Full (E)steem Ahead!
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
(Don’t worry, it’s just a concept)
How many hours do you spend each week distracting yourself from life?
I begrudge Monday mornings solely because my phone tells me how many hours that I’ve let it distract me in the last 7 days. The truth hurts.
But what exactly are we distracting ourselves from? Our thoughts? Our feelings? Our emotions? Our attitudes and behaviours? The limiting beliefs that we have about ourselves? Not knowing where we’re going? Not knowing who we really are? Actually knowing what kind of life that we want but lacking the energy to get the ball rolling? That we should be doing more with our lives? A feeling of inferiority? Inferiority to the (socially) rich and famous? Towards those who have their lives “together?” Or towards those who provide value in to the lives of others? What is it?!
Apart from being dangerously addicted to our phones (look at the mental health stats for children and young adults), we take medications to help us cope a little better with the stress, anxiety and depression that modern life causes us (are we really treating the causes or the effects here?), let alone the more tried and tested methods of distraction where drink and drugs help us to escape our problems, even if it’s just for a little while - unless that short-term escapism has evolved in to a crutch, dependency or addiction.
***Side note – after working in bars for sooo many years, you really start to see patterns of behaviour, without really looking for them. It would be the same people we’d see week after week, seemingly engaging in a drinking competition with themselves. What triggered my curiosity was that the majority of these people had “good” lives, in so far as they had “good” jobs. So why did they feel the need to get so consistently (and at times, dangerously) drunk?
Had they realised that they were going to be stuck at their desk for the next 50 years? That their sense of fulfilment had been replaced by the security of a guaranteed (and respectable) pay-check each month? I used to feel jealous of these people for the money that they would earn, until I saw their collective behaviours every Saturday night, then I changed to a feeling of intrigue and, to a lesser extent, sympathy. Was this a classic case of opportunity cost? (Financial) Security in exchange for a life of freedom, risk and uncertainty? Doesn’t sound that “good” to me anymore.
Anyway, maybe that’s why we all love to shop for the latest things. A little treat to make us feel a little better until the next little treat that comes along. Whoever invented the idea of same/next day delivery knows far too well how our brains work.
So, I began to wonder, are we actually addicted to our addictions or just the feelings they bring about in us because life just isn’t that great (or at least what we expected)? Does instant gratification / constant yet small dopamine releases far out-weigh any desire to change the way we live because we’ve been conditioned to live and think that way? It appears so, even if it’s all starting to feel a little empty. Every decision we make is an opportunity cost. Life is an opportunity cost.
Let’s look at this backwards for a second. We are our thoughts. There’s nothing you can do about thoughts coming into your conscious mind but you do get to choose what to do with them. Thoughts lead to feelings. Feelings lead to attitudes and behaviours, let alone (self) labelling and identifying which surely just pigeon-holes us into a way of being that’s associated with that particular group, thus taking any hard work or responsibility off of our already stressed shoulders. If you’re generally feeling low because of limiting beliefs or negative thoughts about yourself then you (obviously) want to feel better. We all want to feel better. I wonder if the most balanced, fulfilled person that you know struggles with any kind of addiction?
But have you ever wondered where these limiting thoughts and beliefs about yourself have come from that cause stress and depression? Have you ever made the link between the physical, emotional and volitional you - in so far that you get to choose how you live your life?
Escaping / distracting ourselves from our thoughts make us feel better in the short-term and it’s so much easier than going on a journey of self-exploration to understand who you really are at the core - let alone doing anything about it. To quote the great Kain Ramsay, “the desire to change must outweigh the desire to stay the same.”
***Another side note - the education system (and my experience of it in the 90’s) has bothered me for some time. It has been traditionally assumed that we all learn in the same way, and if you can’t pass an exam at the end of a year based on what you’ve been taught then you are deemed as a failure.
I can only assume that the self-esteem of millions of people who have endured a constant and self-inflicted battering throughout their personal histories may simply have been because they were more of a visual or kinaesthetic learner. Hardly seems fair. How long do you think those feelings of failure hang around inside you for?
But in any case, why do we have to get “good” grades? To get a “good” job in order to feel superior to others? (Good job = Good life?) Why does the success of someone else make us feel low? Why are we always comparing ourselves to each other? Is that is the only marker to determine who’s winning at life and, if so, what’s the prize for being better than others at something? Guaranteed happiness and fulfilment? Does being better than someone else make you feel better about your own choices and decisions? Why?
Do you aspire to reach the top of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs?” or is a feeling of accomplishment enough to sustain you through life?
