Pursue What Matters
Episode 155: Want to Feel Better About Yourself? Focus on Two Things
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Most of us don’t want to be miserable in life. Only problem is we don’t know how to help ourselves. When it comes to self esteem, it often feels like you either have it or you don’t. But the truth is, if you want to feel better about yourself, there are two things to focus on.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:21
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So if you’ve been listening to the podcast, and over the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring self esteem, The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly. So it used to be the belief that self esteem was the king of characteristics. And that if you could have high self esteem, then you would be set for life, right, the entire craze of the 80s. And 90s really sent this message except that that’s not what happened. And we talked about that last week on the podcast when we talked about when self esteem backfires. And some of the problems associated with with self esteem. And today, we’re really going to get to the heart of the matter, and really help you to to recognize, first of all, that self esteem is good, right? But how we go about self esteem can be a little bit problematic. And so I’m going to give you two things to focus on. And this, these two things come to us from the research on self esteem. And so every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters. By strengthening your confidence to lead I try to do that in one of three areas, leading with clarity, which helps to connect you to purpose, leading with curiosity, which helps to connect you to self awareness and self leadership, and leading and building a community, which really helps you to cultivate meaningful connections and have the, you know, the leadership specific skills to help you thrive. And so primarily today, when we’re focusing on cultivating self esteem, we’re really focusing on curiosity. So how can you help yourself and of course, this extends to community because it this is how you can also help others. And so we’re really going to be focusing on to two key areas that are really designed to help us have secure self esteem, because that is a valuable thing for us to have.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:42
Okay, so as we’ve been talking about self esteem, we are here maybe a little wiser, but maybe a little battle worn, right? So I shared with you last week that self esteem is not the problem. But pursuing self esteem can definitely be a problem. And so, you know, today we’re going to really talk about what healthy self esteem is, and how you can truly cultivate this both for yourself, your family, and for those who lead. And so if you missed last week’s podcast, I would recommend that you go back and take a listen to it, because it will help give you a frame for this conversation. So let’s first start with how healthy self esteem develops. Okay? So healthy self esteem is a natural outcome of two things. Okay. So the first thing is genuine accomplishment, right? We feel better about ourselves, when we can be goal directed, when we can develop skills and accomplish things, right. It is part of the human experience, it’s not the most important thing. But that absolutely makes a difference. One of the things that I share with people who are maybe struggling with accomplishment or feeling badly about themselves is, you know, it’s actually hard to feel good about yourself. If you’re not getting off the couch, right? Like it that that actually would not would not be how we feel better about ourselves. But neither is hyper productivity all the time. Right? Like we need balance, we need rest. But if you are only staying on your couch, why because you feel badly about yourself, you’re worried about taking on challenges. You’re keeping yourself from the very activities where you could develop more confidence in yourself because it is in taking on challenges, testing out our skills, strengthening our skills, that we really come to have a belief in ourselves. So the first thing is genuine accomplishment. And the second thing is internet connection with others. You know, the research is just so compelling around our need for one another On, it’s as important as any other activity you could be doing. And in fact, the research really points to it’s more important than many other things. So if you want to your medical provider and you had a chronic health condition, they would be just as likely, if they’re, if they’re familiar with the research, they would be just as likely to ask you about your friendships, to recommend that you get a good friend as they would be to prescribe you medication. intimate connection is just that important. Okay. So over time, you develop a sense of purpose in growing and developing as a whole person. So as you seek out accomplishment, and connection with others, with time, you start to develop more of a purpose around these things. And so, you know, the result of that is that self esteem unfolds, as we pursue what matters, self esteem is not pursued. But it ends soon as we focus on developing skills and connecting with others. So I always like to think about self esteem as a byproduct, of a of living a meaningful life, of pushing yourself and of growing. And in this way, self esteem is very, very similar to happiness.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:14
