Build Self-Esteem, Not Ego
“If you are satisfied with who you are, you don’t need to prove your worth to anyone else.” — Jay Shetty
Many people nowadays only feel good about themselves in comparison to others. If they compare themselves to others who aren’t as “good” as them, they feel good. If they compare themselves to others who are “better” than them, they feel bad. That’s ego. Another common situation is feeling happy when hearing praise, but feeling upset or thinking “something is wrong with me” when hearing criticism. That’s also a sign of too much ego.
On the other hand, someone who has high self-esteem is happy and confident about their worth regardless of how much other people engage in comparison towards them. For example, the person could be poor and stand next to a millionaire and still feel good about their self-worth. Or the person gets criticized for being bad at something, but they don’t feel like it’s an attack on their self-worth.
In his book, Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty explains the difference between ego and self-esteem:
It goes without saying that ego is not helpful. It harms us in many ways:
- It makes us liars, which breaks trust and ruins relationships
- It creates false hierarchies, which creates discrimination and ruins kindness
- It creates judgment, which ruins our character
- It creates arrogance and prevents learning and growth
So the question is, how do we build self-esteem and reduce ego? This article will go over three ways:
- Live consciously according to YOUR values
- Cultivate humility
- Cultivate kindness
1: Live consciously according to YOUR values
Imagine if the famous basketball player Michael Jordan went to a golfing camp. He meets the famous golf player, Tiger Woods, and now he feels bad about himself because he’s not very good at golf. That would be absurd! Yet how many of us compare ourselves to others based on things that shouldn’t matter to us?
First identify your values
The problem most of us face is that we do not consciously and intentionally decide on our values. In other words, we don’t pick what we deem as important. We just accept and inherit what other people around us think are important.
When we live our lives trying to impress others based on values that we didn’t consciously choose, then we will be tired and stressed all the time. Therefore, the first step is to get clear on your values. Once you are clear on your values, you have a compass to guide you towards people, actions, and habits that are best for you.
Jay Shetty tells us to play the Media Mind Game:
- List your values.
- Identify the origin of that value.
- Reflect on whether or not that value aligns with your true self.
Here is an example:
Then consciously choose your values
Jay encourages us to avoid lower values, which demote us to anxiety, depression, and suffering. Instead, we should adopt higher values, which propel us towards happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. He also notes that happiness and success are not values; they are rewards.
Then live by those values
After identifying and choosing your true values, audit your life to see if you are living in accordance with those values. If yes, then you will naturally be happy with yourself. If not, then you have every reason to be upset at yourself.
Let’s say your values are family, kindness, health, and growth. You’ve realized that money and fame were instilled in you by media, and you don’t actually value those things. Now that you are on clear on your values, audit how you spend your time, money, and energy. If it’s aligned with your values, then you should feel good about yourself. If not, then you should feel bad and make changes.
For example, let’s say in the past week, you observed yourself:
- Very little time talking to family; was rude to them and looked at phone when talking to them
- Barely any time spent on exercising
- Spent a lot of time scrolling through people’s perfect images on social media
- Ate some healthy food but a lot of junk food
- Didn’t spend any free time learning new things
- Worked A LOT
In the past, when you unconsciously valued money, fame, and beauty, you might feel bad about yourself because you’re working so hard and yet there’s still all these other people with more money, fame, and beauty than you. Now, you can look at your actions and feel bad about yourself because you didn’t live according to your real values. That bad feeling motivates you to change.
The next week, you consciously planned your time (maybe using the 4th Generation Calendar Tool):
- Spent 2 hours of quality time with family on the weekend
- Spent 15 minutes exercising every day
- Didn’t scroll mindlessly through people’s perfect social media
- Ate mostly healthy food
- Spent 30 minutes of free time every day learning something new
- Still worked a lot
In the past, when you unconsciously valued money, fame, and image, even if you did all this stuff, you might still feel bad about yourself. But now that you’ve clarified your true values, you can feel great about yourself. When others talk to you about how much money that other guy is making, or how many followers that girl has on social media, you no longer feel uncomfortable inside. You are clear about how those things are not important to you, and you can even be happy for them if they value those things and are successful at those things.
