Self-reflection is a crucial exercise for growing in self awareness. We all need to step back routinely and take inventory of our thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. However, self-reflection can be deadly if you’re inclined to think negatively about yourself. To grow in self-awareness, you may have to increase your self esteem.
We usually think of pride as arrogance, as thinking you’re better than you are. But pride can also take the form of self-loathing and beating yourself up. It can mean seeing yourself as worse than you actually are. You can actually become so focused on your flaws that your self-image becomes distorted and you fail to see the good things that are there. Not only is this thought pattern extremely toxic and self-sabotaging, but it also makes you miserable. It’s impossible to be happy and hate yourself at the same time.
To Increase Your Self Esteem, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
There are usually 3 places we look for self-understanding:
The past is only helpful for understanding the key events and people that shaped us. It can give us understanding of how we got here, but we should never assume that we’re the same people today that we were yesterday. We aren’t.
The present is a healthier place to spend our energy, because here we can focus on things we can control and change. We can observe the good things happening right now and triumph over our past.
The third place is by far the worst and should be completely avoided. It’s the trap of comparison, and it’s deadly.
Comparison Kills Self Esteem and Success
Comparing ourselves to others is never a good idea. Nothing will kill your joy faster.
If you do it to increase your self esteem, you won’t, because you’ll be operating out of insecurity and criticism. Comparing yourself out of envy is just as terrible because it makes you ungrateful and perpetually bitter. Negativity will consume you either way. You’ll start resenting everyone else to cope with your mounting self-hatred. Eventually you will either become misanthropic or collapse into despair and disillusionment underneath the burden of all the things you can’t stand about yourself.
I’ve seen this happen to people. Nothing is harder to watch, and what makes it twice as tragic is that it’s all based on falsehood. Comparing yourself to others is a lie, period.
Comparison is Always Lying
Allow me to explain, because the above statement is crucial if you want to increase your self esteem.
First of all, you don’t see the whole picture when you look at someone else. You may see a person that seems like they have everything you want in life – the family, the money, the status, the skills, etc. – and deep down you could ask yourself why they have all that and you don’t. If you’re anything like me, the story you hear in your head could go something like this: “They have all of that because they’re better than me.”
But you don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. That person could be clinically depressed and hiding it. Their marriage could be hanging on by a thread, or worse, it could be a sham. As for the house, the car, and the rest of their goodies, it’s statistically likely that it’s all propped up by debt and will vanish the instant there’s a financial rough patch. This may sound unlikely, but I promise you it’s not. I’ve gotten an up-close look at a lot of people’s lives, and even the healthiest are always messier than they seem.
Secondly, it makes no sense to compare yourself to somebody else because the context of their life is completely different from yours. Everyone’s lot in life is made up of countless factors that we couldn’t begin to fully comprehend: background, personality, genes, circumstances, etc. This means that it’s pointless to look at someone else and think, “That should be me.” No, it shouldn’t. For all you know, you’ve done the best anyone could’ve with the complex tapestry you were given.
This is why it’s not helpful to judge, and why you increase your self esteem when you refuse to think critically. Success for one person is probably completely different than success for you. Another person may be better at public speaking than you are. So what? Who says you need to be as good as they are at that? Besides, there’s no reason you couldn’t get to their level or higher. It could just mean you need some of the practice and coaching that they probably got at some point.
How to Kill Comparison
“Well how do I stop comparing myself to others and increase my self esteem?” you may be asking. It’s a great question.
#1 Start a Gratitude Journal
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor shares that happiness is a pattern of thinking that can be learned (I highly recommend this read). One of the ways is by taking the time to write down 5 things that you’re grateful for every day. Simply doing this every day for 21 days can create a massive shift in your thinking and increase your self esteem.
#2 Practice Letting Yourself Off the Hook
Not everything that goes wrong is your fault. Sometimes things just happen. Furthermore, even when we do create our own problems, it doesn’t do us any good beating up on ourselves for it. All we can do is acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on. So the next time you make a mistake, tell yourself it’s ok. Forgive yourself. Have some compassion and defend yourself against the voice of the critic.
#3 Every Day, Celebrate Your Wins
Literally pat yourself on the back when you do something good. If you dare, woop out loud. High five somebody and tell them what you did. Raise your hands above your head in a victory pose and smile. If you do this every day after you accomplish the biggest item on your to-do list, you will be amazed how much you increase your self esteem.
Discover What Makes You Amazing
We at the Journey Principles Institute believe that every person has it in them to become unstoppable. For most people, that begins with discovering who you really are. Your self esteem will go way up when you discover the unique gifts you carry the energy you bring to the table that no one else does.
Your beliefs play a bigger part in your success or failure than most people often think. For example, if you don’t believe you’re attractive, gaining muscle mass probably won’t get you a partner. If you don’t believe your start-up idea will succeed, you probably won’t even get started. But where do our beliefs come from? The majority come from our influences – the people, places, and stimuli in our past and present. That’s why it’s so important to understand your influences.
