In order to achieve our goals, we need to have a reasonable level of high regard for ourselves. This does not mean being arrogant or thinking we are infallible but when we have a higher level of confidence in ourselves, we are better equipped to overcome life’s challenges.
We are more tenacious about getting back on track when things don’t go our way. When we have some self-confidence, this is infectious and others see us in the same light.
When we suffer from low self-esteem, large goals seem out of reach and even small obstacles overwhelm us. This causes an ever-decreasing circle of self-loathing and acceptance of defeat, which makes us settle for less challenging goals. Retreat becomes a safer option than risking failure.
As children, we internalize other people’s opinions quickly and easily, so we inherently believe what we were told to be true. We also learned who we are, and which values we hold dear, by observing the way our parents and other adults related to the world. If they felt defeated, we learned to feel the same way. Later in life, we can start to fulfill these negative expectations by giving up and passing up opportunities to succeed.
To succeed in achieving our dreams and goals, we need to tune-in to our inner voice and to take action to quash negative commentary. With a lot of hard work, we can minimize negative mental habits and change the way we feel about ourselves. Try some of these simple tips and see if they can work for you.
Stop putting yourself down and try to praise yourself.
Most of us are in the habit of putting ourselves down. For example, when I make a mistake, I automatically call myself “Stupid” and over-apologise. By being negative in this way, we make ourselves feel bad. Try and stop this terrible habit, or choose more positive, less-intense commentary. Also, try and limit your self-criticism to just one incident instead of damning your entire life. For example, you could say, “Anyone can put the wrong address into the SatNav. I’ll try and be more careful next time.”
In order to build our self-esteem, as well as limiting our negative commentary, we can also increase our self-praise. When you do something worthwhile, in addition to congratulating yourself for the achievement itself, you should acknowledge the effort you have made.
If you must compare, make it relevant
Many of us make ourselves feel worthless by comparing ourselves with other people, imagining them to be perfect, and eternally happy. We only focus on our own flaws and weaknesses. We can turn this self-defeating habit upside down by realizing that life is a spectrum and there will always be people with less, and more, of whatever it is we are assessing. Consider also the “abundance mentality” which believes that there is enough good fortune to go around so the fact that one person is doing well at work doesn’t mean that you have to do less well.
The “scarcity mentality” which entices you to think that other people’s good luck is at your cost, is damaging. In most circumstances there is enough good luck to go around so we need to learn to appreciate our own, and other people’s, good points without the added burden of comparison.
Focus on things you can influence
When we worry about the things we can’t control, we feel helpless. No matter how much we complain, we can’t change the weather or improve our chances of winning the lottery. To regain a sense of responsibility and positive energy, we need to focus on the actions within our control. When we take action, and accomplish real change, no matter how small, we feel more empowered. As we experience our own small victories, we build a foundation of self-esteem, one small success at a time.
I don’t like rain, and neither do my hair and feet. During the wettest spring and summer we have ever had (2012), I bought a jolly raincoat and some new wellies. I couldn’t stop the rain but I could keep warm and dry. It might sound silly but it had a big impact on my mood.
Pay better attention to your strengths
Many of us focus far too much attention on our weaknesses, despite the fact that such focus makes us feel worthless. In many cases, this emphasis on our faults stems back to our childhood when parents or schools highlighted what we couldn’t do rather than what we could. Accept your perceived weaknesses for what they are, or if you can take remedial action, do so. Otherwise, take good note of your strengths, particularly those which are highly valued by others. I am known for being well organized but I devalue this strength whenever it is mentioned.
Which skills and facets are you known for that you diminish? As we grow older, a wider range of skills is more useful such as entrepreneurial skills, caring for others and creative talents. You are not a child anymore so acknowledge the strengths you have as an adult.
Accept praise from others
We are social beings, and so we learn where we stand by observing how other people respond to our actions. Tuning into less positive response, we find ways to improve our actions and carefully processing praise, we appreciate what we’re doing right. Unfortunately, when low self-esteem takes control, we tend to filter what we hear, letting in only criticism, while ignoring praise. By placing our main focus on negative feedback, we manipulate our perception of other people’s opinions to reinforce our bad feelings about ourselves.
Such negative filtering supposedly “proves” that we are inadequate, giving us “evidence” that we use to make ourselves feel worse. Think about the last appraisal you had at work. What do you remember? In the words of Lady Val Corbett, “Next time someone offers you a compliment, say, “Thank you!”
Develop your sense of identity
When we’re not sure who we are, naturally we don’t have a high regard for ourselves. If we generally don’t like ourselves, or don’t have much regard for our rights in the world, chances are our sense of self is built on a shaky foundation. Improving the health of our sense of identity is not something we typically think about. Rather, this seems like something that should take place automatically as we were growing up. But for many, growing up was far from ideal. Growing up in the real world with its flaws, pressures, and pains, we may reach adulthood with a disorganized and unclear sense about who we are, what we’re supposed to do or feel, or how to relate to others.
To improve our self-esteem, we may need to improve our confidence about our identity. To do so, we should treat personal growth as a central life goal. Through mentoring, accomplishments, mutually respectful relationships and service to others, we can gradually build a sense of purpose and a better knowledge of our self. A better sense of identity enables us to make better decisions and to maintain our self-esteem. We are less easily battered and buffered by the world.
Keep calm and carry on
As we go through life, we need to build up confidence in our ability to accomplish our goals. Such self-confidence is one of the keys to self-esteem. To achieve these small victories, we need to plan our tasks carefully, accomplish the parts of the task that we can, employ existing skills and learn new ones, and persist until the task is complete. During this process we might experience anxiety wishing we were more physically comfortable, anxiety that we might fail, anxiety about learning a new skill and anxiety that no one will notice or care about our accomplishment.
People with low self-esteem frequently find their efforts derailed by these frustrations, and eventually give up, no longer challenging themselves to do things that could make them feel better about themselves.
Life is tough. We will fail, and we need to learn how to deal with these failures and anxiety in order that it does not prevent success in things we set out to do. We need to learn how to persevere through our anxiety to accomplish our goals. Mistakes and failures are useful. They are lessons learned and an important part of our journey. Live, learn, enjoy. Keep calm and carry on, building your self-esteem as you go.