Building confidence and self-esteem is a popular self-help subject. But why do so many of us need to build confidence and self-esteem? How did we lose it to begin with?
As my boys grow, I see they were born with confidence and self-esteem. They instinctively keep trying even when the odds against them are overwhelming.
I realize you can build confidence in any activity by practicing. But that isn’t what I’m writing about in this post. I am writing about the deep inner feeling of knowing that you are capable and valuable.
I believe that we are all born believing we are capable and valuable – and somehow – some of us forget that core truth about ourselves.
So, how does it happen? How do we lose ourselves?
I think you lose it when you face painful difficult situations before reaching intellectual, emotional, and moral maturity, so you blame yourself. Instead of believing you made a simple mistake and trying again, you begin to believe you are flawed.
In the worst situations, you are abused and lied to and begin to believe you are defective.
Other times you are subjected to emotional abuse in school and at home where you learn your value is based purely on other people’s evaluation of your performance.
* Your social performance
* Your athletic performance
* Your academic performance
* Your romantic performance
* Your financial performance
We measure the results of these performances with cliques, grades, sports scores, the attractiveness of our mates, and the quantity and quality of our possessions. In the process of measuring, you start to compare yourself with others. You start to rate the lunchroom cliques at school from A-E like Paul Graham.
Don’t misunderstand me…
I’m not anti-competition and I believe performing in all these areas is important. I love competition. I believe competition forces companies to improve products and lower costs. I love competitive hockey. I am saying that the competitive nature of our society results in many of us viewing others and ourselves through a > / < (I am greater than you; I am less than you) comparative filter. This faulty filter causes many of us to measure our own value inaccurately. We internalize these comparisons early in our lives with thoughts like these:
* I am a better hockey player than Brett but worse than Dave
* Sally is smarter than Kim
* Hunter is a stud so Jeff doesn’t have a chance with her
* Look at her shoes; I don’t have that kind of money to burn
That’s where I think we go wrong. You diminish your confidence and self-esteem each time you measure your value against other people. When your feelings of self-worth are dependent upon comparing yourself with someone else, you have given power over your emotional state to something outside of yourself that you can’t control. Your emotions are at the whims of other people’s performances instead of your own performances.
I am going to ask you some questions to illustrate a point:
* Are you a better or worse golfer than Tiger Woods?
* Are you richer or poorer than Bill Gates?
* Are you better looking than Brad Pitt?
* Are you smarter than Einstein?
Do these questions seem absurd to you?
These questions are equally absurd:
* Are you a better or worse golfer than your sales manager?
* Are you richer or poorer than the family across the street?
* Are you better looking than your wife’s first boyfriend?
* Are you smarter than the other kid in class?
Don’t ask questions like the ones above…
They lead to low self-esteem.
Ask yourself questions like these:
* Am I playing the best golf I am capable of? Do I want to improve my golf game? If so, what would be a good strategy?
* Do I have enough money to do the things I want to do? If not, how much do I need and how can I acquire it?
* How can I feel more attractive? What changes to my thoughts, beliefs, and actions will make me feel more attractive?
* Are there more efficient ways to study and complete homework? Am I managing my time well? What does a grade mean to me? Not to everyone else, but what does it mean to me?
You can damage your self-esteem and confidence by asking yourself poor questions. So ask yourself great questions.
You may be thinking…
Wait a minute – Shouldn’t I learn from successful people? Shouldn’t I learn from other people’s failures, so I don’t repeat their mistakes? Yes, learn from other people. Get inspired by their successes. Let their failures be a ‘how not to’ guide. But measure yourself by your own internal standard. Never compare yourself to someone else.
Gates, Gretzky, and Woods may be at the very top of what they do, but sometimes, even they get beat. I will guarantee they didn’t get to #1 by obsessing about who was better or worse; they became #1 through obsessive personal improvement.
They got to #1 by asking…
How can I become the best I can be?
They didn’t get to #1 by asking…
How can I be better than Dave?