” He notes that we normally rate our self-esteem on a scale from high to low, and that our “rating” can shift over time.  

What Is Confidence?

You can think of confidence as self-assuredness or your belief in your own capabilities, Galasso says. He notes that confidence is more situational and based on our belief in our skill level or preparedness for a specific task or role.

How Does Self-Esteem Impact Confidence, and Vice Versa?

In the which-comes-first debate, it appears that self-esteem is the root, and it can easily and significantly impact our confidence.

“If we don’t value ourselves, it follows that we will likely not be able to conjure up the means to tackle difficult tasks,” Galasso says. “Low self-esteem can be correlated with fear or depression, both of which impact confidence and performance.”

How to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem

Improving your confidence and self-esteem can be challenging work, but fortunately, there are several approachable things you can do to build both. Below, Galasso and several other mental health experts share realistic strategies to work toward developing more confidence and higher self-esteem:

1. Practice Self-Compassion

Being kinder to yourself and your abilities can go a long way, especially when you experience an unexpected setback, says Topsie VandenBosch, a licensed master social worker and psychotherapist.

“When you show yourself self-compassion, you develop confidence that your mistakes don’t disqualify you from having the desired outcomes,” VandenBosch says. “They’re simply stepping stones.”

Self-compassion can be a physical practice, too, according to Natalie Moore, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “This can include speaking to yourself with kindness or placing your hand on your heart when you’re feeling like you’ve failed,” she says.

2. Celebrate Wins of All Sizes

By that same token, VandenBosch also recommends relishing in seemingly small “wins” and avoiding minimizing your strengths. (Just ran your longest time yet without stopping? Give yourself a huge high-five. Finished a project a day ahead of schedule? Time for a pat on the back.) This practice can ultimately help you recognize the importance of your journey and consequently improve your self-perception. 

“It is important to recognize and celebrate any progress made along the way, even if the outcome falls short of expectations or takes longer than anticipated,” adds Rachel Goldberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

3. Give Yourself Positive Affirmations 

Celebrating and encouraging yourself can be as easy as carving out a few minutes for introspection and affirmation

“All you have to do is write down a list of five to 10 attributes that you want to embody and say them out loud or in your mind as if you already have these in place,” Moore says.

4. Challenge Yourself, Even If It Seems Scary

Challenging yourself has loads of benefits, and that could be anything from training for a half marathon to trying a new hobby.

“The most effective approach to building confidence and self-esteem is by challenging oneself and embarking on the journey to overcome obstacles or achieve goals,” Goldberg says. “Gradually demonstrating the ability to develop skills enhances confidence in one’s capabilities and contributes to overall self-esteem.”

Moore calls this “contrary action,” and encourages people to pretend they already have the confidence they need. “This trains your brain to believe that you can achieve things that feel just outside of your reach,” she says. “Acting like a confident person helps you feel like a confident person.” 

5. Surround Yourself with a Positive Support System

“Spending time with people who value you for who you are builds your belief in yourself,” VandenBosch says. “Validation and recognition from others can help build your self-confidence and self-esteem.”

Conversely, being around people who criticize you or express disapproval can impede your efforts to build confidence and self-esteem, Goldberg says. 

6. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others

It’s also important that you try not to play the comparison game, Goldberg says.  

“Everyone compares, but limiting or not judging it is helpful since there will always be individuals who excel in different areas you don’t,” she says.

Why It’s Important to Build Self-Esteem and Confidence

Even though the expert-driven tips and tricks listed above are achievable, it can feel difficult or intimidating to get started—especially if you already struggle with your confidence and self-esteem. But as Galasso says, improving both goes hand in hand, and there’s generally a positive correlation between the two. 

“It is hard to feel poorly about yourself if you are perceiving yourself as powerful, as skilled, or as able to overcome adversity,” he says. According to Galasso, possible drawbacks of low self-esteem and low confidence include:

  • Taking fewer normal, healthy risks (such as asking someone on a date or taking on a work project)

  • Feeling sad or depressed

  • Higher levels of anxiety

  • Fear of rejection or failure

  • Fewer social interactions

  • A higher likelihood of isolation

Moore references a report from the 1994 book Learning, Remembering, Believing by the National Research Council which showed that people with higher self-confidence levels tend to set more ambitious goals and are more committed to achieving them. She also references a more recent 2023 review published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research which found that low self-esteem may be correlated with higher levels of depression. 

The Role of Self-Esteem and Confidence In Fitness and Wellness

So how does all this play into your workout routine or meditation practice? 

“Fitness is a great way to bolster self-esteem and confidence,” Galasso says. “While it may seem daunting at first, you will see firsthand how a stronger body and clearer mind affect how you feel about yourself and your ability to take on challenges.”

Research supports the correlation between fitness and confidence and self-esteem as well. In a 2016 study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, researchers found a direct relationship between physical activity and self-esteem, noting that regular movement should be promoted among adults with lower self-esteem. Mindfulness can play a part, too: A small 2022 study in India published in Psychological Studies suggests that mindfulness techniques such as acting with awareness and observing and describing experiences are positively associated with higher self-esteem and self-efficacy, although more research is needed. 

“Showing up for an exercise routine consistently helps people develop a sense of pride in themselves that they can ‘do hard things,’” Moore says. “Additionally, the benefits that one receives from fitness such as physical strength, endurance, mental grit, an athletic physique, balance, flexibility, and coordination can all promote increased confidence, as well.”

Ready to get moving? The Peloton App offers thousands of classes across 16 different fitness modalities that can help you get started, from walking to meditation to strength training and more.

The Takeaway

With so many benefits, working on building confidence and self-esteem can only lead to benefits and more positivity in your life. These interconnected concepts are helpful when it comes to goal-setting and achieving, performing in work and exercise, and building relationships with yourself and others. There’s also an overarching message to be kinder to ourselves—and in my case, not get so worked up about throwing a bean bag the next time someone asks if I want to play cornhole.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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