In summary, you need to get clear on YOUR values, and then consciously make decisions to spend your time, money, and energy to match those values. When it comes to comparison, only compare based on YOUR values. If others start comparing about money, but money is not your value, then it won’t affect your confidence. If others start talking about kindness and make you realize you have a lot to improve there, then sure, feel a little bad about yourself as a way to motivate yourself to improve in something that you care about.
2: Practice Humility
Here’s a secret to not feeling bad about yourself: value humility. Judge yourself based on your humility.
In his book, Liao Fan’s Four Lessons, Liao Fan explains that the best way to approach social interactions is with humility:
“A humble person in society receives support and trust from the general public. If a person understands the virtue of humility, he is the person who also understands the importance of constant self improvement. This constant self improvement not only includes the search for higher knowledge, but also encompasses the need to be more humane, better performance in daily duties, and improved communication with friends.”
Therefore, humility means valuing self-improvement. The ego wants to think it’s perfect, so the ego feels threatened by the idea of needing to improve. But a humble person always feels that she can improve, and she judges herself based on how humble she is. If she sees others who are better than her at something that matters to her, she won’t feel bad about herself. She will think, “Great! I’ve found teachers that I can learn from.” If others criticize her, she won’t have the urge to argue back because she knows she has a lot to improve on.
In my own experience of practicing humility, I recited these lines from the book for many months:
- If I get angry when others tell me my faults, good people will leave and bad people will come. If am I appreciative when hearing criticism and cautious when hearing praise, good people will come.
- If I see others’ virtues, I will diligently follow their example. If I see others’ vices, I will vigilantly guard against that vice.
- Whatever extra time I have, I should use it to study and learn from Sages (people of highest virtues)
- I mustn’t give up on myself, for greatness can be trained.
I recited once the morning to remind myself and once at night to check up on myself. Over time, I naturally found myself thinking and acting humbly. That greatly reduced my ego and increased by self-esteem.
A Real Example: Tom Bilyeu
Tom Bilyeu is a great example of someone who switched from ego to humility. In his interview with Jay Shetty, Tom explains how when he was younger, he called himself “The King of Menial Jobs” because he would always take on jobs way below his ability level just so that he could hear people say, “Hey, why are you even here? You’re totally overqualified for this job.” Hearing that made his ego feel great. But he never accomplished much in life as a result. He comments,
“Most people build their self-esteem around something stupid. So most people build their self-esteem around being right, being good, being smart, being worthy, and they see all of those as permanent traits. And so anything that challenges them being smart… it sucks.”
Later, when he was trying to start his own company, he had the opportunity to meet many smart people. He recalls one time in a meeting, he knew his idea was not the best, but he just kept arguing for his idea. Eventually, the other people yielded to him and just said, “Fine fine you can have it your way.” Afterwards, he reflected and realized that his big ego is not helping him at all. If he truly wanted to grow and improve, he needed to be humble. He says,
“I decided in that moment, I’m going to start valuing myself for how rapidly I can admit when I’m wrong, how much I learn, how much time and energy I put into learning, and once I switched that, and I switched my identity and behaviors around to being the learner, then all of a sudden everything changed, and that’s when I went on hockey stick growth.”
He later went on to become a billionaire.
3: Practice Kindness
Here’s the secret to a happy and fulfilling life: value kindness.
Whereas humility helps you not feel bad about yourself, kindness naturally makes you feel good about yourself. When we help others, we naturally realize we have value in this word, that we are needed in this world.
The ego is selfish and entitled. It makes you think that other people should be doing things for you. But a kind (and humble) person is altruistic. She focuses on helping others. When her energy is on helping others, she won’t be focused on comparing herself to others. She simply wants to help. It doesn’t matter if the other person is a beggar or a billionaire, she feels the same feeling of loving kindness towards us.
