I’ve been on both ends of human performance. I’ve been last in class and first in class, in multiple disciplines in my life, from academics, martial arts, business, relationships and pursuits. Through the years, I always wondered what are the key principles of high performance. Is it motivation, is it discipline or is it willpower?
Secondly, I also wanted some research behind it. I didn’t want to be one of those self help writers that write another cheesy post on ’10 Steps to feel better about yourself today’.
How is genuine self-esteem is actually generated? Why do some people feel like fraud and why some people feel like a king? Why some people feel deserving of things in their life, and some people struggle with it? Why do some people boast of things they never did accomplish, and are perfectly fine with not doing so?
Initially, I bought the idea of willpower, after all, with psychological studies that showed that the environment shapes behavior, as opposed to willpower. However, I, later on, bought into the argument of childhood development: The Freudian approach.
I’ll argue that high performance boils down to multiple variables, from the environment and your childhood experiences. I’ll also argue that self-esteem is a key fundamental of all high-performance behavior. Your behaviour boils down to one’s self-esteem. How much you believe you’re worth, deep down. Self-esteem leads to courage and eventually leads to an expanded life.
If you believe you’re worth it, you’ll have higher expectations of both of yourself, and others, you’ll have high boundaries, you do not take shit from anybody, including yourself.
The student who believes he’s smart is going to put in the work, whether he’s really actually smart or not. I found that to be true in my short Summer stint at Berkeley. I traditionally wasn’t a good student in Singapore. However, for someone reason, because I had the freedom to flex my identity in another culture. I ended up performing academically.
In my entrepreneurial career, I quadrupled my price overnight, that’s because I believed that my product and service is worth that price. Yet, it sold. Of course. However, a higher price comes higher pressure, intensity and a willingness to make it work. It goes to show that a of our decisions and success in life is based on self-esteem.
I also buy the idea that your parents fucked you up. It’s as simple as that.
It’s hard not to notice the parallels between self-esteem and childhood experiences. It’s also not uncommon to find people with problematic childhoods growing up with self esteem issues: self-sabotaging in academics, career, and relationships.
The issues also come often in two main spectrums: you either had it too tough or had it too easy. Hence, you lack true self esteem.
It’s also hard not to notice that most parents have high expectations for their children, yet, they didn’t and are unable to replicate similar expectations and behaviours in themselves in the past or present. To quote Dan Pena: ‘children don’t see what you tell them to do, they see what you do.’
This is the similar of leadership, your troops only follow you when you’re able and willing to execute upon similar tasks. If a sales manager isn’t able to make a sales call and only makes his employees do it, he’s not going to be a manager for long!
One of the best things an upwardly mobile individual can do is to leave home. To detach himself from his family and strike out on his own. One can take that rite of passage as building true self esteem.
I remembered 8 months ago in my formal employment where I borrowed a couple of books from the little office library and finished it overnight. My superior thought I was bullshitting him. That I couldn’t have possibly finished it in one-night right? Yet on the other hand, in one of my last projects for them, they demanded that I finished 2000 words sales page for them in a short period of time. I managed to produce it within a day.
Other than a couple of quips that they wouldn’t give in to my requests for a more flexible working arrangement, I knew deep down that they didn’t see me the way I perceived myself. Every day that I stayed there was a detriment to my self-esteem.
In an idealistic world, your employers, friends, and family are going to recognize the best virtues in you. However, in the real-world these often pans out in the opposite.
I’m not going to bore you on the cliche that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. However, it’s true.
To give you an example, your self esteem is going to be compromised if you’re attempting to lose weight and the people around you don’t believe that you are capable of that.
Yet, these are the exact people that you define as ‘friends’. It’s weird that some loosely define friendships as people that subtlety put you down. If you studied the philosophers from Plato to Socrates, friendship to them is defined as a constant open debate, growth and an introspect discussion into their lives.
Over the last couple of years, I have been increasingly ‘tough’ on the people around me. My Mum says I’m too tough on people. Some of my friends say I am too tough on myself. However, let me tell you something about having a sense of self esteem and keeping yourself and others accountable: it works.
Self esteem or the lack of can also be expressed in our romantic life. If you choose to be someone because he or she makes you feel confidence, a confidence that you can’t internally generate on your own, then you obviously have a lack of self esteem.
