It seems like our culture has been obsessed with building self-esteem for decades now. In fact, for most Americans, even the catchphrase of 'self-esteem' has taken on the incorrect connotation of self-love and confidence.
Esteem, however, has little to do with self-love. Instead, the definition of esteem according to Merriam-Webster is high regard, admiration, or respect . Self-esteem's real meaning is self-respect or to hold yourself with high regard, not just to simply "love" thyself. Self-esteem does not mean self-love. Unfortunately, this incorrect connotation and thousands of questionable scientific studies, have led to mass confusion of the population and innumerable failed human services policies.
Aimee Lee Ball writes, "The national insistence on self-esteem as an inalienable right may have been kicked off in 1969 with the publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, by Los Angeles psychologist Nathaniel Branden, who created a cottage industry with 14 books on the subject. And thousands of scholarly articles were written between 1970 and 2000, many of which suggested that self-esteem was an essential component of success in everything from school and career to marriage and sex."
She goes on to say, "By the mid-1990s, to ensure that all children felt good about themselves, teachers were careful to pronounce each finger painting a Picasso, and some schools dropped honor rolls, which were thought to be too hurtful to students who did not make the list." 
The age of "everyone gets a trophy just for participating" had begun in earnest.
By the mid-2000s though, thousands upon thousands of self-esteem studies were being discredited for failure to meet rigorous scientific standards
The concept of self-esteem, as many know it today, is a disproven, pop-psychology theory.
So what about true self-esteem? How do we increase our sense of self-worth, self-respect, and overall healthy self-admiration? It's deceptively simple but astoundingly powerful.
Chances are that you can think of at least one person in your life that you admire and respect a great deal. Perhaps this person is a parent, colleague, or even famous personality from history. Think for a moment why you respect this person so much.
Maybe it's because she raised six well-adjusted kids on a small single income or possibly that she broke through gender barriers to become the first woman to hold a seat on the Supreme Court. Whatever your identified reason, the person whom you hold such regard for did something hard. She persevered through difficulty or even blazed trails where there had been none.
Interestingly enough, the same way you come to respect, or esteem, others, is the same way you can increase your own self-respect or self-esteem.
Do hard things, new things, scary things, brave things. Intentionally and mindfully challenge yourself to grow mentally and physically.
If you're usually a couch potato, sign up for a 5k that's happening in a few months and start training today! After all, in the words of Lao Tzu, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Take your one step and begin your journey.
How many languages do you speak? One? Change that! With the abundance of technological advancements over the last few decades, there are more and more opportunities to immerse yourself in a new language every day by connecting with native speakers online.
Book a solo trip to a destination you've never experienced and learn to rely upon yourself while traveling. Learn to appreciate the qualities within yourself that sometimes only present themselves in solitude. Be daring, if only slightly, and expand your horizons.
If you can change your career or start your own company, you'll learn things about yourself that will shock you. Even if you've only got time to start a small side hustle, you'll discover the power of planning and execution in your own business.
Challenge yourself. Impress yourself. Do hard things.
Learn. Grow. Do. Repeat.
The biggest pitfall here can be feeling that you have to achieve at astounding levels daily to be "worth" something or that you must constantly be pushing the limits of what you can do, learn, and be. There's a very fine line between self-esteem and the need or desire to be perfect, which is inherently damaging to your psyche.
Clinical psychologist and contributing editor of Psychology Today, Nando Pelusi Ph.D. writes, "Perfectionism has many aspects, including the valuable desire to "do better," "look better," and generally keep to high standards. So far, so good. However, since even Olympic gold medalists fall short of perfection most of the time, we'd better accept that perfection simply doesn't exist."
Dr. Pelusi goes on to say, "Striving toward betterment is great. The quest motivates us and keeps us on a good path for the long run. But the idea that you can and should attain perfection will crimp your style, stunt your growth, and make you miserable. The solution, fortunately, is within your power: Talk gently and rationally to yourself about your goal and give up the need for perfection." 
No one is perfect and to expect that of yourself just isn't realistic. Instead, step out of yourself from time to time and observe your actions, routine, and life as you would observe those of a bystander or even a friend. Evaluate yourself in this manner every so often and remember to treat yourself with the same level of kindness.
Monitor your self-talk. Is it in line with how you'd expect to speak to a friend? If not, correct it immediately. Why is it ok to talk down to yourself, to berate and verbally beat yourself up when you wouldn't speak to anyone else like that? We're often our own worst enemies and underestimate the massive effect that damaging self-talk can have upon our overall self-esteem.
For many, negative self-talk has been so pervasive throughout their lives that it's just become a habit. Intentionally monitoring your inner dialogue and replacing overly harsh thoughts with more neutral or positive sentiments will help you break the habit once and for all. Like most things worth doing, though, it takes time and the genuine desire to change.
When you feel the need for a quick boost of confidence, or you're having a difficult time adjusting your personal narrative, try making a reverse bucket list. Get out a sheet of paper and list everything you're proud of yourself for learning, doing, or achieving. You can do this chronologically over the span of your entire life or for the last year. It's really up to you how specific you want to be or how long you want to make your list. This is a fantastic way to shift out of a hypercritical mood and into one that's more constructive and healthy.
Striving for betterment is the secret to building your self-esteem quickly. You can go out today and learn something new or do something that impresses you. Building your self-esteem doesn't have to cost anything or take much time at all. Instead, it takes a commitment to stretching and growing. It takes concerted, pointed effort, and that's not always easy. But, easy or not, that's what it all comes down to.
Self-esteem is not about 'loving yourself' because you exist. Self-esteem is about respecting and admiring yourself because you are capable of persevering, capable of achieving, capable of expansion as a human being. Remember, challenge yourself. Impress yourself. Do hard things.
Learn. Grow. Do. Repeat.