For that matter, does any modern definition of success guarantee happiness? I’ve always wondered if the richest people in the world are also the happiness? If that’s what we’ve been brought up to believe then surely, it’s true? (note to self - search the divorce rates amongst the top CEO’s)
You may be focused on climbing the ladder but is your ladder up against the right wall? And only one wall? Surely a fulfilled life is a balanced one? Yet we push for financial gains at the cost of what? Physical health? Mental health? Our relationships? Our responsibilities? Our continued education and growth? Life is a game of opportunity cost. Where are you putting your efforts in to?
Are we all blindly following the beliefs and perceptions of those who raised us and the culture that we’ve grown up in? Have you ever questioned these beliefs that you live your life by to see if they’re actually working for you?
***Quick side note (again on the topics of school) - Is that why we get so nervous about (school) exams? And why school children are increasingly and worryingly being prescribed anti-stress and anxiety medication? Because the fear of failure tied in with the expectations of others, i.e. parents and teachers (and the life they’ve decided that we should live based on their perspectives) is a bit too much for our young brains to handle? Just for a little respite here - it’s never the event itself that causes an emotional reaction, it’s the expectations you’ve placed on it.
***One last side-note, I promise. Maybe, as a man, our insecurities make us feel inferior to those who are more at ease with their emotions? I’ve often pondered with clients that maybe drinking isn’t the best pastime or distraction known to mankind but it does allow heterosexual males to hug and kiss each other with no fear or care of retribution, where in any other (sober) environment you might feel that your sexuality or ‘manliness’ is being put under scrutiny, and that simply won’t do because you know who you are and who you aren’t, right?
This could also explain why sport is so popular around the world. At a sporting event it is perfectly acceptable for fully grown men to shout, sigh, cheer and cry regardless of the consequences to this out-pouring of emotion because they are surrounded by thousands of other people in the same-coloured shirt (is it tribalism?). Take them out of that environment and, again, your ‘manliness’ is going to be questioned by others and their expectations/perceptions of what a ‘man’ is and how he should behave - if you care at all what other people think of you (I’m guessing you do, even if it’s only a little bit).
So, what is it that we all want?! We’re fooled in to thinking all we need is happiness and ‘things’ but that’s quite different from a strong feeling of self-worth, purpose and fulfilment in a balanced life that enjoys deep and meaningful connections by adding value in to the lives of others, basically, being the best version of yourself (the “self-actualisation” step / top of Maslow’s hierarchy) – and that, my friend, is what I think we/you/I really, really want, and it all starts with understanding yourself.
So, what’s it going to take for you take some action? Because this starts and ends with you and your desire to stay the same or not.
We are all the products of how we were raised. The beliefs, assumptions, prejudices, opinions, actions, behaviours, thought processes – in short, the lot, all come from our environment. It’s just up to you whether you’d like to question your perspectives to see how well they’re serving you right now or whether you’d rather go back to looking at people far more fabulous than you on your social media accounts. The choice is yours. Every decision in your life is yours to choose.
Nothing changes if you make no changes but, hey, it’s your choice.
So, here’s a bit of free life coaching as my way of thanking you for getting this far.
I might argue that the reason we’re all stressed, depressed and anxiety ridden is because we’re too far away from our “desired state” or our “future vision” of where we’d love to see ourselves. The trouble being is that you don’t fully understand yourself and/or you don’t even know where to begin, thus making it a seemingly impossible task and only achieved by the (lucky) minority.
The lazy amongst us may sit around wishing, waiting, manifesting but basically wanting that “breakthrough”, that “Eureka!” moment that answers all of their questions and guarantees future happiness from here on in by doing absolutely nothing. If only it were that easy, and there will be some online “gurus” telling you that it is. But it doesn’t need to be as hard as you think.
FYI, all a “break-though” is, is a slight change in perspective borne out of new information or something you already knew about yourself (probably from your childhood) that you haven’t addressed yet as an adult.
So how much does your past affect your present, and therefore your future?
Have you ever looked deep within yourself before? No? Too hard? The answers to who you really are lie within you, somewhere deep-down hiding in the shadows and we need to get to them!
Ever heard of the expression “the truth hurts?” That’s why most of us don’t like digging up the past, we don’t think we’re going to like what we’ll find once we’re down there and the thought of that makes it far to uncomfortable to even try, so you don’t and possibly never will but you’ll forever be stuck in the headspace that life didn’t go completely according to plan.
*Self-disclosure moment – I cried and laughed uncontrollably in equal measure the first time I dug up my past in an attempt to understand myself on a deeper level.
The desire to change must outweigh the desire to stay the same.
The “break-through” that you desperately need to raise your self-esteem to enjoy a happier, healthier life with more deep and meaningful connections starts with your self-awareness and allows your self-concept, or rather: where you are right now and where and who you want to be in the future, to develop. Ready to work on yourself? Great!
