Starting today and for the next four days, I look at the subject of self-esteem and how it impacts our lives. Self-esteem issues came to the fore in the sixties as part of the counterculture movement and looking at the way we see the world, ourselves and our place in it has never been more important. Today, we look at how our mind generally works.
In your lifetime, irrespective of advances in technology, you will probably not come across a more capable computer than the one you have in your head, your mind. Its capabilities are endless and mostly unknown to us. It has been said that we probably use about 10 percent of its given potential and if we were able to use all of it, we could probably manage to study every college and university course available worldwide simultaneously. Whether this is true or not, it does signify the power of the mind. More factors. If we talk about how we use and think with the 10 percent available, we use 40 percent of that thinking about irrelevant things, 30 percent thinking about things that have already happened and 20 percent on things that are yet to come. Of the 10 percent left, only 50 percent of that is used to consider issues that we can ourselves influence to make a difference. If true, this shows the misuse of the power we have in our minds. We busy ourselves with putting off, putting forward, trivial issues, mindless conflict, superficiality, worrying about what people think and avoiding our truth to name a few. So much wasted mental energy that could be used more productively.
Much of the above is conjecture, no-one really knows enough about the way our minds work to be definite about it. Yes, it appears we have a conscious part, a subconscious part where we store long and short term memories, where our fears and conditioning play out and where we process sensory input. All of this gives us our paradigm or world view, it creates impressions based on experiences had, assumptions about the world and people around us and it computes the real and fake evidence it is programmed with and it works endlessly and continually to find a solution.
The key to understand in my opinion, is that this programming comes from us and we can change that programming and hence our paradigm.
A client who has been coming to therapy for quite some time, recently had a revelation where she finally realised that her family had conditioned her as a child to behave in a certain way. Intellectually, she always knew this but emotionally she could not accept it. She cried for the first time in years and has vowed to see this as an opportunity to change her belief systems. In our time together, she has often expressed terms similar to the following:
“I always mess up”
“I can never do that/this because I am too fat and no-one would like me”
“That’s just the way I am and that will not change, I will leave that for the others”
“Because of my past, I can’t, won’t, will never be able to”.
“I can’t/ I won’t”
These statements are often heard when people try to explain, justify or make excuses for their behaviour and attitudes, or the behaviour of others. This particular client’s mind was especially busy after having this fed to it constantly over an extended period. She truly believed these statements to be fact and consolidated these with language and attitude. Her mind constantly looked for evidence to make it true and rejected anything to the contrary in terms of supporting evidence that might balance the equation. It was her reality.
We are what we think. What we think, we become. Famous quotes but very true for many people. We can become anything we believe we should be just by convincing ourselves. Our mind will do the rest for us.
I am not advocating an easy path to healthy self-esteem. It is often entrenched ideas like the ones highlighted above that take precedence and are difficult to shift. I am not saying that there is a need to shoot to the other end of the spectrum and “be happy”. Healthy self-esteem is about accepting who you are, what you can do well and having the courage to face your fears on a consistent basis without using the past as an excuse. It is our right and responsibility.