How to build self esteem Part – II

In Part – I, we have seen how our self image, which creates our self esteem is just a construct of our minds. It does not have an existence independent of our imagination. It is based on memories of experiences we have had, both positive and negative, but has little relevance to what is happening at the moment. With one exception, that it affects how you interpret the present moment, and creates more memories that help strengthen it.

It is like a lie, which when repeated several times, begins to sound like the truth. You think it is true, and then you take actions based on it, and those actions obviously lead to more experiences (mostly negative) which further reinforce the source from which they originate. Thus it becomes a cycle which is very powerful and can be difficult to break out of.

Some real life examples:

  1. You get fired for making a mistake in your job. This prevents you from taking risks in your next job. Eventually out of fear, you make another mistake and the cycle repeats.
  2. You go through a painful break-up in a dysfunctional relationship. When you enter another relationship, you refuse to become vulnerable and risk getting hurt. Eventually this relationship also becomes sour and you end up in another breakup.
  3. You are afraid of water, of heights, of dogs, or needles, you name it. You avoid all life experiences which expose you to those fears. This lack of exposure makes you even more afraid and the cycle continues.

Why techniques to improve self-esteem don’t work

If you have followed this article so far, you may have guessed that this problem cannot be approached directly. The more you try to solve the problem, the more it gets worse! Because who is going to solve this problem? The current self which is you, right? But the current self, which is you, is the person who has the problem! So how will that current self ever find the solution?

You might as well ask, why doesn’t a fire extinguish itself? Or why doesn’t a surgeon operate upon herself? The problem is that the person who is initiating the change, is also the person requiring the change. That’s why the cat can never catch it’s own tail.

If an actor is the subject of  its own action, no action can ever be complete. Instead, it creates an infinite loop of inaction.

Could this explain why none of the techniques to increase self esteem work?

After all you have tried all the techniques and methods which are there to try. If you hadn’t, you would not be here reading this. You are here because nothing seems to work. But, at the same time, no one else is going to help you either! You cannot rely on a spiritual teacher, a psychiatrist, a stupid blogger, or anyone! Right? That would mean giving up control of your life to someone else, and living according to their ideas, which is what led to the problem in the first place!

To live according to someone else’s ideas is the surest way to never develop self esteem.

Which means that you must undergo the process of discovery by and for yourself. You cannot download a ten step method or a three step program, and follow the steps to get where you want. You will only get where someone else wants you to get. To go where you want to go, you have to discover your own truths, on your own terms.

You might say, this blog is no different, so why should I read this? You don’t have to. This blog is not about giving you a blanket solution to your problems anyway. If you do read it looking for a step by step solution, you won’t get anything out of it. It is about showing you how to build your own solution through self awareness. Once it clicks, you will never have to read another blog or accept someone else’s advice. You will create your own steps and follow your own way.

Techniques never work because they are all about the solution, not about what the problem actually is! That’s why the techniques always miss the point, because the people who designed them never understood the problem completely. They were busy designing a solution.

This brings us to the point where we realize ;

Self esteem, like happiness cannot be directly pursued, it is an unexpected consequence of pursuing self-understanding.

No matter what you do, it will either work or not work, depending upon a single factor, whether it leads you to having a better understanding of the inner workings of your mind, and by extension, the minds of others.

I know what you are thinking. Isn’t confidence or self esteem directly proportional to your accomplishments? Don’t the most successful people have the highest self esteem? Whereas, low confidence and low self esteem is usually a problem for people who have failed, or are unlucky?

Well, let’s look at that too, and clear that confusion before we go any further.

Why accomplishments don’t increase self esteem

Most self esteem advice talks about doing something you love, or developing a skill set or pursuing a goal. If you want to experience short term gains, absolutely follow that advice. Go ahead and make some action plan, meet new people everyday, or express yourself clearly, or assert yourself etc. It may feel like you are making progress, but those actions will always feel unnatural or forced, like you are not being yourself, when you try to do them.

Guess what, you are right! You are being someone else, and being someone else only lasts so long. Eventually you return to your old ways, which is who you are!

Also, if accomplishments led to high self esteem, we would not have so many “successful” people having professional or personal breakdowns. We would not have musicians committing suicides and throwing it all away at the peak of their careers. We would not see out of work actors getting addicted to drugs and destroying their own legacies. 

Coming back to the question, achieving something does feel good, doesn’t it? It does boost your self-image, and increase your chances of finding a life partner, or your dream job or whatever you are seeking, right? Well yes, and no.

