For years, I have helped thousands of people to feel better about themselves. By teaching them NLP skills and psychological strategies designed to help boost their confidence, I have focused on teaching people to become happier with who they are. Such techniques involve focusing on your strengths, accepting your weak points and fundamentally changing your beliefs about yourself. While I feel that this can be highly useful and beneficial to anyone who wants to like themselves more, recently something has occurred to me that, for me, changes the game entirely on self-esteem.
Before explaining what big shift I have had in how I see self-esteem, let me start with why my perspective changed. It was actually in the discussions I’ve had with various people over the idea of ‘talent’. Some of the most successful and ‘talented’ musicians and sportspeople that I have worked with and met all seemed to have a similar perspective on the notion of talent. Their thoughts were that it is overrated as a concept. Now, I would have always bought into the idea that ‘potential’ is overrated as I believe that potential unrealised is not potential at all since to really know that you have potential, you must at least realise it. Otherwise it is no different to any delusion we have about ourselves. But ‘talent’ was something more sacred to me. I believed that I was talented at certain things and not talented at others.
While my colleagues did not argue that some people were more ‘natural’ at skills than others, their argument was that hard work was so much more important than talent in every way. They questioned the point of talking about talent at all. I read a fascinating book on acting that suggested that spending time worrying about whether or not you have ‘talent’ is a useful waste of time. The idea was that you need to improve whether you have talent or not so regardless you have the same task that you need to engage in… work as hard as you can. Whether you are naturally gifted or not, the same suggestion is appropriate for both cases.
The argument as to why you should concern yourself with your degree of ‘talent’ is what I call the x-factor argument. We are all familiar with witnessing someone disastrously bad delude themselves into thinking they are a brilliant singer even though ear drums are broken when they audition on the reality talent show. True, if they had an infinite amount of time, it is possible they could be trained to be ‘reasonable’ singers but it would be a huge waste of their life to focus on that when there are plenty of other things they are good at. Considering this, you could say that this x-factor argument suggests the talent question is relevant in deciding how you will spend your time or the majority of your life.
This makes sense except I have spent a massive amount of time with people in the arts discussing whether or not each of us are ‘talented’. We reassure each other in the chosen area that we think we are. We are relieved but deep down the question still exists. My guess is that there are people presently working at the highest level who still question how talented they are and if they should be where they are. This is because our own evaluation of how good we are at something is biased and influenced by our own feelings about ourselves and our sensitivities and esteem issues.
Then there is the question of the connection between talent and success. Talent should determine success but it rarely does.
Take acting. I know there are bad actors who are very famous and there are amazing actors who struggle to get work. This happens for a bunch of reasons including their luck, their look, their contacts, their work ethic, their agent or manager, their confidence etc. This is not the only field that this happens in. Even in sport, some of the most naturally gifted athletes do not dominate their sport when they should. Instead, someone who works harder tends to. So talent does not always predict success and I would hazard a guess that talent is a much lower predictor for success that we would assume.
So although questioning whether or not you have ‘enough talent’ to pursue a career is a useful question to ask, I would argue that first, it should not be a repetitive question as it never gets answered satisfactorily because of self-doubt. Second, I would suggest that the better indicators should be the feedback you receive from a wide sample of the population. Note I said ‘wide sample’ not your friends or those who begrudge your success. They will be as biased as you. Outside of this group, like in business when we want to see if customers will like a new product, we have to be open to their feedback… the same is true of us expressing our ‘talents’ to the world.
So, after that long winded journey into the world of talent, what has this got to do with self-esteem? Well, I now believe that evaluating how good a person you are or how smart or good looking or charismatic or successful isn’t actually the most useful question in the first place. Since our self-esteem changes day to day to some extent and a compliment or smile from a stranger can boost it while an insult or frown can lower it, this suggests that using it as a barometer to evaluate ourselves is insane. Asking ourselves how ‘good’ we are as people is even more redundant than asking ourselves if we are talented.
Let’s suppose you do not feel good enough. You are in a relationship and you feel you do not deserve your partner. So? What should you do now? Leave them? Help them find someone better? Thinner? Smarter? Of course, the answer is you should continue and do your best to keep the relationship as healthy as possible. Regardless of how you feel about yourself, you should be working to keep the relationship as healthy as possible. The same action should follow no matter how you feel about yourself.
Next, let’s explore what the consequences to low self-esteem are. The decisions you make are likely to be informed by fear of what others think and fear of disapproval. Your actions are likely to be weak and less likely to help you achieve your goals. Often, if you try and work on your self-esteem and start the argument in your mind that you are, in fact, an ‘amazing person’ then more than likely, your self doubt will eat away at this idea and confront you with the idea that you have to ‘face facts’. Of course low self-esteem will always be positioned as a fact. But it is as stupid an idea as any.
It is because of that, I believe that in many cases it is smarter to ignore the conversation in the first place. In other words, like the actors who read the book I mentioned earlier would stop considering how talented they are, you could stop evaluating how ‘good’ you are. You look at others and instead of comparing yourself, you figure out is there anything they are doing that you can learn to do to replicate their success. You look at yourself and accept wherever you are and focus on what you need to do in order to do better and get better results when that is something you want and you leave behind the question of your esteem or self-worth.
This does not mean I will never teach self-esteem strategies again. Of course, not everyone is going to find it easy to stop evaluating themselves just because I wrote about it in a blog post. But what if you started spending less time considering how good enough you are and realising that it is a moot point? Maybe, just maybe, self-esteem would not be a factor. Because when it comes down to it, there is no real reason why it should be.
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