Understand Your Influences
For years my upbringing defined my life. I followed the beliefs and behavioral patterns of my parents and refused to venture into any corner of the world that didn’t remind me of the impoverished environment I grew up in.
Then I learned something that changed everything: Your past has nothing to do with your future. When I was younger I couldn’t choose many of my influences, but now I can. So can you.
You can identify your self-sabotaging beliefs and tendencies by understanding where you came from. Then you can discover how your current surroundings are reinforcing those. Finally, you can make changes to your influences and shift your mindset. Let’s look at each type of influence so that you can gain this perspective.
The 5 Types of Influences
You can’t change what you don’t understand, so here we’ll break down the 5 different types of influences and how they’ve probably affected you.
Your parents and/or parental figures massively affect your personality and worldview. In fact, they probably shaped you more than anything else. This category is the acorn – the seed with your DNA that emerges and grows over time. To understand your influences, you need to start here.
My biological parents were a pretty negative influence on me. Until age 19, they mostly weren’t involved. This experience gave me a huge fear of abandonment that I had to overcome.
The bad news is that you can’t change your parental influences, but the good news is that you can change what you get from them. I encourage you to take 20 minutes to list 5 things that your parental influences did that were great, and list 5 that were damaging. Then focus on the 5 positive things they gave you and imagine the positive opposites of the 5 negative things. This will help you gain perspective and start shifting your mindset away from the worst aspects of your parental influences.
This is the place you were planted. These are your roots – your frame of reference through which everything is filtered.
There’s a saying that goes “Live in New York once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in California once but leave before it makes you soft.” Every environment will have benefits and detriments. Your job is to understand what your environment imparted to you early in life to understand your influences. Some will be good, and some won’t. Common traits shaped by your environment are your speech patterns, sense of propriety, and comfort zone.
Relational influences are everything from your romantic partner to your peers and coworkers. Parental influences deserve their own category but could be included here as well.
People around you will always be tempted to tell you that you can’t rise above your circumstances. This is because their circumstances are often similar, and if you can rise above it, that means they also can. Admitting this would shine an uncomfortable light on their lives and their actions. A lot of people would rather believe that they can’t have a better life rather than accept responsibility for being where they are. Attacking others who believe for better is a way of protecting themselves from despair.
When I formed my first business in the late 90s, my father tried to talk me out of it. He was focused on what I didn’t have. “You don’t have any money. You don’t have team members. Your equipment sucks,” etc. He had gone through the pain of starting a business that eventually failed, and in his mind he was keeping me from the same pain. In reality he was refusing to face the ways that he contributed to that business failing. As a result he was projecting his life onto mine and hindering my efforts to break through his ceiling.
Years later, after my business finally took off, my dad told me “I knew you could do it!” I don’t believe he was lying. I think deep down he always did know I could do it, but he wasn’t letting himself realize it because it would be painful in light of his own life.
“It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which we are influenced by those we influence.”
The bottom line with your relational influences is this: if you’re around people who mainly say “you can’t”, then you are in the wrong place with the wrong people. If these are your family, then you’ll need to set boundaries on the frequency of your interactions, what environments you’ll engage with them in, and what you discuss with them. For other relationships, you need to either do the same or remove them from your life. Once you understand your influences, you’ll know who these people are.
We all have triggers – things that set us off or particularly bother us. Triggers are when something subconsciously reminds us of a past event and prompts a negative emotional response. It’s unavoidable that we get triggered, but the reality is that if your environment is constantly triggering you, it’s unsustainable for you to be there. For instance, if you have a roommate whose very personality is grating to you, you probably shouldn’t live with them. If clubs make you aggressive and/or irresponsible, you shouldn’t go. If a certain place makes you sad because you used to spend time there with your ex, avoid that place and find a happier one. Situational triggers are key to understanding your influences.
Subliminal influences are the things that come through our eyes and ears. They’re the stimuli that programs us to want certain things and feel a particular way.
Take my friend, Dwayne. Dwayne’s name isn’t actually Dwayne, but I’m calling him that here because he looks a lot like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Dwayne is a buddy of mine that I frequently see at the gym, and he’s one of the most positive and bubbly people I interact with on a regular basis. Whenever he enters the room, he walks up to me smiling and asks how I’m doing. His voice is happy and light.
Then, Dwayne puts on his headphones to work out, and he becomes a completely different person. He starts scowling. He tenses up. He’ll swing weights around and swaggers across the gym. If you try to talk with him while he’s working out, he’ll bark at you. Nothing about this makes any sense unless you ask Dwayne to lend you one of his earbuds. Then you’ll hear the screams and electric thumping of death metal long before you even put it in your ear. This will make you realize that metal music morphs Dwayne from a gentle giant into a terrifying hulk of veins and bellowing.
This is the power of subliminal influences. Your music, shows, and social media are affecting you more than you think. If we want to be healthy, we must be very intentional about what we feed our eyes and ears.
Start Using Influences to Your Advantage
Amazing things can happen when you start to understand your influences and minding your terrain. This is why I started the Journey Principles Institute. I wanted to be a positive influence that will help people change for the better, and I want to do this for you.