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Self-Belief: thinking positively about yourself and your abilities (Open Learning)

How to build your self-belief

How can you build self-belief?Flower growing in cracks

Building your self-belief can be difficult when you start university.

You are finding your place in a new location with a new group of people.

In times of change, self-belief can drop, leaving you anxious and hesitant, fuelling your inner critic.

Mastery experiences - Your successful experiences boost self-belief, while failures decrease it. This is the best source of self-belief.

Vicarious experience - Observing a peer succeed at a task can strengthen beliefs in one's own abilities.

Verbal persuasion - Tutors can boost self-belief with their communication and feedback to guide you through a task or motivate you to make your best effort.

Emotional state - A positive mood can boost your self-belief, while anxiety can undermine it. Try to reduce stressful situations and lower anxiety.

There are a number of other ways to counteract low self-belief, which are addressed on the tabs on this page.

Resources used to inform these pages:

Get to know yourselfperson filled with self-belief words

Identify your strengths, abilities and achievements.

  • Write down 10 of your strengths and 10 of your weaknesses.
  • Be honest and include everything you're proud of, no matter how small.
  • Take notice of experiences or thoughts that increase or decrease your self-confidence or self-esteem
    • This will help you to begin developing an honest and realistic conception of your self.
  • ​Think about what you'd like to change or improve about yourself, and how you can do that.
  • Set realistic expectations.
    • It’s important to set small, attainable goals that are within your power.
    •  setting high expectations or expectations that someone else will change their behaviour is virtually guaranteed to make you feel like a failure.

Make changes in your lifeLife change

You may decide you want to make changes in your life to improve your self-esteem and self-confidence.

Think about what you can change that will improve how you feel about yourself. For example, you may want to make changes in your studies, job or relationships, or develop new skills.

Make a plan so that you can:

  • identify specific goals that will challenge you
  • break each goal down into achievable steps
  • build on your success after each step.
  • surround yourself with positive influences
  • spend time with people who like you for who you are.
    • Avoid people who are constantly negative or critical, but don't withdraw from genuine social contact.

Self-acceptancePractise self-acceptance

Become more accepting of yourself - this helps you to feel good about yourself and other people, regardless of the situation.

Everyone makes mistakes. When you practise self-acceptance you can:

  • acknowledge that mistakes are part of learning
  • identify ways you may be able to solve problems differently or change to get a different outcome
  • be critical of your behaviour and try to change it without being critical of yourself.
  • Stop being a perfectionist and acknowledge both your accomplishments and mistakes.
    • You will inevitably make mistakes and have moments you wish had never happened, but so will everyone else.
    • Share these stories with the people you trust and learn to laugh at yourself
  • Self-comparisonStop comparing yourself to others
    • comparing yourself to others is an easy trap to fall into, especially as social media projects a polished and perfected (and false) appearance
    • Remember, building your self-confidence can take a long time.
    • If those around you seem to have it more together, it may be that they’ve been working on their self-confidence for a long time, or it’s a façade they choose to show around others
    • the only person you should compare yourself to is you​
  • be willing to adjust your self-image
    • we all change as we age and grow
    • we must keep up with our ever-changing selves if we want to set and achieve meaningful goals.

Reprogram your thinkingReprogram your thinking

  • Pay attention to the language you use when you talk to yourself or describe yourself to others
  • Learn to assert your needs. Don't feel guilty about asking others for what you want, or saying no to what you don't want
  • We are often more kind and generous to other people than we are to ourselves.
  • Recognise and challenge your inner critic
  • Focus on the messages that make you value yourself, and turn down those that make you think negatively about your value or ability

what if nothing is wrongAddress Your Anxieties Head-On

  • When anxiety starts to get the better of you, ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’
  • By taking the time to step back and evaluate the situation at hand, it can help to give you some perspective to deal with the situation
  • The more you do this and improve the way you deal with any issues that arise, the more it will have a positive impact on your confidence levels, calming your inner critic dramatically

Learning to communicate assertively will help you form better relationships and find new opportunities.

It can also bring about a shift in the way you think about yourself.

“Assertiveness” may make people with low self-belief hesitant.

Being assertive might sound overly aggressive, pushy, or just too out of character.

There are three common communication styles:

aggressive communicationAggressive Communication

  • speaking in a mean, harsh, or sarcastic manner
  • taking instead of compromising
  • maintaining glaring eye contact
  • speaking in loud or threatening tones
  • putting others down
  • being inappropriately honest
  • bullying others

Assertive Communicationspeech standing up assertion

  • being firm but polite
  • compromising
  • maintaining warm and friendly eye contact and a conversational tone, building up others and oneself, being appropriately honest, and standing up for oneself.

Passive Communication

  • being too nice or weak
  • passive communicationbeing overly compliant
  • avoiding eye contact
  • speaking softly
  • putting oneself down
  • being emotionally dishonest
  • allowing others to speak over you in conversation.

Being an assertive communicator is nothing like being an aggressive communicator. Assertive communication is simply expressing yourself honestly and directly, while being polite and open.

Adapted from: Ackerman, C. (2020) 18 Self-Esteem Worksheets and Activities for Teens and Adults (+PDFs)​. Available at: (Accessed: 18 May 2020).

Be braveStep Out of Your Comfort Zone From the Start

Do one thing, every day if possible, that scares you. Whether that’s standing up in class to give a presentation, calling a local company for some valuable work experience, or joining in a new activity or club. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be a massive leap towards building your self-confidence.

Take Advantage of the Support on Offer

The Student Life service offers support and advice on a range  of things:

And don't forget... your personal tutors will listen and help you.

visualise​Visualise where you want to be

By visualising what you'd like to achieve, you can take positive steps to achieve this.

As early as possible, set yourself some clear, reachable goals and benchmarks: whether it’s to achieve a certain grade by the end of your university experience, or to end up in a certain industry. 

It can help you realise how much you have achieved and build your confidence as you tick things off.

Think positiveStay Positive

If you have a tendency to be shy, set yourself mini personal challenges, especially during the first few weeks of university. Try smiling at the person that sits next to you in your lectures, or saying ‘yes’ to going along with classmates for a coffee.  As you complete each challenge, you'll feel your self-confidence growing.

Food can be an incredibly effective tool for getting people to bond, so whether you go out to eat or cook at home with your flatmates, it can help create feelings of trust and increase closeness.

As you go along, remind yourself of the positive steps you’ve taken, perhaps writing them down in a notebook once a week. This can help build your self-confidence back up when you’re having a particularly bad day.

rewardReward yourself

Celebrate your achievements as you practise building your self-esteem and self-confidence. Make time to treat yourself with experiences and activities you value.


  • Surround yourself with positive people to help build your self-confidence.
  • Realise which friends build you up and which friends do not.
  • University can be a great time to get rid of the friends who make you feel negative or encourage bad habits
  • Form friendships with new people you can have fun with and who don’t drain your energy levels.
  • Be mindful of the fact that not all of the people that you meet during university will share the same values as you and that’s ok. 

Share with others

If you can, tell a good friend what you're doing. Their encouragement and feedback on the changes you're making could be invaluable support. You can also help other people to see themselves as capable and worthwhile.