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The 3 Things That Will Give You Stronger-Than-Iron Man Self-Esteem

The 3 Things That Will Give You Stronger-Than-Iron Man Self-Esteem

Iron Man is pretty strong (and generally incredible), so I’ll admit this is a bold statement. But, I’m a bold guy. My self-esteem really is that strong, so why wouldn’t I be that bold? I can only tell you what worked for me. This absolutely, unequivocally worked for me. And if it worked for me, why not you?

I used to want people to like me. Like, I really wanted them to. It felt nice to be liked. I felt like I belonged. I felt like it validated me as a person.  The trouble is, I wanted them to like me (and be happy) so much that much of the time it ended up being at my own expense. I’d do things that maybe I didn’t want to do in order for them to be happy and, hopefully, like me. Be friends with me. And perhaps we would be “friends”, yes… but the whole friendship would be based on me trying to make them happy. The energy would only flow one way. I’m sure you’ll agree this probably isn’t the best recipe for lasting friendship, even though that’s what (I thought) I wanted.

I never used to be able to decide which sock to put on first. OK, maybe that’s not entirely true, but the important decisions always seemed to come down to what someone else said over my own view. I’d sort of know what decision I wanted to make, but I’d talk to other people (my parents, mainly) about it as if I were seeking their permission. And if they didn’t quite agree, then I probably wouldn’t do it. And then I’d get pissed off that I couldn’t do what I really wanted to, because I wasn’t being “allowed’”. Crazy, right? I’m sure you’ve been there too, though.

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I thought I needed confidence. I thought “if only I were more confident, I could do whatever I wanted!” But it was a bit deeper than that, as these things often are. It was that I thought other people’s decisions were more important and better than my own. Like I somehow wasn’t good enough. That I didn’t deserve to make that decision. That I wasn’t “allowed”. In other words, I lacked self-esteem.

I actually didn’t realize this until I had self-esteem, and I don’t want that to happen to you, so here’s how you build stronger-than-Iron Man self-esteem. Let’s do this:

1. Make a list of what’s important to you

Sit down. Turn off the TV. Get some paper and a pen. Or a laptop. Or a tablet. Or carve it into a wooden table. I just want to ask you one question: what’s important to you about life? Now start writing. Write anything and everything that comes to mind. Even if it surprises you. Even if you don’t really want it to be on there. If it comes to mind, write it down. There are no rules here. Keep writing. Keep writing some more. Write until there’s nothing else left to write. There’s no time limit on this; take as long as you want.

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2. Put them in order

What’s the absolute most important thing to you about life? What is so vital that you couldn’t live without it? What else is extremely important? You don’t have to order every single thing that’s written down. Some of them will probably group together anyway, if they’re similar. Write down a top 5 if that will help. Or a top 3. Or a top 10. Remember: there are no rules. These are your values. This is your life. Whatever works for you here, do that. Just make sure they’re in an order that feels absolutely right for you. Stop being embarrassed and stop thinking of anyone else when you’re doing this. Again: these are YOUR values, and this is YOUR life.

When you look at this list, you should feel calm. Confident. Happy. Excited. Intrigued, maybe. Surprised, possibly. But deep down, you know it’s right, and you know this is who you are.

To make this even more powerful, for each thing that’s truly important to you, write down why it’s important to you.

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3. Act

Now you know what’s important to you. You know what the most important thing in your life is. You know what kind of life you want. You know who you really are. You know what decisions to make because you know what’s important, what’s more important, and what’s most important. You know you have no excuses to not do what you want now. Because now you know when you’re doing something that’s not aligned with who you are, so why are you doing it? Are you scared? Are you trying to impress someone?

The thing that builds lasting, permanent, stronger-than-Iron Man self esteem is acting on what’s important to you. Doing this shows you trust yourself. It shows you listen to yourself. That you want the best for yourself. That you respect yourself. That you love yourself. Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what everyone wants?

What having stronger-than-Iron Man self-esteem will do for you

It will give you confidence. It will give you strength. You’ll stand up for yourself. You’ll know what you want. You’ll care less and less about what others think because you know what you think and what you want is the most important thing in the word. You love yourself. You’re proud of yourself. You realise that you – yes, you – are awesome. You don’t let others affect your mood or who you are. You make decisions. The right decisions. You know you’re allowed to have what you want. You know you deserve what you want. And you set an early alarm, you jump out of bed, and you spend every day trying to get it.

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As always, I’ll leave you with some questions, ‘cause I’m generous like that:

On your list of everything that’s important to you, are you even on it?

When you have stronger-than-Iron Man self-esteem, what will you do?

If you lack self-esteem (like I did), will you use this article to help? Or will you, knowing that doing the things I asked will absolutely help, ignore it?

Featured photo credit: JD Hancock via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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