Self Confidence more useful than Self Esteem?

The title of this post is similar to a recent one at Herald-Net, which appears to be an on-line newspaper in Washington, USA.  I’ve added the question mark! Their post has a sports focus, so its unsurprising that the argument is very much in favour of self confidence being the key factor.

self esteem

Who Cares about Self Esteem then?

The author James McCusker  states that coaches preparing teams for games know that the enemy isn’t the opposition, but a lack of self confidence. And, as  in other aspects of life, self confidence is frequently the key to success. He throws in a great quote:-

Automotive pioneer Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” That is what self-confidence is all about, the belief that you can do what needs to be done, that you can succeed.

Self Confidence not same as Self Esteem

Unfortunately people interchange “self confidence” and “self esteem” as if they are the same thing.  Mr McCusker gives a neat definition of the difference:-

“Self-confidence is built on achievement; self-esteem is built on opinion.”

If you have a good opinion about yourself, if you believe in your worth as a person, you generally have high self esteem.  If you depend on the opinions of others to feel good, then your self esteem has a very shaky foundation.

Self confidence is based on our judgement of our ability to do things.  Can we do what we need to do? A belief in oneself to achieve, rather than a love of yourself as a person.

In one of my first posts, looking at this difference, I said that self esteem is somewhat passive, not something others can observe about you. Whilst:-

“Self confidence is more active, and describes our abilities and willingness to interact with the world around us.”

So Self Confidence is More Useful?

In a sporting context its fairly obvious that you want your players to be confident, to think they are good enough to win. And watching them play, spectators would have no idea if any are suffering low self esteem.

McCuskers argument is this should carry forward into all areas – its more useful for an employer to have a self confident workforce than know they have good self esteem.  This goes contrary to the efforts in some education systems (such as the USA) to raise self esteem in students.

Self Esteem is Still Important

Self Confidence

Believe in Yourself

I would agree with McCusker that more can be done to improve self confidence, particularly within education systems.  And as a manager, I know someone exuding self confidence at an interview is more likely to be appointed – and then do well.

But… just because you cannot see self esteem doesn’t mean its not important. Without good self esteem it can be hard to sustain the performances you are good at or, as you strive more and more for unreachable perfection, the cracks start to appear.

Also, building self confidence to perform particular tasks as a team – as they do in the military and sport – doesn’t always leave someone able to function well outside that context.  Sadly many find that once they leave that task focussed team environment life becomes difficult.

And whilst self confident staff may be good for any organisation, this argument forgets about the effect on individuals.  Going through life with low self esteem isn’t fun. However confident you may appear, if you are suffering low self esteem then you don’t enjoy the benefits of your endeavours.

Self esteem and self confidence can be built together in a nurturing environment.  But using military style techniques to build self confidence, as McCusker concludes with, may be short sited. But what do you think?

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Audrey Mora March 29, 2011 at 7:30 am

I really love this post about self confidence and self esteem. It gives a great overview about how self confidence differs from self esteem. thanks for sharing.

David April 19, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Thanks for your lovely comment

Tammy Matthews April 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Low self-esteem, low self confidence are both theives of loving life. Believing in yourself is the key to unlocking the doors to love life!
Great post – thank you for the insight.

David April 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I totally agree that both low self esteem & low self confidence can have a really detrimental affect on people – so from that perspective they are both important. Thanks for your comment and kind words.

Tyrone April 19, 2011 at 9:21 am

Hey David,
Definitely both important! I think they should always be intact for you to stay successful and productive on what you’re doing. With great self-esteem boosts self-confidence and vice versa. Great post to share and reflect about author James McCusker in simplifying these topics’ differences.


David April 19, 2011 at 11:06 pm

They are linked, and people often transpose the two to make things more complicated. Thanks for commenting.

Andrew @ Blogging Guide April 19, 2011 at 10:33 am


For me, self-confidence is based on fact and past experiences. If I’m good at a task…then my self-confidence in that task is high.

If it’s the first time…then self-confidence could be low but my self-esteem takes over because I THINK I will be good at the task and it carries me through.

