Clients often come to me because they say they need executive presence and to exude confidence to their teams. But more often than not, they do not truly understand what confidence is. Confidence has nothing to do with what is happening in your outer life. It’s is always generated from within. It transcends what we do and what we know.
Those internal conversations we all have that sometimes include negative thoughts about ourselves are self-sabotaging and erode our confidence, which can be the difference between success in life and never fully reaching your potential.
Lean In and Tackle It
When I was very young in my trading career at Goldman Sachs, the president of the company called a meeting to let our team know about a new opportunity. In two weeks, the company would begin to trade options on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It was a big opportunity for someone to learn the ins and outs of options trading, however it was also a huge challenge due to the short timeframe. He went around the boardroom based on seniority and offered each trader the opportunity to lead this new division. I was shocked to hear every single one of them turn it down. I’m thinking to myself, “I know this is complex, but I can do this!”
When the president finally got to me, the last person hired, I say yes, and everyone starts laughing. How will the newbie manage this momentous task? He passes me a thick, heavy derivatives and options trading book and told me to study it. So, I dived in and became an expert in options. The trajectory of my career changed dramatically that day as a result of me saying yes and leaning in.
I couldn’t do that without confidence in myself: confidence that I could learn the subject matter, confidence that I could do so quickly and confidence that I would do a good job for the company when I had no prior evidence or experience for that to be true. When you have confidence, you’ll create more opportunities in your life because you are willing to jump right in and take a risk. Every time you succeed, you build a new layer of confidence. By building your confidence as well as your competence, you build executive presence.
Self-Confidence vs. Self-Esteem
Self-confidence and self-esteem do not always go hand in hand. Psychology Today defines self-confidence as “trusting in one’s ability or aptitude to engage successfully or at least adequately with the world.” Someone who is self-confident rises to new challenges, seizes opportunities, deals with difficult situations and takes responsibility if and when things go wrong.
However, you can be highly confident and have low self-esteem, which is an emotional appraisal of our own worth. Self-esteem is defined as “the matrix through which we think, feel, and act, and reflects and determines our relation to ourselves, to others, and to the world.” Self-esteem is a subjective evaluation of one’s own worth; therefore, there is no proof, evidence or objective way to measure it.
The thoughts we have about ourselves, or how we define ourselves, contribute to our self-image. The feelings we have about these thoughts, whether these feelings are good or bad, are the building blocks of our self-esteem. Our self-image, and gradually our self-esteem, can be molded by our parents, family, friends, physical or intellectual abilities, education, and jobs.
Just as we have definitions for most things in the world, we also have definitions of ourselves. We come to define ourselves the way others define us. Thus, if others treat us with love and kindness, as if we are special and unique people, then we will eventually define ourselves in this way as well. On the other hand, if other people treat us as if we are a bother to have around and not worth much, then we will also come to see ourselves in this way.
Some people confuse healthy positive self-esteem with audacity or arrogance, a false sense of superiority over other people. True self-esteem, however, means that we do not have to assert ourselves at the expense of other people. Indeed, it is those with negative self-esteem who must resort to the tactic of exaggerating their own worth, usually by putting other people down. Those with positive self-esteem can acknowledge their own worth and also validate the positive qualities of others.
Coaching for your Self-Esteem
Coaching can help address issues of self-esteem. Many of us are wounded, in one way or another, by the way we were treated as we grew up. As adults it is our responsibility to put closure on the damage inflicted on us by others and to move on with our lives in a healthy way. A coach can point out the ways in which we engage in destructive patterns of behavior and help us explore why we punish ourselves and why we see ourselves as being less than other people.
We have the ability to change our negative self-esteem tendencies by developing self-nurturing, self-encouraging, and self-enhancing behavior. When we begin to treat ourselves in a more positive way, others pick up on our cues and respond to us in the special way we all deserve.
Techniques for Creating Positive Self-Esteem
- Work on Your Private Thoughts
How we feel about ourselves privately, whether these feelings are positive or negative, influences how we interpret our own actions, the decisions we make, the goals we set for ourselves, and how we relate to other people. Negative internal feelings usually lead to lower expectations and achievements, while positive definitions usually result in higher aspirations. Consider some of the following ways in which these private, internal thoughts can be modified.
