Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The 2nd Pillar of Self-Esteem: Self-Acceptance

Do you accept yourself, just the way you are? Not just all the things that are great about you, but also the parts that you might think are not so great about you?

Self-acceptance means that we are willing to acknowledge that we think what we think, feel what we feel, desire what we desire, have done what we have done, and are what we are.

Take a moment and think about all the things you already accept and love about yourself. And then take a moment and write down some things that are harder to accept about yourself.  

Here is a key distinction: “Accepting” does not necessarily mean that you have to “like”, “enjoy” or “condone” something. It doesn’t mean that you cannot wish for a change or an improvement. It just means that you can say: “This is an expression of me, not necessarily an expression I like or admire, but still an expression of me, at least at the time it occurred.”

And by accepting that part of ourselves, it now frees us up to change, if we so choose. There are definitely some things that are harder to accept about myself. I procrastinate, I find it hard to focus on one thing, and I can be indecisive. If I am not willing to accept these traits, then I cannot do anything about them, since I am not even willing to acknowledge that they are a fact. Once I am able to accept them, I have a choice. I can embrace them or work on changing them, if I want.

What if there is an emotion, behavior, or thought that you are simply unwilling to accept? Start by accepting your resistance to accept it. And if you cannot accept your resistance, accept your resistance to accept your resistance. =)

Be compassionate with yourself through this process. We all have things we like and don’t like about ourselves. If we judge ourselves, then we are not accepting who we are.

What would happen if you were more accepting of your “supposed” flaws?
What would happen if you were more accepting of your greatness?

This is the 2nd Pillar from Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s book “The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem.” For more on self-acceptance when it feels impossible, see:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The First Pillar of Self-Esteem: Living Consciously

Why is Living Consciously so important? Every day, we make choices to be responsible toward reality or evading it. Even if we are not aware of those choices, they do add up and create the reputation we have with ourselves. Sometimes there are some discomforting facts we are faced with, and we make a decision to ignore them. “I know that I’m not eating healthy, but I don’t have time to think about that right now.” “I know that there are issues in my relationship, but maybe they’ll work themselves out…” “I know that I am spending too little time with my children/loved ones/friends, but one day that’ll change…” By evading these facts and ignoring them, we are in essence betraying ourselves.

Living consciously is not just about seeing and knowing reality for what it is, but it also means acting on what we see and know. Staying “unconscious” can seem very inviting – we don’t have to deal with the problem, we don’t have to face uncomfortable feelings, we don’t have to make any changes – but at what cost? Deep inside we know that we are ignoring something important, and it is our self-esteem that suffers as a result.

Looking back on my life, there certainly have been periods when I found comfort in staying “unconscious.” I didn’t want to deal with my personal life, so I decided that I would lose myself in my work. Being a workaholic may have been socially acceptable because I was “focusing on my career”, but the truth is that it is not very different from escaping into any other form of addiction. The purpose is the same: To escape anxiety and pain.

How do we practice Living Consciously, so we don’t betray ourselves, but increase our self-esteem and personal effectiveness instead?  Dr. Nathaniel Branden, the author of “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”, suggests daily sentence completion exercises. First thing in the morning, simply  write one of the following sentence stems and then keep on adding different endings (at least 6), as rapidly as possible, with no pauses to “think.” Don’t worry whether a particular ending is true or significant – any ending is fine, just keep on going.

Here are some stems to work with:
If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my activities today…
If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my most important relationships…
If I bring 5 percent more awareness to (fill in a particular problem you are concerned about – for example, your relationship with someone, a barrier you’ve hit a work, your feelings of anxiety, etc.)…

Do this every day for a week and on the weekend, reread what you have written during the week and write a minimum of 6 endings for the following stem:
If any of what I wrote this week is true, it would be helpful if I…

Try it out and let me know what you discover! =)

For more information on the sentence completion exercises, check out:   

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Loving Yourself and Self-Esteem

The following question keeps on coming up from time to time, so I figured I’ll address it here: What is the relationship between Loving Yourself and Self-Esteem?

Self-Esteem is not only about being confident in our ability to cope with life's challenges. It is also about believing that we deserve to be successful and happy and asserting our needs and wants. And this second part has everything to do with loving ourselves.

