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.

Stop Making Comparisons

If you want to feel better about yourself, maybe you should stop making comparisons with everyone else.

There are about seven billion people on this planet today.  The sad – but also liberating – truth is that some of them are better-looking, more intelligent, and more talented than you.  Whatever it is you think you’re good at, there’s almost certainly someone out there who is better at it.

“Hang on,” I hear you crying, as you splutter on your tea.  “I thought this was supposed to make me feel good about myself.”

And so it should.  Because once you realise that making comparisons is a loser’s game you can stop doing it.  You don’t need to be better than anyone else, just the best version of yourself that you can manage.

Take a look in the mirror.  What you see in there is you, and it’s all you’ve got to work with.  So don’t compare it unfavourably with some media-created image of the perfect human being.  Find the things about yourself that you really like – if you’ve been reading this blog there must be some by now.  Maybe you have nice eyes, or good skin or lovely thick hair.  Pay yourself a compliment instead of comparing yourself with your friend who seems to have it all.

Remember there’s a lot more to you than the outside.  Think of all your positive qualities – are you kind, thoughtful, funny?  What do your friends and family love about you?  Celebrate those things instead of worrying about your perfect sibling.

And so what if lots of people are better at chess, baking, abseiling or whatever your particular interest might be.  You’re better than you were when you started – look at your own personal progress instead of regretting that you’re not a world champion.

Be the best you can.  Do the best you can.  And be proud of yourself and your efforts.

Show Some Love And Feel Great

Love makes the world go around.  Not literally, obviously – that’s something to do with gravitational forces – but in a metaphorical sense it really does.  Most of us have a lot of love in our hearts, and when we let that show the world becomes a better place.  And the love we give out gets reflected back to us.

Just try it.  Smile at people.  Whenever you have the chance, be kind. Pay compliments when the opportunity arises.  See how a small gesture from you can brighten someone’s day.  You’ll immediately feel better about yourself.  I know you’re a nice person but when you show a little love you’ll know it too.

But there’s more to it than that.  When you smile at people they tend to smile back.  Kindness and compliments are reciprocated.  So not only do you make yourself feel good, others do too.

And the really great thing is that this all builds on itself.  As you start to feel better you smile more, you find it easier to be kind, you’re more willing to pay compliments rather than judging people for their faults.  And that can only increase the amount of positivity you get in return.

So here’s my challenge to you.  Make today the day you show the world all the love in your heart.

The next time you go out, smile at every person you pass, even the miserable-looking ones.  Especially the miserable-looking ones – they need it the most.

Find an opportunity to be kind.  It really isn’t that difficult – you just have to help someone.  If you’re really struggling with this you could just drop some spare change into a charity box or donate a few items to the local food bank collection.

Pay someone a compliment.  It doesn’t have to be anything huge – maybe you can tell a friend her hair looks nice or you like the colour of his shirt.  If you don’t feel comfortable commenting on someone’s personal appearance you could compliment their garden – gardeners love that.

Show the world some love, see it reflected back, and notice how great you feel.

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.

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.

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.

The Joy of Lists

I’m sitting here on the third consecutive day of rain here in glorious Berwick upon Tweed.  According to the weather app on my phone it’s not going to stop any time soon.  I haven’t walked the dogs – they’re not keen and neither am I – and the three of us are holed up in the spare bedroom/office.

Days like this have the potential to be dull and depressing.  It’s very tempting to just drift around doing nothing in particular while moaning about the weather.  It’s easy to waste hours watching YouTube videos or catch-up TV.  Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with these activities, but it’s too easy for them to fill time that I might later wish I’d spent doing something more constructive.  I’m guessing no-one’s list of deathbed regrets will ever include “I wish I’d watched more cute cat videos”.

So I’ve told myself I’m going to make the most of a miserable, wet day by indulging in one my favourite activities – making a list.

I like lists.  In fact, it’s probably fair to say that I love them.  A good list is a thing of great beauty.  And I am clearly not alone in my appreciation of the list as an artform.  In the 1970s, there was a book published called “The Book of Lists” which was, quite simply, a thick book containing lots of lists.  It had an index – a list of lists if you like.  It became a bestseller and spawned a sequel, “The Book of Lists 2”.

So today I’m going to make a list of useful things I can do in a spare few minutes/hours/days.  Then I can spend the next wet, miserable day editing it, prioritising items, planning how to do them.  I can make further lists of all the steps I need to take to achieve each thing on the first list.  I can makes lists of information I need, equipment I’ll use, the people who can help me.

Then maybe I’ll make a start.

But lists can also be helpful in building your self-esteem.  You can make lists of things you’re grateful for, or things you’re proud of, or of compliments people give you.  Try to add at least one thing to each list every day.  And when you’re feeling a bit down about yourself, get those lists out and read through them to remind yourself of how good you really are.

Perfectly Imperfect

The lovely Sarah Baker, who I mentioned in a previous post, recently introduced me to the website www.canva.com.  This is a brilliant resource for creating social media posts, fancy documents, e-book covers, you name it.  I’ve been using it a lot on my Facebook page and have had a good response to the posts I’ve used it to create.

Last week, I attempted to post the following quote from Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” on Facebook :-

I used it to illustrate the point that in striving for perfection we deny ourselves happiness.  I thought it was rather neat – you may feel differently.

People seemed to like the post.  I had a few positive reactions and someone even shared it.  So it was with a degree of horror that I looked at it later and noticed that it wasn’t quite right.  Instead of the words “by Oscar Wilde” shown in the version above,  it actually said “Add subheading”.

I was not happy.  My carefully created Facebook post had a mistake in it.  I had to correct it.  Except I couldn’t.  As far as I could see, the only way I could rectify my error was by deleting the post then replacing it with the correct version.  Could I do that?  Would it confuse people if it disappeared temporarily?  Would someone notice a new post from me that looked very similar to a previous one and think I’d lost the plot?  Possibly.  But I couldn’t leave it there, looking like that.  Could I?

I suddenly found myself laughing out loud as the irony struck me.  My Facebook post about not trying to be perfect wasn’t perfect.  And as such it was, in fact, closer to perfection than I ever imagined.  I didn’t need to change it, just to accept it.

Just as we should all accept our own imperfections.