So if we set out to pursue happiness, we would probably end up unhappy, that’s what we understand from the research. And of course, Viktor Frankl spoke beautifully to this point. And he said that happiness is not something that you can pursue, but it ensues as you pursue meaning and purpose and a cause greater than yourself, right. And in his message, right, so that was not a direct quote, but in his message, he has these building blocks, that also provide us the foundation for self esteem. So it’s, it’s pursuing what matters, it’s living to purpose, it’s pushing yourself taking on challenges, and it’s in service to others. It’s not just in service to yourself, and that self esteem and happiness will ensue as a result of those activities. So we don’t focus on happiness, we don’t focus on self esteem, right, we focus on those foundational activities that will help us and so today, we’re talking about genuine accomplishment and intimate connection with others, because the self esteem research points to those two factors as really the most important thing. So from Ryan and brown, they are some researchers on the topic of self esteem. They have said becoming too focused on improving one’s self esteem is an indication that something has gone awfully wrong in self regulation, and well being. So I think that’s really, really, really insightful. Because when we’re, you know, we we live in a navel gazing society where we’re all focused inward, the self help revolution is just really got us turned inward. And so if we’re really hyper focused on improving our self esteem, like we’re probably a little off track, because self esteem is a byproduct of good self regulation, well being meaningful connections. And so when self esteem is too much of a concern relative to other needs. This is an indication that one’s self esteem has become unhealthy.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:30
So what do I mean by unhealthy? So what the researchers mean, and this comes from the book, transcend by Scott Barry Kaufman, which I’ve done a book review on. So if you want to check that out, you can. But unhealthy self esteem is highly insecure. It’s unstable and highly dependent on the validation of others. And this really speaks to what we talked about last week with some of the problems of self esteem, you can have unhealthy unhealthy self esteem or another way to think about that is insecure, or secure. And so, you know, we don’t want to hyper focus on self esteem. So now, let’s define healthy self esteem. So there are two components of healthy self esteem first, self worth, and second, mastery, okay? So when we think about mastery is its genuine accomplishment when we think about self worth, this, we cannot separate our self worth, from our relationships with others. And that might be a new thought to you, but our view of ourselves is intimately connected to our relationships with others. And so if you look at your life, and you you say, gosh, like I don’t really have any deep meaningful connections, right, like I might have lots of ties, but I don’t have deep meaningful connections. While then you know, your, your self worth is probably suffering, because our relationships with others act as a mirror to our own self worth. So let’s take Take a look at some of these statements. And I want you to consider how much you agree with these statements as a good indicator of where you’re at, relative to healthy self esteem. So this recommendation comes to us from transcend by Scott Barry Kaufman. So as it relates to self worth, it just wants you to, to listen to these statements and see how much you agree or disagree. So the first one, I like myself, do you agree with that? Do you disagree with that? I am a worthwhile human. Do you agree with that? Or do you disagree with that? I am very comfortable with myself, how much do you agree with that? So you know, I can say for that one, that one for myself, I spent probably at least at least, you know, two to three decades earlier in my life, not feeling very comfortable with myself. And so that made, you know, that made interactions with others more challenging, but I can say pretty confidently, at this point, I’m very comfortable with myself, that doesn’t mean that I love everything about me, right? It doesn’t mean that I don’t have weaknesses, it doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize, you know, where I might be vulnerable, or where I get caught or where ego shows up. But to be comfortable with yourself to be comfortable in your own skin, to be able to make room for your strengths and your weaknesses with some compassion and with some grace. That’s what I think about when I think about that statement. I am very comfortable with myself. Okay, next statement, I am secure in my sense of self worth.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:37
