Why Your Efforts to Boost Self Esteem Haven’t Worked
Self-esteem is a personal evaluation of one’s overall worth or value. This is usually translated to, or associated with a feeling. When we talk about self-esteem in everyday conversation, we are usually referring to the feeling of self-esteem.
Where Did the Idea of Self Esteem Come From?
The term self-esteem was originally coined by William James’s book, The Principles of Psychology in 1890. James was a famous American Philosopher and Psychologist. The term didn’t gain popularity until the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s.
Self-esteem has become such a staple phrase in contemporary psychology and everyday speech, it’s difficult to imagine an era where the importance, or even the concept of self-esteem didn’t exist in language.
How the Meaning Has Changed
There is a big difference in how William James—pioneer of the self-esteem concept—defined the term and how we use it in everyday life. He saw self-esteem as something that could be measured objectively:
The emotional feedback from one’s ratio of goals and aims to attainment.
In other words, self-esteem was described by James as a feeling that is the result of action.
In contemporary times, self-esteem is generally thought of as a resource someone needs in order to initiate action. This is where we get into trouble.
We Believe Need More of It
Self-esteem is not something people are born with, or a resource that someone can give you. You may have come to believe self-esteem as something that happy, successful people began their lives with a huge amount of, and if you could just get yours as high as theirs, you could be more like them.
The secret is to simply focus on building your self-esteem, right?
The irony is that people who appear to have high self-esteem rarely pay attention to their self-esteem, if it comes to mind at all. This is because self-esteem is not something that can be enhanced by targeting it directly. The feeling of self-esteem is a natural byproduct of living life according to one’s values, goals and accomplishments.
The Self Esteem Trap
The self-esteem trap that many of us are stuck in has two popular manifestations:
1. “I would be willing to do ____ if I had higher self-esteem.”
Since creating a reasonable goal and taking steps toward attaining it is what provides the emotional feedback known as self-esteem, waiting to have self-esteem prior to taking action deprives us of experiencing it in the first place.
2. “No matter what I do, I can’t seem to boost my self-esteem.”
Persistently monitoring ourselves to see if our self-esteem has improved almost always backfires.
This is because we will inevitably notice a gap between how we actually feel and how we would rather feel. Noticing this gap in and of itself makes us feel badly, and may cause us to believe we haven’t made progress. Not making progress also makes us feel badly. The downward spiral continues.
Can We Boost Our Self-Esteem?
Even though you can’t force your way to have a higher opinion of yourself, or increase your self-esteem by direct effort, you can get in the habit of creating a few small tasks and accomplishing them. This will give your brain a reason to reward you.
Feelings of confidence and self-esteem almost always come naturally after successfully completing a challenge, performing a meaningful task, or mastering a new skill.
How Can We Tell If It’s Working?
We’re not talking about solving world hunger, or creating world peace (although you are welcome to try this as you gain confidence in your abilities).
All kidding aside simply make a little change or two to your routine, and this will naturally result in a feeling of accomplishment or mastery. With persistence, these little shifts to your routine will turn into regular habits, and will be sufficient to get you on your way to feeling better.
Think of something positive that you’ve been putting off that you can do right now. Maybe it’s a phone call you’ve been meaning to make, or a text you’ve been thinking of sending eventually. Just do it now. And do something similar every day.
Get Started With These Simple Ideas
- Text or call a friend or family member that you’ve been “meaning to stay in contact with” but haven’t. Keep the conversation short.
- Spend 5-10 minutes working toward a goal you have, even if it is a goal you haven’t committed to writing. For example, download an app like Memrise and start learning that language you’ve always wanted to learn. Watch 5-10 minutes of a how to video on how to play an instrument you’ve always wanted to learn. Spend 5-10 minutes working with someone, or watching a video on learning to code, learning how to build or fix something, etc.
- Each day commit to doing just one little thing that you’ve been putting off indefinitely; or continue your language lessons, music lessons or whatever you decided to do.
Commit to These Changes. You’ll Thank Yourself Later.
It is important to do these things no matter how you feel, without concern for your current level of confidence or self-esteem. These things will come in time.
Keep in mind that these personal achievements, whichever ones you decide on, are unique to you. Compare yourself only with your former self, and not to others. Each person’s journey is their own.
Gently let go of all efforts to boost your self-esteem directly, and/or self-monitoring for your feelings of self-esteem.
Spend 5-10 minutes a day doing something you’ve been putting off, or working toward learning a new skill.
Make a mental note of all the things you are making progress on, and freely remind yourself of your accomplishments as often as you wish.
In summary, no one boosts their confidence or self-esteem by focusing on it directly. Instead, they focus on accomplishing several small things which provide them with reasons to feel good about themselves naturally, and confident about their abilities as they learn through these experiences.
If you continue to feel yourself wanting to boost or monitor your self-esteem, this is normal. Most of us have been in that habit for a long time, and there is no reason to expect it to change overnight. As these desires arise gently, yet persistently refocus on the task at hand and these will pass.