Accomplishments increase only your conditional self-esteem. They lead you to believe in yourself but only in the area of your accomplishments. In the other areas of your life, you are still your old self.

For example, if you make a lot of money in a business, you think of yourself as being a great businesswoman or man. If for any reason that business fails, your self esteem  takes a hit. As I mentioned in part-I, the fact that I topped the class in math in 9th grade, did not later help me in combating my low self-esteem about being bad at math, because I struggled pretty badly at math in my college! What was once my pride, became something I was ashamed of.

Self esteem which comes from accomplishments lasts only as long as those accomplishments do. It is temporary and soon fades away.

On the flipside, we all have met people who always seem to have a steady head on their shoulders. Failures do not seem to affect them much, and they don’t seem to dwell on their accomplishments much either. They have confidence, but not arrogance, they have humility but not subservience. They approach each challenge in life without any preconceptions of success or failure. That is real self esteem. That is unconditional self-esteem. It doesn’t mean they always succeed, but it does mean that they are always happy with the way they live.

True self esteem is unaffected by your failures or your accomplishments. It increases or decreases in direct proportion to your understanding of the mechanisms of your mind

Well, how can we have that kind of confidence or self esteem? We cannot run behind techniques like ‘talking to more people’ or ‘asserting oneself’ etc., neither can we run behind achieving goals like ‘running a marathon’, ‘writing a book’ or ‘losing weight’. It is very easy for me to recommend those to you, but I won’t. They don’t resolve the real problem, only prolong it.

Even if achieving a goal did raise your self esteem, you first have to understand how to achieve a goal which is worthwhile, and that in itself requires an understanding how the mind works.

Then how does one go about it?

This brings us to step 2.( Read Part I for Step 0 and Step 1)

Step 2 – Learning how to sit

In other words, learning how to sit without doing much. This is called cultivating a ‘sitting practice’. A sitting practice is nothing but what the word describes. Just sitting everyday, purposefully. Not ‘sitting around’ and wasting time, but intentionally sitting. This should not be confused with meditation. This is just sitting.

For a few days set out 20 minutes of your time in the morning and just sit in some place comfortably with your eyes closed or half open. What does it involve?

  1. Sitting in one spot, preferably in front of an open window.
  2. Sitting for 20 minutes at the minimum.
  3. Sitting motionless. Don’t scratch that itch!
  4. Sitting on a pillow or a chair, such that your knees are below your hips. This will ensure your back is always straight without straining.
  5. Sitting with a determination to not move for 20 minutes.
  6. Wait, did I mention without moving?

Why to sit?

A sitting practice seems completely unrelated to the problem of self esteem, but is it? Self esteem has a lot to do with refusing to look at oneself in its totality. That avoidance is what we are directly addressing with a sitting practice. The only way to understand oneself is to spend time with oneself. Most of us want to run away from ourselves, because we think focusing on ourselves makes us self-centered. Read the beginning of What is self-awareness to find out why that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Sitting is a way to make yourself not run from yourself. The physical act of sitting in one place, and not moving forces the mind into action. It becomes hyperactive and tries to invent various escapes in the form of intense emotions or physical sensations or boredom and frustration. Boredom and frustration are like the wind and thunder before the storm begins. You are the storm. Embrace it.

You might say, ‘But isn’t any kind of forcing bad? Shouldn’t there be an easiness in practicing everything?” That is true, but not completely. The physical aspect of sitting involves a certain control, a certain force, but the mental aspect is completely free. In other words;

A sitting practice involves restricting the body, but freeing the mind. The Yang and the Yin.

You are allowed to think anything you want. You can literally let go of your brain and see what it thinks. That’s the beauty of this practice. It teaches us to look at yourself without the constant interference of bodily sensations. You become free to look at the theatrics of your own mind.

A regular sitting practice then becomes a window into your psyche. You will begin to see how you are constantly comparing yourself with someone or something. You’ll begin to notice how negativity has unknowingly shaped your self-image. You will witness the cycle of emotions from its beginning to its end and have a profound insight into its behavior.

You will see the remarkable process of how a thought becomes a seed, then takes root in your mind. You will see how it grows like a weed and bears the flowers of negativity. You’ll see how these flowers bloom, and gradually wither away.

This is the beginning of self-understanding, of seeing the ephemeral nature of the human mind. This is the beginning of seeing oneself in a new light and bringing the old self to its natural end.

Now only one obstacle remains, which I will write about in Part III. If you think this article made sense to you, leave a comment below!

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