Okay, so How stable is your sense of self worth? And the last one on self worth? is I have enough respect for myself. I also love this statement, because it really helps us to point to boundaries, do we hold good boundaries for ourselves? Do we respect ourselves enough to tell other people know, or to advocate for ourselves? Or to make space for ourselves? Right? So whether that’s around self care, whether that’s around rest, sleep, right? There are so many ways that that shows up? And so if you find that you’re always running on empty, you’re always saying yes, when you want to be saying no, we would really look to this self worth question of, Do you have enough respect for yourself? Because people who really value themselves right and not in an overinflated way, that who value themselves in who respect themselves have good boundaries? Okay, so that’s a really important point here. So now, let’s look at some statements relative to mastery. Okay, so consider how much you agree with these as a good indicator of where you’re at relative to healthy self esteem. So we just talked about self worth. Now, let’s talk about mastery. So the first statement, I am highly effective at the things I do. Okay, so where you’re at developmentally in your life, will probably alter your answer to this right. So for me, I’ve been working as a psychologist for a long time now. And I recognize that I am highly effective at what I do. It doesn’t mean I’m always highly effective. Right? There are other factors there. But think about some of the activities in your life. Are there some some activities where you have a lot of expertise? And so you can agree like, Yes, I’m highly effective at the things I do think about, also even a little more globally.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:28
So whether it comes to organization, whether it comes to goal setting, whether it comes to follow through these, you know, how effective you are at some of those examples, will really alter your agreement with this statement. So, you know, one of the ways that I can see this show up for folks, is if they have poor follow through on things, that they will very often disagree with this statement of I am highly effective at the things I do. And I think it’s a really important opportunity to learn and to get a little more nuanced because, you know, they’re very competent people, like incredibly competent, very skilled. They have what it takes to be very successful. But when they fail to follow through, for whatever reason, right, like it might be organization, it might be, you know, mindlessness, and might be failure to prioritize the importance of these things, that when they fail to follow through, it makes them feel worse about themselves. Like it is such a hit to confidence. And it’s like they have the competence, but you’ve got to be able to finish things strongly. You’ve got to be able to close the loop. And so sometimes it’s just recognizing where you need to focus your efforts. And it’s, it’s like, okay, we’re going to really pay attention to follow through and you know, the devils in the details and those are the parts that many people we’ll just drop off on and then it, you know, because they drop off on that it impacts it impacts their effectiveness and their self worth. Okay, so now the next statement, I am almost always able to accomplish what I try for. Okay, so how much do you agree with that? So, if you can you look at the track record of your life and see, first of all that you set goals, right, that you’ve done hard things in your life, you know, we can think about that as like a college degree, a college degree requires effort, it requires commitment and persistence. And, you know, there’s a lot of conversation these days about what is the value of a college degree? Right, especially with the rising cost of college, right student loan debt, and all of those things? I do think it’s a valid conversation. I have some, you know, I’ve, I’ve developed some new thoughts around that. But when we think about the world of work, right, so many employers require folks to have a college degree. And my thought on that, and I, I certainly don’t think I’m alone in this is, you know, for many jobs write it, the having the actual degree is less important. But what that what having that college degree signals is someone who can take on challenges, who can follow through, who can organize themselves who can persist, right?
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:33
Because if you think about a college degree, that’s at least four years of pushing through of doing things you probably don’t want to do all the time. And so when I look at, you know, having a college degree as a prerequisite for a job, it’s much more about what having a college degree signals in that person, like, what are the characteristics that that individual has had to develop, at least to some extent, in order to successfully graduate from college. And so that’s what we’re really paying attention to, when we look at this statement, I am almost always able to accomplish what I try for, it’s not that you don’t fail, it’s not that you’re perfect, but when you set out on a path, you can make forward motion, you can have success. And again, it doesn’t mean that everything ends up perfectly, but generally, like you’re able to accomplish goals, and take on challenges successfully. Okay, the next statement related to mastery, I perform very well, at many things. Now, you know, that might not be true for for some of us, right? Like, when I think about my skill set, right? Like, I’m really good at a few