Imagine this scenario: you go to the store to pick up some paper towels. You feel good as you walk in the store, grab the towels, and head to the register. But once you get there, you realize that the cashier looks mad.
If you’re like anything I used to be, you would take extra precautions not to say anything wrong, and if they appear irritated by something you say or do, you would feel guilty and your whole mood levels would drop.
This makes no sense. But that’s how insecurity works.
What Is Self-Esteem and How To Grow It
One of the deepest issues that prevent people from being mentally strong is having low self-esteem. While everybody knows how that feels like, let me ask you — what is self-esteem actually? How do you define it?
You probably couldn’t come up with a coherent answer, because it is one of those things you “just know”. But to make lasting changes to your self-esteem and confidence, you need to know what they actually are.
Self-esteem is a subjective evaluation of yourself. It is basically your own answer to the question:
“How much am I, as a person, actually worth?”
If your answer falls somewhere between “I don’t know” or “not much”, you likely have low self-esteem.
This can be the result of various elements in life, both internal and external. On one end of the spectrum, you have people whose self-esteem is completely shattered but they don’t realize it, so they follow a destructive lifestyle that leaves them constantly unhappy. For example, girls with “daddy issues” say they want a kind and loving partner, but will continue chasing men who treat them horribly.
In their minds, anybody who treats them with respect is messed up, because they don’t see themselves as worthy of respect — how can anybody else?
On the other side of the spectrum are those who realize they have low self-esteem and view it as one of their defining characteristics. This realization makes them feel even worse, because they objectively know that they’re worth more, but are not able to act on this realization.
It is a paradoxical situation because worrying about getting self-esteem is just a sign of having low self-esteem.
High self-esteem means knowing what you’re worth regardless of other people. There will always be those who like you and those who dislike you. You need to have clearly defined self-worth independently.
Otherwise, other people will define it for you.
If you don’t know what you’re worth, you will look to others to tell you. And since nobody can be universally liked, some people will tell you that you suck. If you aren’t sure how much you’re worth on your own, you will start thinking you actually suck.
Define your own values and act on them regardless of others’ opinion.
In our example from the beginning, imagine that you get to register and the same cashier looks irritated that they have to deal with you. They may be having a bad day at work or they may just hate their job. It doesn’t really matter because you know you did nothing wrong. After all, why should you feel bad because they don’t feel like working?
You smile, grab your groceries, and forget the interaction in moments. After all, you know what you are worth.
Develop Confidence the Right Way
Confidence, more precisely self-confidence, is your own answer to the question:
“How much do you believe in yourself?”
If your answer is somewhere between “meh” or “not at all”, guess what — your confidence is super low.
Confidence is being assured in your own capabilities regardless of other people. It ties in with self-esteem because if you think lowly (or highly) of yourself, you will usually be less (or more) confident in your own abilities.
The key, like with self-esteem, is realizing that it is how assured you are in your own abilities, not what other people think of you. Confidence means being assured of your capabilities, regardless of other people’s opinion.
Being confident means being comfortable with yourself and not trying to please others.
For example, actively trying to “be popular” is the exact opposite. It shows that you care about whether other people like you and that you will purposely act in a way to get others to like you. That’s insecurity.
If you have a net worth of $100,000 and think you’re rich because that sum allows you to live the life that you want, that’s confidence. But if you have a net worth of 1 billion dollars and still think you’re poor because Mark Zuckerberg has over 70 billion, that’s not.
Being cocky is an extreme show of confidence because you engage in thinking you are better and worth more than others. Cocky people will often go out of their way to put others down just so they can bring themselves up. Confident people won’t resort to that because they base their worth on their own, not in comparison to others.
Being confident means going out alone, talking to strangers, and not caring about what they think of you. It means being assured in your own qualities without relying on other people to tell you how much you can or can’t do on your own.
Confidence is walking with your head high even when a bird craps on your head. A confident person will smile, wipe it off, and continue walking without thinking twice about how some random strangers on the street reacted.
They probably chuckled, as you would. So what? They will soon forget that event and so should you.
If you worry too much about what people think of you on a small level, you will carry the same way of thinking over onto bigger things.
The Dangers of False Confidence
When someone who is shy wants to become more social, the first solution they settle on is liquid courage.
They get drunk to the point where they feel confident enough to do things they already wanted to do. And if things go wrong for whatever reason, they can always use the “I was drunk” excuse, instead of just dealing with reality.
Most people have been there. I certainly have. Because guess what? Reality sucks. However, drinking yourself blind all of the time is not a solution.
Depending on any substance to shape your personality is a very slippery slope. It won’t improve your traits, it will make you an addict instead. If you believe you need something to be cool, confident, or likable, you will start relying more and more on that substance.
Alcohol makes you fun. Cocaine makes you excited. Weed makes you relaxed.
But if you can’t achieve the same result without these stimulants, it’s a problem. The longer you depend on something external to “get confident” in certain situations, the harder it is going to be to eventually break out of that pattern.
It doesn’t even have to be a substance of any kind. If you’re out with someone who is more confident than you, you will rely on them to be social.
They will open up, expose themselves, and face rejection but, if things go well, you will tag along to reap the benefits. They do all the work and you only deal with pleasant outcomes.
Like with any substance, once that magical goose is taken away, and you go out on your own or with other people, you’re clueless. And since you’ve developed a dependency, your first course of action won’t be to be more social yourself but to nudge others to “do something” instead.
During the period you want to build confidence, always go out sober!
This is the only way. For example, when I was building my confidence, I knew that if I wanted to develop real, quality traits, I couldn’t rely on liquid courage. If I wanted to approach women, I would have to do it sober. If I wanted to talk to people, I would do it sober. If I would get rejected, I would need to experience the full pain of it completely sober, so I can learn how to deal with it better.
The reason why most people don’t do this is that — it’s scary! But that’s the point.
The more you expose yourself to these situations, the better you will learn how to deal with them. Even today, when I go out and want to be social, I make an effort to talk to a few strangers before touching alcohol. That way I know that, when I start drinking, I am not relying on alcohol to give me false confidence.
I’m not drinking to become confident, I’m just a confident guy having a drink.
It’s scary and uncomfortable, but definitely worth it. No amount of alcohol or drugs can replace the power of genuine confidence and the benefits that come with it. After all, if you want to ask your boss for a raise, getting hammered right before you walk into his or her office is not a great strategy.
Don’t be a people-pleaser. Be confident.