Nathaniel Branden, the leading self-esteem psychologist, neatly wraps up what he defines as the foundations of self-esteem in his best selling book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.
Self-esteem is not just about how to become successful in the business world or ace networking. Self-esteem is one of the most important parts of living a fulfilled and happy life. Regardless of your material achievements or assets, if your mind is unfulfilled, you can never feel happiness.
Branden explains how there are two limbs of self-esteem. First, there is self-efficacy, which describes the basic confidence telling us that we can "handle" certain situations. The second part of self-esteem is self-respect. This is a sense of being worthy of happiness and joy. The second limb is the most interesting as it is often overlooked in our confidence pursuits.
The six pillars of self-esteem
Self-awareness is always the first step to improvement. When we start to become aware of our thoughts and behavior we can asses our actions. The best way to understand if our self-esteem (or lack of), is influencing our actions is to asses whether our decisions are fact-based or emotions based. For example, am I deciding to not speaking at this meeting because I feel insecure or because I have nothing valuable to add? You must then correct your behavior if necessary.
This is closely linked to self-respect. Whilst we might not be able to "choose" to be self-confident for factual reasons, such as lack of experience, we can "choose" to accept ourselves. Instead of berating ourselves for not having the high stands we want, we can choose to value ourselves and treat ourselves with respect. Accepting is not judging or disliking. Accepting does not mean we are stuck in a situation, in fact, the contrary, it means we are respecting our journey to success.
Acceptance creates the important space we need to grow and self-develop. If we allow ourselves to be who we truly are, we don't seek the approval of others. At this moment, it's okay to just be us. We acknowledge the important fact that it can be changed in the future but right now accepting ourselves is the most important part.
If we want self-esteem, we have to stop seeing ourselves as victims. Our future is in our hands. Until we acknowledge that we control our own reality we won't be motivated to work on our self-esteem - because it greatly influences how we enjoy our lives. Nobody else can give us what we internally need to be fulfilled, this mindset can lead to misery. Other people only have as much control over us as we give them. "Concentrate on what is in your circle of influence and neglect what lies outside of it" are words to live by. Things inside our circle of influence include our response to situations, the way we self-care and how we try to self-develop.
Self-assertiveness is a skewed concept from assertiveness, in that it is not about negotiating and gaining, it is more about owning who we are and demanding what we deserve as a person. "Honor your needs and wants. Live and express your values".
Live with a goal in mind. Aimless wander leads to incoherence and feelings of a lack of purpose in life. When we live with a goal in mind, we don't waste time on things irrelevant to our wants. Instead, we can be efficient high-achievers always striving for the prize.
Furthermore, it's important to choose a specific goal, not just “I will do my best”.
Give it metrics, numbers, times and a finishing date. It is important to be able to measure your progress. Only by making the progress measurable will we be able to tracks results and adjust our actions accordingly.
Two key quotes from this book perfectly encapsulate this pillar "Always make sure that your behaviors are congruent to your values", and "be honest, as everything else is disrespectful to yourself."
When our behavior is in line with our values, we gain more self-esteem as we can rely on ourselves to take care of our needs and wants. We stop doubting ourselves and start leading ourselves. This might lead to situations where we face the aversion of others but so long as we are true to ourselves and act authentically to our values we can be sure to lead a happy and fulfilled life.