High self-esteem is crucial to our success, equanimity and overall sense of happiness. If we want to feel happy and in control of our own life, it is essential that we nurture our self-esteem.
What the heck has low self-esteem got to do with Ripley’s Alien Mother Creature?
With low self-esteem, we filter our view of the World through our own distorted low opinion of ourselves. Low self-esteem is like the big bad mother of self-belief issues. She spawns lots of other baby limiting beliefs. And they in turn grow into monsters that are extremely difficult to slay – just ask Sigourney Weaver if you don’t believe me.
Do you suffer from low self-esteem?
Do you ever call yourself stupid or put yourself down? Do you frequently compare yourself to others and find yourself lacking? Do you worry that other people might not like you?
These are all indications of low self-esteem. But that’s ok – we’re not labelling you here!
You don’t have low self-esteem ALL the time. You only have it in those moments when you’re having those negative thoughts about yourself.
We generally expect people with low self-esteem to appear quiet, reserved: If you’ve ever met someone who finds it difficult to look you in the eye for example, you might suspect that they have low self-esteem. Not necessarily so.
I sometimes put myself down. Occasionally I compare myself with others and I have been known to fret about what other people might think. I never considered myself to have low self-esteem. I’m the sort of person who people view as confident, gregarious, happy and fairly well balanced.
Outward impression is not necessarily a reflection of what’s going on inside. And more importantly, self-esteem is not a fixed part of anyone.
Does low self-esteem come from a traumatic childhood?
Another thing we think we know about self-esteem: Doesn’t low self-esteem come from growing up in a family in which you are put down or belittled? Isn’t it common in victims of abuse? Well, yes – and no!
Dr. Rob Kelly, author of “Thrive” says that the link between childhood experiences and levels of self-esteem is not always to blame:
“People with a negatively distorted sense of self do not, however, need to have been regularly put down or abused by others during childhood….many people that I have treated with self-esteem issue have come from loving, caring families and it is largely their own self-criticism that has caused them to build such limiting beliefs about themselves.”
What IS self-esteem anyway?
Let’s take a quick look at the various synonyms for the word “esteem”:
Deem, judge, rate, respect, admire, value, regard, approve of, appreciate, like
When we add “self” to the word esteem, then we can start to get a feel for what self-esteem is:
Your level of self-esteem is a measure of:
• How you rate yourself
• How much you value yourself
• How much you like yourself
• How much you appreciate yourself
• How you judge yourself
In short, self-esteem is simply how you see yourself. If I asked you to tell me what sort of person you are, you might tell me that you are outgoing or shy; that you are hard-working or laid back; that you are a good friend or a conscientious person.
Essentially, you’d be responding with your beliefs about yourself. We all form beliefs about ourselves – who we are, what we like, what we dislike. They are not facts, they are simply beliefs that we have formed over years.
Your fluctuating self-esteem battery
Self-esteem is not real; it is simply your present evaluation of yourself – a set of beliefs. Sometimes you might evaluate yourself highly, sometimes less so.
Kelly tells his patients to imagine that they are keeping a mental score card of negative and positive thoughts. Each time they have a negative or critical thought it is recorded and each time they have a pleasant, validating thought, this is also recorded.
These positive and negative thoughts reflect the charge of your metaphorical “self-esteem battery”. So if, you have 70% negative thoughts in a day and only 30% positive thoughts, then your self-esteem battery is only 30% charged.
The effect of sh1t tinted spectacles
Kelly uses the evocative analogy of seeing yourself through “sh1t-tinted spectacles”. Here are a few examples of how those sh1t-tinted spectacles can distort your view:
• You look in the mirror and say “God, I look haggard”
• You have a day when you get 5 pieces of good feedback from people and 1 piece of criticism. You focus on the criticism
• A business connection you ‘phoned yesterday does not return your call and you create a reason in your mind that is all about you
Our human brain is a crafty thing. We create a belief and our brain immediately starts seeking evidence to back up that belief. We dismiss any evidence that proves this belief to be untrue – we want to prove ourselves right.
We see what we want to see – even though it doesn’t serve us, support us or make us feel good.
The secret sauce is in the PROCESSING
The trick in increasing your self-esteem is simply to increase the positive charge in that self-esteem battery I mentioned above: Change the positive/negative ratio of thoughts. Generate more positive thoughts and create higher self-esteem! And you can do that by processing your thoughts in a different way.
Kelly says that:
“processing is what takes place when your experience becomes a memory.”
