How Low Self-Esteem Affects Goal-Setting

I recently posted a Motivation Quick Tip on the Behavior and Motivation Facebook Page. This prompted an interesting conversation that I thought exposed some important points about low self-esteem and how it effects the way you set goals. The following is a transcript of that conversation.

Motivation Quick Tip:  Better to focus on one goal that means a lot to you, then many goals that are only casual desires.

Shawn:  Scott, see if you agree with this definition: Low self-esteem is defined as believing a lie.

Me:  Believing in a lie about yourself can definitely cause low self-esteem. For clarity, I would modify your definition to say: Low self-esteem is defined as believing in a lie about yourself.

You probably know that this also relates to goal-setting. Low self-esteem can cause you to set the wrong goals. If you don’t have a clear idea of who you really are, how can you set goals that are aligned with your inner values and desires.

Any thoughts about this?

Shawn:  I would say that low self esteem would cause a person to not set as many goals as they would if their esteem was higher because they may not have the confidence that they CAN make their dreams a reality.

Me:  That may be true in some cases, but self-esteem is often compartmentalized. In other words, someone can have low self-esteem about some capabilities and skills while having high self-esteem for others.

Logically, a person may avoid setting goals related to sports, if she thinks she has no talent in sports. But she may set many goals in business, because she is confident in that arena.

Usually, low self-esteem is a package deal. You have a collection of areas where you suffer from low self-esteem. This can cause you to be confused about what your real strengths and weaknesses are.

The result can be that we set goals that lean heavily on our false sense of self and are connected to behaviors that we use to avoid anything that connects to our low self-esteem rather than what makes us truly happy.

We almost literally become like a dog chasing its tail. Eventually, we’ll wear ourselves out and get sick from the stress and pressure of trying to cover up our low-self esteem by muscling it out of our lives. That rarely works. But by focusing on setting only one goal that means a lot to you, the results can reveal important details about yourself whether you fail to achieve it, or you succeed.

Shawn:  When you say self-esteem is compartmentalized, I would agree that it can be broken down into different compartments. I think maybe some people struggle with low feelings of worth in what they do but some struggle with who they are as a whole (and of course this would include that they feel that they won’t be good enough to accomplish their dreams).

Where do these feelings come from? I believe that people will hear something, or think something, or many things about themselves that there might be some evidence of, or maybe not, and they will absorb that information and it will become part of who they are, or who they THINK they are. What all people should realize (REALITY!) is that we all have flaws, but it doesn’t make someone damaged. It’s when someone dwells only on their flaws (or their perceived damagedness) that low self-worth takes over and robs someone of utilizing their abilities for reaching their goals.

It’s all about perception. I think it was in Hamlet that it was said, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so“.

Me:  Shawn, I get the impression that you’ve explored this topic before. The more you examine topics like this, the greater the chance of moving forward through life in a more informed way. I hope this conversation prompts others to examine this in more detail.

We’re really talking about a subconscious process, which makes identifying areas of low self-worth a difficult process for most people. For example, you said that when someone dwells only on their flaws, low self-worth takes over and robs them of utilizing their abilities that could have been used in reaching their goals. I agree. But the process of dwelling on your flaws is largely automatic. It happens so often that we don’t even notice when it’s happening. That makes this entangled mess difficult to sort out consciously.

Also, I agree with you that some people struggle with who they are as a whole. I think that any area of your life in which you have low self-worth is going to affect many other areas because they’re all so closely connected, even when they seem completely different. For example, imagine laying a fish net on a table. Each intersection, where two strings are tied together, represents an area of low self-esteem. If you grab one intersection and try to move it, you’re going to bring many other intersections with it.

When someone sets a goal, it’s like grabbing an intersection on the fish net. So many areas of our lives must work in concert in order for us to achieve the more complicated or more involved goals. That’s why the tiniest snag can halt all progress. For this reason, much of our behavior and motivation is a process of removing the snags and clearing the obstacles.

In the motivation quick tip above, I suggested setting one meaningful goal rather than setting many goals. It’s hard enough for people to reach one goal, let alone many. For years, I would be disappointed when my annual goal review/goal setting time came around. Most of my goals were not crossed off. And it got frustrating year after year. But each year, I tried to learn from what worked and what didn’t and I continually modified my process to get better results.

I think goal-setting is taken for granted or not really taken seriously. So when someone set’s a New Year’s Resolution, they go into it on fire and ready to blaze a trail, but they don’t have a map to go by. That’s why most of the people you talk to don’t set goals or fail to accomplish them when they do set them.

For more good behavior and motivation stuff, visit my Behavior and Motivation with Scott Milford Facebook page. You may also want to sign up for my Insights newsletter.


  1. Hi Scott!

    Fascinating conversation you had there. I agree that having low self esteem in any sector of your life, makes it hard to come up with goals much less achieve them.

    Perhaps starting with more achievable and realistic goals could help increase such low self esteem? After realising that you could do it, only then you would graduate to setting higher or more goals.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Tariq and Shaheera

    • Tariq and Shaheera,

      Thanks. It was a great conversation we had on the Behavior and Motivation Facebook page.

      I agree with what you said about starting with more achievable and realistic goals being a potential boost to self-esteem. But I think the real challenge is just discovering that you have low self-esteem in the areas that affect goal-setting. We’re not too good at picking out our own “flaws”. And to be honest, most people would rather deny they have low self-esteem than to face it head-on and try to work through it. That’s why people go gung-ho in the other areas where their self-esteem is strong, even if that’s not what they’re passionate about.

      But ultimately, you’re right. If people can start small in the areas where they have low self-esteem and start having some successes, they could go on to bigger and better things and dramatically improve their self-esteem which would affect all areas. Thanks for your insightful comment. I hope I see you both on my Facebook page too. I have a feeling you would add a lot to the conversations going on there.


  2. hi Scott, firstly i want to thank you for the time that you have taken in building these bloggs, they are very posetive and helpful, i got an aweful lot from reading them, most of all the feeling that i am not alone. I suffered with low self esteem since a young age , there could be countless reasons which i dont think i need to talk about about,, but the main thing is that i have faced these issues with the help of a CBT therapist and my life has changed beyond belief, i am one year away from gaining a masters Degree which i would never have even attempted in my former state, and i have just landed an amazing job for when i finish!! i feel better in my self and enjoy like to the MAX let me share with anyone out there who is struggling, there is always hope, i thought i was a hopeless case but look at me now !! i wish everyone well , love and peace!! thanks

    • Carlos,

      Thank you for your kind words about my blog and my writings. It’s a labor of love for me. Also, thank you for such a candid report about your struggles. You are definitely not alone.

      It’s so heart-warming to know that you have not only overcome the obstacles you faced, but that you are now thriving in life. Thank you for coming here and giving your message of hope to others. Thank you for being here and being an example of what we can accomplish. As I’m sure you can well attest, overcoming low self-esteem and all of the obstacles that life puts in our path is sometimes a lot of hard work. But if you persevere, just like you have, the effort and hard work is truly worth it.

      We all have the ability to overcome our difficulties. All we have to do is take one more step. Thanks, so much, for stopping by and connecting with, not only me, but with all of my readers. I wish you all the best that life has to offer.


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