Rebuilding our Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-brake on (Maxwell Maltz)

Bear with me for a moment, for I have an itch to write about fleas. Suppose you wanted to start your own flea circus, how would you go about training them? There are several techniques, but I’ll discuss one here: Get about 100 fleas and place them in a jar. Cover the jar with a lid or small sheet of glass. Leave them there for three days to two weeks (depends on the fleas you’re training). What about food? Not to worry, adult fleas can live without food for as long as two years.

So, what happens to the fleas you’ve imprisoned in the jar? They will all be wildly jumping, crashing into the lid, banging into the walls of the jar, and bumping into one another. After a period, however, even their tiny brains realize that it’s not smart to keep smashing into the lid and walls of the jar, so they adjust the height and direction of their jumps. Before long, they will jump in an orderly fashion. No longer will they bump into one another or the sides of the jar. Also, the highest point of their jump will be a few millimeters below the lid. No more bruised backs!

They are now “trained.” For you can remove the lid and they will continue to act as if it were still there. In other words, although they are free, they will behave as if imprisoned. In fact, you can now quickly rotate the jar and place it on a table upside-down. After giving them a chance to settle down, you can then slowly raise the jar until they are completely free. Your “trained” fleas will continue jumping while remaining in place! Locked into their tiny bodies is vast potential. They are incredible jumpers. Yet, where is their potential now? Because they were trained, they can now jump only as high as their former prison.

Does this story ring any bells? You see, the place where we were reared between the ages of one and five, and beyond, was like a jar or prison. Like the fleas, we were born perfect, with unlimited potential. But, also like the fleas, we were “trained.” As we tried to express our enormous potential, we kept smashing into a wall of negativity. Over and again we heard comments like, “You’re so stupid. You’re a bad child. Why are you so naughty? What’s wrong with you? You can’t do anything right.”

What happened to our potential? Can you see why we failed to develop fully? Although we share much in common with the fleas, there is one significant difference. Awareness. We can become aware of our problem, and its source, and then take corrective action. As we change our behavior, we can begin to leap higher and higher, until we reach our full potential. We have the ability to free ourselves, for although someone else may have placed us here, the key that unlocks our prison door is in our pocket!

The key that unlocks the door of our cell is sometimes called self-esteem. You could also call it self-confidence or belief in ourselves. Each of us has in our mind an image of where we would like to be in our life. If we are far from that destination, we have low self-esteem or little self-confidence. If we are close to where we want to be, we have high self-esteem or a great deal of confidence.

We learn from experience what needs to be done, and it is confidence that allows us to do it. Reworded, our competence grows in direct proportion to our self-esteem. On the other hand, without confidence, we are twice defeated, for we experience the pain of low self-esteem and the pain of failure. If we have lost confidence, we have lost everything. For that reason, let’s consider what we can do to rebuild our self-esteem.

Rebuilding our Self-Esteem

Normally thought precedes action. This is fine when we have positive thoughts. But after being trained like fleas, we need to reverse the process. That is, we need to act despite our thoughts. And we need to forcefully repeat new, positive actions until they become habitual. Suppose we have low self-esteem and are afraid to do what we would like to, such as be assertive or seek a new job. It’s okay to be afraid; accept it and understand you were trained to doubt yourself. But now it is time to accept that some things are more important than fear. Your happiness, for example. So, if you’re unhappy with your job, start taking action today to change the situation. Act despite your fear. Begin with simple steps. Prepare your resume. Search the want ads. Fax your resume to agencies and businesses. Each little step you take will bring you closer to your dream and increase your confidence, which will make further action easier, leading to still more confidence, and so on. Although we can never entirely eliminate fear, we can reduce it by preparation. If, for example, you prepared an attractive resume and are neatly dressed, you will have lots less to be nervous about at a job interview. Here’s something else to consider: Anticipation is a magnifying glass that enlarges expected pleasures or fears. The fear that is anticipated is greater than the fear that is experienced. Moral? Stop expecting problems and start anticipating solutions.

Do you have a computer? I love computers. I’m writing this article on one. But getting back to you, do you realize that you have a computer that is vastly superior to my Pentium? It is called your brain. Use it. For instance, when those negative thoughts crop up, stop and analyze them. Let’s say you would like to ask the boss for a raise, but think, “I can’t do that.” Whoa! Stop! Analyze that thought. Realize that it is irrational to believe you can’t do it. That negative thought you had was the thought of a child, the thought of a flea. It’s time to change now. So, if you want that raise, begin by preparing for it. First of all, wanting a raise is not enough. You need to deserve it. Do you? If so, list all the reasons. If the boss gives you a raise, how will he benefit? Will you be willing to tackle more responsibilities? Picture in your mind speaking to your boss. What will he say to you and how will you respond? By building your list of reasons you deserve a raise and practicing the conversation in your mind, you are preparing. The result? More confidence, less fear. The point of this paragraph is to encourage you to analyze every negative thought and get into the habit of replacing irrational thinking with clear, analytical thinking.

Be willing to make the effort. Develop self-discipline by doing unpleasant, but necessary tasks. Carefully consider the words of Winston Churchill, “The heights of great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.” Some people say, “I’d love to improve but I have no self-control.” That’s not true, we all have self-control. If we are wasting valuable time, who is forcing us to do so? Isn’t it our choice? We can start improving by practicing jumping higher and higher. True, we may feel uncomfortable as we do so. After all, we still remember the bruises we suffered by striking the lid over and over again. But look up and around, we’re not in the jar any longer! We may like to blame circumstances instead of taking responsibility for our actions, but the only way to succeed is to create the future by taking control of our lives with self-discipline, integrity, and right action.

You are not alone in your dance of the flea. Look about you. Almost everyone you meet is bruised. They can use a boost in self-esteem. You can help. In fact, you could be the catalyst that gets them jumping higher and higher. You can do so by offering words of encouragement, recognition, and praise. You can accept them, embrace them, and elevate them. You are an extremely important person; they need you. Let’s help.