How to build self esteem – Part III

If you have not already, do read Part I and Part II first. In Part I we saw why the very first thing one has to do for building self esteem is to become aware of one’s low self esteem triggers. In Part II we saw why your accomplishments such as running a marathon, losing weight, or getting a high paying job do not change your self esteem in the long run. Also, we looked at what a sitting practice is, and why it is the most important thing one can do to look inwards.

Looking inwards

One of the hardest things in life is to look at oneself honestly. Superficial looking is easy and everyone knows what it is. If you have trust or anger issues, or you cannot focus on one thing for long, you probably are aware of those things. But that is a very preliminary look at oneself. A real deep examination of who you are takes patience. It requires a certain tenacity and openness. Tenacity helps you keep looking even when uncomfortable things surface, and openness allows you to accept those things.

If for example by following steps 0-2 , you have identified a certain addictive behavior which is the number one cause of your low self esteem, look at it closely during your sitting practice. If you have a proclivity for sexual or substance addition observe it, instead of running away from it. There is nothing to be afraid, it’s already there. What harm can come of trying to understand it?

Looking inwards should be a fun activity.

Self-examination is nothing but following the chain of cause and effect in your behavior, ultimately revealing the secrets of your own mind.

You’ll need a few tools in your box if you are serious about this. Trying to understand the motivation behind one’s own actions is not easy because we justify our own actions. If we do things a certain way, we have a hundred reasons, why we didn’t do it any other way, or why our way is the best.

We like to believe that all our actions are a result of well thought out reasoning and deliberations, not because we just felt compelled to do it.

It’s not very much unlike when you listed a 100 different reasons for not going out with someone, but did it anyway. You justified why you did it later, but deep down you know, you did it because you felt compelled to. There was no real reason behind it, except the fact that you felt like doing it, and you did it.

The task in front of you now is to understand why you felt that way. Why you took certain actions, in spite of repeated warnings by your own body and your mind advising against them. Things get really interesting when you start approaching the real motive behind your actions, and then investigate the motives behind the motives.

There is one motive at a conscious level, and there is another motive at the subconscious level. Your task is to get to the subconscious motives behind your own actions.

Our conscious motive is a total hoax. It is something we often cleverly design as a pretense. Our mind creates them as a facade to conceal our real motives, which are subconscious.

Questions such as these are essential but not enough to uncover our subconscious motives.

  1. Was it a desire for pleasure?
  2. Was it fear of what others would think?
  3. Was it because I wanted approval?
  4. Was it because I couldn’t or didn’t want to express myself?
  5.  Or was it because I had no other choice?

Once you understand the subconscious motives behind your actions, you begin to understand other people’s motives behind their actions as well. Sometimes the reason for our self esteem issues are the words coming out of other people’s mouths. Whether it is parental abuse, or verbal abuse from your boss, or manipulative behavior by a sibling or a friend, you will begin to see why they say what they, or do what they do. That doesn’t always mean they will stop saying those things, but their words will definitely stop affecting you!

Armed with this understanding of hidden subconscious motives behind your actions, the complete knowledge of your negative self image triggers and a powerful sitting practice to deepen your insight, you can now begin to lay the foundation for real self esteem.

But wait a minute. There is one last thing you need to do, without which no matter what happens in your life, you will find your way back to where you were. That one thing is eliminating self-doubt.

Step 3: Eliminating self-doubt

Even if God descended upon this earth and stood in front of a person in true glorious form (if there was such a thing), how could one be sure that they met God if they doubted their own eyes?

You can practice and learn a thousand different skills from a thousand different books, but if you don’t trust yourself and your instincts, all that knowledge becomes completely useless. Part of growing as an individual is being able to tell right from wrong, and believing knowing that you made the right decision.

The biggest problem for some of us is we cannot go beyond that nagging self-doubt in our minds. We say,” Alright I will go through all these steps of self-analysis, but at the end of the day, I just don’t know if I can trust myself. How will I know if I am doing it right, or if I am just fooling myself even more?” We struggle to distinguish between what our mind wants to do, versus what our heart wants to do. As a result, we get confused between the two and get riddled with inaction where taking action is necessary, and end up doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Self-doubt is often the result of comparison with others, so if you follow Step – 0, you should be able to control self doubt a little, but sometimes its just becomes an intractable problem. There is no rhyme or reason for it, it’s just there.

