7 Steps To Better Self Esteem

If we asked you to describe yourself, what sort of self-portrait would you paint?

Would it be complimentary or critical?

Think about this for a moment.

The self-image is a mosaic of ideas and value judgements we hold about ourselves. It is how we view our own personality, capabilities, skills, body, mind and personal potential.

While most of us agree that it’s important to have a good self-image, very few people seem to know how to acquire one – or even how they got the self-image they have now.

The first thing to understand about our self-image is that it is not real, even though it feels like it is.


Self-image is something we have carried with us since childhood, and is as familiar as our favourite teddy bear and as comfortable as an old pair of socks.

However, self-image can also prevent us realising our personal potential.

Self-image is important because how we think about ourselves directly affects how we feel about ourselves and how we respond to life.

Self-image can also determine the quality of our relationships with others. How we think and feel about ourselves influences the way we react or respond to the challenges that life throws at us. A positive self-image affects our physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual well-being. So does a negative self-image.

Self-image is a product of learning. Parents or caregivers have the greatest impact on our self-image – they are mirrors reflecting back to us a picture of ourselves. Our experiences with other role models, such as teachers, friends and family contribute further to the reflection in the mirror. Relationships reinforce what we think and feel about ourselves.

The picture we see in the mirror may be a real or distorted view of who we really are. Based on this view, we develop either a positive or a negative self-image. We begin to make value judgements about ourselves based on this distorted self-impression. We see ourselves as “smart or stupid”, “pretty or plain”, “caring or callous” – you get the point.

Over time, the strengths and weaknesses we learn as children are internalised and affect how we act as adults. The result is that we believe we actually are the subconscious collection of other people’s impressions.

Think about that for a moment. Is your self-portrait really a picture of what you think of you, or what other people think of you?

The interesting thing about our self-image is that it is usually not open to question or reason. We accept that it is so. And so it is.

“How do I look?” we ask ourselves, although we already have a clear mental picture of our physical appearance.

“How am I doing?” we ask ourselves, although we’ve already made up our minds about whether we’ll succeed or fail.

“How important am I?” we ask ourselves as we interpret everything that happens to us through the distorted looking glass of our self-perception.

So, when we believe we lack self-confidence, perform poorly in public speaking, do not know how to lead others, will never be successful, cannot create a good relationship, and so on – guess what? We’ll defend that belief, even to ourselves.

With a positive self-image, we are able to claim our assets and potential while being realistic about our liabilities and limitations. In contrast, a negative self-image focuses on our faults and weaknesses, distorting failure and imperfections and making us blind to our personal potential.

The self-image lies deep within our subconscious brain. It is made up of sensory data and memories that combine to form a picture of the self that is detailed, wordless and very powerful.

We have countless contradictory facets to our self-image.

It is possible to be proud of succeeding at netball and simultaneously feel completely lost when it comes to maths. We have a self-image ‘score’ for every subject you can imagine. In this case, perhaps ‘nine out of ten’ for netball and only ‘two out of ten’ for maths.

Self-image essentially becomes a filter for what for what we think we can or cannot do. It is a protective mechanism – our self-image stops us from getting hurt by preventing us from trying to do things we can’t or fit in where we won’t. When we ‘know’ we’re only a ‘two out of ten’ in maths, we’re unlikely to put our hand up to answer the maths teacher’s question – saving us potential embarrassment.

So, while we plan success in our endeavours and take all the appropriate actions, the self-image takes stock and considers if this achievement ‘fits’ within the overall picture.

Case Study

Jane has subconsciously given herself a ‘nine out of ten’ for netball and a ‘two out of ten’ for maths. One day she performs badly in a netball game – and her self-image gives her a score of just ‘three out of ten’. She may be upset, but she will most likely put it down to something unusual or different – her mum was watching, she was sick, or she didn’t train properly that week. Thus, she can explain a bad day on the court and return to good form quickly.

Conversely, a good result in maths will be explained with statements like “you helped me” or “I was just lucky this time”. Jane has an endless list of explanations that will allow her to return to the ‘normal’ situation – her ‘two out of ten’ for maths.

This example illustrates why performance and self-image scores tend to correlate. Either our self-image adjusts, or we find ways to explain the gaps. Sadly, it’s much more common to explain away any success, and eventually the self-image wins out.

Although self-image functions primarily as a protective mechanism, it can quickly become our worst enemy. We need to be in absolute control of our self-image because it can only function two ways – protect or sabotage.

Case Study

Fred’s self-image score for money is ‘four out of ten’. He doesn’t know this, he just thinks he isn’t meant to be rich and explains that he doesn’t need money to be happy. Fred has the occasional mishap with money, which allows his score and performance to remain the same. There was the financial advisor that lost all his money, the wife who took nearly everything, and the business partner who stole ten years of profit.

If we told Fred he had self-image problems he would prove us wrong by explaining that “it isn’t me, money just makes people turn on you”.

One day Fred wins the lottery and receives three million dollars in prize money. This is not congruent with his self-image score, so over the next twelve months Fred manages to blow the lot.

Fred’s story is very common – many lottery winners are back to square one within just a few years and have a trail of broken relationships behind them.

Take Evelyn Adams, who won the New Jersey lottery not just once but twice, in 1985 and 1986 to the tune of $5.4 million.

“Winning the lottery isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be,” she says. Today, the money is gone and Adams lives in a trailer.

“I won the American dream but I lost it, too. It was a very hard fall. It’s called rock bottom. Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language – ‘No’. I wish I had the chance to do it all over again. I’d be much smarter about it now,” says Adams, who lost most of her money at the slot machines in Atlantic City.

