Don’t Apologise For Being You

Too many of us go around constantly putting ourselves down.  We find it necessary to apologise for existing in a world full of people who are far more important.

Well I have news for you.  You are important.  Yes – you, sitting at your computer reading this.

How do you answer when someone asks you what you do for a living?  Do you say, “Oh – I’m just a cleaner” or “Nothing special – I’m a teacher”?  Do you look down at the floor and mutter something about working with computers?  Or look sheepish and apologise for being a stay-at-home mum?

The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you do – doctor, lawyer, Indian chief – you are not what you do.  You are so much more than that.  You are the product of all your experiences and everything you have learned from them.  You have a lot to offer the world, you just haven’t realised it yet.

A Message From The Movies

We are all important.  When I think about this, it reminds me of the film “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you take a couple of hours to sit down and watch it.  It’s generally thought of as a Christmas movie, because the action takes place around Christmas, but you can watch it any time.

It tells the story of George Bailey, one of the good guys in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York.  All his life, George has put other people first, ignoring his own needs.  We follow George’s life until one Christmas Eve he finds himself standing on a bridge contemplating suicide, believing he has ruined the lives of everyone around him.

At this point, Clarence Oddbody, George’s guardian angel, is despatched in an attempt to save him.  If he is successful, Clarence will be awarded his wings and become a fully-fledged angel.  Initially, he distracts George from his suicidal thoughts by throwing himself into the river and appearing to be in danger of drowning.  Good guy that he is, George jumps in and drags Clarence to safety.

But this is just a temporary fix – in order to change George’s view of himself, Clarence has to resort to more devious measures.  He shows George a vision of a timeline in which he never existed.  In this timeline, George’s brother Harry died in a childhood accidentvbecause George wasn’t around to save him.  In turn, Harry does not grow up to be a Navy pilot and shoot down a kamikaze plane headed for a troop transport.  And control of Bedford Falls comes into the hands of local miser Henry Potter.

Horrified by all this, George begs for things to be restored to the way they were.  His wish is granted, he abandons his suicidal plans and the story ends happily.  Oh – Clarence gets his wings!

So the point is – none of us knows how different the world would be without us.  We all matter and we all need to believe that.

So don’t apologise for being you.  Get out there and claim your place in the world.

Don’t Be Invisible

When you have low self-esteem it’s very tempting to try to be invisible.  You don’t feel as good as other people, or as worthy of attention, so you shrink back and try to hide.  You make yourself seem small and hope that people won’t notice you.

And, generally speaking, it works.  You’re waiting at a busy bar, shop or fast-food outlet.   There are lots of other people there, all of them more important than you.  So you shrink back, don’t make eye contact, smile patiently at the floor or pretend you haven’t decided what you want yet.  Nobody notices you until eventually it quietens down and you get served.

Does that sound familiar?

Does it feel good?

I’ve done it myself and it didn’t feel good.  It just made my already low self-esteem feel worse.

So one day I tried a different approach.  It was New Year’s Eve, I was out for a meal with a group of friends, and I went to get drinks from the restaurant bar.  There were several people clustered around waiting to order from the two harrassed-looking staff.  I felt myself starting to shrink, trying to be invisible, falling into the old familiar pattern of behaviour.

Then I stopped myself.  I wasn’t going to do this anymore.  I moved my feet a little bit apart to give myself a firmer grounding.  Stood up straight and tall.  Imagined my whole frame broadening and taking up more space.  And smiled at the busy bar staff as they flew backwards and forwards with drinks.  I was visible.  People could see me.

And sure enough, I got to place my order when it was my turn.  And I did a little happy dance inside.

Sometimes it feels hard to push yourself forward a little bit, to just make people notice you.  But you deserve to be seen.  You’re as important as anyone else and if you act is if that’s true you’ll start to believe it.

So stop being invisible.  Make people see you.

Learn To Accept A Compliment

A compliment is a gift, freely given, from one person to another.  With just a few well-chosen words it’s possible to brighten someone else’s day.

So why do so many of us feel the need to bat compliments away, to thoughtlessly reject a kind gesture?  Maybe we feel we don’t deserve a little bit of praise.  Perhaps we’ve been taught that it’s big-headed to be listen to positive comments about ourselves.  Or could it be that we suspect there’s an ulterior motive behind the compliment?

