At the core of our being lies our self-esteem, a measure that fluctuates on a never-ending spectrum. We use various yardsticks to gauge our worth, but unfortunately, we often hold ourselves up to unattainable standards, critiquing ourselves too harshly and painting a skewed self-portrait. This negative self-assessment leads to a dwindling sense of self-worth as we undervalue ourselves based on our misguided perceptions. Before we know it, we transform these beliefs into cold, hard facts, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy, we begin to collect evidence to justify these false assumptions. Meanwhile, we reject any evidence that challenges our preconceived notions, becoming prisoners of our flawed thinking. This vicious cycle can lead to a dangerous path of depression and a life devoid of joy.
The root of this problem can often be traced back to our formative years, a time when our primary caregivers play an influential role in shaping our self-esteem. Even those of us who may not suffer from a lack of self-esteem at some point in our lives can fall into the trap of negative self-assessment when our self-esteem plummets. At its core, this issue usually stems from childhood, where well-intentioned parents may criticize their child’s weaknesses in hopes of spurring improvement. However, this form of criticism can backfire and lead to an absorption of the criticism, rather than the context in which it was given. These negative patterns can emerge even in the most loving of households or in abusive ones. School can also be a battlefield for our self-esteem, where peers can be merciless towards anyone they perceive as different or weak.
The inner voice that we all possess also plays a pivotal role in our self-esteem. Even the most accomplished individuals may struggle with low self-esteem, perpetuated by a long-held set of beliefs that have become fact in their minds. This inner critic can be incredibly destructive, perpetuating negativity that we’ve absorbed throughout our lives. It’s a constant whisper in our ear, reminding us of our weaknesses and faults, keeping us down and afraid. The inner voice deceives us into thinking it’s protecting us by advising us not to try, leading to a downward spiral of self-doubt and decreased self-esteem. But by personifying this voice, we can take back control and put it in its place. Whether it’s an animal, an object, or even a beast from mythology, we can use our imagination to tame the inner critic.
Many of us fall into the trap of countering our low self-esteem by adopting destructive behaviors. Some may project an overblown sense of self-importance or put others down, while others strive for perfection through overwork. Still, others may succumb to a “poor-me” syndrome in hopes of gaining attention and sympathy.
To increase our self-esteem, we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and instead focus on being the best version of ourselves. We can compliment ourselves regularly, exercise consistently, smile more often, and celebrate our accomplishments while forgiving ourselves for our mistakes. We can seek the support we need to succeed, make a list of our positive qualities, and find something special in each day. Nourishing our bodies with healthier food choices and exploring our passions can also help us feel our best and enhance our overall happiness and quality of life
The process of changing one’s thought patterns is a crucial element in promoting personal growth and development. This process entails identifying and recognizing irrational thought patterns and comprehending the reasons behind them. However, without affirmative action, this process remains incomplete and fails to result in meaningful change. Merely understanding why certain behaviors manifest does not translate to changes in behavior unless accompanied by actions aimed at altering them. Regrettably, many individuals remain aware of their self-defeating behaviors and reasons behind them yet are unable to move forward.
The widely accepted theory that emotions precede behavior holds true, and the literature on self-help is replete with this premise. Physical or emotional hurts result in behaviors that are appropriate to the situation. Conversely, positive emotions such as happiness are often expressed through behaviors such as smiling. However, before the advent of popular psychology, there existed other theories that expounded on this notion. William James, for example, posited in the 19th century that emotions and behavior are a “two-way street,” meaning that behaviors could elicit emotions and subsequently facilitate change. For instance, smiling can promote happiness, contrary to the belief that it occurs only after feeling happy.
Recent research conducted by Hung, Singapore, Carney, and Columbia Business School, among others, confirms that the As If principle applies to almost all aspects of our daily lives. The As If principle proposes that acting as if one is a particular type of person can transform one into that person. This concept promotes affirmative action as well as thought and can be employed to enhance self-awareness. The following are some examples of using the As If method to promote change:
- HAPPINESS: Smile – Research shows that a genuine smile can evoke feelings of happiness. To achieve the most benefit from this exercise, an individual should make the smile as wide as possible, raise their eyebrows slightly, and hold the expression for about 20 seconds.
- WILLPOWER: Tense up – As per Hung’s experiments, tensing muscles can boost willpower. When an individual feels the need to avoid something, like a cigarette or a cream cake, they can make a fist, contract their biceps, press their thumb and first finger together, or grip a pen to boost their willpower.
- DIETING: Use your non-dominant hand – Using one’s non-dominant hand when eating creates an unusual behavior that promotes awareness of one’s actions, reduces mindless consumption, and results in eating less.
- PROCRASTINATION: Make a start – To overcome procrastination, individuals should act as if they are interested in the task at hand. Spending a few minutes carrying out the first part of the task can generate a strong desire to complete it.
- PERSISTENCE: Sit up straight and cross your arms – According to research conducted by Ron Friedman of the University of Rochester, sitting up straight and crossing arms when presented with difficult problems can boost persistence by nearly double. Additionally, ensuring the computer monitor is slightly above eye-level and crossing arms during tough times promotes persistence.
- CONFIDENCE: Power pose – To increase self-esteem and confidence, individuals can adopt a power pose, which could include leaning back, looking up, interlocking hands behind the head if sitting, and placing feet flat on the floor, pushing shoulders back and chest forward if standing.
- GUILT: Wash away your sins – If an individual feels guilty about something, washing their hands or taking a shower can alleviate the feeling of guilt. Studies by Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto show that individuals who wash their hands with an antiseptic wipe after an immoral act feel significantly less guilty than others.
- PERSUASION: Nod – When people nod while listening to a discussion, they are more likely to agree with the points