How to Build and Improve Your Self-Esteem as an Adult

How to build self-esteem as an adult is perhaps not the question we had imagined asking ourselves when envisioning our adulthood from a young age. Yet according to Psychology Today, in 2019, almost 85% of people worldwide reported levels of low self-esteem. 

How to Build and Improve your Self-Esteem an an Adult

From a young age, we are aware of the importance of high self-esteem levels.  As children, our self-esteem grows with each successful interaction; its levels can predict future successes or failures. Not only has high self-esteem been linked to less anxiety, but it also lessens the pain of rejection and failure. On top of this, high self-esteem generally encourages belief and confidence in ourselves, allowing us to live life to the fullest. 

Sounds great, right? 

Unfortunately, building and maintaining high levels of self-esteem can prove difficult, because ultimately self-esteem is borne out of self-acceptance—a true understanding and love for who we are. It can be quite tricky to master this, considering the fact that we are our own harshest critics. 

The good news is that having low self-esteem is not predetermined or set in stone. Feelings of self-worth are malleable, something we can cultivate, improve and strengthen. At Clever-ish, we explore the common issues that adults face which can be linked to a quarter-life crisismental health issuesfinancial stress, anxiety, burnout, etc. All these things can cause a person to have low self-esteem. Read on to learn how you can build your self-esteem as an adult and maintain it. 

How Do Self-esteem Issues Develop in Adulthood?

Self-esteem changes with age. On average, it is very high in childhood. As kids, we thrive through simple positive reinforcement from important people in our lives. Throughout adolescence, it is common to have a dip in our self-worth due to anxiety-inducing novel social interactions and feelings of uncertainty about the future. These uncertainties can linger through our formative adult years—post-high-school, through college and continue even as adults in our 30s and 40s.  

As we move through adulthood, indicators of self-esteem such as power and status begin to vary. Adapting to full-time work can be daunting for some, and salary and earning disparities among colleagues or peers can also impact your feelings of self-worth. 

In addition to navigating these complexities in our professional lives, our relationships in adulthood can also affect our levels of self-esteem. We leave the safety of home, the structure of College, maybe move to a different city, and we start to meet many different people who are our colleagues, flatmates, friends, or romantic interests. Studies have found that if the quality of our social relationships is poor or toxic, it can lead to low self-esteem. On the bright side, this phenomenon swings both ways. If we surround ourselves with high-quality people and build fulfilling relationships it boosts our self-esteem.

READ: Our twenties can be a time of great turbulence and change – These habits will help you navigate it.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem 

When you have high or normal self-esteem, it means you accept and love yourself for who you and you give yourself grace and time to grow, change, and adapt to new or unexpected scenarios. Signs of low self-esteem involve harsh self-criticism, focusing on negatives, and ignoring achievements. Other signs of low self-esteem in adulthood are feelings of shame, feeling unworthy of having fun, not accepting compliments, and being overly upset by disapproval or criticisms. 

Ego vs Self-esteem 

While there are varying signs of self-esteem, it’s important to note and understand the difference between self-esteem and ego. Developing high self-esteem is great but when a person has an overly high self-regard of themselves, they run the risk of becoming narcissistic— someone who is self-centered, entitled, and lacking in empathy. 

That’s why it is important to understand the difference between ego and self-esteem. High self-esteem is believing in oneself and being proud of accomplishments. Whereas ego is about bluffing one’s way through everything, having over-inflated self-belief, and showing off at every chance. Ego is always striving for attention. Good self-esteem is about knowing and loving who you are and lifting others up rather than tearing them down. 

Why Do I Feel Like I’m not Enough? 

The insecurities associated with low self-esteem often have people asking “why do I feel like I’m not enough?”. When you start to feel like you are not enough, it’s a good time to focus on progress rather than perfection and take stock of how far you have come.

This feeling of inadequacy has become even more common in the current social climate Constant connectivity, pressure to share our lives on social media, and hustle culture often leave us comparing ourselves, our lives, and our achievements to others. We start to think that everyone has it figured out except us. Our minds can be very convincing liars so when we are feeling low we shouldn’t believe everything we think, literally.