When my nephew was about four years old he had a lovely new coat.  He loved it, looked very smart in it, and attracted the kind of comments cute children in nice clothes tend to get.  You know the sort of thing I mean.  Elderly ladies would come  up to him saying, “Where did you get that lovely coat from?” or similar.  I thought it would be fun to teach him to respond with a self-deprecating laugh and the words, “This old thing – I’ve had it for years.”

And it was fun – at the time.  My nephew enjoyed saying it, the elderly ladies found it hilarious, and I felt that I’d had a tiny influence on the development of the next generation.

My nephew is now an adult, and fortunately has healthy self-esteem.  He has the fashion-sense and personal style of a typical modern 20-something.  Fortunately he also knows how to accept a compliment.

The trouble is, far too many of us haven’t learned this lesson.  Someone tells us how good we look in something we’re wearing and we grimace while tossing a “Had it ages” back at them.  Or we get excellent feedback on something we’ve done and work and just shrug it off with a “It was okay”.

When we do this, not only are we denying ourselves the pleasure of receiving praise, we’re also rejecting another person’s kindness.  When someone hands you a beautifully wrapped package, do you toss it aside with a few muttered words?  So why do that with the gift of a compliment?

Next time someone takes the trouble to say something nice to you, accept it graciously.  Smile, thank them, and see how much better it makes you feel.  And repay their kind gift by letting them feel good about brightening your day.

Did I mention how great you’re looking?

 

Be Kind To Your Mistakes

We all make mistakes. They’re part of what makes us human. So why do we have such an awful tendency to beat ourselves up about them?
One of the most effective things you can do to build your self-esteem right now is to be kinder to yourself when you make a mistake. Remember that the only way to guarantee you’ll never get it wrong is never to try. Where would the human race be if we all took that approach?

When you make a mistake, instead of jumping straight into self-critical mode, think about how your best friend would respond. Would he tell you what a useless waste of space you are and how you’ve just proved it? Would she make you feel bad about yourself? No – because that’s not what good friends do. So why not be a good friend to yourself?

Remind yourself that whatever you did or said that was wrong, it doesn’t mean that you’re stupid or a bad person – you just made a mistake. Think about all the mistakes that are made around the world every day – what makes yours so much more important? Give yourself a bit of praise for all the good things you do. Then give yourself a bit more.

Ask yourself what actual harm your mistake has caused. Most of the time, the answer is really very little. Maybe your dignity has been a tiny bit hurt, maybe you made yourself look a bit silly, but there’s been no lasting damage. If you’ve harmed or upset someone else then apologise sincerely and do what you can to put things right. Then give yourself a little reward for handling the situation so well.

Think about what you can learn from your mistake so you can take something positive away from the experience. Do this in an encouraging way rather than a critical one – “Maybe I could listen more” is better than “I talk too much”.

Of course mistakes can sometimes have serious consequences for other people’s reputation, their property or even their lives. In those situations it may be impossible to put things right, and feeling bad about your actions is perfectly reasonable. But remember – however awful the consequences of your mistake, it does not make you a bad person. The way you feel proves that.

But for most of us, our mistakes are not that serious. Accept them, do what you can to rectify them, try to learn from them, then move on.

You are not your mistakes.

Winning Isn’t Everything

I had the experience of attending a school morning assembly recently. Things have changed since I was at secondary school – there were no hymns, no prayers, no reading and no litany of misdemeanours.
 
Instead, the students were given a lesson on the importance of winning at sport. Although there was a subtext that winning, even in individual disciplines, is actually a team effort, the over-riding message seemed to be that winning is all that matters.
 
Regular readers of my posts will not be surprised to learn that this did not go down well with me. How do we motivate people to try if we tell them that anything other than winning is a failure?
 
The message was illustrated by asking who came second in a number of major sporting events and making a big deal of the fact that no-one remembered.
 
I neither know nor care enough about sport to accurately recall any of the examples given, so I’ll use one of my own to point out the flaw in this argument. When Jessica Ennis won the 2012 Olympic Heptathlon gold medal, the silver was taken by Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany. Did you remember that? Probably not, but does that make Lilli Schwarzkopf a loser?
 
Not in my book. I’m guessing a large proportion of the population of Germany remembers her achievement. While she herself was probably devastated to miss out on a gold medal, I’m sure she managed to take pride in the silver she did manage to win. And when she shows her silver medal to her grandchildren, I don’t suppose they’ll say, “Only a silver, Oma? You’re such a loser.”
 
