3 Ways to Improve Your Self-Image

UPDATED: June 23, 2023
PUBLISHED: September 25, 2018

The great Mark Twain was quoted once as saying that humor is the good natured side of truth. That’s why we can’t help but laugh sometimes in the toughest situations.

Gallows humor has a place. It can be a teacher. I am especially fond of the one about the man who went to see a fortune teller to see what she had to say about his future. She looked into a crystal ball and said, “You will be poor and unhappy until you are 45 years old.”

“Then what will happen?” the man asked hopefully. Maybe a windfall was on the way.

She gazed into the crystal ball a little longer and then, looking up, told him what would happen next. “You’ll get used to it.”

Now, that’s not a true story—at least I hope not! But couldn’t you just see it working out that way for the poor young man? If he feels so unsure of himself that he would seek out a fortune teller for reassurance, I would have to envision him turning her prophecy into a self-fulfilling one.

Related: 4 Keys to Building Your Confidence

The learning item from that story is that too many of us tell ourselves similarly unfortunate prophecies, then go on to live them out. We’ve all met the woman who won’t quit smoking because she tells herself it’ll be too hard, or the man who stays in a dead-end job because he doesn’t believe he can make more money going it alone. Mistaken leaders may fail to ask more of their people out of fear that they won’t be liked, only to have their teams eventually become disenchanted with the lack of leadership.

People are never able to outperform their self-image. If you put a small value on yourself or your abilities, rest assured that the world will not raise the price.

I must admit that self-image has never been a problem for me. I grew up in a very positive environment, and I’ve always believed I could succeed. But I’ve worked with a lot of people who didn’t, and I’ve been able to help some of them turn the corner and believe in themselves the way I believe in them. And I hope to be able to help you, too, if that’s your situation.

It’s so vital that, when you look in the mirror, you value the person staring back at you—that you see someone worthy of success, respect, happiness and love. Your view of yourself is the first key building block in attaining any of those.

It’s so vital that, when you look in the mirror, you value the person staring back at you.

If you’ve had a difficult time and you don’t feel good about yourself or your abilities, I want to tell you that you do have value. Your life can change and you can make a difference, no matter what background you come from. No matter what traumas you’ve suffered or mistakes you’ve made, you can learn and grow. You can become the person you have the potential to be. You just need to have a healthy belief in yourself to get started.

Related: 15 Quotes to Overcome Your Self-Limiting Beliefs

I want to give you three strategies to help you appreciate all that you have inside. Put these into practice, and every time you take a step, think a positive thought, make a good choice or practice a small discipline, you’ll be moving your reality closer in line to your self-image.


1. Make a list.

Jot down all your best personal qualities. Don’t be too modest! If needed, spend days or weeks to make the list, but don’t stop until you’ve said every positive thing you can about yourself. Now think harder and find more. This should be comprehensive. This exercise will inform part two of this step: If it took you a long time to create your list, then you need to take time out of every day to review the list and let all these positive qualities sink in, reminding yourself of your value. Remember, if you don’t value yourself, you will have a hard time adding value to others. Once you are deeply familiar with all these positive qualities you have, choose the one that best represents you. Make it the North Star of your character as you begin to build on it.

2. Speak kindly to yourself.

Few things impact a person’s self-esteem more than the way they talk to themselves on a daily basis. Are you aware of how you talk to yourself? Keep track of your self-talk in your smartphone. Make a tally each time you think positive or negative about yourself. When you realize just how hard you’re being on yourself, refer back to that list of personal qualities you’ve created.

3. Reflect well on others.

If you really want to feel valuable, you’ve got to share your gifts with others—be these your interpersonal qualities or your talents. How much time every day and every week do you spend focused on adding value to the people around you? Do you serve through a volunteer organization? Do you mentor people? Do you give assistance to others less fortunate than yourself? If you aren’t doing so already, find a way to serve others by utilizing your strengths, especially that North Star you identified. If you’re already serving, then do more. It’s the surest way to improve your self-image, which is the surest way to improve others’ images of you.

Never ever allow yourself to become used to feelings of mediocrity. When you look into the mirror, you should see someone who matters to you, first and foremost—someone you believe in.

Related5 Positive Ways to Build Your Belief in Yourself

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.