Read: 5 Reasons Why  You Should Not Compare Yourself to your Peers 

People exaggerate their lives online and so it is important to remember that it’s impossible to successfully meet up to the standards set by a public online personality or a curated profile run by a team of professionals. Online personalities only show a filtered version of their lives. 

How to Build Your Confidence and Self-Esteem 

Thankfully, we now know that our brains are flexible muscles that we can shape and change. This phenomenon is known as neuroplasticity. This means that our thoughts and feelings are malleable, something we can improve or alter.  Below we share Self-Esteem building exercises and tips to help you on your journey toward building your self-esteem in adulthood. 

Realize your Self-Worth

Easier said than done, a step toward building confidence is to simply realize your self-worth and remember that you cannot hate your way into loving yourself. Beating yourself up isn’t the way to build your self-esteem in adulthood.  Start small, and become mindful of negative self-talk. The simple awareness of your worth will remind you that thoughts are just thoughts, and nothing more. 

Use Social Media Mindfully

There are countless studies telling us the negatives and dangers of social media, but cutting it out entirely is simply not an option for the majority. So you don’t have to cut off social media usage completely but it is important to be mindful as you scroll. In order to build self-esteem, curate your feed to cut out anything that insinuates negative self-talk such as hustle culture or ‘fitspo’ accounts. Cut out accounts that promote unnatural beauty standards, toxic positivity, etc. 

Focus on Your Strengths 

If you are trying to build self-esteem as an adult, focus on your strengths and values. Sometimes our lifestyles don’t align with our strengths and what we value, so after we identify what these are, try and make small changes to coincide with these qualities.

Learn how to Accept Compliments Gracefully

Learn how to accept compliments and don’t deflect them. Accepting praise from others should in turn help to change our attitude about ourselves. Prepare a simple set of responses such as “that’s kind of you”, or simply “thank you” to avoid naturally batting them away. 


Not only is exercise amazing for physical and mental health, but it also gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Lifting a heavier weight than the month before, or running for a minute longer can help to build self-esteem by calibrating accomplishments. Exercising also makes you feel good about yourself because when you exercise your body releases endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body.

Self-Esteem Journal prompts

Journals are the unsung heroes of self-care. Carving out some alone time to pour out our thoughts and anxieties into a journal can bring you some relief. Even journaling once a week can help ease your worries, and it can also help you to navigate and clarify complicated and intrinsic lines of thought. 

Here are some self-esteem journal prompts to get you started on your journey to building your self-esteem:

  • What went well today/this week? List five things. 
  • What are your basic goals in life? (Don’t be afraid to dream!)
  • What are three accomplishments you’ve achieved at some point in your life?
  • What are your anti-goals? That is:  what are things that you definitely don’t want to do in life?
  • Write 3 things you are good at, no matter how small.
  • Write 3 things you are grateful for.
  • What was the best decision you ever made?
  • Think about the last time you felt really happy. What led up to it?
  • What makes you feel relaxed?
  • Think of the last time you felt out of place, what can you learn from that experience?


Concluding Thoughts on How to Build Self-Esteem 

Overall, boosting our confidence and building self-esteem as an adult is rooted in how we love ourselves. Self-love shouldn’t depend upon extrinsic motivation but on our own self-awareness of our character and motivations. After all, demonstrating self-worth shows the people in our lives how we want to be treated, and should in turn cause them to do the same. 

Building your self-esteem can be done. Be patient with yourself and commit to the journey. Follow the steps, don’t give up, practice your journaling and self-esteem prompts and you will be on the way to having the high self-regard you deserve.

Aoife Smith

I would describe myself as a teacher, writer, and reader. I teach English in Madrid, and I have a degree in English Literature and Psychology. I'm currently studying journalism and I write in my spare time about issues stemming from a quarter-life crisis, being on a budget, social observations, the future, food, and literature. You can find me at

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