When does a man believing in himself mean that he is confident and when does it mean he is arrogant? On the flipside of that, when does shy or introverted behaviour translate to low self-confidence and when does it mean something else entirely? The problem we face when trying to understand these behaviours is that even the experts can’t agree on what is what.
I believe self-esteem to be one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in psychology. The face of compromised (or unhealthy) self-esteem is often thought of as depression or ‘weakness’. This is not true or useful. In fact, many people who are considered dynamic and successful and are celebrated for their talents and creativity, also struggle with compromised self-esteem.
• Do you second guess yourself way too much?
• Do you have an internal critic that has too much power?
• Do you get anxious/stressed when things are going right?
• Do you worry that people are going to find out that you aren’t that talented, skilled or clever?
• Do you use arrogance and bravado to feel better about yourself?
• Do you use perfectionism to drive your work ethic even if it makes life difficult for you?
• Do you make the needs of others so important that there is no space to look after your own needs?
• Do you spend too much time worrying about what people may think of you or how they may judge you?
If you’ve said yes to one or more of these questions you are probably one of the many talented people who have compromised self-esteem.
As someone who has searched extensively for ways to improve his own self-esteem and who continues to do so, I find it hard to relate to most of the information and guidance on offer. I have never been comfortable with the way self-esteem is described and mapped out in general by both the laymen and those in the know.
The simple definitions are jarring and the complex definitions feel complicated about the wrong things. A quick Google search will turn up about 46 000 000 articles related to self-esteem and there are thousands of books and many tips, techniques, pieces of advice and models on how to improve it. When I tried techniques like affirmations and positive thinking they flat out didn’t work. For me, too much of the advice felt like using a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. An instruction like ‘love yourself’ was so far removed from my reality as a young man, that it in fact made me feel worse. I became determined to find a better way.
What helped kick-start my understanding of self-esteem was the Neuro-Semantics distinction that describes the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence and introduced me to the concept of the difference between being and doing.
Self-esteem – is the sum total of your personal judgements on which you base your value as a human being – who you are. It is a value which is therefore not attributed to anything that you offer, contribute or achieve.
Self-confidence – is directly linked to your human doing – what you do. It is your automatic and personal assessment of the likelihood of success (good or bad) – given a specific situation and/or task. Said slightly differently: self-confidence is the automatic answer to a subconscious and situational question, ‘How likely am I to be successful here?’ The answer arrives in the form of a feeling – and this can range from high to low self-confidence.
Self-esteem and self-confidence are interrelated, as having low self-esteem often creates low confidence. More often than not they are mixed up. Many men fall into the trap of trying to get, experience or keep their value through what they do, have or achieve: Their job, status, car, girlfriend, money, reputation, being right, being liked, being clever, being better than others, being cool, being successful can all be linked to getting, having or keeping self-esteem. However, having this type of conditional self-esteem can be very limiting and destructive. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can have and experience your self-worth without any conditions, without having to have, do or achieve anything.
In 2015 I had a very tough year where I was part of several high profile team losses in my role of sports mental coach and it hit me very hard. I either had to quit the sports work or find a way to be strong enough to not get taken or broken by the emotional rollercoaster of wins and losses.
I chose to solve this riddle – to find a way to understand what self-esteem really is, and most importantly how to reliably develop and grow self-esteem over the shortest possible time.
My first breakthrough in my research was to identify that self-esteem is not one thing, it is in fact a collection of things: judgements. I now define self-esteem as being your overall personal judgement of your own value that is independent of any logic. I have identified 10 specific healthy beliefs that make up healthy self-esteem, and developing healthy self-esteem is all about removing the deeply held negative judgements or limiting beliefs that stand in the way of us living and experiencing those 10 positive healthy beliefs.
We develop our judgements of our value through how we were parented, how we interpreted key events growing up and how we were treated during our childhood. We very seldom outgrow these judgements as adults regardless of how successful, loved and admired we become.
These judgements filter our experience of life and we use them to interpret what things mean to us. These judgements are held in both our conscious mind and unconscious mind in the form of beliefs. Consider the following scenarios and imagine how you would react if you:
a) had strong and healthy beliefs about your value or
b) your beliefs about your value were unhealthy.
• A woman/man you find very attractive rejects your offer to go out for a drink.
• You get some strong criticism at work about your performance that you put a lot of effort into.
• You are treated consistently poorly by your girlfriend/boyfriend or boss after you have given direct feedback that you don’t appreciate it.
• You have to give an important presentation to a group of senior and experienced leaders in your field.
My research, my own experience and experiences with my clients brought to light that someone with unhealthy beliefs about their value (Option B) would not only have negative thoughts and feelings in these scenarios, they are also very likely to have tension and negativity show up in their body. A racing heart, upset stomach, flushed face, sweaty hands etc. This means that our negative judgements about our value show up in our mind AND our body. These judgements are typically activated whenever we experience something out of the norm; either below the norm in the form of failure or disappointment or above the norm, when you are trying to level up: get a better job, get a better relationship, strive for a bigger challenge, etc. As such we would need a process to work with both the mind and body to release those limiting beliefs so that when we commit to improving ourselves in a meaningful way – we are no longer working against ourselves as we do that.
I developed a process called Scanning, and it is now possible to use Scanning to remove all the limiting beliefs that interfere with our healthy self-esteem. Scanning is the process of identifying and removing any limiting beliefs or negativity trapped in the body that interferes with healthy beliefs. You can find out more about how to Scan and the 10 healthy beliefs that make up self-esteem in my book Game Changer Protocol available on Amazon (click here for the link).
For me the idea that we are born with healthy self-esteem was reinforced recently when I became a father and held my daughter Robyn for the first time. It was clear to me in that moment she was pure love; a clean slate who didn’t know anything about limiting beliefs or negative judgements. After birth, life happens and somewhere along the way almost all of us lose that sense of unconditional self-worth – now we have a way to claim it back!