Like a lot of people I’m a very self conscious person. Due to a low (but growing) self-esteem I used to do my best to try and read peoples reactions to my ideas and change course to fit how I perceive that persons reaction. The problem here is that low self esteem + trying to guess other peoples opinions is a very easy equation to find the answer too. They hate every thing I think about of course.
I’ve shelved a lot of ideas before I even say them out loud because I visualize others perceptions of my ideas. Do you see where this is heading?
“Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen. And that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.”
James Clear – Atomic Habits
I had taken the above quote to it’s extreme. I was paralyzed by the fear of criticism and felt the safest way was to do nothing. But this was no way to live. I wanted to make a living off my thoughts. How would that work if I didn’t even dare produce for myself?
The starting point of re-building my self-esteem
So to stop caring about what other people thought about me I had to first start with how I thought about myself. I had to stop telling myself lies about myself and others. You cannot every truly know what another person thinks of you, even if they tell you. I’d been let down by people who’s opinion I thought I could trust. And in a strange way, that was very freeing. Someone I saw as a caring, honest and uplifting person never really cared about me at all.
“In other words, we change when we need to. Necessity is the mother of adaptation.”
Angela Duckworth – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
If this person who I thought wanted the best for me wasn’t being truthful, what did that mean? For me it meant that we project our own feelings on other people. I believed this person to be truthful and upstanding so I chose to interpret their advice as true and their opinions of me as valid. Other people might stop trusting people all together since someone they valued lied but for me it was the sudden clarity that I could never know what someone else felt about me.
This was a watershed moment for me. Others opinions though not devoid of value really couldn’t play a part in how I defined myself. If I believed someone thought highly of me and that was wrong, than if I thought someone had a low opinion about me that couldn’t be trusted either. I was free.
So how did I apply this in my endeavors going forward? Well, if I could find the value in my own writing then my own writing had value. Other people couldn’t define it’s value. But this doesn’t mean it is easy to change your whole self-image. To build self-esteem you need to practice.
My first practice was to just write short drafts of blog posts I wanted to do or scripts for videos I wanted to do. A draft is just a draft. They’re not supposed to be finished or polished.
Even though a small part of me had been freed by this feeling of betrayal I was still trapped in the grey space between not doing anything and the perceived pressure that what I did had to be earth shattering. I blame productivity books for this. They’re rarely about being your best self and most often about being the best. So this was another hurdle to jump. Now I felt like my content had value but would it be the best? But as with most things that deals with our own psyche, blame must land at your own feet as well.
“What is the mindset you typically have when it comes to yourself? If you don’t realize you have it, you can’t do anything to combat the influences that come with it when they are working against you, as happens with negative stereotypes that hinder performance, and you can’t tap into the benefits when they are working for you (as can happen if you activate positively associated stereotypes). What we believe is, in large part, how we are.“
Maria Konnikova – Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
I sat down and thought about what best meant for me at this point in time. Is it winning an award? Having thousands of visitors to my blog? When I really thought about it, best just meant trying. At least for now. Just try. Write that post. Publish it. Yay. You’re the best.
This seems really low effort but let me explain my thinking. The influence that is working against me now is my perfectionism. My perfectionism didn’t force me to work until I was a 100% happy with my drafts, it crippled any attempts to even start. So I had to take a leap.
Doing nothing or doing something
My mindset about myself was “I am a person who does nothing.” By that definition doing something is really rather great. After I posted my first blog-post I could no longer tell myself that I do nothing. I was now a person who does something. A person with a domain name and a blog.
I did something. How do I keep doing the thing?
“If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.”
Mark Manson – The subtle art of not giving a f*ck
Success for me now was to keep going. Failure was giving up. I don’t measure success by how many people visit my blog or watch my videos. At this moment in time the only way to measure success is by not stopping.
I felt it working on my self-esteem almost from the start. Every time I post something I’m telling myself that I’m a doer. In only a short month I can feel how I’m less scared of telling people around me about something I’ve learned or an idea I have. I leave less caveats when I give my opinion.
In a few months time I might start to measure success differently, but for now I’m just enjoying my new found self-esteem.