Your memory is not reality – it is a construct made up of your belief systems, your unhelpful thinking patterns and your metaphorical spectacles – and how you decide to tint those spectacles.
In order to increase your self-esteem, all you need to do is switch your specs to a pair that are rose-tinted, rather than sh1t-tinted!
Coach Yourself: The simple habit that will increase your self-esteem
Time to coach yourself: This is what I’d like you to do:
1. Give yourself the gift of 15-20 minutes of journaling time within the next 24 hours. Set a timer and create a positive hit list and write down as many positive things from your day. Be as creative and as flexible as you want with your list. The only “rule” is that you reflect on the positive things from your day, even if it wasn’t a stellar day! For this exercise, please also reflect on why each item is in your hit list. Why did it make you feel good? What positive thing did it reflect about YOU?
2. Set yourself a reminder at the end of each day to do a mental positive hit list at the end of each day. It’s a great habit to get into both for your self-esteem AND for a good night’s sleep: In a mindfulness sleep meditation, one of the first parts of the meditation is mentally running through your day from waking to getting into bed.
These “positive hits” can be:
• Moments of pleasure
• Things that made you smile
• Moments of pride in yourself or those you love
• Achievements – large or small
• Challenges you overcame
• Things that made you feel grateful
• Acts of kindness that you received
• Acts of kindness that you gave
To help you get the idea of what to write – and to demonstrate that I walk my talk! – here’s one I did earlier! This is my positive hit list exercise from Wednesday this week.
It wasn’t an easy day: I spent most of the day responding to my own mini business crisis – my broadband network failed and I was left with no connection to the Internet whatsoever. This meant I lost a lot of working time and had a couple of sticky situations to get round. Despite this, when you read my positive hit list, you’ll see that, even on a day that could be described as a “nightmare”, there were many positives:
1. Meditated first thing in the morning. Felt proud of myself as it’s an important habit, but it’s one that I have to push myself to do still.
2. Watched the mists rolling off the top of the hill and knew it would be a hot day. The sunshine always makes me feel happy.
3. Took Ernie for a walk in the forest and enjoyed the sunshine, peace and stunning views
4. Met a man in the forest who gave me a wonderful smile, engaged with me and wished me a wonderful day. It made me think how great it is when people connect and how lucky I am for such simple pleasures
5. Emailed parents of Duke of Edinburgh award participants to organise gifts for the D of E leaders. It would have been much easier not to as it will take time and thought, but it is important for me to acknowledge people.
6. Did some writing sitting on the balcony in the sun. Felt grateful for the autonomy and flexibility of my business
7. Responded creatively and calmly to challenge of running important client webinar after broadband developed a fault and I was left with no Internet signal. This shows that every day in every way I’m getting more and more resilient – rolling with the everyday blips of life and taking it (more or less) in my stride
8. Spoke to my friend Penny Pullan who logged into my business email system and sent an email to my clients about alternative conference line. Always love speaking to Penny and feel grateful to have a friend who I know will help me out in this kind of situation and who knows what to do!
9. Had a great conversation with Amanda Davie about coaching and EQ. Love talking to Amanda as she’s so bright, on my wavelength and she gets it!
10. No. 1 son helped me to clear away dinner dishes without me even asking. Wow! All those years of me feeling like a broken record are finally paying off!
11. No. 1 son ALSO mowed the lawn without moaning when asked. As above!
12. Bedtime story reading to Fred and friend’s daughter who stayed over. Really cherish reading a book to Fred and thankful for it as it won’t be long until he won’t want me to read to him.
13. Negotiated better deal on mobile phone contract and felt pleased with myself. I’ve also got extra contingency data
14. Upgraded mobile data contract to ensure better contingency next time there is a problem with broadband at home. I’ve really thought about mitigating a major risk in my business.
15. Spoke to John and Mum on the phone when I felt exhausted and fed up. Feel immensely grateful for these 2 big “rocks” in my life who always listen and always have wise words.
16. Was able to say “yes” to a friend dropping her daughter round and was also able to offer for her to sleepover. How great to be able to do this for a friend who helps me out so often.
If you do these 2 exercises – the written one to start and then follow up simply by creating a habit of ending your day with a positive mental hit list, you’ll quickly reap the benefits in more consistently high self-esteem.
And as you embed this new positive habit, you’ll find you naturally notice more of your own achievements, making it easier the more you do it!
You’ll have that Alien self-esteem mother monster slayed in no time!