Recently I was doing a coaching session with one of our new ProCoach members. Early in our call she had the courage to confess a difficult truth. She said, "Andrew, I feel like a loser. I don't think I will ever become successful like other people using your program."
I was surprised, because I felt her business results were fairly impressive. I probed further and discovered she gave herself absolutely no credit for the successes she was experiencing in any area of her life. Even when I pointed out her obvious accomplishments, she dismissed them as not worthy of mention.
Her problem, in a nutshell, is low self-worth, also called low self-esteem.
Her situation troubled me. Unless her self-perception improves, it will be severely self-limiting. Her career, financial results, health and relationships are guaranteed to suffer. More significantly, her satisfaction in life will be diminished. Even if she manages to create external success and abundance, she will never experience the inner feelings of confidence, contribution, love, worthiness and peace that we all crave so deeply.
To the extent that you suffer from low self-esteem, your life will be limited in the same ways. Let me explain.
The definition of self-esteem is "seeing one's self as worthy of esteem or respect; a feeling of pride in yourself." Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden, perhaps the world's leading authority on the subject, says that self-esteem is "seeing one's self worthy of happiness."
Enter the human psyche. Your subconscious mind is programmed to create experiences consistent with your deepest beliefs. If you do not believe you are worthy of happiness, your subconscious will do everything it can to ensure you are not happy. And, it is guaranteed to succeed.
One reason my client's comment impacted me so powerfully is that I spent many years suffering from terribly low self-esteem. When I was a teenager, my parents were extremely concerned about my lack of self-worth but they did not know how to help me. As I got older, I took matters into my own hands. My years of riding motorcycles, hang gliding and pursuing sexual conquests were desperate attempts to prove myself. I was fortunate to survive, and even more fortunate because my self-worth gradually improved. However, it was not until recently that I learned the secret formula for improving self-esteem.
Syndicated radio therapist Dr. Laura Schlessinger says it best. "In order to build your self-esteem," she says, "you need to impress yourself." That's all it takes. Each time you are genuinely impressed with yourself, your sense of pride and self-esteem rises. Conversely, each time you are unimpressed with yourself, your self-esteem suffers.
Impressing yourself is no easy task. Why? To start with, most of us are so self-critical and have such high expectations of ourselves it is virtually impossible to impress ourselves. Like my client, we overlook or fail to give ourselves credit for our successes.
Another problem is that we mistakenly believe we can raise our self-worth by impressing other people. We believe that if we just look good enough, drive the right car, have the right job, or hang out with the right people, then we will be okay. I can tell you from personal experience that impressing others does not help. The opposite is true. If you have low self-esteem, the more external success and accolades you accumulate, the more you will feel like a fraud.
We could all benefit from raising our sense of self-worth, so let's take a look at how you can impress yourself. Here are five ways:
1. Lower your expectations
How realistic are your expectations of yourself? Having high standards will contribute to your success; expecting yourself to achieve perfection will not. Ask yourself, "What would be reasonable to expect from a normal person?" Now apply the same standard to your own performance. You may not be "normal", but you are still human. If your expectations are too high, you will never be able to impress yourself.
2. Be fair to yourself
Do you find it difficult to give yourself credit for your accomplishments? When you do something, do you say to yourself and others "Oh, it was no big deal." If so, you are not being fair to yourself. Ask yourself, "Would I admire or respect another person who accomplished this?" If the answer is yes, then give yourself a break. Get beyond your habit of deflection and acknowledge yourself.
3. Focus on the positive
Most of us - especially those who are seeking to improve ourselves - tend to set high targets and then focus our attention on how far we fall short of them. For example, imagine you are in sales and you typically make 2 - 3 cold calls a week. You make a decision to increase your sales and set a target of 20 calls a week. If you have only made 12 calls by the end of the week, the tendency would be to beat yourself up because you fell short of your goal by 8 calls. But hold on. You increased activity significantly. Aren't you going to give yourself credit for that?
It is important to focus on the positive things you accomplish rather than searching out and hurting yourself with negative outcomes. Remember, we learn from our challenges. Make note of your progress. If you can't give yourself credit for the result, how about being impressed with your effort?
4. Set yourself up to win
Have you ever noticed that your mind never gives you the benefit of the doubt? It is a ruthless taskmaster and is very skeptical whenever you seek self-acknowledgement. Before it allows you to have a win it demands irrefutable evidence of your worthiness.
For example, suppose you decide to exercise more regularly. If you work out a few more times than usual, does your mind give you a pat on the back? Probably not. More likely it points out that your workouts have been too short, or not intense enough, or still not frequent enough.
When you set vague goals and commitments, you set yourself up to lose. You need to be very specific. In this example, say "I will work out three times a week for one hour following 'XYZ' fitness program." Follow through impeccably and you will impress yourself.
5. Give your best performance
Perhaps the single greatest cause of low self-esteem is the belief that you did not make your best effort - that you could have done better. For most people this assessment is accurate far too often. The single most powerful way to impress yourself is to perform at an impressive level. Get into action. Confront your fears. Do whatever it takes to keep your commitments to yourself and others. Become the person you know you can be. When you start releasing the potential that lies within you, your self-esteem will rise exponentially!
Developing a sense of pride in who you are and what you do is, without doubt, one of your most important tasks on this life journey. The benefits and gifts that flow from a healthy sense of self make this challenge well worth the effort.
Andrew Barber-Starkey, Master Certified Coach.
In the September issue of the ProCoach Connection I wrote about my client Jim Perrier in New Orleans, who is playing a leadership role in his company and community following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Our newsletter never suggested that readers make contributions towards Jim's situation. Even so, ProCoach members generously donated over $1400 to the cause. Jim sends his thanks to everyone who reached out to help. He recently told me things are still extremely difficult down there, and the money our members gave has been used to provide the essentials for people who lost everything.
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Andrew Barber-Starkey is a Master Certified Coach residing in Vancouver, Canada. His coaching program, the ProCoach Success System, is designed for entrepreneurs, small-business owners, self-employed and commissioned sales people who want to double their income while simultaneously doubling their time off within 3 years.
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