Tag Archives: Self Esteem

Have a Fear of Losing? Self-Esteem Won’t Help, You Need Self-Compassion

What motivates you to pursue success? I’m not referring to money or fame; those are the products of success. What I’m asking is when you set your sights on a new challenge, what thought is going through your head?

On a recent episode of Pod Save America, they were discussing the inner dialogue of an unsuccessful presidential campaign—oversights, skewed approaches, why the candidate’s popularity seems to increase after losing. In regards to Hilary Clinton, one concept I found fascinating is the idea that her campaign and pre-election persona were too restrained and prudent. According to co-host Jon Favreau, this is not a new diagnosis after a failed run for the top office.

They said it about John Kerry after his concession speech. They said it about Mitt Romney after his concession speech. They said it about Al Gore after his concession speech. They said it about John McCain after his concession speech. There is a certain brand of politicians who are too cautious during a campaign and are less cautious after the campaign is over, and that is because they run with an overwhelming fear of losing. And that fear of losing makes them more cautious and calculated.

How many leaders are hampered by their fear of losing? Instead of operating from a position of confidence or positivity, they are focused on not screwing up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more you fixate on the negative outcome, the more likely they are to come to fruition. So how can we stop ‘not losing’ and concentrate on ‘winning’?

We are frequently taught that success stems from self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem is situational. It is linked to social comparisons, unrealistic expectations, and arbitrary self-assessments. In truth, research shows that self-esteem does not cause success; it is the result of success. Therefore, to start thinking like a winner, we need to replace our aspirations for self-esteem with aspirations of self-compassion.
Unlike self-esteem which is concerned with how you evaluate yourself, self-compassion is about how you treat yourself. This has three aspects. First, self-compassion means caring for one’s self with the same benevolence, care, and consideration that you treat those you care about. Being driven, results-focused individuals, we tend to set idealistically high goals and bet ourselves up when we fall short. Hence, we need to practice more self-kindness.

Second, it entails recognition that all people are imperfect. Often when we fail, our initial response is that something has gone wrong, that this shouldn’t be happening. We have this flawed view that everyone else is living a struggle-free life. With self-compassion we can alter how we relate to failure and difficulty by turning “poor me,” into “I’m not the only one.”

Finally, self-compassion involves mindfulness, a willingness to acknowledge our suffering. This may seem counter to a “winning” mindset, but denying the pain does not mean you aren’t feeling it. Maintain an accurate reading of your emotions so you can deal with them and move on.

Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, fi
rst proposed the concept of self-compassion in 2003. Since then, her research has shown that self-compassion is significantly associated with every indicator of psychological well-being.

Self-compassion yields greater emotional stability, resilience, life satisfaction, and a more optimistic perspective. The self-compassionate respond more adaptively to negative events with less pessimism, cynicism and self-critical thoughts and experience fewer negative emotions. And they experience lower amounts of stress, anxiety, and guilt.

Remember that fear of losing? Well self-compassion has also been found to enhance motivation. When people with greater self-compassion fail, they are less afraid of failure. In one study, after participants failed a test, they were coached to be more self-compassionate. Later, when they had the opportunity re-take the test, they studied longer than people who were not told to be self-compassionate.

Self-compassion filters how we respond to setbacks, thereby freeing us up to take risks and remain true to our convictions. Without the burden of hypercritical thoughts we can stop focusing on reducing distress and instead manage the actual issue.

And good news! We can learn to be more self-compassionate. Studies have found that even brief exercises instructing people to think about a problem in a self-compassionate manner have positive effects.

Step 1: Identify instances in which you are not being nice to yourself. Does your internal monologue tend to be negative? Are you punishing yourself when things don’t go your way?

Step 2: Determine why you are so self-callous. Do you think being hard on yourself is motivating? And if so, how badly do you need to feel in order be motivated? While negative thoughts can help us to manage behaviors, those with low self-compassion make themselves feel much worse than needed. Recognize when your sentiments cross from constructive into destructive.