It’s great to win. It’s something to aspire to and to be proud of. I’ll even accept that it’s important.  But it isn’t the only thing that matters.  When we focus on winning above all else we negate the achievements of all but a tiny minority of the population.
That cannot be conducive to healthy self-esteem.

Don’t Try To Be Perfect

Why do so many of us beat ourselves up over the fact that we’re not perfect? And allied to that, why are we so hung up on winning?

Books, magazines and TV advertising all sell us the dream of the perfect body, the perfect home, the perfect life.  But no-one actually has those things.  Or if they do, they don’t believe it.

No-one is perfect.  Not you, not me, not (insert the name of the most beautiful, talented gifted person you can think of here).  That supermodel you admire so much probably has all sorts of secret hang-ups about her looks.  The multi-billionaire investor with the private jet and homes around the world worries about smelly feet and an outbreak of middle-age acne.  Rock stars who fill huge arenas with screaming fans are obsessed with their weight.

The quest for perfection is paralysing.  We’re so desperate to get everything right that either we don’t bother starting or we unconsciously sabotage our own efforts.  How often has it been so important for you to do something well that nerves took over and you messed it up?

Just relax.  Do your best, be your best and accept that it’s good enough.  When you stop looking for perfection you start to see what you really want to change and how you can achieve it.

If you need to be two stones lighter to achieve a healthy weight, make a plan for how to get those two stones off.  Don’t decide you’re going to slim down until you’re stick thin – you’re asking too much of yourself and setting yourself up to fail.

If you think you need to get fitter, start off with a leisurely jog, and congratulate yourself for achieving it.  Don’t go straight into training for a marathon.

And remember, in any field of endeavour, you don’t have to be the best.  Put in the effort that you think something deserves, then congratulate yourself, whatever the result.

You are good enough.  You will always be good enough.  Say no to perfection and start to value yourself.

Choose How To React To Feedback

People love to give us their opinion on things.  Some call it feedback, others are more honest and call it criticism.  It doesn’t matter what they call it, if it’s about you and it’s negative, it can hurt.

But here’s the thing.  You don’t have to take any notice.  Whatever someone else says about you, it’s their opinion, not a fact.

Your Aunt Eileen doesn’t like what you’re wearing – so what?  When did she become the arbiter of all that is good in the world of fashion?  You’re wearing it because you like it, because it makes you feel good.  Isn’t that what really matters?

A couple of years ago, I cooked a lamb tagine for my partner and my mother.  The following day, my mother asked me to sit down, and in her most serious voice said, “I need to tell you something, and I don’t want you to get upset.”  I was worried.  I was really worried.  “What’s the matter?” I asked her.  She gave me a very sorrowful look, before saying, “That tagine you made.  It was very nice … but … I don’t think you should serve it to anyone else.”

I have my mother to thank for my cast iron self-esteem!

But seriously, I could have been deeply upset by her veiled insult towards my culinary abilities but I chose not to be.  I thought about what she’d said, and considered whether there was any truth in it.  My conclusion – I liked my tagine, and if she felt it wasn’t good enough to be served to other people that was fine.  It was her opinion and I didn’t have to take it on board.

But sometimes, other people have a higher opinion of us than we do of ourselves.  We think that something we’ve done is not very good, then someone comes along and tells us how brilliant it is.  Should we ignore them then?

No we should not.  If someone tells you they like your hair, or you did a great job, or your garden looks lovely – smile and thank them.  You’re better than you think you are, and someone just took the trouble to tell you so.

You don’t have to take any feedback as truth.  Don’t automatically disregard it either – just take a moment to consider whether it’s justified.  If it is, go ahead and learn from it, if not just let it go.

But if someone says something good about you, why not accept it?  It can only make you feel better about yourself.

Be A Tiny Bit Brave Sometimes

Don’t worry – when I advise you to be brave I’m not suggesting you should climb a mountain, try base jumping or take up free diving.  But doing something you find a little bit frightening can have an amazing effect on your self-esteem.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do one thing each day that scares you”.  Of course she was First Lady of the USA, married to a very popular President, so that might have been easy for her to say.  So I’m not suggesting you have to do a scary thing every day, every week, every month or even every year.  Just now and again.

It doesn’t have to be a huge thing.  Maybe you can just speak up in a meeting at work and make that suggestion you’ve been sitting on for weeks.  Stand up for someone who you feel has been unfairly treated.  Calmly and politely refuse to take abuse from someone who thinks they have the right to insult you.