- Examine your unrealistic expectations.
Negative self-esteem is driven by thoughts couched in “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts.” These words imply that we should be something other than what we are. A more positive approach is to replace these words with “wants.” Instead of saying self-punitively, “I should be a better friend,” it may be helpful to change the thought to: “I want to be a better friend.”
- Accept the fact that history cannot be changed.
We often punish ourselves endlessly for certain regrettable actions we have taken in the past – and this feeds our negative self-esteem. But we all make mistakes, and we can learn from them. In fact, the positive spin on this is that we, as fallible humans, must make mistakes in life – and perhaps we should be thankful that we have made them, for how else would we acquire wisdom and learn the route to a happier life? History cannot be undone, but we can focus on the present and future, drawing on our power to create the life we choose for ourselves.
- Reflect on the good experiences in your life.
Instead of dwelling on our flaws, it is more helpful to think about what is good in our lives. Think about your successes rather than your failures. We all have life experiences that make us feel good. Define yourself in terms of these positive experiences. Nearly every negative thought can be turned into a positive.
For example, if you are in a financial crisis, it’s not the end of the world – because now you can get in touch with simpler pleasures and more meaningful experiences. If a friend has rejected you, you are now free to spend your time with other friends who will treat you well.
- Set positive goals for the future.
Examine your personal needs, desires, assets and abilities – and think of how you can use them to achieve the life you want for yourself. Commit yourself to having the best life you can have – without feeling that you have to achieve perfection. Make your goals realistic and achievable, and work toward them, step by step, enjoying the successes and overcoming the occasional stumbles. Draw on the positive within yourself – with an awareness of how the old negative tendencies may show themselves. Setting positive goals draws on, and reinforces, your positive self-esteem and reminds you of the power you have to set your own course.
Try these techniques for working on positive thoughts:
- Write down or log in your phone your negative thoughts. This increases your awareness of them, and you can discover patterns in your negative thinking. You may also be able to see what triggers negativity.
- Limit negative thinking. Whenever you find yourself having negative thoughts, tell yourself, “Stop! I’m in charge of my thoughts.” Say this privately to yourself, and follow it with the question, “Is what I said to myself really true? Follow that with “Is there another way to look at this situation that would evoke a different feeling or response?”
- Replace the negative with a positive thought – and do this immediately after stopping the negative thought. (It may take some creativity and effort to learn how to change negative thoughts into positive ones.)
2. Diagnose the Cues which Lead to Negative Self-Esteem
We all tend to respond to triggers in ways that lower or raise our self-esteem. Identifying the experiences which influence our self-esteem can take some work and a genuine commitment to improving the quality of our lives. A coach can help in the task of identifying certain themes which we may not be able to discover through our own efforts.
For example, if negative thoughts occur when you spend time alone, you may be dealing with abandonment issues. If negativity is triggered when you are criticized, you may have issues surrounding rejection. If you have negative thoughts in the presence of a person who tends to dominate and control, the theme may have to do with authority, judgment and evaluation. When we come to understand these underlying themes, we can start to view them objectively and get closure on them so that they no longer have the power to influence our self-esteem.
3. Take Good Care of Yourself and Your Appearance
Appreciate your own individuality, your own combination of strengths and weaknesses that make you a special person. Engaging in an exercise program (even simply walking twenty minutes a day) is a good way not only of taking care of your body, but also in making you and others aware that you value yourself.
Feeling good about yourself, presenting yourself to the world in a positive way, and getting positive feedback from other people are essential components of developing positive self-esteem.
4. Examine Your Relationships with Other People
Improving one’s self-esteem involves engaging in productive and enhancing relationships with others. There comes a time to examine our destructive relationships – and this may be difficult since we are drawn toward relationships that reinforce our old ways of seeing ourselves.
Try to understand how destructive relationships in your life reinforce old negative self-esteem patterns. And try to change the tone of the relationship so that positive self-esteem can be expressed by both parties. If that is not possible, it may be time to end a destructive relationship and move on to other, more productive friendships.