I hope that makes sense…it does to me!


David April 19, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Yes it makes perfect sense, and its a good approach to take. Thanks for commenting

Beat Schindler April 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm

A great post that makes it clear that both selfs – esteem and confidence – are not only important, but that they go together like the two sides of a coin. Hard to have one without the other. One side represents the coin, the other side represents its value.
– Beat

David April 20, 2011 at 7:22 am

Thanks for your comment and kind words. I really like your point “One side represents the coin, the other side represents its value.”

Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny April 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Hello David,
I’m interested in the points you raise about self-esteem: “If you depend on the opinions of others to feel good, then your self esteem has a very shaky foundation.”

This stands out as most important when building self-confidence. When people around us undermine or diminish our achievements, we lose confidence and feel wobbly.

To me, having healthy self-esteem requires the ability to balance what we do, how we feel about what we do and what other people say in response to what we’ve done. We can go too far in either direction – from arrogant to timid.

David April 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Firstly I agree with your last point as high self esteem is not necessarily the same as good self esteem – most psychopaths have pretty high self esteem!
I take your point that self confidence can also be affected by what others think. But you should be able to hold that at bay by doing, by knowing you can do something.
As self esteem is more of an inner belief system, if you depend on what others think to feel good, then you’ve nowhere else to turn. I hope this makes sense.
Thanks for raising these interesting points.

Michelle Vandepas April 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I never thought about them being 2 different aspects of self before. I am always building my self confidence, and my daughters by having small successes .. I agree with Andrew- I think I can, therefore I do, which helps build both up even more!

David April 21, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Thanks for your comment. Building our confidence should be something we gradually do all the time, as you suggest.

Debbie @ Happy Maker April 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm

You ask, “Self Confidence more useful than Self Esteem?” They both can work together or apart from one another. Self- esteem is how you feel about yourself. When we have good self-esteem we like who we are and what we stand for. With self confidence is our ability in doing things.

When I was in school I loved playing volley ball and let me tell you I was good at it. No one had to reinforce my confidence in playing the sport. Now if I had had good self-esteem at that time in my life, the difference would have been that in other situations where I didn’t have the talent I would have had no problem asking for help and knowing that this was a weak link for me.
What I believe it comes down to is we can have self-confidence in our talents and when we have good self-esteem to go with this, their is no problem confessing that some areas we are not as strong as I would like it to be (spelling would be on area for me). hey, I can really mess up the English language at times, so if someone wants to correct me, I have no problem with this. We can’t be good at all things in life.
With good self-esteem and good self-confidence we know that there is always room for improvment and we are in life to learn as we go and this is ok.

David April 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Thanks for your great comment which i totally agree with. None of us are good at everything, but with low self esteem we don’t like admitting this as it would feel like failure.

Corinne Edwards April 19, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Dear David –

I like this part.

“However confident you may appear, if you are suffering low self esteem then you don’t enjoy the benefits of your endeavours.”

Seems to me that people with low self esteem are always competing with themselves – not others.

Of course, they need enough confidence to do this –

but it is almost a sickness. Nothing is ever good enough.

I know this because I have always been my most active competitor.

David April 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Yes I can empathise with what you’re saying – competing with yourself is a hard habit to shake. Thanks for your comment.

Joel April 20, 2011 at 1:56 am

I loved the fact you added the question mark to the title! I don’t use add links to comments but I though that if you hadn’t read this you might be interested as it talks about the difference between telling someone they’re smart or telling them they work hard:
I believe it’s similar and might be of interest!

David April 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for your comment and for linking to this fascinating article – its a must read for any parent.

Krizia | Women Entrepreneurs HQ April 23, 2011 at 4:20 am


I really enjoyed this post a lot!

I also believe like many others that both are important.

That said, I believe self-esteem drives so much in terms of how we view ourselves and how we react/respond to others.

The sad thing is that self-esteem is built or destroyed as we are kids and we can spend a lifetime trying to fix the broken pieces.