Step 3: Stop it. When bad things happen, remind yourself that everyone fails, is rejected, humiliated, or experiences a multitude of other less-than-desirable happenings. Practice some self-kindness by being nice to yourself. Don’t lower the bar, but don’t beat yourself up when trying to reach it either.

Have a fear of losing? Stop trying to build self-esteem and start developing your self-compassion. Unlike the self-admiration of self-esteem, self-compassion does not depend on viewing yourself positively or even liking yourself. It is not contingent on failing or succeeding. And it won’t diminish when you experience a low point. So be compassionate to yourself so you can concentrate on winning, not avoiding catastrophe.

The Business Case for Giving Thanks

thankful-cartoonMy favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s the one day of the year where I am able to slow down. Other occasions provide an opportunity to unwind, but on Thanksgiving I can consistently achieve this goal without effort. While I credit the quality time with family and the incredible food, there is something to be said for a present-less celebration whose only purpose is to take stock of all you have and give thanks.

This may sound like an idealistic, “aw shucks” sentiment, but researchers have dedicated a great deal of time to studying gratitude over the last few years. Their findings show the many benefits both for individuals and for organizations. Here are a few recent studies that will improve your workplace and make you a better leader.

Self-Esteem

Gratitude reduces social comparisons. This allows us to appreciate other’s accomplishments and feel less resentful, which is a key factor in self-esteem. A study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that athletes who expressed higher levels of gratitude toward their coaches had more self-esteem than those who weren’t as openly thankful. And the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that people with neuromuscular diseases who kept a “gratitude journal” had a greater sense of well-being and more positive moods.

Mental Strength

The ability to recognize what you are thankful for, especially during traumatic event, fosters emotional buoyancy. It helps you bounce back quicker and maintain an optimistic outlook. A study in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that veterans who experienced higher levels of gratitude were more resilient, more willing to forgive other, and less likely to experience post-traumatic stress. Similarly, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following terrorist attacks.

In the household in which I was raised, the themes were pretty simple. ‘Work hard. Don’t quit. Be appreciative. Be thankful. Be grateful. Be respectful. Also, never whine, never complain. And always, for crying out loud, keep a sense of humor.’—Michael Keaton

Relationships

Displaying gratitude is more than just being polite; it can help you build your network. A study published in Emotion found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship and has an increased potential for a “high-quality social bond.” This display of gratitude can be as simple as saying thank you or writing a short note. In addition, a slightly older study from Cognition & Emotion shows that gratitude promotes social affiliation and strengthens relationships, which is helpful when facilitating teamwork and group activities.

Teamwork

People who express gratitude are more likely to engage in “pro-social” behaviors. Research in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that “gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others.” These individuals display significantly greater empathy and sensitivity. They are also less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. Another study found that people who express more gratitude are more likely to help others, a key ingredient when working with a team.

Still not convinced that your organization needs a boost of gratitude?

  • Gratitude reduces turnover, fosters employees’ organizational commitment, and aids in “eliminating the toxic workplace emotions, attitudes and negative emotions such as envy, anger, and greed.” (International Business Research)
  • Gratitude positively influences the relationship between managers and their direct reports, affecting subordinates’ sense of feeling trusted, improved performance, and overall satisfaction. (Journal of Psychological Science)
  • Individuals who feel more grateful demonstrate greater patience and delay making hasty decisions. (Psychological Science)
  • More gratitude leads to increased loyalty from employees and clients. (Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology)
  • Daily gratitude exercises result in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)

At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into an endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.—Patch Adams

To be a better leader, be a more thankful leader. Find reasons to show appreciation to your team. It’s inspiring, motivating, and as per the numerous research, it is good for business. To kick off this new initiative, start the holiday season with a gratitude list. If you feel it’s making a difference, keep it going through the new year. It is cheaper than buying everyone a turkey and its positive effects will last much longer.

Can You Change Your Personality…or is This Just a “Strange” Mystical Myth?

dr-strangeIn the quest to become better versions of ourselves, billions of dollars are spent every year on self-improvement books, seminars, and coaches. Yet with all this effort allocated towards changing our personalities, how much thought has gone into whether we are actually able to change our personalities? Can resolve get us there or does it require the sorcery skills of Dr. Stephen Strange?

