Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Truth About Developing Self-Esteem That Others Won't Tell You

Does The Truth About Self-Esteem Have To Do With Perception?

The caption for the image on the left is "self-esteem and perception."  And as you can see embedded in the image itself is "What matters most is how you see yourself."  

Hmm.  Really?  Is this the truth, the secret, to developing self-esteem?

I like the idea of picturing what you want to become or what you aspire to be.  In fact imagery and visualization for this purpose in sport is highly effective.  However, you have to be visualizing something that is within the realm of possibility.

Can a cat really become a lion?  No.  If I wanted to could I become the next 26.2 mile (i.e., marathon) world champion?  I don't think so.

Am I selling myself short?  Am I being defeatist and not allowing myself to contemplate my true potential?  I don't think so.  I am a distance runner.  I have completed a marathon, but I wasn't even close to winning that local marathon let alone posting a time that would make world class marathoners take notice.  Probably what would be realistic would be to imagine myself posting a time that would allow me to qualify for the Boston Marathon (not just anyone can pay their money and enter that race - you have to be fast enough).

So, no.  Perception is not the secret to developing self-esteem. 

If It's Not About Perception, Then What?

There is a lot, and I mean A LOT, of information out there on self-esteem.  I entered "self esteem" into the Google search bar and was told that my search generated "About 42,500,00 results in 0.46 seconds."  That's forty-two and a half million results in less than half a second.  First of all, wow.  That's a lot of results.  Second of all, wow.  That's really fast!

There is no shortage of advice and lists.  You can throw a feather and hit some advice on self-esteem.  But they're all missing something really important.  No, I didn't check all forty-two and a half million results, but here are a few examples of what is typical. has an article that lists things to do to raise your self-esteem: Get sober; practice self-care; identify triggers to low self-esteem; slow down personalizing; stop and take notice; acknoweldge reaction; choose response; accept impulse; and develop skills.

Another article via encourages us to develop self-compassion rather than self-esteem.

And this article from reminds us that phrases that mean the same thing as self-esteem or mean something similar are: self-worth, self-respect, and self-value.

No bad.  Pretty complete.  But missing one key element.

What Are All Of These Articles Missing?

I do not fundamentally disagree with the things that are listed or discussed in these articles. But they all assume one very important thing that may or may not be true for you.  And that is what they are missing.  

What do they all assume but do not discuss?

That you already have a sense of who you are.  That you already have a well-defined self.

What if you don't?  What if you're not sure who you are?  

The truth about developing self-esteem that others won't tell you is that you have to have a sense of self first.  Then, and only then, can you develop self-esteem.

To put it another way: You cannot develop self-esteem without having a self about which to be esteemed! 

Additionally, there is the issue of whether or not your self is your true self.  Is the self-esteem you believe you have based on who you truly are.  Or have you crafted a savvy and/or well-like self that is actually a false-self.  It looks good.  People like it.  But is it really you?  

Just like you can't develop self-esteem without a sense of self, you also cannot develop true self-esteem based on a false self.  

If you have a well-developed sense of who you are (i.e., you are being the most authentic version of yourself you know how to be) then by all means, read some of these articles to which I've linked above and other articles that are out there.  There are, after all, forty-two and a half million to choose from!   

But before you do, ask yourself: Do I really know who I am?  Do I know who my true, authentic self is?

If the answer is "no" or "I'm not sure" I highly recommend working on that before putting time and energy into liking a version of yourself that is incomplete or false.

For a few places to start you can read about self-awareness and choice, the language of your true self, and self-talk on this blog.

Once you figure out who you truly are and live as authentically as possible, you may find that self-esteem is not an issue because you've already got it!

What Do You Think?

Do you think self-esteem can be developed before knowing who you really are?  What other things might be important on your quest to develop self-esteem?  Let me know in the comments below.  I'd love to hear from you!

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Being Self Strong = Being Mentally Tough

Being Self Strong means you are mentally strong. 

There are a lot of articles out there on mental toughness - what it is, what it isn't, how to get it.  Much that has been written about mental toughness is from the perspective of developing and using this skill in high performance situations.  Usually that means on the athletic field, in Fortune 500 board rooms, in theaters on Broadway, in surgical theaters and in wartime theaters.  The reality is we all need mental toughness.  We may not be trying to win a long-shot wild card game in the NFL, or perform an opera flawlessly, but we all must perform in our lives.  There are just fewer spectators of our performances.  

What is Mental Toughness?

Being mentally tough means you are able to perform at your fullest potential no matter the circumstances.  For athletes that may mean pushing through physical pain, making a good play just after making a serious mistake, staying focused despite fan and opposing player taunts, etc.  Being able to turn things around even when things look like "it's over."  

For parents it may mean performing (i.e., making good parenting decisions) when your kids are screaming at you, maybe even hitting you, certainly making your life hell.  Having your buttons pushed (kids find your weak spots very easily it seems) but making the hard decisions anyway - i.e., not letting your kids manipulate you and following through on consequences.

You're able to perform despite distractions.  When you become distracted you are able to recognize that quickly and refocus.  Some might even suggest that those who are mentally tough are "in the zone" more often than not.   

Parents or athletes.  Ballerinas or school teachers.  Maintaining one's mental toughness is not easy.  But how do you develop it to begin with?  I believe it starts with knowing who you truly are.

What Does Being Self Strong Have To Do With It?

First of all, for those who may be new to this blog let me briefly let you know what I mean by being "Self Strong."  This refers to knowing who you are.  Who you truly are, and expressing who you are unapologetically.  Knowing who you truly are, who you authentically are, is not necessarily an easy thing to figure out.  I've blogged a little bit about how to figure it out here.  

Being Self Strong means that you know what you value, and what you want and what you don't want from life.  

When you are Self Strong you are able to make decisions and enact choices that reflect who you truly are.  This means you will be confident in your choices.  You will be much less likely to second guess yourself when your decisions have unintended or negative consequences. 

Mentally strong people do not dwell on mistakes or missed opportunities because they know the decisions they made that led to that point were made from a place of strength and authenticity.  That doesn't mean such folks are immune to regret, frustration or even anger.  Self Strong people can make mistakes.  They may come to realize that their values and desires may have changed which may mean that some decisions are no longer a good fit.  What they will do next is stop to figure out what went wrong and adjust.  They may use self-talk like this: "Now that I know that, I'll do it differently next time."

I firmly believe that we all do the very best we can in each moment of our lives.  And in turn, each moment of our lives can teach us something about ourselves and the world around us.  The more we remain open to full awareness, the more Self Strong we can become.

Be Mentally Tough.  Develop Your Self Strength.

If mental toughness is something you have wanted to develop, I recommend determining how well you truly know yourself and how well you are able to be you.  Knowing who you truly are and living your life based on that knowledge will never be an act.  You will never have to remember what you're "supposed to do" or how you're "supposed to act."  

You'll just know because it will just be you.  And you will be mentally strong.

In my opinion, being as self-aware as possible can be liberating.  It means that the expectations of others can be viewed with interest and perhaps even acted upon, but knowing who you truly are and being Self Strong means you do not have to be beholden to who others think you ought to be.  

After all, aren't you the one who knows you best - or are, at least, in the best position to figure it out?

What do you think?

Share your thoughts, ideas, disagreements in the comments below.  Have I captured what it means to be mentally tough?  Do you think developing self-awareness is important?  Is being mentally tough important?  I'd love to hear from you!

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