David April 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think as self esteem is more difficult to quantify and understand, it is more difficult to rebuild and can have more lasting impact. That said, self confidence is equally destructive if left unattended.

Amy LeForge April 23, 2011 at 5:19 am

Wow David, what a thought-provoking post! I think your points are excellent, and you especially got my attention when you pointed out how people who leave structured settings can sometimes lose their way. I hadn’t considered that before.

As a parent of boys entering adolescence, I think a lot about self-confidence with regard to “coolness”. One of my almost-13-year-olds is deeply interested in being with the cool kids, and in being cool himself. It seems to me that projecting self-confidence and/or self-esteem is one of the foundational planks of being perceived as cool by your peers.

I’m not anxious for my boys to just be popular, but I’d love for them to walk through this phase of life more smoothly than I did. Ugh. I was a mess. 🙂

David April 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Thanks for your comment. My daughters are now all in their early twenties, so I can empathise with where your at. Its very difficult being a parent who cares about their kids, when you want them to get it right without making too many mistakes.
I strongly recommend the link in the comment that Joel left.

Amy LeForge April 30, 2011 at 6:02 am

Oh yay! I already do at least some of what Joel’s recommended article says. One of my favorite phrases to the boys is “good work, men!”. I’ve been using it for a while now, hoping to encourage both the idea that they’re becoming men and that work is good (and important).

Sherri Frost | Self Hypnosis April 23, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Interesting distinction between confidence and self esteem. I think people with no self confidence often view other very confident people as arrogant. This in turn affects their self esteem. Confidence cannot be taught but it can be learned.

David April 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Thanks for your comment. There is a cross over into arrogance from high self confidence, but I think that is as much to do with the persons attitude to others. I think confidence can be taught, so long as the recipient is prepared to work at changing.

James Pruiit May 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Personally, I think there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is because you believe in yourself. when you are confident, you don’t really care what other people think, (which helps to have good self esteem to accomplish). I find that arrogance is from people who try to fake being confident. they have to try to force others to believe they are confident when they really aren’t.

nilck m May 5, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Well i start off beleiving that i can achieve. But when it comes to it, I don’t understand how to acheive the task, so I use brute force, break the thing then punish myself for it!

Self-confidence comes from when you’re already able to acheive something and with that skill you go on to achieve something related to it – which is why we have a childhood, so as we can experience what we need to become highly functioning adults…

So, as i haven’t been given the tools to learn, it doesn’t matter that I am not intelligent, as this will not show up to people – who insult me by calling me intelligent, and then I can’t do the task no matter if I have self-confidence or not!

so self-confidence is result of experience, not the forerunner of it!

am I right?


Sanjana Koli May 31, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Self confidence is the difference between feeling unstoppable and feeling scared out of your wits. Your perception of yourself has an enormous impact on how others perceive you. Perception is reality — the more self confidence you have, the more likely it is you’ll succeed.

Larry Lewis June 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Every time i step on the platform as a speaker my ‘self confidence’ is my most important part of my armoury. Within me it builds a complete belief that i know my subject and am good enough to communicate it in a fun and interesting way. Self esteem only comes in, before when im doing my hair to make sure i look the part. Clearly one is more importanty than the other.

John Walley _ Professional Life Coach July 13, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I agree. Believe it or not many people struggle with low self confidence. Many would be surprised to know the level of value that self-confidence provides to the average Joe and the Entrepreneur.

Hannah July 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Hey, thx for the great advice!! Some good stuff 🙂 Anyway, but just wanted to point something out, for the future readers- you spelled short sited wrong~~~ (isn’t it short “sighted”?)~~

StephRWong August 9, 2011 at 12:57 am

I think that even the people who seem most confident may be putting a front on and are actually less confident than they seem. I definitely am not the most confident person but thanks for the advice! I take advice like this to heart.

And as community manager intern from Livefyre, welcome! Let me know if you have any questions 🙂

b.nijhoff October 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

This is truly a great article and also very helpful and motivating. Thanks for this great advice and I hope you post more great posts like this. Keep on the good work!

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