There’s a reason why you do and say everything that you do (and everything you don’t say and do). Ever wondered why, or are you happy plodding along through life experiencing constant emotional highs and lows?
Why do you react to certain situations? What happened during your childhood that makes you react and respond in the ways that you do to certain external stimuli? Think harder. Keep thinking. Take your time. Is it called a ‘breakthrough’ because we have to break through the walls we’ve built in our minds to protect us from all the painful stuff?
Do you think from the outside-in or the inside-out? Who told you to think like that? Is it working for you?
Are your perspectives on life accurate and true? Where did you learn your beliefs, habits, attitudes, behaviours, opinions, fears, hate, anger, anxiety, prejudices? From someone who lives a well-balanced, well-adjusted and fulfilled life? What are the values that mean the most to you? How often do you check-in on your values and beliefs?
How fulfilled do you feel on a day-to-day basis?
Are you taking care of your finances, physical health, mental health, family, friends, responsibilities and giving back to your community all in equal measure? Or are you focusing on just one or two of those areas a bit too much? Why is that? Who told you to?
Getting defensive yet? Good. Where do you think that defence mechanism came from?
A little secret in the field of mental health is that as kids we stop asking Mum “But why?! But Why?!” around the years of 6-8, as we feel we‘ve gotten a good enough grip on life so we start drawing our own conclusions and taking meanings from our young experiences with not much life experience to back them up.
As humans we look for patterns, for meaning, to make sense of the world, but this could lead to potential errors in our conclusions that could manifest and develop as limiting beliefs about ourselves as we grow up – the scary part is these limiting beliefs can (and will) last a lifetime if they remain unchecked.
It’s not 6-, 7- or 8-year old’s you’s fault that these limiting beliefs were born, little you was just doing the best they could with the limited information about the world that they had at that point in life. But imagine if you failed several times as a kid or got rejected and you told yourself that you were a failure / that you weren’t good enough. How long is that sticking for? What’s that doing for your self-esteem as an adult?
You have more life experience now as a mature adult, and the ability to contextualise the past and make your peace with it. You have to go there first before any real change can happen. See it as taking one small step back to go ten steps forward.
*Self-disclosure – Once I’d delved into the past, I realised that I’d spent 27 years playing a character based on what happened to me as an 8 year old – don’t worry it wasn’t anything horrific - its that no one in the playground wished me a happy birthday but it was clearly traumatic enough to shape nigh-on the next 30 years of my life.
Own your shit. Take responsibility for the actions you’ve played in your life now that you’ve dragged them from your subconscious. Come to peace with the past as it cannot change. Forgive others if you need to in order to move on and, most importantly, forgive yourself. Treat yourself with the same level of kindness that you would treat others with.
Taking responsibility is a sign of emotional maturity and it breeds empowerment. Your self-worth (the good stuff) will start to grow.
A strong feeling of self-worth raises your self-esteem and this really frees you to be the most authentic version of yourself. As unapologetically authentic, some people will come into your circle, others will fade out (most likely because they haven’t taken responsibility for their own lives yet).
Once you fully understand yourself, you’ll develop a really strong sense of what it is that you truly want (your self-concept) and life seems clearer and less stressful. All of your short-term goals are in alignment with your future self and you’ll stop wasting your time on unnecessary things and people if they’re not allowing you to grow.
A strong self-concept allows you to be authentic and congruent with your core values, which can lead to stronger, healthier and more meaningful relationships whilst enjoying life and adding value into the lives of others because, be honest…that’s all of any of us really want.
A strong self-concept also allows you to find more balance in life, not blindly and solely focusing on one area of life to the detriment of the others. Remember earlier when I asked if the richest people in the world are the happiest? Do you think they’ve focused too much attention on their finances at the cost of physical and mental health and their relationships because they never took the time to figure out why they’re living life this way?
We are relational beings – on your lowest day would you rather go the gym, go shopping or get a big hug from your favourite human being? Thought so.
Almost too easy ain’t it? But it always starts with taking a good, long look inside.
Understand yourself and, most importantly, forgive yourself.
If you want to discover more about yourself but you’re not sure how or where to start - book in a session, my details are on the website.
Apologies for all the side-notes, writing has never been my strong suit and I clearly love a good tangent (appropriate or otherwise) but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much I’ve enjoyed putting some thoughts down on paper.
Articles on social media (and the young):
Other useful sources:
Docu/Drama - The Social Dilemma on Netflix
Ted Talks - Robert Waldinger – “What makes a good life?”
Book - “Responsibility Rebellion” - Kain Ramsay
Book - “Man’s Search For Meaning” – Viktor Frankl