things, right. And like I dive deep into those things. But there are other things I’m really, really bad at. And what I have, you know, what I’ve done is I just, I don’t spend much time in the areas where I’m bad at right. And I make sure that I have support and some structure to help me as much as I need to get help in some of those weak areas. And the research really points to don’t strengthen your weaknesses really, you know, leverage your strengths. And so, you know, when we think about these mastery statements, it’s not that you need to be perfect, or a savant or anything like that. But can you take on challenges? Can you write like, in in a crunch? Can you step up and perform? And I think that that’s really the key there. Okay, the next statement is I often fulfill my goals. So if you remember, when I first started this conversation, I said, do you set goals? And then do you accomplish those? And then the last statement related to mastery is, I deal well with challenges in my life. Okay, I really liked that statement, because what it speaks to is distress tolerance, are you able to keep yourself grounded when the whole world is losing their mind? And you know, we have had a giant experiment with that with the global pandemic. Of course, the extent of challenges have varied, you know, for people, for individuals across the world. And so we always want to appreciate that and have respect for that. We also see, you know, people who have gone through similar circumstances having very different reactions, right, so some people like absolutely losing their minds, and others thriving. And so when we think about mastery, with this last statement, we’re really thinking about this ability to ground yourself this ability to, you know, tolerate distress and not become undone by life’s challenges. And that’s such an important skill. Because when you can do that, right like when you can be the calm one, in the heat of battle, right like that brings you confidence that brings you trust in yourself and a belief that you know what I can take this on, I can take this on. And so those are, those are the components of healthy self esteem, right? So self worth, and mastery. And so now, let’s really help you with, you know what, what we set out to do at the top of the podcast, which was focus on these two things, right? If you want to feel better about yourself, focus on these two things. So the first one is we’re going to help you focus on self worth. And then of course, the second solution we have for you is to focus on mastery. So let’s start with a focus on self worth. The first thing that we really want to do is we want to understand our self worth. Now that can be a big gauzy term, kind of like self esteem. So and that’s important to pay attention to self esteem and self worth are not the same thing. They are related terms there nested terms, so self worth is a foundation for self esteem. So if you don’t have self worth, it’s going to be hard for you to have secure self esteem.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:04
So what is self worth? It is the evaluation of your overall sense of self. So are you a fundamentally good person with social value in this world? Now, sadly, for me in my work, right, I’ve worked with so many individuals who do not believe they’re good person, they think they’re inherently flawed, they think they’re bad. They think that they’re a failure, they don’t see any good reason why anyone would want to be around them. And so if you carry that sort of core belief with you through the world, think about how hard life becomes. Because right like to build trust in a relationship is almost impossible, if you’re going into that relationship with the belief that you’re not worthy, or that you’re undeserving of love. And so feeling worthy of who you are, as a person lays a healthy foundation for who you want to become, right? It’s this idea of being able to accept yourself, just as you are recognizing that that sows the seeds, for, you know, for strengthening who you are for becoming who, who you can be as you reach towards potential. So Carl Rogers kind of taught us about that. And so it’s a little bit of an irony. But this, this self acceptance, which sets the foundation for striving for more, right and striving for excellence. So our feelings of self worth are closely tied to our social value, or our beliefs about what others think of us. So you remember, I said that, for many of us, our self worth is, is only reflected in the mirror of our relationships. And so if our relationships are fraught, if they’re difficult if we didn’t have secure attachment as a child, right, it’s hard to feel good about ourselves. Because we see that tension in that relationship, and it becomes a mirror that Oh, my goodness, is there something wrong with me? Okay. So when we think about this social value, we want to think about it in two ways, right? There are kind of two components to this. The first is relational social value. And this is the degree to which we regard our relationship with others, as personally valuable and important. So you might have a lot of relationships. But do you regard those relationships as personally meaningful? Or are they just, they’re just connections in your network? So this relational social value? And how do others feel about you?
