How To Be Your Own Cheerleader

Building Self Worth, Esteem and Confidence

Self worth, esteem and confidence are all tied up with each other. If you don’t believe you are deserving of the good things that can come from trying, then you don’t try. If you don’t try, you don’t get the experience of growing in skill and therefore confidence. If you don’t have moments of experiencing that spine-straight confidence, it is hard to build a general sense that you are capable (esteem). With poor worth and esteem, we waste a lot of time being scared, self doubting, and ambivalent. We also lower standards for ourselves, so our friends and lovers may not be the cheerleaders we deserve.

There are a few teachings for which I have been grateful and that I continue to try to absorb, share and implement. They didn’t all come from teachers.

I worked with young people who used drugs. They put themselves at risk multiple times a day when injecting drugs unsafely. The biggest barrier to shifting the risky behaviours was that their self worth had been injured by development trauma and discrimination. They didn’t think they deserved to be infection-free, or even to live. What helped them care about themselves was having the opportunity to help others, and to experience more love and compassion from me, peers, and my colleagues. Once they were able to believe in a better future for themselves, they would use substances more safely.

Knowing that self esteem suffers under criticism and indifference, we have to create a protective bubble of love and self compassion. We need to seek people who support us, and we need to learn to be our own cheerleaders. From compassion will come more clarity about what you want. Desire will grow from clarity, and motivation will grow from desire. From there, every courageous action will build on our confidence, worth and esteem. The work starts inside before it ever becomes concrete, observable actions.

Some of the teachings I’ve learned from clients, healers and coaches have become core mantras. Feel free to turn these statements into “I” statements and put them on a list of affirmations for yourself. Speak your affirmations out loud for a more powerful effect.

As you contemplate making change, ask yourself, Do I believe I deserve it? Do I believe I can do/get this?

If you realize that you are struggling with feeling worthy and capable, tell yourself,

“I deserve good things.”

“I am enough.”

“I have everything I need inside of me.”

“I love and accept myself.”

These may sound like therapeutic or self help cliches, but they became cliches because they help!

Your anger tells you that you are worthy.

You know you have self worth if you have anger about how you were or are treated. So if you experience anger, meet it with gratitude, and allow your feelings to shift from anger to embracing your sense of worth.

Doubt and fear show up to make sure everything is okay.

Meet doubt and fear with a welcome, and then reassure them that you’ve got this. Remind them of your skill and preparation. “Thank you, Doubt, for your concern, but know that I am an artist.” (Note: I believe this is a quote from a poem by Yrsa Daley-Ward, but unfortunately I can’t relocate the original.)

Stop comparing!

As social creatures, we have to compare ourselves to others to figure out where we stand — we only know we’re a fast runner if we beat other people, for example. However, I know that comparing myself to other people is the thing that causes me the most fear and doubt. It also creates resistance to trying things I actually want to try and to doing things even though I know I love them.

To stop comparing, we first have to catch ourselves in it. Then you can put up a wall on the thought, question its validity, counter it with a more positive thought. We can also offer compassion and affirmation to the feeling that comes with the thought. Eventually you will develop more helpful thinking habits.

No one cares what you are doing because they are too busy worrying about what people think of them.

It’s actually a bit self-centred to think people care so much about what you’re doing. Freedom comes from just being in the present and not worrying about what people think. I think most of us know this teaching, but it’s harder to catch ourselves in the feelings before those feelings immobilize us. Work on noticing your feelings and treating yourself like you would any loved one.

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.

When we compare ourselves to others, we don’t see that others are experiencing the same doubt and fear that we feel. I like to believe that some people look at me with the same admiration that I see them.

You can be scared or unsure, and act anyway.

I love swimming but I get embarrassed just imagining a faster swimmer getting stuck behind me. When I don’t catch myself in this thought habit, I don’t swim. The more I avoid showing up at the pool, the more I don’t get to improve upon my fitness and keep pace with faster swimmers. I also deny myself all the good-feeling chemicals I get from swimming, and the pride in myself that just showing up brings. So a big part of building self esteem is being scared and doing the thing anyway. (I just motivated myself to take a swim! Ugh. Too bad the pools are closed.)

We each have our own path.

Many of us have unhelpful thinking like, “I haven’t achieved what I should have achieved by now.” It’s more helpful to focus on the fact that you deserve for things to get better from here, you are capable of change, and you are confident that your efforts will pay off.

Accept yourself as you are.

Some folks can go through their whole lives not feeling as smart, attractive, or successful as people around them, and therefore feeling inadequate. What a gift when we realize that life is not about getting smarter or prettier; it’s about learning to accept ourselves as we are.

For example, I often compare myself to other educators, helpers, and writers that are doing really exciting work. I think, “I can’t do what they do.” It took some internal work to realize I don’t have to do what they do; I can do what I do. I don’t need to be a famous thought leader; I just need to be useful to enough people that I can make a living.

“Possible” thinking

Possibility is enough; we don’t need probability. It can be a stretch for some of us to be filled with so much confidence that we think we’re going to be the next celebrity chef or actor or singer. But if we consider the possibility that we will succeed, that can create enough energy to act. Imagine a creative person considers applying to a project grant, and the thought comes up, “There are so many talented people out there and it’s so much work and I probably won’t even get it.” This person could counter this thought with, “You are one of those talented people,” and ask themselves, “Why not me?”

Create a balance between “doing what you’re good at” and “developing a growth mindset”

There’s healthy challenge, and then there’s self punishment. People torture themselves doing things they’re not very good at, and I don’t think this is necessary. If you find it rewarding to try things that are particularly difficult, then by all means, keep doing that. But self confidence usually grows when you get better at something. Trying and failing can be part of the growth process, but if it’s a lot of effort without much change, the confidence will flag.

On the other hand, confidence can be about process, not results. You don’t have to win marathons or sell the things you make or tour your band. Running and art-making and jamming with friends are inherently rewarding. We don’t need external validation or traditional markers of success to be proud of ourselves. We can celebrate beating a personal time, learning to work with a new medium, or bringing a song arrangement to life. Confidence builds through change and celebrating that change.

Here are some wonderful affirmations for building confidence related to a specific task:

“This is learnable/I can learn this.”

“I can do things that scare me.”

“It’s okay if I have to work harder and longer than some people. I can get this.”

“I don’t have to be the best for this to be worthwhile.”

“I will lean into enjoying the process, and let go of perfection.”

“I have the skills and preparation for this.”

“I value and pursue happiness, not success.”

“I don’t need to feel confident about what the outcome will be. I just need to be confident in my ability to manage whatever happens. I can adapt and pivot.”

“I’m awesome.”

Change is possible. If the work feels overwhelming now, know that starting is the hardest part. You’re worth putting in the work.

Find resources or reach out to me at

To see the lead-up piece to this article, click “What Happens When We Don’t Have Cheerleaders.”

Audrey is an educator, counsellor, and curriculum developer running her own business in Toronto. She writes about social services, mostly.

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