Be sensible of course.  Don’t risk losing your job or getting yourself beaten up by a knuckle-dragging thug.  Unless you hate your job or like spending time in Accident and Emergency.  But if you can do it safely, just face a bit of fear.

What happens when you’re a little bit brave, when you do something that scares you?  You feel stronger, you feel more powerful, you feel like you’re a better person than you ever thought you were.

It doesn’t matter if things don’t go quite according to plan.  If you stumble over your words or find yourself going red in that meeting, the likelihood is no-one else will care so why should you?  If the bully doling out unfair treatment tells you to mind your own business you can still congratulate yourself for trying and remind yourself that you’re the better person.  If someone carries on trying to insult you when you’ve made it clear you’re not taking it, don’t let it bother you.  They’re wasting their breath.

So every now and again, do something that scares you, even if it’s only a little bit.  Maybe you can make a note of it somewhere – what prompted you to do it, how you felt beforehand, how you felt while you were doing it.  And most importantly, how proud you felt afterwards.

Be brave and see your self-esteem grow.

 

You’re Allowed To Be Proud

“What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

With apologies to Miranda Hart for slightly stealing her idea, I’ve illustrated this post with a picture of Heather Small, former lead singer with M People.  Her biggest solo hit was, of course, “Proud”, with its rousing chorus quoted above.

That’s a question we would all do well to ask ourselves, because the truth is, however insignificant we may feel, we all do lots of things every day that should make us feel proud.  We just don’t notice them because, in many cases, we just do them automatically, without thinking.

As an example, because I’m quite a tall person I often find myself reaching for things on high supermarket shelves for shorter people.  There’s nothing dramatic in that – I don’t think of myself as a great benefactor to the human race because of it.  But I do get to help someone and to feel a bit of that warm glow you get as a result.  I get to feel proud of the fact that I’m a decent person.  And the shorter person I’ve helped gets to feel proud of the fact they managed to go home with what they wanted, instead of buying something they could reach.

If you suffer from low self-esteem it can be difficult to value your achievements.  The late comedian Victoria Wood once made a joke about standing in front of a mirror and telling herself, “You have Latin “O” level,” as the only positive thing she could find about herself.  Personally I think having Latin “O” level is quite a big deal but that might be because I’ve got it.

But we can all find small things in our day to day lives to make us proud.  Helping someone in the supermarket, letting another driver out of a junction in busy traffic, chatting to a lonely neighbour – they’re not huge things but they remind us of our basic decency and humanity.

So if you struggle to value yourself, start to think about all these small (and not so small) things you can be proud of.  If you like, you can write them down in a diary or notebook so you can look back at them if you start to feel a bit worthless.  And see how, over time, your opinion of yourself improves.

Look For The Carrot Not The Stick

A carrot will always change behaviour more effectively than a stick.

When you’re trying to make a change in your life it’s important to have the right reasons for that change.  Too often we give ourselves a hard time about the way we are and believe this will encourage us to become the way we want to be.

But does that really work?   Is it really helpful to beat ourselves with the stick of negative self-criticism?  Or would it be more effective if we were to look for the carrot, find a positive reason to make a change?

If you want to change something, you’ve probably already worked out that there’s something not right.  You really don’t need that nasty inner voice you’ve been trying so hard to silence to start telling you exactly where it thinks you’ve been going wrong.  So whatever it is that’s not quite the way you’d like it to be, find a positive reason to change it.

Maybe you’re carrying a few extra pounds.  The negative voice in your head might be saying, “You’re too fat.  You’re ugly.  Nobody wants to be around someone like you.”  You can turn that around to, “I’ll look and feel a lot better without this excess weight.  And if I feel better about myself I’ll be more attractive to other people.”

Perhaps you tend to procrastinate, putting everything off to the last minute.  You don’t need to listen to the voice that says, “You’re so lazy.  You wouldn’t do anything if you didn’t have to.”  Instead, you can tell yourself, “My life will run so much more smoothly if I just get around to dealing with things in plenty of time.”

Or if you think you should be exercising more, you can either call yourself a lazy couch potato or you can think about how much healthier you’ll feel if you get out and get active.

If you suffer from low self-esteem, the last thing you need in your life is a big stick pushing you on.  Look for the carrot instead, and head towards positive reasons for change.