Let’s take a good look at self-esteem. First of nearly everyone wishes they had more self-esteem?.
What tends to happen around self-esteem is that most people assess themselves through externals and tote up their self-esteem by how well they’ve done in comparison to some impossible measurement in their heads. How did I do on my appraisal? Do my colleagues like me? Am I getting praised enough?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with looking to externals for verification and affirmation. We do need the acknowledgement of others to bolster our sense of self.
However, if self-esteem is based solely on externals and what others think, then you will continually rely on ‘them’ to make you feel good. You’ll need an ever-increasing dose of approbation from others to keep going.
Without a firm foundation of your own view of self worth, your self-esteem can be knocked back quite quickly and easily. Then you’ll find yourself blaming externals when you feel bad and play the ‘if only’ game: “If only such and such had happen (or hadn’t happened) then I’d feel better and things would be OK.” “If only so and so would tell me how I’m doing, then I’d be fine.”
Of course, this means another self-perpetuating cycle: you make your self-esteem reliant on others which means you give your ‘power’ away to them. If they don’t come up with the goods (which are usually in your head so the other person doesn’t really know just what the goods they’re supposed to come up with are) then you feel bad and your esteem drops. Your need for outside affirmation grows and you rely more on externals than before which gives your power away and undermines your self-esteem. Get the picture?
So. Have we really got you down now? It’s really not as bad as all that.
To the rescue
Never fear, Impact Factory’s here. And we have a few hints and tips to help you when things feel really rough.
The only place to start is with you. As we said, outside acknowledgement is good. Inside is better. So, here’s an exercise to start the ball rolling. Make a list of all the qualities and skills you already have. We mean everything. At the top of the page put ‘I’ and then your list, such as: have a warm smile, am a good listener, can ride a bike well, do the washing up without being nagged, like to help my colleagues, can be relied upon, am efficient. This needs to be a long, long list.
No negatives; not a one. And notice what your head is doing through all of this. Am a good listener. Well, sometimes I’m a good listener, but there are times when I’m really rushed, and don’t have the time I’d like to give to people. Can ride a bike well. Of course, I’m not an expert. I don’t race or anything and some of my friends join those charity bike-a-thons. I’ve never done that.
And so on.
It’s really hard to do these lists without those negative thoughts creeping in. Actually, they don’t creep, they storm in; they shove and push their way in and YELL REALLY LOUDLY to drown out the positives. You may not be able to shut them up, but it’s interesting; the longer your list is, the quieter those voices get. Try it; you’ll see.
Having made your list, now go to a couple of people you genuinely trust and ask them what they like about you. Add to your list. No negatives. No ‘needs developing’ or ‘could do better’ or ‘Yes, buts’.
Next make a list of your passions, beliefs and values: things you feel really strongly about; things that turn you on; beliefs and values that are important to you. To this list add things you know you’re committed to, like a partner, a house, your family, some volunteer work, parts of your job, hobbies, etc. Finally, add things that motivate and inspire you – music you listen to, walks you take, people you admire, authors you read, food you relish, etc.
Gather these lists together and look at them, deciding a few things from each list that sum you up. Then write a Personal Statement about yourself incorporating the most important bits. Read your statement out loud. Read it to other people. Read it each night before you go to bed and first thing when you wake in the morning: this is who I am.
You need to know and acknowledge those qualities, skills, values and beliefs that you can rely on and that tell the world who you are. If you don’t acknowledge these, why should anyone else?
Something we know is tied up with what gets in the way of having high self-esteem is perfectionism. You have to get it right; you have to get it right first time; and you have to be perfect. And you have to be able to do everything as well. Perfectly.
Sound silly reading it, doesn’t it?
At Impact Factory we’re of the practically perfect (even occasionally, the good enough) school of thought. No one can get it right all the time, first time, every time. Nor should they. What a tyranny. Unfortunately, it’s one of the ways you’ll be able to stock your arsenal of beating up weaponry, because you didn’t get it right. It also is a very good reason to stop yourself from attempting new things, because you know you won’t be able to get it right and get it perfect.
You can, however, be ‘practically’ perfect. You can choose what practically perfect could look like (which isn’t perfection by the way) and aim for that. Doing it that way will make your life a whole lot easier. You will have less to fret and worry about and your energy can go into what you can ‘borrow’ to make yourself feel better rather than into giving yourself a hard time about what you aren’t able to do.
You can also begin to….
Take your power back
Earlier we talked about the fact that if you measure your esteem mostly through externals you give your power to others. If your feelings continuously rely on others’ acknowledgement and affirmation you take a passive role while you wait for them to give you what you need.
We also said that outside acknowledgement is important, but we know that people with low self-esteem place an inordinate significance on what others think. Once again, they remain passive. Of course, they’re incredibly active up in their brains. They blame others a lot for making them feel bad; they have long conversations in their heads about what other people should be saying to them, and making up assumptions about why they don’t; quite simply, they make themselves feel worse.
They also go seek out a ‘buddy’ to complain to about how bad other people make them feel or how so and so isn’t giving them any feedback or how they aren’t appreciated. And on and on.
You can stop this downward spiral right now if you wanted to.
Step One. Stop complaining to other people. Stop gossiping. Stop telling someone what’s wrong with someone else. Stop moaning about your fate. You won’t be able to do this completely – maybe the Buddha could, but not us mere mortals. But you can cut down on your daily dose of dissatisfaction.
Step Two. Let people know your accomplishments. Sometimes other people don’t notice or don’t think to comment or may comment in their heads but the words don’t come out of their mouths. If you wait for them to tell you how brilliant you are, you might have to wait a long time. So tell them first. Not in a pumped up ego way; merely bring to their attention stuff that’s important to you.
Step Three. Ask for what you want in terms of feedback. If you’re not getting as much acknowledgement as you want and need, then go to the person and ask them for it. Ah, we hear you say, “But then it doesn’t mean as much if I have to ask for it.” Why not? Not everyone has you in the front of their brain the way you have you in yours.
Step Four. Many of you may remember that a few years ago a non-existent commencement address (not) by Kurt Vonnegut whizzed around the internet. It was soon discovered that it was a piece written for the Chicago Tribune by Judith Schmich. Anyway, one of the pieces of advice she gave was not to read beauty magazines, they’ll just make you feel ugly.
So our fourth step is don’t read beauty magazines. In other words, it’s back to the comparisons are odious thing. Don’t voluntarily put yourself into situations where you will just feel bad about yourself, where you will reinforce the worst bits about you rather than the good bits. Avoid people who tell you what you need to fix or improve in order to get better at stuff.
This means you need to see more of the people who think you’re wonderful and give you positive feedback and less of the ones who think they know you better than you know yourself.
Self-esteem isn’t something you can buy (don’t we wish), but you can accumulate it: notice and highlight the best of who you are in small things every day and your self-esteem will grow. We guarantee it.
Jo Ellen and Robin run Impact Factory who specialise in Self Esteem, Professional Personal Development, Presentation Skills, Communications Training, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching for Individuals.