Maxwell Maltz said “low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand break on”. I agree.
Self-esteem is a self-directed value judgment we make about our worth, and (as you may have noticed) it tends to fluctuate. We often think of self-esteem as a value to be increased and decreased, but it is actually more like a process. Specifically, the process of keeping good emotional habits. Which takes some work.
This post outlines the practices that will give you a high return on investment when it comes to valuing yourself. But not before it discusses three realities about self-esteem that’ll hopefully have you question how you see it as a resource.
Self-esteem is still a emotional value judgment
Valuing yourself is valuable – there is no question about it. It’ll help you to create a life you love, and it will help buffer you against emotional wounds such as rejection, making you happier and more resilient.
But self-esteem is ultimately a subjective emotional evaluation. And we know how unreliable emotions are, especially when we have been careless with our focus and attention.
The upshot is that as with any feeling, it is worth noticing but not paying too much attention at a close level. Your self-esteem levels at any one time are a story: a snapshot picture of how you have been using your attention.
And provided self-esteem isn’t consistently low, it shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want to do.
Excessive self-esteem is a hindrance
You are probably unlikely to have flawlessly high self-esteem, but it is worth dismounting that ideal from the saddle anyway. The truth it is might not be conducive to happiness and satisfaction to rate yourself as all that the whole time.
Research has shown that perceiving yourself as an expert is an impediment to knowledge (classic ‘know it all’ syndrome). Perceiving yourself overly highly may also cause you to become complacent and self-entitled, which will probably result in a lack of proactivity in your life.Thinking too highly of yourself can actually obstruct your progress Click To Tweet
It is a little strange to think of it but from a personal development perspective, you’re probably better off having slightly lower self-esteem. That way you stay humble and growth oriented.
Self-esteem and motivation aren’t related
Many of us have the belief that self-esteem is a necessary for success, but this belief is baseless. Lots of successful people battle with crippling low self-esteem (Tim Ferriss being one high profile example). This affects their quality of life – not their success.
To work on your goals, you just need to believe you have the ability to work. It doesn’t require any kind of judgment about your ability or worthiness at all.
Ultimately, motivation is more steady when its sourced from things like your driving values rather than your self-perception. One is constant and the other isn’t.
5 habits that’ll help you to value yourself highly
Onto the key practices that’ll help you to value yourself reasonably highly.
1. Demonstrate ability and achievement in life areas that matter to you
It is not easy, but the highest impact thing you can do is develop proof of your ability in the key areas of your life. You have to build a stream of successes that make you feel good.
To do this, you have to first know what you value so you can make meaningful goals. So for instance, say I have high values on truth and compassion, which I broadly speaking put into practice through my writing and interactions in my relationships. Acting in consistency with those values during my days and weeks drip feeds me a high self-value.Develop proof of your ability to succeed in the life areas that matter to you Click To Tweet
Note that investing in specific life areas will have a larger impact on your global self-esteem. Those areas are the ones we are most identified with.
Take the example of the man whose identification rests on his role as provider. Any perceived threats to that role, for example being made redundant, will have a larger impact on his overall self-esteem than (say) gaining weight or losing a sports competition.
Think about where you source your sense of value. I really recommend gradually identifying more with aspects of yourself and your life that are sustainable and within your control, such as your personal qualities and capacities.
2. Keep agreements
The most overlooked way to boost your self-esteem is to develop your integrity levels. That just means keeping your agreements.
Every single agreement you make is to yourself, ultimately, even those that involve other people. When you don’t follow through, you learn to not trust yourself.
3. Develop self-compassion
Everyone has a critical inner voice to tame and for some of us it is quite loud. Whenever your self-critical inner monologue kicks in, ask yourself what you would say to a dear friend if they were in your situation.
4. Savor successes
Similar to the effects of practicing gratitude, deliberately focusing on your small-scale wins will help you to keep your emotional tank full. We are wired to focus on the negative so to counter that, mentally recall or write down your successes each day. Referring to your victory log keeps you focused on your successes, instead of your setbacks.
5. Use affirmations
Affirmations are positive and uplifting statements that we say to ourselves. They are normally more effective when you say them out loud.
I am not a huge user of out loud affirmations, but I do affirm myself in my self-talk. We tend to believe whatever we tell ourselves constantly.
Know that affirming yourself works much better if your self-esteem is already quite high. When your self-esteem is lagging, modify your affirmations to make them a bit more believable. For instance change ‘I’m going to be a great success’ to ‘I’m going to keep at this until I succeed.’
Valuing yourself reasonably highly is important.
EE Cummings said “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any other experience that reveals the human spirit.” We don’t want to miss out on that stuff because of something so buildable as low self-esteem.
However, don’t worry if you have a few off days every now and then. We all do. They probably make you a more likable, relatable human being.
Valuing yourself takes a bit of work. But it is an investment well worth making.