1 The importance of self-affirmations
Research has shown that positive self-affirmations – if not too unrealistic – actually work, reducing negative effects of stress and improving performance!
So try to find at least 10 positive traits that describe you. For many this is surprisingly difficult, 3 is normal to be able to come up with.
If difficult, you can try to stimulate your thinking by
1. interviewing people around you
2. describe a person that you admire and see if you share any of the traits. It doesn’t matter that you sometimes do not show the traits due to circumstances – either you have the capacity or not – be kind and loving towards yourself. You will be able to use these traits in future exercises…
Another extremely important exercise to improve your self-worth and self-esteem is reading aloud your list of your 10 positive traits (see above) to yourself.
In therapy, there are important healing phenomena such as mirroring and validation, when one is feeling understood and seen, e.g. by regard and affirmations from another human being.
You can yourself activate the mirror neurons in your brain which are important for learning and understanding – hence the development of identity and the foundation of empathy by reading your 10 positive traits aloud while looking yourself in the eyes, e.g. in your phone’s selfie-mode or in an ordinary mirror.
I suggest that you do this as a daily exercise until you do not feel awkward about it anymore. Also, repeat your positive traits: I know I am X, I like that I am Y, every time you feel your self-esteem has taken a toll.
This will have an impact even if you do not believe the words at that moment. I will address next week how you can handle any negative self-talk that can arise in this exercise.
3 The danger of your inner critical voice
How you talk to yourself is extremely important. Often we are not aware of this, but it is common to have a critical inner voice evaluating ourselves harshly and disproportionately in situations, being overgeneralizing in a judgmental and destructive way: “how stupid of me…” “Can’t you do anything right…” “Are you for real…” “Idiot…”
Definitely not on the level we talk to friends, colleagues and hopefully not to anyone else (never to children, I pray). We are not our actions!
You might have problems with an inner critic if you had problems accepting fully your positive traits when you read them aloud to yourself in last week’s exercise.
Instead try this:
Every time you say something critical to yourself or about yourself – immediately respond with something more self-supportive: “I did my best” “I will do better/consider that next time” “I am not in control of all aspects of the situations” “my intentions were good/constructive”. It will work in due time even if you do not believe it. Yes, it eventually will!
If this is difficult – try by changing perspective: What would you say to your child or a close friend who are too self-critical and you heard them say that about themselves?
Often we are kinder to others, but we will also benefit by being that to ourselves.
In terms of identity this exercise will aid the process of breaking free from an inner critic by transforming the critical voice that at present is ego-syntonic (ideas that are acceptable to the self; that are compatible with one’s values and ways of thinking) to becoming ego-dystonic (thoughts and behaviors that are felt to be repugnant, distressing, unacceptable or inconsistent with one’s self-concept) by sowing seeds of doubt.
4 The diary – Learn to listen to your inner voice
Another important part of self-esteem is to get to know yourself. Through writing a daily journal you can get objectivity and therefore is one way of acknowledging what is working and what your already are doing to get closer to who you are and where you want to be.
One way of accomplishing this is to include in your diary a gratitude perspective. Try every day you write journal to include 3 things you are grateful for. This can in addition to searching for thing to be grateful for also help you reflect on your thoughts and feelings which will help you to discover and understand yourself.
To keep writing about what makes you grateful keeps you looking for the traces of what is working for you already and the moments of joy you already have. This will in turn help you color your presence with a positive and nourishing light. It will also help you understand that you are not a single event: when something goes wrong – that is just an incident rather than a representation of you.
There are many positive outcomes of a gratitude diary such as increased well-being, improved relationships, more optimism, as well as more meaning in daily life.
Hence the tip of this chapter:
Record at least five things you are grateful for each day “Today, I am grateful for…”, aiming for one new thing to be grateful for each day, and read through old entries to see how far you have come since you began. End with something that you have not yet expressed your gratitude for, such as something you may have taken for granted, like good general health.
5 Your activities mirror who you are
Another way of reconnecting to yourself and find your inner motivation and drive is adding activities that you miss or are interested in. Our own stories about ourselves are a part of self-esteem/self-worth. These stories are partly constructed by what we cherish and do with our time.
Research has shown that when you validate yourself, also by doing activities that reminds you of who you are, have powerful consequences for your well-being. It can increase felt happiness, boost creativity, lessen boredom, reduce anxiety, worry, stress and the heart rate as well as help the brain recover.
The importance of lust driven activity (part of the B in CBT) is well proven to reduce depressive symptoms as well as a way of finding your inner core. Alas, in a harmonious and satisfying life, it is important to get enjoyment in the here and now as our lives pass us by.
This chapter’s challenge:
Do not wait to live in the future, see if you can add at least 15 minutes of a daily hobby, activity or interest already today. This can be activities that you have dreamt of but never started at, but also what you enjoyed when you were young.