I often talk about the 3 key components of Loving Yourself:
1. Self-Acceptance
2. Self-Compassion and
3. Self-Empowerment.

Dr. Nathaniel Branden, who is hailed as one of the foremost experts in his field, has identified 6 key components of Self-Esteem:
1. Living Consciously
2. Self-Acceptance
3. Self-Responsibility
4. Self-Assertiveness
5. Living Purposefully
6. Personal Integrity

It often takes a lifetime to reach and maintain a healthy level of Self-Esteem, and the same is true for Loving Yourself. Once you reach a healthy level, there s no guarantee that you will stay there. Different events will happen in your life that will affect it, which is why you must nurture it daily. It’s just like exercise – you can’t just go to the gym once and be done with it. Yet it is so important, because Self-Esteem and Loving Yourself are fundamental to your happiness, satisfaction, and living a fulfilling life.   

Sometimes it may be hard to talk about Self-Esteem, because we feel it’s something that we “should” have. And if we feel that we don’t have enough of it, we may think we need to hide that fact. But the truth is, it isn’t something that we “should” just naturally have. We all need to nurture it every day, so we can lead happier and more fulfilled lives.

I will cover more details about the different components for Self-Esteem in the coming weeks, so stay tuned… =)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Do I Know If This Choice Will Make Me Happy?

A few days ago, I watched Marley & Me with my boyfriend. While there are many funny scenes with the boisterous dog Marley, that I can relate to as a puppy Mommy, one of the questions the movie raised for me was about Marley’s owner, John Grogan. In the movie, John wants to be a reporter, but what he keeps on getting offered is to be a columnist. He tries it out, is great at it, gets a big following, but the dream of being a reporter stays with him. When he finally gets the chance to be a reporter at a different newspaper, he gets his wife’s blessing to uproot his whole family and move so he can take on the new position. But as time goes on he finds out that he isn’t particularly suited to being a reporter and doesn’t enjoy it as much, so he asks if he can go back to being a columnist.

I kept on pondering this question: How many times do we think we want something, but we really just like the idea of it, or we don't actually know what it is truly like until we try it? And then when we get it, we want the other thing that we already had or want something else altogether? 

Sometimes we may not even fully understand why we want something. We may have a dream, like becoming a pop star, and we think it’s because we like singing and performing, but maybe it is really because we crave attention and validation. Or we think we want to be an entrepreneur because we want to be a visionary and build a company from the ground up, but it may also be because we like the idea of being in control and having the image of a risk-taker. But what happens when we feel better about ourselves and no longer have the need for validation or if having a certain image is no longer important to us?  

In addition, we are actually not very good at predicting what will make us happy, as Daniel Gilbert points out in his book “Stumbling on Happiness.” Our imagination plays tricks on us when we try to look forward. So we try our best to navigate our life toward what we believe to be a “successful” future, only to find that the future often doesn’t turn out as we expected.

Does that mean we should give up our dreams and just be happy with what we have in the first place? Or is trial and error a necessary process we have to go through in order to figure out what we really like and want?

Gilbert suggests that the best way to predict how we will feel is to ask others who are in the same circumstances today how they are feeling. Depending on what we are trying to predict, it may be difficult to find people to ask or to get some honest answers, but it's a good place to start.

In the end, I believe that life is a process and usually doesn’t turn out as expected. There is no way to predict all the curveballs life throws us or opportunities that arise. It’s often impossible to tell if we made the “right” or “wrong” choice, because we don’t know what would have happened otherwise. And even if a choice seems “wrong”, we may have needed this experience to teach us something or grow in some way. We learn more about ourselves as we go through life. Our motivations and priorities may change. We sometimes need to try new things to see if we like them and if they will make us happy.

The important thing to remember is that we are not “stuck” if we choose something we don’t like or if life deals us an unexpected hand. We can always choose: how we want to be (calm, angry, grateful, excited, hopeful, sad...etc.), how we want to see and interpret what is happening (it’s a challenge, an adventure, a disaster, a blessing, a surprise, a burden, a rollercoaster), how we want to handle our current circumstances and what we want to do next.

What choice will you make today?