In a world where external validation often takes precedence over inner values, it is no surprise that low self-esteem has become a pervasive issue. Many of us look exclusively to others to understand how we should act, what we should be doing, and how we should look, spending little time to listen to the person we believe we should be.

However, the ancient wisdom of Stoic philosophy offers the path to an antidote to this modern malady. Stoicism teaches us to focus on the things within our control, act in accordance with virtue, and become independent from the fleeting opinions of others. In this exploration of Stoicism, we will combine two things:

  1. Perspective – we will use the teachings of its most influential thinkers, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, and discover how their wisdom can help us view the world around us differently to help cultivate a strong sense of self-worth.

  2. Application – we will go over a few practical tools and actions that can take us from a person we’re unhappy with and closer to the person we want to be.

In this guide, we will take a look at the roots of low self-esteem, introduce you to the Stoic strategies for building a strong inner philosophy, and provide practical tools to pull us out of the habits that keep us where we are and build us up to the person we want to be. I’ll split the subject into 3 parts:

  1. Why – here we’ll cover some common causes of why we feel low self esteem

  2. What – we’ll move on to see what Stoic practices can help us change how we see ourselves and our place in the world

  3. How – Lastly we’ll look at practical tools to find out how we can bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be

As we go, it’s worth thinking about how these things can be applied to your situation in particular. Not all of it will work for everyone, but some of it will work for most people.

Page Break Image of a Greek Temple

Part 1. Understanding the Roots of Low Self-Esteem

When building a good house, a builder doesn’t just find a spot and begin. Before the builder begins to build, they need to understand the land, the type of ground, the materials, and the blueprints.

The same is true for us. If we want to build ourselves, we need to know:

  • The blueprint: who we want to be

  • The materials to use: resources, lessons, habits, books, actions etc

  • The ground on which we’re building: our past experiences, our perspectives, fears, bad habits, biases, judgements, beliefs.

Often, when we decide to build ourselves, the ground is too unstable, we don’t understand it well enough for it to be a solid foundation. This can be because it’s too unpredictable and complex to simply start building, or it could be that our emotions and reactions to things are so strong that the ground fractures and splits, making building anything lasting impossible. So first, we need to create a solid foundation.

To do this, we need to understand where the weaknesses are and reinforce them. When it comes to understanding ourselves, we’ll need time, introspection, honesty, and humility.

In the context of self-esteem, we need to know the sources of low self esteem so we can address them with the right tools and materials. Below are some examples, and while it is not a complete list, it should help you identify one or two in yourself.

A. Seeking approval from others

The desire for approval and validation from those around us is a common human habit. In recent years, this has been supercharged with the rise of social media and the desire for likes, shares, and comments from other people.

However, an excessive reliance on external opinions can lead to low self-esteem, especially when that validation does not come.

Stoic philosophy reminds us that we cannot control others’ thoughts or feelings and that placing our wellbeing in their hands is placing our wellbeing in something that we have no influence over, which by extension makes it fragile and unstable. Ultimately, this means we are vulnerable to disappointment, frustration, and doubt.

Epictetus, a prominent Stoic philosopher, taught that the key to a fulfilling and contented life lies in distinguishing between the things we can control and the things we cannot. By focusing our energy and attention on what is within our control—our thoughts, actions, and reactions—our mental wellbeing becomes much more resistant to the change in our circumstances.

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”

– Epictetus

B. Lacking self-approval

An over-reliance on approval from others often causes us to undervalue how we feel about ourselves or dismiss it entirely. A strong sense of self-esteem requires that we approve of and value ourselves.

If we constantly seek validation externally, we may overlook the importance of cultivating self-approval. In the context of the dichotomy of control, we’re essentially ignoring what is within our control in favor of what is outside our control, making our sense of self-worth fragile.

However, if we recognize that we are in control of our own thoughts and emotions and that we have the power to choose self-acceptance and self-compassion, our sense of self becomes much more resilient than one that relies on those things from others.

To achieve this psychological independence, we can practice reflecting on our own values, beliefs, and accomplishments, seeking validation from within rather than from others.

Through developing a deeper connection with our inner selves and recognizing our inherent worth, we are able to build a stable and enduring foundation for our self-esteem—one that is not easily shaken by external events or judgments.

It’s true that when we accomplish our goals, build constructive habits, stop destructive habits, and do things that align with our values, this ability to self-validate becomes easier, so we’ll take a look at how to work towards this in Part 3.

C. Shame and regret over past actions

Low self-esteem can often stem from a deep sense of shame or regret about past actions or mistakes. The Stoics teach us that dwelling on the past is counterproductive, as we cannot change what has already transpired. Instead, we should focus on learning from our experiences and making better choices in the present and future.

In this way, we accept what we have done, we take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, and we move forward with the intent to improve our behavior in such a way that is deserving of our own approval.

D. The gap between your ideal self and your current self

Another source of low self-esteem can be found in the gap between who we want to be and who we currently are.