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:39
Do they find value in their connection with you? Or are you just a loosely tied connection for them? And sadly, right, we can have very close family relationships, right in terms of like, we’re, you know, maybe we’re married, we have kids. And so it’s like, on our side, it looks like there’s a strong social bond or a strong relational bond, but there’s emotional numbness, there’s emotional coldness, there’s disconnection, it’s one of the it’s one of my biggest concerns about our society, is that we are all alone, even in our relationships. And so you could have low relational social value, even though you have what appears to be what you need for social connection. Okay. And then the second component that the second kind of social value that we want to talk about is instrumental. And so this is the degree to which others perceive us as possessing resources and or personal characteristics that are important for the benefit of the collective good. Now we see this at home but we really see this at work. So do others value your skills. Do others see you as a helper to others look to you as a mentor as a resource as someone they can go to for help and support and you have others in your life where that is true. So, you know, I think that this, this distinction is really helpful at work, right? Like, you don’t need to be best friends with everyone at work. But do you have some instrumental social value where, you know, certainly there’s respect and there’s openness. But really, the value in that relationship is, this person is sharp, like, I know, if I have a problem, I can go to this person, and they can help me problem solve, they can help me broaden my perspective, right? That’s important, those are important ways that we connect. And that’s a really important way that we know that we add value, right, it strengthens our self worth. So folks with high self worth, tend to like themselves and view themselves as having high relational value. So they would say that their relationships are really meaningful to them. So this is why belonging is so important to our sense of self worth, like we cannot separate those. So when we are rejected by others, our self worth destabilizes and that doesn’t mean we’re needy, or we’re unstable, it just acknowledges how closely connected our self worth is to our relationships with others. So it’s one of the reasons why others opinions of us will always matter.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:21
So when people you know, sometimes people come to me, and they’re like, I just don’t want to care what other people think I’m like, Well, that would be a problem, right? Like, I don’t know that that’s the goal that we want to aim for, because that kind of puts you on a path of narcissism, or, you know, becoming a sociopath, which obviously, we don’t want to happen. So as long as as long as you are a human being working towards well being, you’re going to care about what other people think about you. Now, we don’t want to overvalue that. And so there there is often some good work there. But from to ferrati, and Swan, who are some researchers in this area, what they said is at no point in development, do we become numb to the moral judgment of those whom we take an interest in. So what I really like about that statement, is that they are very clear, at no point in development, do we become numb, so it’s not like you, once you mature, you won’t care anymore, like will always care, we just don’t want to over inflate that. So sometimes, you know, if you have teenagers, and they’re hyper self conscious about what others think it’s easy to say, Oh, you’re just being a silly teenager, and one day you’ll grow out of this. And, you know, I think what’s true is you become less sensitive to it. But we don’t want to lose, we don’t want to lose an interest in what others think about us because it does become a foundation of self worth. So we use others as a mirror to reflect our own feelings of worth, at least to some extent. So the thing that’s interesting about this is that as we strengthen our foundation of self worth, our self worth becomes more internalized.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:03
Okay, so So it’s true that for young kiddos, right, their self worth is not internalized at all. So their self worth is highly dependent on their relationships with other people. During the teenage years. That’s also true, right? We’re working towards more independence. But we really are looking to others. This is why comparison is a big thing for teenagers. Because we’re looking to whether people accept us or reject us as a foundation for our self worth. But as we mature, right, that self worth should become more internalized. And so we know that we matter, and we become less vulnerable to how others see ourselves see us sorry, but we still care, right? Like I, you know, at this point in my life, I want others to have a high opinion of me, not because I need them to have a high opinion of me because it would be crushing if they didn’t. But because I care about relationships, I care about doing good work, I care about showing up for people. And so hopefully that distinction can help you. So we’ll always care. And we will do what we can to cultivate connection and high social value. But over time, we can become less vulnerable to the shifts that may happen in the social realm, right? Because that just that just happens it is a true thing. So now let’s move on to a focus on mastery. So we want to help you understand mastery. So this is the evaluation of your overall sense of agency. So can you be an actor in your life rather than being acted upon? Can you set goals and achieve them? So what is your assessment of your ability to do that? So are you an intentional being who can bring about your desired goals? By exercising your will. Now we don’t have total control. There are some factors that absolutely are out of our control that can we work towards goals? And can we actually accomplish goals and probably won’t accomplish all of them? But you can, right part of that is being able to assess worthy goals, being able to assess what is a reasonable goal for you, instead of like, wow, that was a really hyper stretch goal. Having stretch goals is good. But if all of your goals are hyper stretch goals, you’re not going to feel very good about yourself, because chances are, you’re not going to accomplish those goals. So, some questions here for you related to mastery. Are you an agent of change? Or are you acted upon? Are you in the driver’s seat of your life? Or are you a passenger? Do you lead your life? Or are you led by the whims of life or by others? Right? Do you pursue what matters? Do you know what matters? Okay? Are you goal directed? Do you set and accomplish goals? Do you challenge yourself? Or do you coddle yourself? Oh, this is a big one. That’s a big one. Do you make news? Or do you make excuses? Now with that word? I’m not saying like you need to be living on a public stage. But do you make a difference? Right? Do people notice what you’re doing? Because it’s it’s valuable? It’s meaningful, it’s helpful? Or do you make excuses for why you’re not doing those things in your life? Why you’re not working towards potential? So are you growing? Or are you stagnating, there is no such thing as a steady state.
