Give your confidence a lift with slow and steady self-esteem boosters

Do you reach for an instant hit of gratification or slow down and truly build your self-esteem? Psychotherapist and bestselling author Anna Mathur considers the question…


I feel the hunger pang in my stomach after a morning of work. I have two options! My first option is to grab the bag of sweets sitting temptingly beside me. Not only will they silence the growl in my belly, but they’ll provide a glorious, short, sharp sugar boost. Option two is to leave my desk to make a plate of roast chicken leftovers and a baked potato. It requires more effort, but would fill me up for a few hours. Slow and steady.

We face these types of decisions all the time. Do we do something we know will be good for us, but requires more energy and input, or do we find a way to quickly meet or silence the need momentarily? My clients spend a lot of time with me exploring where they go to get a feeling of good self-esteem. Where you go looking for validation has a huge impact on whether you find it or not, and how long it lasts before you need a top-up.

Short and sharp self-esteem boosters

Short and sharp self-esteem boosters are like that bag of sweets or a hastily grabbed, salty takeaway burger. They promise a quick and easy way to meet a need, but often they end up being temporary fixes instead. For me, they are those impulse buys that make me feel good – and then guilty. They are the text message I send in place of having a chat. They are the slapdash job I do to save time and then have to redo later. They are the words of flattery I offer to make someone feel good, in the hope they’ll like me. They are the times I give resources I don’t have in order to please others, which I later resent. They are the moments of digital escapism that may distract me from finding the good in the challenges of the present moment.

They are the chaotic working hours that sabotage my sleep. These short, sharp self-esteem boosters often conflict with our personal values. For example, I know that it’s the feedback from those who know me well that matters the most, yet part of me still seeks affirmation from strangers on social media. The issue is, we need endless short and sharp self-esteem boosters if we are hooked on their immediacy; yet their short, sharp sweetness will never truly satisfy us.

Slow and steady self-esteem boosters

These are the nourishing self-esteem boosters. If they were food they’d be the lovingly prepared food eaten in good company. They are the things that ground and anchor you, and bring you joy and meaning. They are the creative pursuits, the acts that bring you back to yourself and make you feel grateful and present. They are the things that, when you are grey and old, you’ll wish with all your heart you spent time doing more often.

For me they are being with my kids without the background ping of a phone. They are walking through pine forests, the tall trees stretching towards moody skies. They are laughter that makes my sides ache. They are the hot bath that warms cold bones. They are the dinners shared around a table where the food is good but the company is better. They are the times I apologise and feel forgiveness. I could go on… Once you begin writing down the things that make your life feel worthwhile, you’ll also start to get into the flow!

These slow and steady boosters help us connect with who we are and what we are worth. They don’t necessarily offer us quick spikes of energy, but a warm, slow burn. They sometimes require more planning, but are worth it as they bring feelings of joy, identity, gratitude and fulfilment. Many of these slow and steady self-esteem boosters have no goals other than to offer us connection and wellbeing.

We all seek the things that make us feel better about ourselves. But life today is an ongoing struggle between knowing what we need and being told what we want! I know I need to feel properly connected to my support network, yet my phone tells me I can achieve this via a quick text message. Sometimes a quick text message exchange does the trick, but ultimately it will never be able to offer me the quality of a connection offered by a proper catch-up over coffee. It’s all about trying to seek balance between getting what we need and what we can get now.

Balance is one of those things that we rarely find (and if we do it’s not for very long, hey?) but which is very good to seek. In seeking balance, we are more likely to move away from destructive or consuming behaviours that do not satisfy us. Here’s a quick example: imagine you’re juggling home and work life… You want to please your boss = short and sharp self-esteem boost. You want to invest in some drifting friendships = slow and steady self-esteem boost.

Herein lies the challenge: if you prioritise your drifting friendships, and ignore the pressure to please your boss by taking on more responsibility and overtime, your boss may be displeased. Yet if you accept every single hour of overtime, spending longer at your desk to show willing and please your boss, you lose out on investing in those relationships that give you something important. Sometimes the pull in one direction is stronger than the other, and sometimes we successfully navigate a tightrope dance between the two.

There is nothing wrong with getting your hits from the short and sharp self-esteem boosters sometimes, but if they are the main ways you seek feelings of worth, your self-esteem will rise and fall as the hit wears off. Just like if you fill your body with a diet of sweets, you’d be riding the peaks and troughs of sugar hits. You wouldn’t be respectfully providing your body with the nutrition it needs to sustain you for work and rest – just superficial, temporary highs.

Next steps

  • Take a moment to note down some of your go-to ‘slow and steady’ self-esteem boosters and see how you feel as you do. Now jot down where in life you have been sacrificing the nourishing for the right now.
  • Write down some statements about the things that are important to you and the way you live. How might you bring some of your decisions more in line with them.

Expert advice

Anna Mathur is a psychotherapist and a mother of three. She wrote the bestselling Mind Over Mother (Little, Brown, £12.99) and shares her mental health story on Instagram.

Photographs: Getty images

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