However, if you choose a heroine, a woman who has values that you admire, of intelligence, confidence, and strength, then that says about your security as a man, of a feeling of your own self worth.
Self esteem is the judgment you pass on yourself, and by the standards by which you judge yourself. If someone lacks self esteem, they will feel driven to fake it, to create the illusion of self esteem.
It has two interrelated aspects: it entails a sense of personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth. It is the conviction that one is competent to live, and worth of living.
The sense of efficacy is defined by an individual choosing his goals and action. That one has to be right in the conclusions one draws and choices and make. However, not demanding or expecting omniscience or infallibility.
What he needs is that which is within his power, the conviction that his method of choosing and making decisions is right in principle.
This can come in the form of sharp mental focus, seeking to bring one’s understanding to an optimal level of precision and clarity as opposed to a focus on the level of blurred approximation, in a state of passive, goalless mental drifting.
This is also through the performance of an independent thinking, independent judgment. You weigh the truth or falsehood of any claim or the right or wrong of any issue with the ability to accept in uncritical passivity and assertions of others.
It isn’t the conviction that one can never make an error. It is the conviction that one is competent to think to, to judge and to know and to correct one’s errors.
The need to be good. That contributes to one’s sense of self esteem. Your character is the sum of the principles and values that guide his actions in the face of moral choices.
If you default on the responsibility of thought and reason, hence undercutting your competence to live, you’ll feel unworthy. If you betray your moral convictions, you will not retain your sense of confidence. You can never excuse yourself from making judgments and choosing your behavior.
If you don’t respect yourself, you’ll never be able to respect others. These are the people that constantly show up late, say something, and do otherwise. I once told a friend that if he couldn’t respect a dollar from my pocket, I didn’t give a fuck, I told him I wouldn’t lend it to him. It’s non-negotiable I didn’t. He kicked up a fuss and today we aren’t on speaking terms. Today he’s broke, and I am in a much better financial position.
We have an innate sense to understand to the best of our intellectual capabilities. Some times, this is defaulted in childhood through irrational parents, authority figures and societal norms.
If a person develops healthily, and acquires a set of values, his mind and emotions achieving harmony, he won’t be chronically torn between knowledge and desires.
The difference between a well adjusted individual and avoidance is that one is fleeing from reality, and the other is taking proper cognisance over it.
It feels good to be drunk. They can be said the same for our emotions. However, being drunk on emotions is often followed by the misery of a hangover. When you place values above emotions, emotions are your reward, and not your nemesis.
When you not no values or standards of your own, you accept whatever your values are offered to you by society.
Through setting standards and values of your own, you’re rejecting some values and standards of friends, family, and society around you. You’re building your own boundaries and values.
Self esteem is also ostensibly tied to one’s purpose. It is the desire to grow in knowledge and skills, in understanding and control. The opposite is stagnant passivity.
On any level of intelligence or ability, one the characteristics of self esteem is a man’s eagerness for the new and the challenging, for which he’s allowed to use his abilities to the fullest extent.
In the realm of his work, the primary desire of an individual of self confidence is to face challenges, to achieve and grow.
The desire to be ‘safe’ is also the man who lacks self confidence. Productive achievement is the cause and not the result of healthy self esteem. People who based their self esteem on existential achievements don’t really have self esteem at all.
The lack of self esteem is often expressed by people who wish to escape consciousness and the ability/need to form rational thought. This is often expressed through sexual pleasure, money for the sake of money and the common vices in our society. It is the pleasure received from temporarily feeling helpless. This pleasure is different from the man who uses his faculties properly, and of actual values in reality.
Self esteem is confidence is one’s ability to achieve values, and not the external achievement of it. One is ‘I Can’, and the other is ‘I Have’.
The rational, self confident man, on the other hand, is motivated by a love of values and a desire to achieve them.
Pseudo self esteem, is an irrational pretense at self value. It is an avoidance of anxiety and it provides a temporary sense of security. To the man of authentic self esteem, there is no clash between his recognition of the facts of reality and the preservation of his self esteem, since he basis his self esteem as his ability to act accordingly with the facts of reality as he understands them.
However, to the man of no self esteem, reality appears to be a threat, as an enemy. It’s always a choice between reality or his self esteem.
The determinant of a man’s self esteem is the motivation between fear and love. You can be motivated by confidence, or you can be motivated by terror. To a man that lacks self esteem, he lives negatively, defensively and extensively.
