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Self Esteem Primer

 May, 17 2008

The single most important thing you can do to improve yourself is to increase your self esteem.


Self esteem is the foundation of success in business, society, and mating. It is the measure of personal value. Your level of self esteem controls behaviors which will tell others your social rank.

Self esteem is what people look for, in a friend, in someone they trust well enough to buy something from, in a potential mate. The more self esteem you have, the more people will like you, the more you will prosper.

What is ďSelf EsteemĒ? It is your appraisal of your own worth.

What factors do you weigh in appraising your worth? How well people treat you and how well you match up to the set of standards you set for yourself.

Since the foundation of self esteem is your own appraisal of yourself, it is something you can change. There are three things you can change which will change your self appraisal. You can change what you say to yourself about yourself. You can change the standards you use to judge yourself. You can change how you behave, which will change how other people treat you.

Improving your self esteem will improve how you feel, behave, and appear, which will improve how people treat you, which in turn will improve your self esteem. There is feedback and gain in the system, so it will amplify changes, positive or negative.

The starting point is your internal dialog, what you say to yourself about yourself, what you believe about yourself.

Start with an honest appraisal of who you are, where you rank socially in your world, and what things you want to improve. Note the word honest. That means realistic and objective. Not sugar coating it is obvious, but most people with low self esteem are likely to view themselves as worse than they really are. Honest means honest.

It is almost 100% certain that you are not as bad as you think you are when you are feeling down, things have gone bad, or someone has just treated you badly. The names you call yourself in such moments are guaranteed to be overly harsh and hurtful, even if they do contain a grain of the truth. I doubt you really deserve the bad names your parents, teachers, or schoolmates called you, the names you can still hear in your head in moments of stress or when a trigger event replays an old horror scene.

So, the first thing to do is to quit saying and thinking bad things about yourself, and quit replaying the scenes in you head where people from your past do the same. It is not easy. You have to catch yourself doing it and change the subject. At first it is hard, because you are so used to doing it. As you do it, it becomes easier to stop, and as your internal dialog gets more positive, the negative stuff will stand out more and you will have more strength to stop it. The sooner you start doing this, the sooner you will get results.

You have to identify those things that are good about yourself and use those as the things which define you to yourself. Realize there are many things you do right, and that you should feel good about yourself because of them. You have to develop an image of yourself that is positive.

Just as surely, you have weak spots, things you do badly, and things you need to change. Donít feel bad about them, just note them and start improving them. You donít have to fix everything in one day, but you should start today.

In brief, eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive.

You need to change the standards you use to judge yourself. If you were doing a good job at some task, and I came along and pronounced your work to be sloppy and inadequate because I was using an impossibly high standard of perfection, what would be the result? Would it make you feel better and motivate you to do a better job? I doubt it. More likely, it would cause you to feel bad, do a worse job, and possibly give up even trying.

The same thing happens when you set impossibly high standards or goals for yourself. ďReach For The StarsĒ makes a great motivational bumper sticker, but it is physically impossible to reach more than half an armís length above your head. Setting impossible goals sets you up for failure, which creates a mindset where you always fail, and that kills your self esteem.

I would suggest setting directions instead. View life as a journey where you have destinations you wish to reach, and your daily goal is to take as many steps in that direction as you can today. If you make few steps, or even go backwards a bit on some days it is OK, because you will do better on other days if you donít give up. This will give you regular success, which changes your mindset from one of, I always fail to meet my goals, to I am headed in the direction I wish to go, I am becoming who I want to be.

If you are like most people, the above will be a major change in how you judge yourself, a change that will quickly improve your self esteem, and will increase the speed at which you travel towards your destination.

How people treat you has a huge impact on your self esteem. We have all had incidents where the treatment we received changed our whole day for the better or worse. You can feel like you are on top of the world and someone treating you like you are worthless can bring you down. You can feel down and have it turned around if someone treats you like you matter.

You can change how people, on average, treat you by changing your behavior.

People usually treat you in accordance with how much social status they believe you have. They judge your social status based upon your behavior. If you quit engaging in the behaviors of a low status person and begin behaving like a high status person, everyone will treat you better, which will make you feel better, which in turn will make you behave like you are higher status, which will cause people to treat you better.

How do low status people behave? They are unsure of themselves. Always apologize, even when they did nothing wrong, or the wrong isnít their fault. They do not look people in the eye. When people look them in the eye, they look down. They jump at any noise. They snap to attention when their name is called, eager to please. They walk around with poor posture. They watch to see if people approve of each thing they say. They tell people how good they are at this or that, make sure they mention cool places they have been at every chance, and drop the names of any important people they have met. They do more for other people than those people do for them. They offer to help before it is apparent that help is needed. They always let other people go first. The always give in and let others get their way. They worry what other people, even strangers will think of them. They pass judgment on the behavior of others when it is uncalled for. They are openly critical of and display contempt for the rich and famous, which is really an indication of status jealously. Low status people often have no life, do nothing interesting, excel at nothing, have no passion. They are no fun to be around.

So, how do high status people behave?

Confidence is the primary outer sign of high status. There is a reason schemes to cheat people are called confidence games; the con in con-man is short for confidence. There are people who project so much confidence that they literally get people to give them money for nothing. I am not recommending becoming a swindler, or even a blatant manipulator, in fact I recommend against it, as it is bad Karma and will lead you down a bad path. I just use this as an example of how powerful a confident high self esteem persona can be.

ďAll It Takes Is ConfidenceĒ, is another bumper sticker slogan, that while true, offers little real help to the unconfident one suffering from low self esteem.

Behaviors you need to project a confident air of high status are: Good posture, good body language, and good eye contact. Act like people are glad you are there. Donít apologize unless you actually do something offensive, like bumping someone, stepping on their shoe, or coughing in their personal space. Donít offer excuses for yourself, especially if they are not asked for. React less to noises. Respond more slowly when called by name. Be less eager to please. Do not seek approval from anyone for anything. Quit bragging, that is telling people how great you are, what expensive stuff you own, which celebrities you met, and all the cool things you do. Never pass judgment on others. Never act jealous or critical of the rich and famous, just because they seem to have it made. Expect to get your way, but donít pitch a fit if minor stuff doesnít go your way. Withdrawing attention from those who displease you is far higher status than verbalizing your displeasure. Bring an end to boring or pointless conversations by changing the subject or withdrawing attention. Get a life; find something you are passionate about and do it well. Wait until it is appropriate in a conversation to bring it up, talk about it in an interesting and passionate way, and limit how much you say.

The lists above are incomplete, and this article is in no way a cure for low self esteem. It is more like a list of things you need to work on, a roadmap for your journey. Each of the items I mentioned could be the topic of a long essay, and people have written whole books about many of them. I will go into some of the above topics in more detail in future posts. What you have to do is identify which of those things you need to improve and get to work.

One easy way to fool yourself into not starting your journey is to say it is all fake. That starting to act like you have high self esteem wonít do any good if you really know that you donít. Not true. A major component of your self esteem is how people treat you, and that is determined by how you behave and react. If you fake it and get better treatment, that will improve your self esteem and then you wonít be faking it any more. You will become a more confident person with higher self esteem.

Improving your life is like cleaning up after a big meal. You just have to pick a spot and start. Itís the job thatís never started which takes the longest. Get going. It beats sitting around feeling bad. Just getting started will improve your self concept, which will make things better.


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