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


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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:

  1. Live consciously according to YOUR values

  2. Cultivate humility

  3. 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:

  1. List your values.

  2. Identify the origin of that value.

  3. 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.

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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 Di Zi Gui for many months:

  1. 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.

  2. If I see others’ virtues, I will diligently follow their example. If I see others’ vices, I will vigilantly guard against that vice.

  3. Whatever extra time I have, I should use it to study and learn from Sages (people of highest virtues)

  4. 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


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Tom Bilyeu is a great example of someone who switched from ego to humility. In his interview with Jay Shetty, Tom explained 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.