Improving Your Self-Esteem

I think everyone experiences those times when we don't particularly like ourselves. You know - when it's 3am, and you can't sleep because you're beating yourself up. Remembering all the times when you've made a mistake, or even just when you 'think' you've made a mistake. Maybe you know in your heart that you just aren't good enough.

Of course, none of that is true - but sometimes it can feel so real that it's like someone has plunged a knife through our heart. If we aren't careful, we might even start to think that the world would be a better place if we weren't in it - which is never true. If you feel like that while you're reading this, I urge you to reach out and ask for help as a matter of urgency.

I think that it's really important to do something about it when we lack confidence and have poor self-esteem. If we focus too much on those sorts of negative thoughts, they can take hold bias our thoughts, our beliefs, and our behavior with everything we do. If that isn't enough, we can become trapped in self-fulfilling prophecies because we begin to act in a way that is consistent with our negative thoughts and beliefs - and experiencing the very outcome we want so much to avoid.

A Foundation of Truth

When it comes to challenging the poisonous lies that we sometimes tell ourselves about who we really are, I think a good dose of truth is the best antidote.

It's almost certain that, by any objective measure, you are a successful human being. Now, I'm not talking about money and possessions in this case. I'm talking about the fact that you have, and have had, people in your life who like you, respect you, and love you. Yes?

For that to be true, your positive qualities must outweigh your negative qualities or your shortcomings. Even if you don't 'feel' that way right now, I hope that you can at least agree with the logic of that statement. Unfortunately, I've almost always noticed something curious whenever I ask people about their positive qualities versus their shortcomings. Everyone is able to very quickly tell me what their shortcomings are. It's almost as if the information is at their fingertips because it's something that they're very familiar with (which is, unfortunately, probably the truth). However, when I ask people what their positive qualities are - what's good about them - most often I just hear the sound of crickets chirping and a tumbleweed rolls slowly across the room!

I find that curious, because for the vast majority of people I see their positive qualities definitely outweigh their shortcomings. However, they just aren't aware of them. However, if they aren't aware of them it must affect their lives in at least two ways. Firstly, it must mean that they are essentially living a lie. You see, if someone really can't 'see' the larger, more powerful, part of themselves, all they are able to focus on are the shortcomings. The not-so-good things. Of course, if we do that then they become more and more prominent in our thoughts, and so they have more and more of an impact on us. We can start to believe that the shortcoming are the dominant part of our lives and they can become part of our identity. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly at this point, we aren't aware of the sorts of personal assets and resources that we have to draw on in times of need.

So, what are your positive qualities? What's good about you?

I'd actually like you to find some paper - a journal that you can keep would be perfect - and start to make a list of all of your positive qualities. Please resist the temptation to ask anyone else, and definitely don't start looking on the Internet or in a dictionary or thesaurus for inspiration. It's important that you sit calmly and just start writing down some points. Just make them one-word or two-word descriptions, and list as many as you can. Please don't read any further until you've spent some time doing that. Don't be in a hurry. This is important. You are worth the time.

Now, I hope that you haven't just continued reading unless you've made a good attempt at coming up with your own list of your positive qualities! Smile

If you're finding that difficult, though, let me try and help you. Have a quick look at the words in the image above. Do any or all of them apply to you? Let's keep going. Could I trust you? If so, then you are trustworthy. Would you take the chance to steal something just because you had the opportunity? If not, then you are honest.

What sort of things are you, or have you ever been, good at? Think as broadly as possible, and try to consider every domain of your life - academically, artistically, sport, music, craft etc. Don't place any restrictions on the facets of your life you consider while doing this - don't think it isn't important enough to be concerned with. It's all important.

Once you've done that, take some time to think about what qualities you possess that allowed you to be good or proficient or even expert at everything you've listed. For example, if you are (or even were) good at hockey, then you're probably quite coordinated, with good ball skills, and fit and healthy. If you've listed something artistic or musical, then you are also probably creative, with a good imagination and appreciation of beauty. If you've listed something academic, then you probably have a good memory, and an analytical mind. Get the idea?

Once you've finished, I'd like you to look at the list you've made. I hope that you're pleasantly surprised with the number of positive qualities you've identified. I'd now like you to read the list to yourself - out loud if at all possible - beginning each word or phrase with "I am..." or "I have..." - whatever is most appropriate. For example, using some of the words above, you would say "I am trustworthy," "I am honest," I am coordinated," "I am creative" etc.

How did that feel when you read the list to yourself in that way? Of course, that little critical voice in your head may have been trying to disrupt things by sowing the seeds of doubt, but you can ignore it for a moment. Did it feel good to confirm those things about yourself? I hope so.

Now, I know that you don't display all of these positive qualities 24-hours every day, seven days of every week - but that isn't the point. All of these qualities exist inside of you. I'm sure that you can think of examples when you've displayed each and every one of them. You carry them around with you everywhere you go, and they can always be relied on - especially now that you know you what they are.

Even more, however, is that the qualities - and more - are the reasons why people like you, respect you, and love you. It's because of who you are, not despite who you are. I think it's safe to say that there are some people who are, or have been, better off just because they know you. Just as you're better off because you know some people. It's because you make available to them all of these wonderful qualities without even thinking about it. That's how much a part of you they are! You give them away automatically!

I'd like 'you' to be better off because you have 'you' in your life. I'd like you to make available to yourself every single positive quality that lets you make other people's lives better. I know you can do it - because you just proved that. If you can do it for others, you can do it for yourself!

Now, here's a little challenge for you. I'd like you to ask two other people to give you their own lists of your positive qualities. That's right - I'd like you to reach out and trust a couple of other people to tell you the truth. If you're feeling a little uncomfortable doing that, then for this once it's OK to tell them that it's just part of a personal or professional development course that you're completing.

There are some rules that I'd like you to keep in mind, however. Firstly, please ask them to tell the truth. What do I mean by that? Well, one of the people you ask might say that you are the "Best friend in the whole, wide world!" Of course, we both know what they mean by that statement, but it probably isn't true. A part of your mind knows that, and will just dismiss statements like that. So, please encourage them to prepare a bullet-point list of one-word and two-word descriptions, just as you did. Please don't put any restrictions on them - encourage them to give you as many as they can. Secondly, they need to be people whom you've known for long enough that you're going to respect what they say. Lastly, please resist the temptation to read them until you've received both of them.

Once you've received them, I'd like you to read them both in one sitting, along with the list that you prepared earlier in this exercise. I think that there are only two possible explanations for how you've been described in those lists. The first possibility is that you're one of the world's great con-artists, and you managed to surround yourself with idiots, OR, they're true. I'm going to run with the TRUE option, but let me explain why.

Do you notice anything about them? No? I'll bet that all of the lists use similar words and descriptions. They mostly agree, don't they? It wouldn't be the case that one person is saying that you're short, and the other saying that you're tall, for example. I'd be surprised if it wasn't obvious that we're talking about the same person. Therefore, other people's experience of you is pretty similar. How you behave with one person is likely to be how you behave with most people. How you make one person's life better is likely to be how you make most people's lives better. That's why I call this exercise Establishing a Foundation of Truth.

This TRUTH is who you really are. This TRUTH is what you can rely on when you need to. This TRUTH is what has kept you going, even perhaps in the face of extreme hardship. Despite the best efforts of your internal critic, it has stood by you through thick and thin. It's even had the time to help other people along the way.

Be gentle with yourself. Take comfort in the knowledge that you ARE good enough. You're OK, OK?