To the man who devoid of genuine self esteem, his life is always in psychological danger. He is always in anger, psychologically. He never reaches normality.
He takes on the values and judgment of others, and never takes ownership of his own life. He has always counted on others to solve the problem of his own survival and chooses values appropriate to this manner of existence.
The terror of a man who assumes ownership of his own life is because he’s had pseudo self esteem. He has always counted on others to solve the problem of his own survival and chooses values appropriate to this manner of existence.
This can take the form of:
People experience pathological self esteem crisis’s when their values clash internally. There are often absolutes in this equation: ‘I must not’ and ‘I am willing to’ Hence, this engages your sense (or lack of) self esteem. Thus, one experiences a crisis of self esteem.
This can come in the form of a girl who has been brought up in an over religious childhood. She then finds herself engaging in overtly sexual activities. There’s a clash in values. On one hand, sex feels good. Yet, one the other, she was brought up to feel otherwise.
Freud, in one of his final theories, maintained that anxiety is triggered by forbidden sexual desire that breaks through the barrier of repression and causes the ego to feel overwhelmed and threatened. The unblocking of one anxiety is also known to unblock stir up other conflicts, which are anxiety provoking.
Ultimately, a positive sense of self esteem is the product of two things: the ability to form independent judgment and thoughts, and the cultivation of an integrated set of values.
For everyone, the responsibility of thought and judgment is different for everyone. The responsibility and judgment required from a child are different from one of an adult. One has to accept one’s responsibility to choose a set at values, pass judgment, define goals, at some point in his life.
The acceptance of responsibility is a choice, and it’s not automatic nor wired into one’s brain by nature. It is a challenge to which you how you can respond, with acceptance or rejection. To be motivated by terror or love.
The result of being motivated by love and challenge is a positive sense of self esteem. The result of running away from responsibility, thought and judgment will be a sense of pain and a lack of self esteem.
It’s a man’s values that determine his values as an extension of himself, as an integral part of his identity.
Your self is a cumulative result of year and years of irrationalities, failures, successes, actions, values and etc. When you have self esteem or the lack of it is the reputation a man acquires with himself.
One other idea I got out of the research is that there’s no such thing as ‘high self esteem’ or ‘high confidence’.
Self-esteem is basically an opinion about the person you are. Ultimately, self esteem is a mere bunch of thoughts about whether or not you’re a ‘good person’. It’s NOT a fact, it’s just an opinion.
The problem comes in is when you constantly have to justify and prove to yourself that you’re a good person or that you have high self esteem. You constantly have to justify the ‘you’re good enough’ opinion. All these proving and justifying of these takes a huge amount of time and effort.
If you stopped exercising for a few days, your mind says: See? I know you wouldn’t last. If you lose your temper with a friend or make a slight mistake at work, there goes your ‘high self esteem’.
During my early, immature pick up artist days, I was constantly worried about how confident I was on a day to day basis. The truth is that some days I feel confident, and some days I don’t. It’s just human to do so.
The more you try to justify your high self esteem, the need for perfection. The more it kills you inside. The better approach is to let go of the idea of high self esteem altogether. You don’t need high self esteem.
What you need is merely: Self esteem. Plain, and simple. That’s all.
Ultimately, competence and feeling in control of your life have a lot to do with feeling good about yourself.
Your expectations and standards for yourself are going to largely fall to the quality of people around you. In simple terms, a lot of your self esteem and self image is going to be determined by the people around you. For a lot of us, you spend most of your time with your family and close friends.
You may find that your friendships come and go in accordance with the current 1) social setting and your 2) current self-image.
If you feel like you ‘lack self esteem’ here may be why: 1) you probably lack standards for yourself 2) the people around probably lack standards and expectations in themselves and standards and expectations for you.
This is why mentoring can be a possible solution. Some that you look up to and potentially a role model. This can come in the form of a formal paid relationship, a friend, an older brother or perhaps your boss.
Self-esteem is the foundation of all success, and also for one to become a better human being. He or she first must respect him or herself, build fundamental self-esteem, which leads to personal integrity and accountability.
Branden, N. The Psychology of Self Esteem – a Revolutionary Approach to Self-Understanding That Launched a New Era in Modern Psychology.
Harris, R. The Happiness Trap