Here are a few guidelines for finding new friendships that have a positive tone:
- Try to be pleasant with others. Talk to them in a positive way. Show an interest in them by listening, and share appropriately with them in a balanced way.
- Show respect for the boundaries of others. Let them be who they choose to be and accept the differences between you.
- Don’t expect everyone to be perfect. They’re not.
- Some people will not like you. Accept this. This is their choice, and you gain nothing by trying to win their approval.
- Don’t talk about problems all the time. Others usually find it difficult to deal with negative conversation, and they may avoid you. This reinforces your negative self-esteem. Save your problem-solving talks for dear and trusted friends – or a therapist.
5. Learn to Meet Your Own Needs
Negative self-esteem leads to doubts about your own ability to take care of life’s problems and challenges. This is why people with negative self-esteem may be so demanding of others – at a certain level they may want others to take care of their problems for them. People with negative self-esteem, then, may idealize others and, alternately, denigrate them. If others help you, you idealize them. If they don’t help, you don’t want to waste your time with them. These “all or nothing” themes appear frequently in the thoughts of those with negative self-esteem.
A mature adult life requires integrity. While others may assist you here and there, ultimately you are responsible for meeting your own needs. Acquiring positive self-esteem is essential to this task. The mature adult relies on his or her own resources to find ways of meeting such basic needs as:
- Loving and being loved. Allowing love into your life is one of the most important human pursuits. This may come in the form of romantic love, close friendships or spiritual fulfillment. Our lives improve when we finally give up unrealistic demands and expectations that block our ability to love.
- Having fun in your life. We need pleasure to function well. Try to give yourself at least half an hour a day of something that you see as fun. Indulge yourself in some guiltfree pleasure.
- Pursuing worthwhile work. Balance your fun with work. Work, whether it is from a paid job or not, gives us a sense of feeling worthwhile and contributing to the larger social sphere.
- Understanding that you are responsible for your life choices. Your past does not have to control your future. It is your responsibility to find love, to feel pleasure, to quest for spiritual fulfillment, and to do good work.
5 Strategies to Rebuild Your Self-Esteem
When a situation delivers a blow to your self-esteem, it is important to take steps to repair it as quickly as possible.
- Learn something new — Take up yoga, learn to speak Mandarin, try your hand at acrylic painting. Too often, we let ourselves get caught in the “I can’t” trap, assuming we’re too old, busy or simply incapable when it comes to participating in a new activity or learning a new skill. There is no cut-off age for learning and in today’s pandemic online world, there’s no limit to what you can learn.
- Adopt a mantra — A positive affirmation can sometimes serve as a reminder of your self-worth. In Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Aibileen Clark repeatedly tells her young charge, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Find a quote, affirmation or mantra, print it out and place it where you’ll see it every day.
- Show compassion and self-respect — Would you ever treat a friend the way you sometimes act toward yourself? From the negative self-talk to the broken promises to eat healthier, spend less, exercise more and so on, we can be downright cruel to ourselves in a way we wouldn’t dream of treating others. One strategy is to be more compassionate in the way you talk to yourself. Be kind when you look in the mirror; pay yourself a compliment and refrain from being so harsh in your judgments. Respect the promises you make to yourself with the same importance as any others.
- Forgive yourself — Everybody — without exception — makes mistakes. It’s where you go from there that matters. Do you wallow in self-pity, berating yourself for your failures, or do you dust yourself off and move forward? Research has shown that healthy self-forgiveness involves the right amount of remorse, which helps you learn from your mistakes and fuel positive change.
- Journal your accomplishments — Have you ever heard the saying, “Do something right, no one remembers; do something wrong, no one forgets?” We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to keeping score. By articulating your accomplishments and recording them on paper, you force yourself to increase your awareness on the positive side of the equation.
Our coaches often encourage clients to try this exercise for one week (or one month, or however long it takes!): At the end of each day, reflect on your accomplishments throughout the day, however big or small. Did you sign on a new client, complete a tricky recipe, take the dog for an extra-long walk, meditate? Remember, no one is grading the list; what is important is that it aligns with what matters most to you.
If you find yourself particularly stuck, a coach can help you rebuild your self-confidence and stop dwelling on past mistakes.