It’s clear from Evelyn Adams’ story that before you can correct the patterns that create self-sabotage, you need to uncover the areas where your self-image score is low.

As coaches, we have consistently discovered that the best way to reveal a client’s self-image is to let natural conversation continue for an extended period. This is achieved by asking questions, most of which are different versions of “tell me more…”

Then we listen.

To begin with, we listen to the literal meaning of the words a client uses without forming an opinion. We focus on what is actually coming out of their mouths. For example, people who swear are using words that have many different meanings. This is an attempt to hide a deeper meaning – an emotion. Ironically, it does exactly the opposite. Swearing requires tone of voice to convey its meaning – ‘shit’ could be a positive or negative expression depending on the context of the sentence and the tone of voice. Listening to the tone allows us to hear the emotional content behind the words.

Next, we listen for words or phrases that are emphasised or overused. They generally tell us about any underlying emotions.

We also listen for habitual statements that convey the client’s view of the world. These are usually very general and are spoken as absolutes – no room is left for the possibility that it might not be true.

Let’s look at Fred from our example above. He would use expressions like:

  • “There’s always a rip off merchant around”
  • “They’ll get you one way or another”
  • “The only certainties in life are death and taxes”
  • “You won’t be any happier if you get rich”

Finally, we ask about the results the client has achieved so far. We ask them to tell us how they feel about any average results. These conversations are full of self-description – results are explained away, blame is laid and reasons are given for failure. Self-sabotage, defeat and denial are common themes – this almost always happens when someone refuses to take personal responsibility for the events that have occurred in their life so far. Bad things happen to all of us, but winners ask themselves what actions they can take to ensure the next step goes as planned.

If you want to be successful as your own coach, you will need to learn to recognise your own patterns and adjust them accordingly.

Self-coaching requires exploring your subconscious programming so you can:

  1. Discover your self-image score in each important area of life
  2. Correct the patterns that are holding you back
  3. Maintain a healthy score in the face of adversity.

The following exercise will change your life. You can adapt it and apply it to any area, and we encourage you to do so. Take some time and work through this thoroughly – you won’t recognise yourself when you finish!

Self-Coaching Exercise

Step 1 – Your Inheritance

Ask yourself “what is my self-image inheritance?” Write as much as you can about your role models – parents, teachers, friends, neighbours and anyone else who influenced you. The story is not important, just how it made you feel.

For example, the suburb you were raised in. It doesn’t matter where it was, just how it felt. You could ask yourself the questions below.

  • Was it middle class, poor, or privileged?
  • What were the taboo subjects?
  • Who was the leader in your street?
  • What was it okay to be good at?
  • What wasn’t?
  • Where did you fit?
  • Who was cool and why?
  • What were the social norms?


Step 2 – Critical Choices You Made Along The Way

What choices have you made that influenced your self-image?

Once again, write as much as you can, and don’t worry about the story – just focus on the result. Take the time to explore this fully.


Step 3 – Influential People

Examine the people who have influenced your perception of yourself.

  • How did they do it?
  • What was your reaction to this?
  • What have been the consequences for you?

Write your thoughts. This section may be full of regret, fear, hurt, sorrow, loss and grief. This is not wrong. Take your time and be gentle with yourself.


Step 4 – How Do I Manage Discomfort?

Ask yourself what you do to lessen uncomfortable or painful emotions.

Let’s use Jane from our first case study. To prevent discomfort when being praised for her ‘accidental’ success in maths, she makes statements that take her out of the limelight as quickly as possible.

  • What do you do when things get tough?
  • What do you do when something doesn’t align with your self-image score for that subject?
  • What do you consistently do when you feel emotional – arguments, yoga, chocolate, alcohol, television, shopping, sulking, the silent treatment, ‘me time’?

Write them down. They are keeping you stuck because they manage the pain instead of healing it.

Heal the pain and you will be able to move forward.


Step 5 – What Would Be Better?

Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is there a better way for me to handle this situation?
  • What is my pattern and what would it be better for me to do?
  • Can I do that, and if I can’t, who knows how?
  • Who has done this before and succeeded?
  • Am I willing to ask them for help?
  • If you need help and you aren’t willing to ask for it then get used to being stuck.


Step 6 – When Do I Start?

We have noticed that the single most important concept in coaching is implementation. Most people know what to do, and if they don’t they can learn. This is knowledge – useful, but ultimately just ideas. Doing what we know is in our best interest converts knowledge into wisdom. Ultimately, to know and not to do is not to know.

We call this the difference between head and heart. We can talk about the benefits of exercise until we are blue in the face, and still never go to the gym. If we truly know in our heart that exercise is what we need, nothing will stop us from getting there.

Ask yourself this: if I am embarking on this journey of self-discovery and liberation, what do I need to do and by when?

Write the answer down and commit to achieving this goal. If you think you will find it difficult, tell a friend about what you are doing and have them hold you to your word.


Step 7 – Massive Positive Change

The single most important factor in improving self-image is becoming a person of your word. The fastest way to elevate your self-esteem is to make a promise to yourself and keep it.

If you have to make the promises small to begin with, that’s fine. In our experience it is much better to keep small promises consistently than to go for something bigger and break your promise. We have discovered that people gain momentum from the smaller commitments and move on to bigger ones.

The simple truth is that you cannot respect yourself if you do not keep your own word.


Start small. Stick to your guns. Repeat.

Simple, really.