"Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on."
- Maxwell Maltz
A reader from the Middle East wrote to me recently asking how he could improve his low self-image. He said, "it ruins my social and professional life." He wanted to know what techniques he could employ to solve this lifelong problem.
I felt somewhat inadequate in my reply to him and resolved to write about my own struggles to improve self-esteem in hopes it will be helpful to others.
I know people who have too much confidence and self-pride, but I don't know anyone with too much self-esteem. Most people, in moments of profound honesty, will admit to a lack of self-esteem. They would like to feel better about themselves-more confident and capable. In short, to love themselves more.
It would probably be fair to say most social problems are the result-directly or indirectly-of someone's low self-concept.
Not too many years ago, I was going through a dark time in my life. I was broke-financially, personally and socially. In describing it to someone once, I said, "I had the self-esteem of a dead rat." That might have been overstating it a bit, but not much.
My life-and my confidence-are so much better today. Much better.
So what changed? Was it outward circumstances? Did my environment change and with it my inner experience? No.
Somehow I knew that any changes would have to be from me. It would be an inner transformation that would eventually alter the outward experience.
First and foremost, I removed myself from people who had been particularly critical. By distancing myself from this criticism, I was able to gain a better perspective. I was perfectly capable of taking my own inventory and didn't need someone else pointing out my errors and keeping me focused on my shortcomings.
I immersed myself in good books-books of inspiration, books that increased my belief and books that gave me hope. And hope was severely lacking.
I made a conscious attempt to focus on my strengths: my talents, my experience and my knowledge. I didn't allow myself to indulge in negative thoughts. When
I found myself musing about something less than "uplifting," I would redirect myself to something else. I gave myself no permission to have "pity parties."
I took to heart Thomas Carlyle's advice when he wrote, "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what clearly lies at hand."
I kept busy. I did what appeared to me as needing doing. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do or how I was going to do it. The future was uncertain, and for the first time in my life, I didn't have a plan.
And each day I did what I could to clean up my messes, make things better, keep my focus forward instead of backward and keep the faith.
One of the biggest awarenesses I had during these dark times was that I was not my feelings. I had feelings, but they were not me. I also realized that I had cared too much about the opinions of others. I still care; I just don't let it run me like it used to.
Some people believe that if you feel good about yourself, you'll do great things. I also believe if you do great things, you'll feel good about yourself-and then do even greater things.
Taking these steps consistently over a period of years has enabled me to rebuild my finances, establish a career I'm excited about, develop a loving and committed marriage and, most importantly, restore and improve upon my self-esteem. I'm grateful for the process.
Self-esteem is an upward or downward spiral. What you do affects the way you feel. How you feel affects the things you do. The things you do affect what you and others think of you, which in turn, affects how you feel about yourself.
You're either building yourself up or tearing yourself down. There is no status quo when it comes to your self-esteem.