There are many different parts of the self, all influencing our well-being. Here comes an attempt to explain the subtle differences behind important self-concepts, where even the researchers still do not agree:
Self-confidence, our trust in our ability to perform certain activities, tasks etc. leading to abilities or achievements and self-esteem, a multidimensional concept including both our emotional and cognitive appraisal, i.e. what we think, feel and believe about ourselves and our self-worth, the summary value we put on ourselves cognitively and emotionally, also when failing or when things do not go as planned, even if it is temporarily hurtful.
Self-esteem is a global sense of self-worth. Persons with high self-esteem and self-worth are forgiving of own and others’ mistakes. People with high self-confidence but low self-esteem and low self-worth tend to reduce themselves to single events and therefore chases successes in most areas and are particularly vulnerable to a single setback.
Self-confidence is not sufficient or necessary for having high self-esteem or self-worth. Instead, there is a risk of a never-ending chase after validation from the surroundings as an attempt to fill the hole where self-esteem and self-worth should have been.
The concept of self-efficacy developed by Bandura is related to one’s beliefs about one’s capability to perform specific tasks or actions, that is, towards a specific challenge such as moving the grass, independent of the value we attach to the given act. If it is not an important task for us to be good at we do not let it influence our self-worth, hence our self-worth remains mainly unchanged regardless of whether we judge our ability/self-efficacy as high or low at this task.
All in all, these dimensions of the self are interrelated and some of them are easier to influence than others. But this also give us the hope that it is possible to develop and change. See coming posts on inspiration on how to do this.
7 More about Self-esteem, Self-confidence and self-efficacy
We need both self-confidence and self-esteem since they are interrelated. Self-confidence, how we feel about our abilities, is possible to influence by doing activities that we like and where it is possible to measure progress in feelings/appraisal, concrete milestones etc. Having a habit of trying new things and practice being non-judgmental, supportive when learning are important keys.
The accumulated esteem of your confidence as well as giving yourself more love and compassion impacts your self-esteem which in turn improves your self-confidence. As your confidence rise so will likely your overall esteem. Hence, spending more time with yourself exploring activities and creativity are important for many reasons.
To improve your total value of yourself, your self-worth, it is also important to work with self-efficacy since this also can be influenced and is highly correlated to well-being. Self-efficacy enhances well-being, stress-tolerance and lowers vulnerability to depression.
Perceived self-efficacy is often defined as a person’s beliefs about their capabilities to perform sufficiently in activities that have influence over important life events. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how we feel, think, motivate and behave.
When having high assurance in own capabilities, one approaches challenging tasks as something to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. This attitude fosters strong interests, deep involvement in activities, challenging goals as well as maintains strong commitment to these. In face of failure one heightens and sustains efforts, while after setbacks one quickly recovers one’s belief about self-efficacy.
Having strong self-efficacy often entails attributing failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills, which all can be acquired – hence not connected to “permanent personal defects”. Instead, threatening situations are approached with assurance that they can get controlled, which in turn likely produces accomplishments. According to Bandura, self-efficacy have 4 main sources of influence that will be the topic of the next section.
8 How to Enhance Self-efficacy
Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy is about one’s beliefs about one’s capability to perform specific tasks, independent of the value attached to that act. Much research has been conducted on the four major psychological processes through which self-efficacy affects human functioning and hence can be increased:
1. Experiences of mastery:
The most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy is through experiences of mastery coming from achieved successes, which build a robust belief in one’s personal efficacy, especially if experiencing overcoming obstacles through persistent effort. This builds a belief that we have what it takes to succeed. Experiencing failures undermine it, especially if they occur before a firm sense of efficacy is established. However, it is important to experience setbacks and difficulties since they teach us that success often requires sustained effort.
2. Social models:
The second influencer is social models. Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises our beliefs that we too possess the capabilities to master similar activities.
Social models work both by:
1) Setting a social standard against which we can judge our own capabilities
2) Being proficient models who possess the necessary competencies shown by behavior and thinking which transmit knowledge and teach effective skills and strategies
3. Cognitive Processes:
Much human behaviour is intentional and regulated by forethought and valued goals. The stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the higher the goal challenges people set for themselves and the firmer is the commitment to them. Self-efficacy beliefs also shape the anticipation of scenarios that will be constructed and rehearsed in the mind. Persons with high self-efficacy visualize success scenarios. Those who doubt their efficacy visualize failure and dwell on what can go wrong.
4. Motivational Processes:
People motivate themselves and guide their actions by expectations of what they can do and the likely outcomes. This impacts the goals that are set and the planning of activities.
There are three different forms of cognitive motivators:
- causal attributions: Persons with high self-efficacy attribute their failures to insufficient effort and those with low self-efficacy attribute their failures to low ability.
- outcome expectancies: motivation is impacted by the expectation that a given behavior, what they can do, will produce certain outcomes and beliefs about the likely outcomes of performance.
- cognized goals, the capacity to exercise influence over oneself through challenging goals and type of evaluative reaction to one’s own attainments. Explicit and challenging goals:
- enhance and sustain motivation largely through self-influence processes rather than regulate motivation and action directly and involves a cognitive comparison process
- make self-satisfaction conditional on set goals
- give direction to behavior -create incentives to persist in efforts until the goals are reached -prompt oneself to intensify efforts due to discontent with substandard performances