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Self-esteem is quite simply what you feel about you; it’s your perception of you, of how worthy and likeable you are. So ask yourself: ‘How do you feel about yourself at the moment?’ Rate your answer on a scale of 0–10, with 0 being the lowest you could be and 10 being the best you could be.
When you thought of this I’d put money on the fact that you didn’t think about the past in any way, shape or form, and that’s why your self-esteem is not about the past! Your self-esteem fluctuates, right? Sometimes you feel good about yourself and sometimes you feel less so. Well if our self-esteem was about the past, the past events would always be there, so our self-esteem levels would never change.
So we’ve established self-esteem is quite simply what you feel about yourself, what you think of yourself now. This is known as a belief system, in this case about ourselves. A belief system is just a set of personal viewpoints, which provide us with fundamental principles and rules we store and organise all experiences by. This is to help us make sense of the world. Remember beliefs are not facts, they’re just what we believe, just a bunch of thoughts, and thoughts are very easy to change. Martin Seligman said that: ‘habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think.’
We all process events and reality through spectacles, depending on how we feel at the time and what the experience is, dictates the colour of the lenses. If you’re feeling good the lenses will be rosy, however if you’re feeling rubbish the lenses will be badly tinted. This processing adds more weight to our already established belief system. You are far more likely to look for evidence that confirms your belief system, this is what’s known as confirmation bias. At the moment if you have low self-esteem you’re walking round with badly tinted spectacles on, collecting evidence to strengthen the belief and probably disregarding a lot of positive evidence about yourself.
So if self-esteem isn’t about the past, what’s it based on? It’s our current thoughts and feelings, the ones in our conscious minds. The conscious mind isn’t huge: it reaches maximum capacity at two weeks. To be honest personally, I struggle to recall events/experiences after a week, so my self-esteem is only really a week old. Think of it this way, if you swapped your knife and fork over in the hands you eat with (which is the habit of a lifetime), how long do you think it would take? The answer is just a few weeks. That’s right, if you constantly practised changing the habit of a lifetime it would only take a few weeks. Therefore, if we can change the habit of a lifetime in a few weeks, we can change our thinking. Normalisation happens very quickly.
So with that in mind, how do we change our thoughts about our self-esteem, I hear you ask. It’s a multipronged attack as there are several tasks we can do, here’s a few to get you on the right track. Remember if its only ever two weeks old, changes should only take that long to take shape.
1. Start to process experiences differently
Try removing your spectacles, take a step back and gain perspective. Lose the confirmation bias and ask yourself: ‘Am I looking at this from a balanced perspective? What’s positive about this experience/event? Or what can I learn from this experience?’
2. Start paying attention to thoughts you have about yourself
Ask yourself: ‘The thought I’m having right now is it helpful to me?’ If it isn’t, try changing it to a more helpful one or bin it off.
3. Start listening to your inner voice and how you speak to yourself
People with low self-esteem are very judgemental and critical about themselves, so they have a tendency to bully themselves. The rule needs to be if you wouldn’t speak to your family and friends in that manner, don’t talk to yourself that way either.
4. Start developing a new belief system that you 100 per cent accept yourself warts and all
That means knocking perfectionist thinking on the head, because every time we think in a perfectionist way we hammer our self-esteem, undoing any good work we have done to increase it. Once you start to develop this new belief, build up evidence to confirm it. ‘Without self-acceptance, self-esteem is impossible.’
5. Live in the moment
Instead of living inside of your head so much, start looking at your surroundings-what’s happening around you. Bear in mind that its not people who validate you, its how you validate yourself. Your self-esteem is nobody else’s business but yours. Once you start processing you in a less harsh and in a more positive light, you will start to feel better about yourself. And the good news is you’re not relying on anybody else to do this, you can do it yourself.
If you like these tips why not book a free consultation over Skype? The Thrive Programme is based on the latest research and is packed with actions and exercises to get you living your life to the full. Self-esteem and belief systems are just two of several areas the programme covers in-depth. Thrive isn’t about going over the past, its about learning a whole bunch of skills to make practical changes. As well as learning these skills, it also teaches you what’s behind your unhelpful thinking and what makes you tick. This is a very empowering place to be.
Michelle Winter is a full-time Thrive Programme Consultant. Thrive is a 6–8 week programme teaching people skills about self-esteem, among others.