We should encourage ourselves to be aware of this gap and to use it as motivation to grow and progress in our personal development journey.

When we set realistic goals and work toward them, we not only get a sense of accomplishment at getting closer to the person we want to be, we also prove to ourselves that we can follow a deliberate path, build discipline, and cut out bad habits. Gradually, as we bridge this gap, we cultivate a stronger sense of self-worth.

E. Reinforcing negative self-image through inaction or unproductive habits

Low self-esteem is often perpetuated by the very behaviors that contribute to it in the first place. Inaction, procrastination, and unproductive habits can reinforce a negative self-image, trapping us in a vicious cycle of self-sabotage. The Stoic way emphasizes the importance of taking control of our actions, choosing habits that align with our values, and actively working towards self-improvement. By breaking free from this cycle, we can begin to heal our self-esteem and build a more positive self-image.

Page Break Image of a Greek Temple

Part 2: Stoic Strategies to Improve Self-Esteem

A. Focus on what you can control

Epictetus, the former slave turned Stoic philosopher, devoted a large part of his teachings to the importance of focusing on what is within our control while letting go of what is beyond our control. This fundamental principle of Stoicism holds the key to developing a resilient and robust inner peace that is protected from changes in our circumstances.

To fully understand and apply this concept, it is essential to recognize that our thoughts, actions, and reactions are the only aspects of our lives that we have direct control over. External events, people’s opinions, and the outcomes of our actions are all beyond our control.

When we focus our energy and attention on what is within the reach of our, we can cultivate a more grounded and unshakable sense of self.

For example, imagine receiving criticism or some negative feedback from someone: while we cannot control their opinion or how they deliver it, we can control how we respond to it. We can choose to view this feedback as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement rather than allowing it to damage our self-esteem. Or we can decide that it is malicious, untrue, and simply an attempt to attack us, so we can dismiss it.

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”
― Epictetus

Similarly, when faced with challenges or setbacks, we can choose to focus on our response to these events rather than dwelling on the circumstances themselves.

In essence, Epictetus’s teachings guide us towards embracing our inherent power to shape our thoughts, actions, and reactions. This Stoic approach enables us to maintain our inner peace, resilience, and self-worth, regardless of the challenges and uncertainties that life may present.

“Seek not the good in external things; seek it in yourselves.”
― Epictetus

B. independence from external validation

The Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, understood the importance of cultivating a sense of self-worth that is independent of external validation. In his meditations, he often reflected on the transient nature of fame, fortune, and the opinions of others, urging us to seek validation from within rather than relying on the ever-changing external world.

To cultivate this independence from external validation, it is essential to develop a strong sense of self-awareness and self-understanding. This process begins with introspection, taking the time to reflect on our values, beliefs, strengths, and accomplishments.

When we recognize our inherent worth and the qualities that make us who we are, we can begin to appreciate ourselves and the value we can bring, regardless of whether or not we get praise or criticism from others.

Furthermore, Marcus Aurelius emphasized the significance of living in accordance with our inner values and principles, rather than seeking to conform to the expectations of society or other individuals. Through alignment with our own values, beliefs, and convictions, we can experience a deep sense of self-respect, knowing that we can’t be easily swayed by opinion or the need for approval.

C. Act in accordance with virtue

Seneca, another influential Stoic philosopher, argued that living a virtuous life is the path to true happiness and fulfillment. The Stoics identified four cardinal virtues:

  1. Wisdom

  2. Courage

  3. Temperance

  4. Justice

The Stoics argued that we should weave these virtues into our day-to-day lives and that when we reflect virtue in our actions, thoughts, and beliefs, we are well on the path to living a good and fulfilling life.

Wisdom involves the pursuit of knowledge, acting with reason, understanding the world around us, and developing sound judgment. In the pursuit of continually learning, seeing the world as it is rather than how we want it to be, and making well-informed decisions, we bring ourselves closer to this cardinal virtue.

Courage is the ability to face challenges, adversity, and fear with determination and resolve, despite pressure not to. When we act courageously, we demonstrate our strength of character, our commitment to our principles, and our belief in our own abilities.

Temperance represents moderation, self-discipline, and self-control. By practicing restraint and balance in our thoughts, emotions, and actions, we develop a sense of mastery over ourselves, which enhances our self-esteem.

Justice encompasses fairness, equality, and moral righteousness. By acting justly toward others and ourselves, we cultivate a strong moral compass.

Page Break Image of a Greek Temple

Part 3: How To Bridge The Gap

A. Define your ideal self and set clear goals

The journey towards building anything new into our lives begins with understanding and imagining where we want to be. If we create a definition and image of the person we want to be and how we want to act, we create a powerful compass that can guide our thoughts, actions, and decisions.

“If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favourable.”

– Seneca The Younger

To define this version of who we want to be, we’ll need to dedicate some time for introspection and self-discovery. Reflect on your core values, strengths, and aspirations. Consider how the Stoic virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice resonate with your personal beliefs and how you can integrate these virtues into your daily life.