If a person with a kind heart gets criticized, she won’t be upset. She recognizes that others are coming from a bad place, a place of fear, stress, comparison, and ego. She will be focused on helping others, not on trying to argue with proves or prove them wrong. She might help by giving them a warm smile in return. Or she might just leave them alone if that’s what’s most appropriate. She certainly wouldn’t add to their suffering.
In my own experience of practicing kindness, I recited these lines from the book Di Zi Gui for many months:
- What’s good for others, I’ll do my best to provide. What’s bad for them, I’ll do my best to keep away.
- Whatever abilities I have, I mustn’t be selfish with them.
- I should love all people, for we all live on the same Earth and under the same sky.
- I should praise other people’s virtues and not broadcast their faults.
- If I force others, their hearts will not be with me. If I can get their hearts with me, they will have no objections.
I recited once the morning to remind myself and once at night to check up on myself. Over time, I naturally found myself thinking and acting with kindness. That greatly increased my sense of value and fulfillment.
A Real Example: Adam Robinson
Adam Robinson is a rated chess master and an advisor to the world’s largest investment firms in charge of billionaires of dollars. Here’s his advice on improving yourself and finding happiness:
“One of the problems with self-help books is they rivet your attention on exactly the one thing it ought not to be focused on: yourself. You look at any of the great religious traditions, and the great philosophers, and the great poets, they all had the same message of focusing on others, and being of service to others. I think the people who are going on search to ‘find themselves,’ will never find themselves. You find yourself only in the midst of others.”
On episode 322 of the Tim Ferriss Show, he answered the question, “In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?” Below is his answer.
The understanding, which has become a habit that has most improved my life in the last five years, dramatically so, is recognizing the importance of others and not only changing the world, but in enjoying it. By nature, I’m an introvert, so much so that some friends revealed after high school that there were students, classmates of mine, who had never seen me speak, not once in all of high school.
It came as a surprise [to me] relatively late in life — in fact, only in the past year — that if you want to change the world, you have to enroll others in your plans and vision. Not only that, but I discovered the immense pleasures and satisfactions that can be derived from focusing on others and putting them first, and the surprising discovery that the more I gave to others, which I’d always done, the more the universe gave me back in return, whereas in the past when I went outside and encountered others, I would invariably be lost in thought. Now, I am solely focused not inwardly on my ideas, but outwardly on connecting with others.
My three guiding rules of life: First, whenever possible, connect with others; Second, with enthusiasm, strive always to create fun and delight for others; And third, lean into each moment and every encounter expecting magic or miracles. This discovery so profoundly altered my life path, revealing for the first time my true mission on this planet, that I now divide my life into two periods: Pre-discovery of others and post-discovery.
Now, I so eagerly look forward to leaving my home each day, wondering what magic I’ll create encountering others that I can scarcely contain myself. My days now have a natural rhythm between introversion and extraversion that is akin to breathing. When I’m alone, I inhale my ideas, and then I exhale with others. The number of remarkable people and serendipities and successes that have come into my life since I’ve adopted this awareness of others, which quickly developed into a reflexive habit of directing my attention solely on them when I’m not alone has been nothing short of astonishing.
People have a lack of self-esteem because they judge themselves according to values set by the media, such as wealth, fame, and appearance. These are all low values that focus on greed and comparison, leading to negativity. To build a healthy self-esteem, we should consciously choose to judge ourselves based on higher values like love, kindness, and humility.
Another reason why people have low self-esteem is because of a big ego. When we have a big ego, we base our sense of confidence, self-worth, and happiness on being “better” than other people or on being smart and capable. This type of self-confidence is very fragile and shaky because there will always be other people who are “better” or smarter or more capable.
In order to overcome a big ego, we need to practice humility. That means judging yourself not based on how much you know or how capable you are, but rather how much you are learning and improving. gives many guidelines that we can recite to train our minds to be humble.
Another way to overcome ego is to practice kindness. That means focusing on serving others instead of expecting others to do things for you. When we help others, we automatically feel that we have value in this world, that we are needed in this world. This is a healthy sense of self-worth. also offers many guidelines that we can recite to train our minds towards kindness.
Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on April 25, 2021.