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Self Confidence and Self Esteem
Losing self confidence can really feel awful. This article offers suggestions about re-building low self esteem and confidence by taking back your power and identifying the things that might trip you up along the way.
- Comparisons are odious
- Internal Assessment
- What trips you up and what doesn't?
- Practically Perfect
- Take your power back
- The Practise Cycle
- To Sum Up
It's easy to feel that you have to change everything about yourself in order to feel like tackling the world's challenges.
Doesn't all that sound just awful?
When you lose confidence it can genuinely feel awful, and for many as though there is nothing you can do about it. We've heard over and over again, "If I could just get some more confidence." It's as though we want to walk into a shop and buy a pound of confidence please (or should we say 500 grams).
We know that there are times when you feel you could do anything, conquer any fear, take on any project, deal with any problem. Those are the good times!
It's the difficult or tricky situations that erode confidence.
We also know that though confidence may take a while to build, it can be undermined or lost in a nanosecond. All it takes is to feel wrong-footed, tripped up, embarrassed and you'll feel demoralised, deskilled and at a loss. It only takes one episode where you feel humiliated or were 'caught napping' or weren't sure what to do next, and the whole wall of self confidence cards comes tumbling down.
Wouldn't it be great if we could just avoid those situations? Well, you'd need to lock yourself in a room to do that and then, of course, you'd be left with yourself, and we already know that people with low self esteem are particularly good at making matters worse by the things they tell themselves.
Depressed enough, yet?
There's more before we get to the good stuff.
Comparisons are odious
Let's take self-esteem. Don't you wish you had more of that as well?
This is what tends to happen around self esteem: 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.
Like self confidence, 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 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?
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: 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?
What trips you up and what doesn't?
There will be some situations that undermine your self confidence more than others.
If you can bear making a couple more lists, take some paper and divide the page in two. On the left side make a list of the areas where you know you feel more confident. Look at the list of things you do well as your starting point. If you know you're a good listener, for example, you probably feel relatively confident when you take on the listening role.
On the other side of the paper make a list of the places and situations where you dont feel confident. Meeting new people, giving a presentation, defending a decision, challenging someone further up the food chain than you, etc.
Now do a self confidence inventory. What do you have on the left hand side of the paper that you could 'borrow' to use in the right hand side? Let's say you don't feel very confident meeting new people, but you do feel confident as a good listener. Combine the two by 'featuring' your listening skills when you meet someone new. People love to talk about themselves, so you only need a good opening question (see below under The Practice Cycle) and they'll be off. Then you can listen to your heart's content because you know you're good at it, only having to interject the occasional comment to keep them going.
There will be plenty of other places where you can borrow one skill to help you overcome a deficit in another. If you can get your head around this idea, you can become a whole lot more confident much more quickly than you think.
Not only that, if you look at the places where you do shine and feel good, make sure you put yourself into those situations more often. If you're good at riding a bike, go on more bike rides. Simplistic we know, but it's another small thing that really does work.
Something we know is tied up with what gets in the way of having good confidence and 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. And it's one of the reasons 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 wont 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 self 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 dont; 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 gossipping. 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.
The Practice Cycle
We've already commented right at the beginning that there's the undermining cycle of feeling unsure, getting humiliated, being less sure about trying something out and then dribbling away to not trying at all.
Of course, we know we're being a bit extreme here. We know it isn't always like that. Everyone has some areas of their life where they're really self confident, or at least confident enough. This is when those lists of qualities and skills come in when we look at the Practice Cycle.
This is how it works: when you feel confident, you'll try new things, and the more you try the better you'll get. Like public speaking, for instance. Any good presenter will tell you that the more they get out there in front of an audience, the more confident they feel about handling whatever happens. NOT that they feel less nervous (some people, no matter how practised they are, ever get over being nervous), just that they know what to expect and also feel able to deal with the unexpected. If they get wrong-footed they have enough belief in their skills to get themselves upright again.
But you won't try new things unless you're feeling confident - real chicken and egg. Where do you begin?
The one and only place you can begin is to practise. Practice lots. And don't practice where the stakes are highest. Practice where no one will necessarily notice; where the spotlight isn't on you; where feeling a bit foolish won't undermine you.
Alongside practice goes preparation. Whatever the situation is you can prepare for at least some of the eventualities. Like meeting new people. To prepare for this situation you can make a list of opening gambits that you can try out.
We'll go back to our public speaking example. If you feel you have zero confidence speaking in front of a group, don't start practising in front of a group: all your fears and concerns will simply multiply. Practise in front of the mirror first; then practise in front of a trusted friend. More than once. Yah yah we know it can feel false and embarrassing, but practising with an audience of one who's on your side is a whole lot better than going into the lion's den of an audience you think isn't.
Now if you take that example and look at the areas of your life where you don't feel confident, see if you can identify the simple, unthreatening places where you could practise. If you have to have a difficult conversation, for instance, take some time before hand to write out the main points you want to get across (this is the preparation bit).
Whatever you choose, don't throw yourself in the deep end. The shallow end will do; the paddling pool will do.
To Sum Up
Years ago, when we were bemoaning the absence of confidence, someone gave us some very wise words: "confidence is when the need to 'do' outweighs the need 'not to do'". All of us have the choice: we can either let our fears (and other people) run the show, or we can choose to build our self confidence and raise low self esteem by practising every chance we get.
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