Dr. Melissa Smith 31:39
When it comes to human growth, you’re either growing, or you’re stagnating. And I think that’s, that can be kind of a painful truth. I always use the analogy of the mountain, you’re climbing a mountain, you’re pursuing what matters heading towards that mountain peak, there are times to pause, right, so that you can gather your resources for the climb. But there are also times to push right when you’re uncomfortable, you want to pause but you need to push because you gotta get to a specific finish line. So from tough, Marathi and Swan, again, they say human development is characterized as much by the need to know who we are as what we can do. Okay, so that really helps us to point to these two things to focus on who we are, is self worth, what we can do is mastery. So mastery is a global evaluation that is generalized across many different areas of your life. So think about work and career, think about home and family. Think about social engagement and connection, think about creativity, growth, and learning. And this is where we really want to think about balance and integration. So if you have, you’re very highly successful at work and career, but you are lousy with home and family life, we would not consider that successful. Like honestly, we just wouldn’t. And we wouldn’t consider that as mastery. Mastery is a global evaluation. Now, of course, we have different strengths in different areas, but we want to be integrated balance really matters. And so you know, having this hyper focus on work and career, and yet treating people in your life like dirt, that right like you’re not going to feel good about yourself that undermines self worth, and of course, thereby undermine self esteem. So of course, you will have more expertise in some areas of your life. But healthy self esteem includes not only liking yourself the self worth, but also having an overall feeling that you are a competent human being. Okay, so the self esteem literature terms, this is mastery. And definitely it is much of that. But as I see it applying to self esteem, I see at its core is this issue of trust. So over time, as you take on challenges and grow and both competence and confidence, you develop a sense of trust with yourself, a sense of knowing who you are, and how you will show up to life’s challenges. And that I think, is really what’s profound here.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:09
So you see yourself not just competent in specific areas, but you see that you can be competent in whatever life throws at you. It doesn’t mean you can go it alone or that or that you don’t have more to learn, but you carry within you a deep sense of trust, of knowing that you can live life on life’s terms. That is that self esteem right there. Right. It includes both self worth, and mastery. So the other thing to pay attention to is that your life history impacts your sense of mastery. When you look back on your life, can you see your successes. Do you see how you face challenges? Can you see how your failures have helped you grow and develop the necessary skills to succeed? So sometimes what’s needed is another perspective because you might not be able to see yourself All or your history clearly. So you can ask someone to point out what they see in your challenges and your opportunities. So right like, you might be surprised to learn that what what you want all encountered as a failure actually contains the seeds of mastery and self love, when you can show up with compassion, and a willingness to really extract the lessons from your painful experiences. But that requires you to look at them, it requires you to lean in, and that can be really uncomfortable. But you know, as you look at your life, do you have a track record of setting and accomplishing goals. So think about sports academics work, the more successful you are at making progress towards your goals, the more confident you feel, and the two tend to spiral upward toward a stable sense of mastery. So when we think about defining healthy self esteem, right, we’re really paying attention to self worth, and mastery. And so I hope you’ll really pay attention to those statements, how much you agree with those statements or disagree with those and then join me over the next couple of podcasts because we’re going to do a deep dive into self worth and mastery so that you can really see these building blocks of self esteem, and it gives you something good to focus on rather than that self esteem.
Dr. Melissa Smith 36:19
So head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/155-feelbetter. So one more time at www.drmelissasmith.com/155-feelbetter. So, check out the show notes. I’m social. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram @dr.melissasmith always have more content each week related to the podcast and I’d love to have a conversation with you there. In the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai