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Realizing and improving self-worth

Self-worth can so often feel like a fickle thing — readily available when we’re doing well and nowhere to be found in the times when we need the confidence. For some of us, its elusiveness may have something to do with how we value ourselves.

In today’s goal-driven world, it may feel normal to interweave worthiness with outside factors like work achievements and financial gains — or even failures and setbacks. In truth, bonding these things together is what tends to lead to an unstable sense of self-worth: as life-wins and losses inevitably ebb and flow, our value tends to rise and fall in tandem.

While harboring a steadfast sense of self-worth is a skill we all possess, untangling it from external factors and rebuilding it from within require both patience and practice. But in time, this healthy perception shift can help us value ourselves unconditionally, regardless of achievements, status, and others’ perceptions.

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Key takeaways:

  • Self-worth and self-esteem can impact each other, but ideally one isn’t reliant on the other

  • Realizing our worth happens when we understand that our value operates independently from the external ups and downs of life

  • Try 8 meditations for realizing and improving self-worth

What is self-worth?

Strong self-worth is a firm belief that we, as individuals, are inherently worthy of happiness. Unlocking that sense of worth often involves embarking on an introspective journey to first notice how we regard ourselves, and then to understand what inner shifts we can make.

While the terms self-esteem and self-worth are often used interchangeably, there is a slight but important difference to consider. The former typically refers to how good or bad we feel about ourselves and our capabilities, whereas the latter refers to how we view our value as human beings. Healthy self-worth can certainly promote higher self-esteem, and low self-esteem can certainly impact our sense of worth. But, ideally, one isn’t reliant on the other. Either way, our worth can be an unshakable notion that’s always with us — through tough times or great times. And there is, within each of us, a place of stillness that is inherently confident, accessed beyond limiting thoughts and beliefs.

The benefits of building self-worth

At some point in our lives, we all go through difficult times that can challenge the value we place on ourselves. Maybe a big promotion passed us by, or someone we love broke off a relationship, or a run of rotten luck has brought life itself into question. At moments like this, it’s common to have deprecating thoughts such as, “I’m not good enough.”

If we know our self-worth, it can act as a sort of shield against this type of negative thinking — helping us wade through hard times, with our head held high and worthiness firmly in check, ultimately building a more resilient character. But that’s easier said than done if we’ve had a lifetime of thinking we’re not good enough, or if we don’t like the way we look, or indeed the way we are.

Low self-worth, like low self-esteem, is always looking for fuel to feed the “not good enough” storyline that’s long taken root in our heads. And so it finds further evidence by latching onto the thinking mind to stir up more negative thoughts and negative self-talk. And so the cycle begins. “I’m not good at this …” or “I could be better at this …” or “It’s me … I’m not good enough for them.”

Once we become aware of how the mind influences our sense of worth and confidence, we can make positive shifts to not be so attached to such thinking. Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe says: “If we can identify less with those negative thoughts, we can walk around with a greater sense of ease about ourselves, and find it much easier and more pleasurable to be kind to those around us as well.”

How to improve self-worth

The key to cultivating improved self-worth is finding mindful ways to move away from the idea that external influences reflect our value as a person. In fact, research has shown that those who base their self-worth on external sources such as appearance, approval from others, and academic performance, are actually more prone to stress, anger, relationship conflicts, and ultimately low self-worth.

Understanding that our value operates independently from the external ups and downs of life is often an ongoing and arduous process — one that requires patience and consistency. Here are a few mindfulness practices and healthy coping mechanisms to think about while working on it:

  1. Consider a meditation practice.

Through compassion meditation, we learn how to foster feelings of compassion towards ourselves and others. By learning to not be so rash in judging others, we are not as hard on ourselves. Regularly practicing self-kindness in this way, one slowly discovers ways to quiet negative mental chatter and understand how inherently valuable we truly are.

When using meditation to improve self-worth, the idea is not to replace negative thoughts with positive thinking. Andy notes, “If it was that easy, we would have done that already.”

Instead, meditation is about learning to see through the nature of thought altogether. So it doesn’t matter what thoughts arise in the mind — positive, negative, it’s not important. Either way, we learn to let it all go, giving those thoughts no credence or power.

Noticing when we have periods of low self-worth and low self-esteem is half the battle; it’s that awareness that adds separation between ourselves and the thoughts we are thinking. By noting our thoughts, we learn to see them as just thoughts, without adding weight or meaning. It is an inner commentary we can put down, like choosing to tune out that one negative coworker who never seems to have anything good to say.

In time, this way of navigating thought will become something we learn to do not only during meditation, but in our everyday life as well. “It doesn’t matter what thoughts come up about ourselves or what other people think about us,” says Andy. “There’s this place of quiet confidence within that’s not affected by our internal world or our external world.”

  1. Look for ways to practice gratitude.

As we work on improving self-worth, it can be helpful to develop a daily mindfulness practice that centers around gratitude. Those who regularly take time to appreciate their blessings have been shown to be less likely to compare themselves to others — a fundamental principle of long-lasting self-worth.

A daily gratitude practice can be as simple as starting a gratitude journal, where we draft long-form paragraphs, bullet-pointed lists, or even creative drawings. For something a bit more structured, we might also try listening to a guided gratitude meditation to help bring the mind to a place of personal reflection. Don’t be afraid to keep your gratitude practice quick and easy. As Andy says, “Sometimes, a happy mind is just a moment of appreciation away.”

  1. Navigate negative thoughts in a new way.

Negative thinking is completely normal, but we can shift how much attention we give such thoughts. The less weight we give them, the less we identify with them, and the less believable those thoughts become. While we may never be able to completely silence negative self-talk, meditation is a great tool to bring awareness to how our mind trips us up, and that awareness affords us the power to do something about it.

Try 8 meditations for realizing and improving self-worth

Looking for more meditations for increasing self-worth? The Headspace app offers members courses and single meditations on topics related to compassion and gratitude, including:

  • Visualizing Well-Being meditation. Create an inner sanctuary of safety, support, and joy.

  • Self-Love meditation. Tap into the love that’s always available to you.

  • Self-Esteem course. Move towards a less judgmental inner life by creating some space in your mind to observe negative and self-critical thinking.

  • Kindness course. Foster feelings of compassion towards yourself and learn to judge others less harshly, too.

  • Appreciation course. Discover a renewed sense of gratefulness for life.

  • Showing Gratitude meditation. Find a greater sense of gratitude for yourself, your health, and the people in your life.

  • Add Some Joy mindful activity. On this walk, find a new sense of gratitude by reflecting on the people and things you appreciate.

  • Acceptance course. Learn to let go of resistance and find acceptance.

Crafting resilient, powerful self-worth isn’t something that will come easy, but once we’re able to tap into it, we’ll have a tool to use forever — one that’s always in our pockets, ready to remind us that we are valuable just as we are.

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