I remember hating myself when I was younger, hating how I looked and felt and hating my life. When we’re struggling in life, we tend to overfocus on all the things that are wrong, on everything we’re doing wrong, and everything we don’t like. We’re hurting, and our pain skews how we see ourselves and our lives. From the Cognitive Behavioral standpoint, there is an error in our thinking. When we’re doing this, we’re generalizing the current bad thing going on by leaping to the conclusion that we will always feel this way, that nothing will ever go right, that we will never like ourselves, and that nothing will ever get any better. When we’re thinking in this distorted way, everything feels too overwhelming and it’s hard to know where to start. This series on self esteem was started when one such person asked me how to get from this painful mental place to the place where one can feel good about themselves. So far we’ve covered goal setting (part one), character development (part two), extending kindnesses (part three), changing your perspective (part four), and forgiveness (part 5). Today we will focus on a specific type of activity.
Every is or can be good at something. I have this completely useless skill which is that I have amazing voice recognition. I can hear an actors voice and relate it to all the other movies or tv shows I’ve ever seen that person in. So watching the new animated movies or listening to narrations on commercials is fun for me because I can often figure out who the voices are. This “skill” has absolutely no value in life whatsoever, unless you can include annoying people as a “skill” because no one else really cares, but my husband will humor me looking things up on google to show him that I was right. I can’t really help it that my mind goes there when I hear things, it just does, but I can choose what I want to do with that skill, and I do it to amuse myself. Every skill doesn’t really need to have a purpose. It just has to be something that makes you smile about you. When we were kids, we thought it was a great skill if we knew someone who could burp out the alphabet. It was funny. Having things about ourselves that are funny are wonderful. But being good at something is usually something that can be cultivated. Doing something and improving on any skill is something we can be proud of. It doesn’t require you being the very best in the world at any one thing because the process itself can improve how you feel about yourself. You literally can pick any little thing and work at getting better at it. You can work on being a better greeter of people. You can work at cleaning off your desk every night before you leave. You can work at having the cleanest floor you’ve ever had before. You can write the best thank you notes anyone has ever seen. You can become the best chocolate chip cookie maker anyone knows. I think my cousin is the best at picking the most beautiful and thoughtful birthday cards for everyone she gives cards to. My sister in law is the best person I’ve ever known when it comes to sending things to people’s children. One of my nephews is the kindest person I’ve ever known, he would make a perfect Santa Claus, I’ve never known someone so childlike and non judgmental. We all have different skills. And if you think you have none, you can choose to develop some.
One of my patients was recently let go from her job. She said she never felt she fit in there, because all the other workers socialized and were so fixated on food, and she had no interest in socializing with them. That lack of effort on her part is likely exactly why she lost her job. There was nothing wrong with her work, she just never “fit in.” We talked about fitting in being important. I’ve spoken here before about how it’s just as important to be likable at a job as to do a good job. Both characteristics are what will make your work more enjoyable, everyone there would rather be doing something else! But becoming one of the people who help work be more tolerable makes you an important asset to your company. All my patient needed to do to fit in there was make a little effort. She can choose to work at that at her next job. Bringing in cookies for her co-workers once in a while could go a long way.
Every failure is an opportunity to learn to do something better. Those decisions we make each day about what we do and how we do them are opportunities to change and improve ourselves. Learning something new every day is another way to improve ourselves, you can take a few minutes to learn about something you find interesting. You can get better at facing your fears by taking all kinds of steps; you can tell someone, you can ask someone to help you, you can do something that makes you just a little bit afraid because doing those little things will improve your ability to handle your fears at other times. Every discomfort is an opportunity to explore, an opportunity to figure out if there’s some way you can approach it differently. Most importantly, learn how to calm yourself. Doing anything new and different will be uncomfortable. If you break down that activity into little steps and just calm yourself as you think about it before you do it, you become able to do things you were too afraid to try before.
Learn a card trick. Memorize a favorite famous speech. Read a joke site and share your favorite one with someone else. There are many things you can get better at, both large and small, and ones that cause smiles in you and others are great places to start. You have to like yourself in order for your life to become one where you are happy. Pick any little challenge and get better at it, then pick another, and another. Laugh at yourself, it’s ok to fail. It’s ok not to be the best. It’s ok to be you.