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2 Self-Esteem Habits You Should Start Building Now
Last week we talked about what your junior high textbook forgot to tell you about self esteem – that it’s not a single, internal thermometer, it’s actually made up of multiple components that can shrink or swell independently of one another.
So today, when we talk about “raising” self-esteem, we know that it isn’t a simple proposition.
But since creative success requires confidence, persistence, and willingness to risk rejection, all of which are impacted by self-esteem –
taking some time to learn how to increase yours can impact everything else you do.
Bluntness alert: At first, I kept cringing as I wrote this post.
Because I worried you’d be like me:
Every time I hear the phrase “raising self-esteem,” I get a 1990s-era vision of a woman listening to tapes on a walkman. (Remember those tinny headphones that had a thin adjustable metal band and foam ear covers that always fell off?…yeah, she’s sporting those). And on that tape is a cool female disembodied voice saying repeat after me – I am a worthwhile person.
(I’m not actually knocking this kind of affirmation-on-tape. In fact, there’s a reason why psychologists once widely promoted that kind of thing, and we’ll learn why in a minute. If it works for you, cool.)
But “raising self-esteem” can feel cheesy, campy, and not worth thinking about.
We’re fully-fleshed individuals with complex lives, and intricate ups and downs in how we feel about ourselves. And it just doesn’t feel like repeating some simple phrases is going to undo the impact of years of locker-room insecurity, poor self-talk, and failures of various flavors.
And besides, we’re doing okay, right? We have families, businesses, we’re not desperate enough to try anything foofy-feely. We are doing okay despite all the “stuff” we prefer not to talk about, so we don’t need to delve into anything uncomfortable, thankyouverymuch.
But here’s the thing:
Most of us do have habits of self-esteem that aren’t good for us.
Yep, I said HABITS of self-esteem.
Most of the things that damage our self-esteem are inner practices we might not be fully aware of. Habits in how we think. Habits in how we talk to ourselves in our heads. Habits in how we react to situations.
In fact, Christopher Mruk wrote that there can never be a “1-minute to self-esteem” program, because:
“Self-esteem problems take a long time to develop: They usually involve deeply ingrained habits of perception, experience, and behavior, all of which are well cemented by the time we reach adulthood. These self-esteem habits shape our world in ways that are both subtle and complex, meaning that change requires considerable unlearning as well as new learning, both of which take time….Self-esteem is increased through hard work and practice.”
We are going to cover two habits that, when practiced, will reshape parts of your self-esteem. For the better.
We can’t cover all possibilities in one blog post, so I chose two that I think most creatives can benefit from the fastest.
(Of course, if you read this blog post and walk away, nothing will happen. I recommend picking the habit that strikes you most, writing a reminder, and sticking it on your computer.)
Habit #1: Be specific, don’t globalize.
Is there something in your life that, whenever you do it, makes you feel flustered or upset?
Taxes. Marketing. Calling clients. Parties. Sports. Anything.
And when you do that thing, you find your mind starting to say the ugliest things? Like:
“Crap. I hate this. I’m not good at this. I’m hopeless. I’m never going to succeed. My business is going to fail.”
Notice what happens here: Your thoughts go from “I hate this specific thing“ to “My business is going to fail.”
This, my friend, is called globalizing. It’s when we see failure or incompetency in a specific situation and suddenly start to think that this is representative of who we are as a whole.
That your terrible-ness at _______ somehow means that you, at your core, are actually awful, that you’re going to fail at everything, and that all this other success you’ve had is just window-dressing for the core of failure. And you can only keep up this facade for so long.
Dramatic, much? Yes, and it sounds ridiculous to type it out. But it probably happens to you sometimes, whether you’re fully aware of it or not.
You can tell when you’re globalizing when you are doing something that makes you feel insecure (say, taxes), and it starts to affect your outlook on the rest of your business. “I’m not good at this. I’m not good at any of this. Why would I succeed?”
You can also be globalizing when you get up from the computer and find you’ve got cranky glasses on that seem to magnify all your other faults, making you feel terrible in general.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Like we talked about last week, there is global self-esteem, and there is situational self-esteem.
How you feel about yourself in general is not the same as how you feel about yourself in a specific situation.
And you can keep these two things separate.
There are three little steps to practice when you need help separating them:
First, get in the habit of explicitly noticing when negative thoughts try to stick a toe out of that specific area. Like when you’re doing taxes, and you start to feel like you’re going to fail at business.
Whenever your feelings about a small task start to make something bigger seem hopeless, picture a big “pause” button in your head and hit it!
It happens so automatically, it will be hard at first, but practice catching yourself at the very moment when “I am bad at this” starts turning into “This business thing is not going to work out.” And tell your brain to hold it right there.
Second, explicitly acknowledge, right then and there, that feeling bad about one tiny micro-piece of living doesn’t mean you have to feel bad about everything else too:
Okay, doing taxes brings up all my math insecurities. But not all of business is math. Struggling with this one thing does not mean I’m bad at everything else. It just means I struggle at this one thing.
(It’s not just taxes, of course. Maybe yours is more like: Just because I feel terrible and awkward at a loud party doesn’t mean I’m not fun to be around or a bad friend. It just means that loud parties aren’t my thing.)
Third, once you’ve got those thoughts confined to the situation, challenge them there, too.
