You promised you wouldn’t let this happen — but you couldn’t help it.
You let yourself down. Again.
You piped down and stayed silent when your boss made that incorrect statement in the team meeting.
‘Who am I to correct her?’, you thought, ‘Maybe she’s right — she’s the boss after all.’ It doesn’t matter that you know the facts and stats against her statement; you doubt your competence and feel inferior.
Remember how anxiety bubbled up when you saw that attractive stranger at a party? Instead of asking them out — you rejected yourself on their behalf.
‘What’s the point? I know I’m not good enough. They will reject me anyway when they come to know the real me.’ You felt worthless and inadequate.
You don’t open up, even with your close friends. Even when they pay you a compliment, you feel uncomfortable (‘They are probably mocking me anyway’) and quickly divert it to chance… or even divine intervention.
‘Perhaps something’s wrong with me’, you think, ‘Maybe I don’t deserve happiness.’
Not that you haven’t tried to improve your self-esteem. You read online blogs, tried out quick-and-dirty remedies — the ones that asked you to fake-it-till-you-make-it — to browbeat this feeling of inadequacy and shame out of your system.
You took power stances, thought powerful thoughts, took out your mental machete and whacked off all negative thoughts, dressed sharply, dabbed colognes.
It even seemed to work — for a short while. But eventually, the hopelessness crept back.
Once again, your life is plagued by futility. You can’t help but continue to behave passively — it’s in “your nature”.
The truth: Neither effortless solutions nor futile passivity helps in building self-esteem. It takes work but you can definitely do it. Want to know how? Read on…
The “Fake It Till You Make It” Mantra
In your search for authentic self-esteem recipes, you must have found tons of advice which help you gain a short confidence boost, akin to a pseudo-self-esteem.
You know, the ones that tell you to take power stances, dress sharply or dress for a job that you want to have, apply some cologne, etc.
Or maybe, you were told to apply positive affirmations? You know — Be your own cheerleader, tell yourself that you are going to be a huge success, or you can do anything that you put your mind to.
In my college days (fun days — driven by low self-esteem, battling a negative body image and plagued by a clinical aversion of talking to girls), I remember subscribing to the newsletter of one Rod Cortez, who promised to teach the mystical art of charming women by — boosting confidence to the stratosphere.
It didn’t quite work out for me. I dunno, maybe the stratosphere’s really low these days — damn you global warming.
But the message was clear: act confident — even if you don’t feel like it.
Fake it till you make it.
The problem is, even though it feels like a short term boost or hype to your psyche, it doesn’t really stick. Those insta-remedies for self-esteem are more concerned about how you appear to others, rather than how you really feel about yourself.
Sure, they make you feel good for a short while, even cause some marginal improvement; but sooner or later the effect wears off. And when it does, the moral dilemma of low self-esteem — the feeling of being an impostor — hits you like an avalanche and leaves you gasping for breath, forcing you to retreat back to your safe haven of passivity and futility.
The Recipe To Fortify Authentic Self-Esteem
To know the perfect recipe for self-esteem, you need to understand what self-esteem really is. Self-esteem is a composite of two interrelated components: self-efficacy — a sense of confidence while we face life’s challenges, and self-respect — a sense of being worthy of happiness, as succinctly defined by Nathaniel Branden Ph.D.
You feel secure in your own hands when your ability to think, understand, learn and choose — bear results. You feel serene when you think you deserve happiness, love, and respect from others and you are comfortable in expressing your thoughts, needs and wants.
If you want to increase your self-esteem, you need to do the inner work and focus on practices and conscious actions that bolster these aspects. It’s the healthy nourishing meal that authentic self-esteem needs.
The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem
As Nathaniel Branden theorizes, there are six practices fundamental to reinforce self-efficacy and self-respect.
#1 Living Consciously
You live consciously when you actively participate in life and do not remain a passive bystander; remain present at the moment without losing a wider context.
You respect reality, reach out towards relevant facts, distinguish between said facts and your emotions and confront your impulses to deny painful truth. You understand that your fears or denials do not alter a fact, even if you don’t like the truth.
You open yourself to new knowledge and ideas, persevere to understand the world, act upon what you learn. You commit to learning and growth throughout life.
Conscious living unfurls a new paradigm to life — without which no inroads into self-esteem is possible.
You practice self-acceptance when you choose to value yourself, treat yourself with respect, and stand up for your right to exist.
You refuse to regard any part of yourself — your body, thoughts, actions, dreams — as alien, as not you. You don’t rationalize, deny or explain away negative emotions like anger, fear or inconvenient lust. You accept them — even if you don’t like or admire them — as your expression, at least at the time it occurred.
You are compassionate to yourself and treat yourself as a friend. You don’t reproach yourself for something you regret or are ashamed of. You take responsibility for your undesirable behavior; you don’t justify it, but you try to understand why it felt appropriate or even necessary at that time.
Self-acceptance is the core tenet of self-esteem.
You practice self-responsibility when you understand that you are responsible for your life and well-being; you are responsible for your actions and achieving your goals and desires.
You are responsible for the level of consciousness you bring to your work and your relationships, your behavior with your co-workers, associates, customers, spouse, children, and friends.
You are responsible for how you prioritize your time, your quality of communication, personal happiness and choosing the values by which you live. You understand that no one is coming to solve your problems; If you don’t do something, nothing will get better.
When you take the onus upon yourself, you feel safe in your own hands. Your self-efficacy buoys up.
You practice self-assertiveness when you honor your wants, needs, values and express them appropriately. You stand up for yourself, be yourself and treat yourself with respect.
You ask questions, challenge authority, think and act for yourself, confront rather than evade challenges. But you don’t indulge in mindless rebellion; Healthy self-assertiveness is tested not by what you are against, but what you are for.
You understand your life doesn’t belong to others and you don’t need to live up to someone else’s expectations. When you stand up for yourself, you are not intimidated by accusations of selfishness — you know that self-surrender or self-sacrifice is easier than intelligent selfishness.
You unleash more of yourself upon the world, and in turn, you earn your own admiration.
#5 Living Purposefully
You live purposefully when you consciously take responsibility for crafting your goals and purpose.
You identify the actions necessary to achieve your goals and you monitor your behavior to ensure they align with your action plan.
You pay attention to the outcome of your actions. If they are not leading you to where you want to go, you stop, take appropriate measures, and correct your course. You don’t leave your life on autopilot.
When you decide the course of your own life — navigating uncharted waters, if need be — your self-esteem skyrockets.
#6 Personal Integrity
You practice personal integrity when you are congruent in your words and your deeds.
You are honest, reliable and trustworthy. You keep your promises, do things that you say you admire and avoid things that you say you deplore. You are fair and just in dealings with others.
When you practice self-deception — ‘No one else but only I will know’, — you imply that your judgment is unimportant, its only other’s judgment that counts. When you behave in ways that conflict with your judgment of what is appropriate, you lose face in your own eyes.
Hypocrisy is an assault on self-esteem.
The Portrait Of Real Self-Esteem
It’s difficult, at first, to integrate the above six practices in our lives — like starting a healthy diet always is.
Think on small improvements on these practices, and take baby steps — steps that are incremental and look attainable. As you progress, you tend to build momentum.
These practices, that generate self-esteem, are also a natural expression of self-esteem. Building authentic self-esteem is a self-sustaining process.
And it shows. It shows when you walk or talk — that you take pleasure in being alive. It shows in your ease when you talk about accomplishments and short-comings, your comfort when you give and receive compliments, your openness to criticism and your surety — even in not being perfect.
It manifests in physical features: your eyes alert and bright, your face relaxed, chin held naturally, jaw relaxed, shoulders erect, posture unstrained and graceful.
Anxiety or insecurity, when they appear, don’t overwhelm you. You are open to new ideas, new experiences, new possibilities, flexible and dignified under stress and challenges.
You are relaxed since you are no longer in conflict with yourself; you no longer disown yourself or hold back something in tight lease. You are at peace with yourself.
Commit To Nurture Your Authentic Self-Esteem
Now that you know the effective path to nurture authentic self-esteem, it’s time to break free of low self-esteem that makes you feel anxious, inadequate, helpless and just not being enough.
The good news: You are capable of growth and change, even if you are racked by doubts. If you want to bring about meaningful change, learn to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the methods involved.
Understand that the quick-and-dirty solutions are fine for a temporary confidence boost, but they do not substitute the effort needed for authentic self-esteem.
Incorporate the Six Pillars of Self Esteem in your daily life, even if it’s in small incremental doses. Do not be harsh on yourself or be self-critical during this process.
Fair warning: This will not be easy, but again, processes that work rarely are. Start today, put in the efforts, and soon you’ll start to see the benefits. You will set realistic targets for yourself, achieve them, and imbue yourself with more self-esteem in the process.
You’ll feel calm, adequate, hopeful and above of all — complete. You will be able to banish those unbecoming thoughts about yourself and grab the reins of your life.
Just imagine the feeling of standing up to your boss, even contradicting them when you know you are right. Imagine approaching, talking to, and asking out that attractive stranger, without any negative inner critic to hinder you.
So make that informed tread in the right direction. And see the magic happen.