In the latest theatrical debut of a comic book character, Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant but egotistical neurosurgeon whose life changes after an accident robs him of the use of his hands. <Spoiler Alert> Strange becomes a practitioner of the mystical arts where he becomes the primary protector of Earth against magical and mystical threats.

Making the transition from a man of science to a Sorcerer Supreme takes a tremendous shift in the way a person thinks. By accepting his new role, Strange is making the conscious decision to curb his arrogance and find humility. Is this a personality change or acceptance of his new role?

A 2013 study found that students strategically choose extracurricular activities with the intention of heightening a particular characteristic, such as leadership, intelligence, or communication. A critic of this research, such as myself, would say that that these students are employing adaptive behaviors to build a skill set or boost self-esteem, which does not change their personality. A fan of this research, however, would say that this self-analysis is the first step towards making lasting personality changes.

Another study examined people who had a stated goal of changing their personalities. Over a 16 week period, these participants took part in goal-setting interventions designed to address whatever aspect of their personality they were interested in changing. Researchers asked them to come up with specific, concrete steps and generate an implementation plan with ways to react when facing challenging situations. They then took personality tests to measure growth over time. By the end of the experiment, they exhibited growth in the desired direction. As per my prior critique, I question whether the participants actually changed their personality; however, I do not dismiss that they are on the path to self-improvement.

In truth, I don’t know if you can change the core of who you are. This does not mean you shouldn’t strive towards developing and upgrading your skills. While I may dispute some of the research findings, I believe wholeheartedly that change is possible… not personality, per se, but you are capable of enhancing leadership skills, coping strategies, and decision making.

To experience sustainable improvements, we don’t need to undergo a global search of the mystical world like Doctor Strange. Begin with a personality assessment to form your baseline. Then, examine the gap between the baseline and your ideal self to formulate a concrete plan that will help you reach your goal. Reassess frequently, tweak the plan as needed, and become Self-Actualization Supreme.

Mindy Kaling’s Guide to Building Confidence

Mindy KalingLeaders are commonly asked, “Where do you get your confidence.” When I hear people try to answer this, there’s typically an air of humility – they pass the credit to their parents, a teacher, or a strong support system and deflect any responsibility in owning their confidence. Then Mindy Kaling gave the perfect “confidence-origin” response.

Mindy Kaling is an actress, executive producer, and writer for the critically acclaimed The Mindy Project and The Office. In addition, she has also written multiple bestselling books and is considered to be one of the leading voices in comedy today. Mindy could not have achieved her level of fame without confidence. She shared the source of her conviction in a recent article for Glamour magazine.

According to Mindy (and I agree), confidence is based in entitlement. This is not the entitlement associated with believing you are better than someone else (that is arrogant self-admiration). No, Mindy’s entitlement is maintaining the belief that you deserve something. Determining your “something” depends on what you want to accomplish and your skillset; this is the easy part. The more difficult task is how to determine you deserve it.

To feel like you deserve something, you need to earn it. And the only path to earning it is hard work. As Mindy explained in her article,

I work a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I feel like I must have been watching TV as a kid and that cartoon parable about the industrious ants and the lazy grasshopper came on at a vital moment when my soft little brain was hardening, and the moral of it was imprinted on me. The result of which is that I’m usually hyper-prepared for whatever I set my mind to do, which makes me feel deserving of attention and professional success, when that’s what I’m seeking.

Mindy tells the story of when she went to baseball camp in elementary school. She didn’t put in any effort and walked away with a “Best Dressed” trophy. Mindy was proud of this trophy until her mother said, “They gave you that trophy so you wouldn’t feel bad, not because you deserved it. You should know the difference.” This may seem harsh in a time when we feel the need to give an award to everyone, but it’s an important life lesson that must be taught.

Confidence is not about how many compliments your parents gave you as a kid; this is a great foundation for self-esteem, but you can feel good about yourself without having the assurance that you’ll be a success. Confidence is an intrinsic quality that you can develop through sheer willpower. As Mindy wrote,

Work hard, know your s–t, show your s–t, and then feel entitled.