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Ways to improve self-esteem

photo of Helen Maggie Watson sat with a cup of tea

One way we can improve our self-esteem and feel better about ourselves is to live with personal integrity.

When I think about psychological concepts, I often find myself imagining a house on a street where the concept lives. Low self-esteem shares a house with other related characters including imposter syndrome, perfectionism, harsh inner critic, and deep in the basement the most dreaded house mate, shame.

There’s a model of self-esteem which was developed by a Canadian American psychotherapist which I personally like and over the years I have found helpful for my clients. Nathaniel Branden wrote about self-esteem being like a coin, one side of the coin being self-respect and the other self-efficacy. Underpinning self-esteem, Branden suggests are six pillars; if we incorporate these six pillars into our lives our self-esteem will improve. When we know people with healthy levels of self-esteem, often we can observe how these pillars are present for them in the ways they behave and relate with others.

The pillar I want to write about here is living with personal integrity. We can think about this as living in ways which align with our values, walking our own talk, or behaving authentically while meeting the standards we profess to hold.

How do we know we are living with personal integrity if we haven’t taken the time to think about and determine what our personal values are. Here are three steps you can take to identify your unique mix of personal values.

How to identify your values

Values can feel a bit abstract and may be a little challenging to capture. Our personal values are essentially ways of living which are important and meaningful for us. Values are about how we show up in the world, how we act and may be those qualities we observe in others which determine how we feel about them. Knowing our values enable us to use them as a compass to help guide us towards meaningful goals, living not only intentionally but with integrity.

Step one

Check out the list below and select the ones which resonate with you. Don’t overthink this step just follow your gut and make your selection. If you think of something which isn’t included below but you want to choose then add this to your list.

Abundance Enthusiasm Perfection
Acceptance Ethics Performance
Accountability Excellence Playfulness
Achievement Expressiveness Popularity
Adventure Fairness Power
Advocacy Family Preparedness
Ambition Flexibility Proactive
Appreciation Freedom Professionalism
Attractiveness Friendships Punctuality
Authenticity Fun Quality
Autonomy Generosity Recognition
Balance Grace Relationships
Beauty Growth Reliability
Being the Best Happiness Resilience
Benevolence Health Resourcefulness
Boldness Honesty Responsibility
Brilliance Humility Responsiveness
Calmness Humour Risk Taking
Caring Inclusiveness Safety
Challenge Independence Security
Charity Individuality Self-Control
Cheerfulness Innovation Selflessness
Cleverness Inspiration Service
Collaboration Integrity Simplicity
Commitment Intelligence Spirituality
Community Intuition Stability
Compassion Joy Success
Consistency Kindness Teamwork
Contribution Knowledge Thankfulness
Cooperation Leadership Thoughtfulness
Creativity Learning Traditionalism
Credibility Love Trustworthy
Curiosity Loyalty Understanding
Daring Making a Difference Uniqueness
Decisiveness Mindfulness Usefulness
Dedication Motivation Versatility
Dependability Open-Mindedness Vision
Development Optimism Warmth
Diversity Originality Wealth
Empathy Passion Wisdom
Encouragement Peace Zeal


Step two

Now go through the list you have created and choose your top selection, aim for seven, ten at the most. You may have selected some with similar meanings, so choose the best fit; you might check their definitions to get more clarity. This step can be a challenge because it requires us to decide and truly identify our core values, going with the ones about which we feel most strongly, choosing what really matters to us.

Step three

This step can be tricky. For each of the values you have selected write one or two sentences which describes how you will live this value. This will be your personal interpretation of the value and what it means for you as you intentionally bring it alive.

Here are some examples which illustrate what I mean:

  • Authenticity – Stay genuine and be consistent regardless of who I am with; if others judge me, so be it; don’t accept their projections.
  • Trustworthy – Be reliable and accountable, keep confidences and refrain from gossip or telling stories which are not mine to tell.
  • Independence – Be mindful of my feelings of disempowerment. Maintain well considered boundaries and avoid behaviours which jeopardise my emotional, physical, and financial wellbeing.

This exercise can take some time, it may be a while before we feel settled with our values and the unique meaning these hold for us. Remember these are not set in stone and we can revisit them whenever it feels appropriate. Just as we change as time passes so may our values.

Returning to improving our self-esteem – Living with personal integrity, means living in ways which align with our values and when we do this we are more likely to feel good about ourselves, respect ourselves, and may even feel pride about how we show up in the world. This contribution towards our positive feelings about ourselves in turn bolsters our self-esteem.