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4 Ways to Know Your Worth

3. Reduce external contingencies.

Key points

  • Knowing your worth and believing that you are indeed worthy is essential for happiness and well-being.
  • When our self-worth depends on external situations, it's unstable.
  • Experts suggest you adopt prosocial goals, reduce external contingencies, and focus on your strengths to know your self-worth better.
Photo by Feeh Costa on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Feeh Costa on Unsplash

Those who don't know their worth may consciously or unconsciously believe that they are worthless. Such beliefs can affect one's thoughts, emotions, actions, and experiences. Knowing your worth and believing that you are indeed worthy is essential for happiness and well-being. So, let's dive into the research to learn more about how we can better know our worth.

What Stops Us From Feeling Worthy?

Many of us let our self-worth be contingent upon external events. When our self-worth depends on external situations, it's unstable. As a result, our feelings about ourselves can end up being at the whim of the world.

Obviously, we want to experience things that make us feel good. And engaging in activities that boost our self-esteem makes us feel good. But when we have contingent self-worth, we might engage in activities that make us feel worthy while avoiding activities that make us feel unworthy. This can lead us to pursue the wrong things—things that don’t make us happy in the longer run.

For example, if our self-worth is contingent upon being successful at work, we might only choose jobs that are easy. That way we never fail and ensure that we always know that we are worthy. Or, maybe we only think we're worthy if we weigh less than 130 pounds. We might under-eat or engage in unhealthy eating practices just to make sure that we don't feel like a bad person.

When our self-worth is tied to outside factors, this leaves us with little control over how we live our lives. Instead, we're constantly striving to avoid feeling bad about ourselves. Instead of striving to meet our goals, we strive to avoid failure. And if we do fail, we might abandon our goals, lose motivation, or make excuses to help ourselves feel better (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001).

Ask yourself, do you do this? What situations don't just make you feel bad emotionally, but also feel bad about yourself? These are the situations that might be in control of your self-worth.

How to Know Your Worth

So how can we work toward better knowing our worth so that life's slings and arrows don't affect us so much? Experts in self-esteem (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001) offer some tips:

1. Prioritize learning over performance. When we focus on learning and growing, then we can take failures or lack of approval as an opportunity to improve. By doing this, we can hopefully recover more quickly from difficult emotions.

2. Adopt prosocial goals. By setting goals that are good for us and good for others, we may be able to avoid some of the hits to our self-esteem. So focus on how you serve others and add value to the world.

3. Reduce external contingencies. Research has shown that external contingencies—self-worth based on things like approval or appearance—are the worst for our self-esteem. Internal contingencies based on things like virtue and religiosity appear to be less harmful (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001). So focus on decreasing external contingencies.

4. Focus on your strengths. Ask yourself:

  • What makes you special or unique?
  • What do you do that no one else does?
  • What are your positive qualities?

Regularly answering these questions can help you improve your self-worth.

Self-worth is not an easy thing to develop. But when we better understand how we let external events determine our self-worth, we can hopefully start to shift our worth more towards things we have control over.

Portions of this post were also published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.

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Crocker, J., & Wolfe, C. T. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth. Psychological review, 108(3), 593.

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