By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC
You Better Believe It!
So what do you really think about yourself? Do you like you? Do you believe you deserve to be happy and successful? Are you confident and self-assured? Do you tackle new projects with a can-do attitude?
Or—do you have a habit of putting yourself down with criticisms and doubts? Do you tell yourself, “I can’t,” “I’m not smart enough, not talented enough,” and other similar things?
One of the most difficult yet essential ingredients for a successful life is healthy self-esteem. Considering the messages many of us were raised with, we often start out with a couple of strikes against us. How many of you remember being told things like “you should be ashamed of yourself,” “you can’t do anything right,” “if you had a brain, you’d be dangerous,” and so on. These messages program us to think there’s something wrong with us, that we’re not okay. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Success in life depends on letting go of these type of messages and learning to believe in yourself.
Without self-esteem, we’re doomed because, as Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Learning to feel good about ourselves is everything. The outside world can be quite daunting enough. There’s no point doubting yourself as well. If you don’t learn to be your own best friend, you can sabotage yourself by being your own worst enemy. How many of you would tolerate someone else calling you the names I bet you sometimes call yourself? And if you put a small value on yourself, it’s likely the rest of the world will not raise your price. As Richard Bach wrote in one of my favorite books, Illusions, “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” The way you think of yourself sets the standard for others. It’s not who you are that will hold you back. It’s who you think you are not.
At first glance, it seems counter-intuitive that people would de-value and underestimate themselves. So why is it such a common practice? Actually, it makes a lot of sense as a strategy for coping with fear of failure. If we don’t take on a challenge or try something new, you’re much less likely to screw it up. If you don’t try, you won’t fail. What a nice, safe solution! And if you’re foolhardy enough to try something anyway, what better strategy to make yourself look good than to tell yourself and everyone else how poorly you expect to do. It’s really a sneaky way of fishing for compliments: “I could never do a good job on that,” elicits encouraging responses like, “Sure you could. You’re so incredibly talented.” And later, you either get to prove yourself right or blow everyone away with the great job you did.
Why not compliment yourself more right up front? Lots of us are great at chastising ourselves for our mistakes, but how many of you applaud your own successes? We notice what we look for. So look for things you did well each day. Every small success will build your confidence to have bigger ones. Allow yourself to make mistakes – and then call them lessons that help you do better next time. Live by the wise words of many children’s earliest teacher, Dr. Seuss:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.