Why can’t I get more things done?

Why am I falling behind in my career?

Why am I afraid to start something new?

Our inner critic can be brutal. It reminds us that we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough, and we’ll never reach our goal. Our inner critic worries about doing the wrong thing and feeling inferior, which can lead to lower self-esteem.

Self-esteem is a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. It involves a variety of beliefs you have about yourself, such as appearance, emotions, and behaviors. Self-esteem is formed in childhood, and while we’ve all had bad stuff happen in life, it’s time to move past our need to blame external forces for our lack of self-worth.

What’s affecting your self-esteem? The answer is always the same—you. If you had a less than perfect childhood, congratulations! Now is the time for you to figure out how to turn shit into sugar.

There is no shortage of inspirational workshops that spit out quotes meant to inspire and motivational messages on how to be empathic, collaborative, and self-aware.

But they rarely delve into the stickier issue of self-esteem. Why not? Because placing value on ourselves is seen by many as being too self-centric. If we hold a leadership position, we’re exhorted to be servant leaders, lead by example, put others before ourselves, and nurture the well-being of the team.

Meanwhile, our governments and Fortune 500 companies are loaded with bullies who surround themselves with suck-ups who feed their ego and enhance their sense of power. Most bullies are losers when it comes to relationships, especially an honest relationship with themselves.

Where is the healthy balance?

Every human has equal value so it’s an error to believe you have no worth. When people look down on others or consider themselves better, that’s not self-esteem. That is lack of confidence disguised as a bully.

Here are some healthy ways to increase your self-esteem:

1. Know Thyself

This is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important.

If your self-esteem comes from other people or external forces, you need to stop and get to know yourself so you can identify what you need and what you want.

What would you do in life if you no one passed judgment on your choices? Would it influence your career path? The person you married? The car you drove? The neighborhood in which you lived?

We all know blue-flamers who shot out of school with all the energy in the world, determined to run over the competition to get ahead. And that works for a while, but there comes a point when the energy begins to fade because it’s not connected to a “why I’m doing this” that truly holds meaning for us.

Suddenly, they’re the ones who get run over by the new crop of young, ambitious blue-flamers who are nipping at their heels.

If you aren’t in touch with what brings you joy, you’re still in second grade. You’re so far behind that you have no idea of what you really want or where you want to go. It’s time to stop living your life the way “other people live theirs.”

I’m a late bloomer; it took years for me to figure out what, I wanted to become in life. I wasn’t living by my values and I was miserable. It fell into place for me when I interviewed to become an FBI agent and I learned that (internally) FBI stands for Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity. Now, those were values I could get behind and support.

How To Make It Work For You: The place to start in this process is to sit down and identify the values that are most important to you. When are you happiest at work? At home? What do you want now, and in the future? Self-awareness is the only way you’ll blossom and grow.

2. Stay Focused On Your Goal

Make certain that your choices and decisions always answer this question: “Will this bring me closer, or further, from what I really want in life?”

You can live your life two ways: as a passive observer or an active participant. It’s your choice, but if you don’t want to sleepwalk through life, you’ll need to be aware of how your thoughts, emotions, and behavior impact your decisions. This awareness will make you mentally tough.

It’s much easier to shut down and accept what other people decide for you. There’s less risk if you don’t push back or take a chance.

If you stay focused on your goal, however, you will engage with your environment and take active steps to get where you want to be. Passivity leads to low self-esteem; assertiveness leads to high self-esteem.

When I was younger, I took several art classes in school. People cautioned me that I couldn’t make a living as an artist. So, I took their advice, majored in business and went on to become an FBI agent. While I loved my career, I knew there was a serious creative side to me that would never be satisfied if I didn’t follow that dream. For me, it became a hobby that filled my weekend hours, and many vacation hours as well.

How To Make It Work For You: Take the time to tie decisions and choices you make in life back to this question: how will this help you be true to the person you were created to be. Don’t fret if the answer to this question changes over time. It’s healthy to re-evaluate where you’re headed in life.

My goal changed over the years. My desire to be an artist became a desire to be a writer. The creative part of me still needed to be nurtured.

3. Forget Self-Help

To boost your self-esteem, you don’t need self-help books or seminars. Self-help is a bandage that covers a wound when what it really needs is deep healing. The only way that will happen is if the deeper issue comes to the surface.

It will take more than daily affirmations to boost your self-esteem because if you actually need to remind yourself that you are worthy of love, you’re still in second grade—no matter how old you are.

You should be the adult in the room now, not the child. This means you’re mature enough to recognize that you’re a combination of both advantages and flaws. To achieve your goals, you’ll need to develop your strengths while you manage your weaknesses.

Don’t get caught in the self-help hype that if you buy a $19.99 video you will learn how to be the person you were meant to become. Only you know what that looks like because the authentic you come from a firm understanding of yourself and your values.

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t succumb to the poor advice that you need to identify every single one of your weaknesses and then work on overcoming each one. That does nothing but produce a list that resembles the valley of death. Instead, acknowledge them and then find ways to manage them.

4. Differentiate Between Confidence and Self-Esteem

While confidence and self-esteem are closely related, they are not the same thing. You may appear to be a loser to the rest of the world and have nothing going for you, and still have high self-esteem.

By the same token, you can appear to have everything going for you and still have low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is the product of a variety of circumstances; it rests at a primal level inside, as elusive as a gut feeling but just as powerful. Confidence can be the product of knowledge, good skill sets, and the way people treat you.

How To Make It Work For You: Improve the way you think about yourself which is easier than you may think. You have the ability to change your thoughts very quickly. Every time you think of something negative about yourself, you create a negative feedback loop that gets stronger every time the thought enters your brain. Stop the thought before it has a chance to make the feedback loop stronger. Replace it with a positive thought about yourself.

© 2019 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” 

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