Next, you can visualize how the person you want to become would act in different areas of your life, such as relationships, career, personal growth, health, and well-being. Make sure to be specific and detailed in your visualization. The clearer you make this, the better your compass will be for setting goals and shaping your actions.

Once you have a clear understanding of the above, translate this vision into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. For example, if you aspire to become a more disciplined and focused individual, one of your goals might be to establish a consistent daily meditation practice within the next three months.

Setting clear goals based on your ideal self provides a roadmap for personal growth and ensures that your actions and choices are aligned with your values and aspirations. When we work towards these goals, we gradually embody the traits, principles, and virtues that underpin a fulfilling, purpose-driven life unique to us.

B. Identify habits to start and stop to bridge the gap between your current and ideal self

Having defined your ideal self and set clear goals, it’s time to evaluate your current habits and behaviors to determine which ones serve you and which ones hinder your progress. The recognition of habits that you should keep and that you should change will create a foundation for transforming your life to align with who you want to be.

Start by listing your current habits and categorize them as either beneficial or detrimental to your goals and ideal self. Be honest with yourself during this process, acknowledging areas where you may have been indulging in unproductive or harmful routines.

For each detrimental habit, consider an alternative habit that is more in line with your goals. For example, if you find that excessive screen time is impeding your ability to cultivate mindfulness and focus, you might replace this habit with a daily meditation or journaling practice.

Conversely, identify habits you need to adopt to get closer to your ideal self. These habits could include regular exercise, adopting a healthier diet, engaging in meaningful hobbies, or dedicating time to personal growth through reading or attending courses, school, or classes. Be specific about what these new habits will look like in your daily routine, as this will help you implement them more effectively.

Once you have identified the habits you need to start and stop, prioritize them based on the impact they have on your life and your ability to achieve your goals. Focus on one or two habits at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed, and build from there as you gain confidence and momentum.

By consciously choosing to replace detrimental habits with those that align with your ideal self and values, you bridge the gap between who you are and who you want to be. This process not only strengthens your self-esteem but also fosters a more authentic and fulfilling life.

Sometimes starting something new can be hard; in this case, choose the smallest possible step forward and build on it. Moving forward can often be extremely difficult. The motivation might not be there, the discipline that requires development hasn’t been developed, and the pull of activities that keep you where you are is too strong.

So choose the smallest possible action and build on it. Maybe it’s taking a plate from your bedroom to the kitchen. Maybe it’s picking up a book instead of turning on the PlayStation. Maybe it’s uninstalling Instagram. Maybe it’s getting a cheap gym membership. Whatever it might be, start small and build.

C. Plan when and how to implement these changes in your life

Now we have two things:

  1. An understanding of self esteem

  2. A foundational understanding of some practical Stoic principles

  3. A clear image of the person we want to be

  4. An idea of the habits we should stop and some we should start

With all of this, we can now develop a plan for implementing these changes in your life. A well-rounded strategy will serve as a roadmap, helping you stay focused and accountable as you work towards embodying your ideal self. To do this, we can write them down on paper or use a tracking app, I like Notion, but others like Evernote or a simple text app are good too.

  1. Break down your goals into smaller steps: Divide your larger goals into smaller, more manageable milestones. This approach makes the process of habit change feel more achievable and allows you to track your progress more easily. For example, if your goal is to develop a consistent exercise routine, you might start by committing to a 10-minute workout three times a week, gradually increasing the duration and frequency over time.

  2. Set a realistic timeline: Establish a timeline for achieving each milestone, considering the time and effort required for each step. Be realistic about the pace of change and ensure that you provide yourself with sufficient time to adapt to new habits without becoming overwhelmed.

  3. Identify potential obstacles and challenges: Consider the challenges you may face as you work to adopt new habits or eliminate old ones. These might include time constraints, lack of resources, or deeply ingrained behavioral patterns. By anticipating potential hurdles, you can develop contingency plans or strategies to overcome them, increasing your likelihood of success.

  4. Create a support network: Share your goals and plans with trusted friends or family members who can provide encouragement, accountability, and guidance. Alternatively, consider joining a group or community that shares your aspirations, as this can offer valuable support and motivation.

  5. Monitor and adjust your plan as needed: Regularly review your progress and reflect on your successes and setbacks. Be open to adjusting your plan as you learn more about yourself and your needs. This flexibility will enable you to fine-tune your approach, ensuring that it remains effective and sustainable over the long term.


To end, Stoic philosophy offers a powerful framework for overcoming all kinds of mental hardship and embracing a more fulfilling, resilient life. In the case of our sense of self, when we understand the roots of our self-image and tailor our approach carefully, we can develop a resilient sense of self-worth that is grounded in our ability to stay true to our beliefs and values while not sacrificing these things to get the approval of others.

Similar Posts