Self-doubt in such cases is a tautology. It exists because it exists because it exists.

The moment you say, “I trust myself“, you begin to leave the miasma of doubt. Just repeat ‘I trust myself’ a few times and see how you feel. Having said that, you can’t always trust yourself, can you? If you could, you wouldn’t purchase the most expensive useless gadget out there and spend the next few months regretting your decision.

So, there has to be a better way of knowing when you can trust your thoughts, and when you can doubt them.

When to trust yourself and when not to.

Doubting one’s motives, emotions, feelings and experience is absolutely essential, but even more important is understanding when to trust them. As our self awareness increases, we begin to realize that things are often not what they seem.

For example, let’s consider anger. Would we get angry if someone were to call us an idiot? Probably, right? But is that anger because we are indeed an idiot, or because we are unable to process that remark inwardly, and therefore become uncomfortable with how we see ourselves? So is that anger really directed at another person, or is that anger directed at ourselves for not being able to process it? If you could process it, you wouldn’t be angry.

Such insights are a result of doubting one’s anger, but that’s the good kind of doubt. It is absolutely a good thing to doubt whether you really are angry at someone? Or whether playing video games is your life’s purpose, or whether a person you are dating is really the love of your life, or whether your favorite religious book has all answers to the great mystery of this universe.

These are all legitimate questions and must be asked of oneself. But does it mean you keep asking questions? When should you doubt your experience, and when shouldn’t you? It’s a difficult question, one that must be understood for the self esteem problem to be solved. There are two types of self-doubts.

Unhealthy self-doubt

If you have unhealthy self-doubt you feel uncertain after every decision you make and wonder if things would have gone differently had you done something else. You wonder if you can ever be absolutely certain about anything, and if you could, would that amount to overconfidence or arrogance.

Signs of unhealthy self-doubt:

  1. It is usually accompanied by negative emotions such as fear, stress or regret.
  2. You feel more confused the more you deliberate your own thought process.
  3. You constantly worry about making the wrong choice, and therefore often delay important life decisions.

Healthy self-doubt

If you have a healthy self-doubt you routinely question your own motives and probe for subconscious reasons for your actions, thoughts or emotions. You regularly ask the question, “Why am I really doing this?” to yourself. Some other signs are:

  1. You feel neutral or positive emotions such as calmness or curiosity.
  2. You always feel like you are making progress towards clarity, no matter how small it is.
  3. You act when required on important life decisions, and do not postpone them even if you are not totally confident about your course of action.

After years of living a certain way, unhealthy self-doubt becomes a habit which can be difficult to shake off. The question now becomes how could you eliminate this pernicious habit?

1. Contextualize

First thing you want to do is contain the problem within a relevant context. Which means isolate the situation you are in within the bounds of reasonable limits. This quote should make it clear.

 In the long run, we are all dead.

John Maynard Keynes

Doubting everything without an end can make everything seem immaterial, but within a particular context, things can be extremely important. Contextualize the problem and approach it in such a way that a certain element of certainty can be achieved. Yes, in the long run, it might not matter which job you take right now, but for the next few years of your life, this decision can be important. Focus on the context and limit the problem you are trying to solve.

2. Follow your value system

If your value system tells you that drinking alcohol is wrong then don’t drink alcohol, no matter what someone says. Sometimes you have to follow what feels right without fighting it too much. In the short term, it helps you build clarity in your mind. Yes, at some point you ought to question if your value system indeed contains logical, fair, and compassionate ideas, but in the short term following your value system can help remove a lot of the unhealthy self-doubt.

The faith you have in yourself is directly proportional to the degree to which your actions comply with your value system. 

In summary, identifying your self-image triggers, developing a consistent sitting practice and eliminating self-doubt create a very intense internal experience for you.

Your understanding of yourself will bring you tremendous power. The authenticity of your inward experience will build your self esteem, nothing else will. That is when the external factors begin to seem immaterial to your happiness. No matter what your strengths or limitations are, you will know them like the back of your hand, and all else will be secondary.

 

 It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul

-Invictus

 

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