Just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Let’s repeat that:
JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK SOMETHING DOESN’T MEAN IT’S TRUE.
You are free to challenge every single thought you have, including the ones like “I am bad at doing taxes.”
And you don’t have to try and lie to yourself and say “I’m GREAT at doing taxes!”
But you can challenge that thought by generating alternatives:
I’m struggle while doing this because it’s not interesting to me, so I avoid it. Which means I don’t learn much more about it. And then, when the time comes to get going, I feel incompetent and ignorant, and that makes me feel bad.
But I’m not incompetent and ignorant at a lot of other things I’ve studied – like sewing and fixing cars. Feeling ignorant is okay, it’s not “bad.” Maybe I need to decide to get better, or hire it out, or just accept that I have to struggle with this four times a year and that’s it. It doesn’t reflect on me as a person.
Here you’re taking the bad thought – “I’m bad” and looking at what actually is making you feel bad (not knowing how to do it), and what possible actions you have besides just throwing in the towel.
To sum Habit #1 up: Notice when your thoughts drift from the situation to your global thoughts about yourself. Hit the pause button. Corral that thought back to the situation at hand, and challenge it there.
Habit #2: Find a healthy way to re-affirm your implicit self-esteem.
You’ll recall from last week that self-esteem can be split into two categories – implicit and explicit.
Explicit self-esteem is what you’d say if I asked you how you feel about yourself. The stuff of conscious reflection.
Implicit self-esteem would be the unconscious, automatic thoughts you have that you can’t really control. The involuntary responses you have to seeing yourself and things that are important to you.
What we talked about in Habit #1 can help raise your explicit self-esteem, because it aims to explicitly change your conscious thoughts.
Implicit self-esteem is tougher, because you can’t get at it directly. And this is why psychologists have tried many things over the years, like having people repeat mantras or listening to tapes in their sleep or hypnotizing them – to try and reach this unconscious level and pair ideas about yourself with positive messages.
But there’s one thing that we do all the time that has actually been shown to boost our implicit self-esteem:
Looking at your own Facebook profile.
Researcher Catalina Toma said that browsing your own Facebook profile is self-affirming because it “replenishes feelings of self-worth and self-integrity. This is the case because Facebook profiles represent users as embedded in a network of meaningful relationships, and highlight the positive aspects of their lives. So scrolling through one’s own Facebook profile is like looking in a mirror that reflects the positive parts of oneself.”
In other words, looking at this true-yet-idealized version of yourself affirms that yes, I’m a good person. Yes, look at all of these wonderful things and people who are important to me. I mean gosh, look at that great picture of me right there.
Sometimes we go to Facebook not to scroll through what others are doing, we scroll through our own selves. It’s like a warm bubble bath of you-ness.
No wonder researchers have demonstrated that looking at your own profile raises your implicit self-esteem. No wonder we often scramble back to our own profiles, far more often than mere nostalgia would call for.
So am I writing you a virtual self-esteem prescription to go look at your own Facebook profile more often?
Nope. Here’s why:
For one thing, Facebook is a portal to others’ idealized selves, and the comparisons that ensue can make you feel bad about yourself.
Just when you’ve seen those great vacation photos of yours and thought about how wonderful it was – you see that someone else just got back from Bora Bora and looks even tanner and fitter and happier than you. Ugh.
Facebook is also a mixed bag in that it can make you feel happier if you’re actively engaging with others, commenting, liking, and interacting. But if you’re passively scrolling, feelings of boredom, sadness, irritation, and negativity can set in.
So although Facebook has some things to recommend it, it can quickly devolve into a comparison- or boredom-fest, so I don’t recommend it as a self-esteem habit.
The good news is, you can create your own “profile” experience offline.
Designate a folder on your desktop – or grab a paper notebook + paste if you prefer – and create an offline profile that only you will see.
Favorite photos – of you, or taken by you. Photos of people who matter to you. Screenshots of kind emails or even FB comments that affirm something important. Keep adding to it. No, this isn’t an exercise in narcissism. It’s an exercise in affirmation.
Start reaching here when you’re feeling low, instead of always hitting the big blue F on your phone.
Once you’ve got a good pile assembled, there’s one finishing touch to add:
Research found that when people looked at their Facebook profiles and got a self-esteem “fix,” they were less motivated to perform a task afterwards.
The theory being, when you already feel good about yourself, less anxious to prove yourself. (Yet another reason why Facebook procrastination kills motivation.)
So here’s what you can do: In your offline ‘profile,’ write down three specific, achievable goals you’d like to achieve within 12 months. And you know the drill – you have to make them specific. Not “I want to be a successful artist,” but “I want to have my first art show and a website where people can buy prints of my top three paintings.”
Writing goals down puts us in a positive, forward-thinking mental space, and one that points to a next step.
Unlike Facebook, which can affirm “yeah I’m good,” the goal of your offline profile is to say “yeah, I’m good, and here’s what I’m doing next.”
Make sense? Cool.
Next week we’re going to talk about one more habit that’s important enough that it deserves its own post.
And besides, you’ve got enough to practice this week, between catching globalizing thoughts in the act and creating a folder or notebook profile for yourself. 🙂
Get to it! And let me know in the comments if you notice anything interesting.