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Are you confident?

19 Sep

Ask yourself: Am I confident?

Got an answer?

I anticipate a few different responses:

  1. “Hell yeah, baby! I’ve got it going on!”
  2. “Um, I guess. It kinda depends on the situation.”
  3. “I wish I was more confident. I struggle with having pretty low self-esteem.”

Obviously the answers can vary tremendously, but I’d say that like most aspects of behavior, your answer for your level of confidence will operate on a continuum.

You’re likely thinking that you should be able to answer the question with something close to #1, yet avoiding what would be construed as arrogance and pretentiousness.

Research indicates that lack of confidence is actually healthy. It’s a driver for assessing your weaknesses and learning more in order to better yourself. Don’t confuse this please with a lack of self-efficacy and learned-helplessness. No, you weren’t born with your intelligence being genetically determined. Genes are important, yes. They provide the foundation for what makes us, well, us. However, it’s the environment and how we think and what we do and the activities that we engage in that unlock our genes and govern their expression.

Experience changes our brains in substantial ways. Mindful awareness exercises produce noticeable increases, for example, in brain matter density in the areas responsible for attention and emotion regulation. Why? Because with effort put toward this behavior and our attention being directed in this intentional manner, we increase blood flow to those areas. More blood flow means more nutrients and capillaries growing in those regions.

But back to confidence– if your confidence tank was always topped off how often would you be motivated to try something new, read a book, ask questions, meet people, engage in a challenging conversation, or take lessons to strengthen your skill in a particular area?

competenceIn his book, Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains how when you look past confidence, what you find is an underlying desire to be competent. We often confuse the two concepts. In essence, when you say, “I lack confidence”, what you’re really expressing doubt about is your competence level in a certain area.

Competence is actually a key factor in our level of motivation and the determination we implement toward a goal. One of our basic psychological needs, it represents our felt sense of mastery and skill. If we hear ourselves saying, “I doubt I can do this” or “I’m not confident I can succeed with this” perhaps this isn’t negative at all, as many people would think it is. I’ve heard plenty of people comment in reply to statements like this, “Have faith!” or “Have confidence! It’ll happen!” Is it important to be positive? Sure. There’s plenty of research that shows a positive attitude changes the biochemistry in our bodies, results in improved health and immunity, and even changes the outlooks of those around us. But let’s not be unrealistically optimistic. “I doubt I can do this” gives us impetus to ask the next question, “What do I need to consider as I move forward?” and “Are there obstacles that I might encounter along the way, and how might I prepare for them?” Anticipating in this manner creates an environment that leads us in the direction of greater competence, and confidence will follow!

Face the Space…and Speak Your Truth

6 Aug

Victor Frankl said, “Between the stimulus and the response this is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

On my recent vacation I noticed the spaciousness that I felt- a sense of boundless energy unencumbered by the familiar minutiae of my days and the never-ending task list. I felt free.  Free to explore, free to be curious, and free to just be.

now clockWhat I encounter so often with those I work with however, is not this sense of space, with time and opportunity opening up to them. It’s a confining, imprisoned clinging to a pseudo-safe space. The space is small and not so tidy. It’s filled with fear and distrust of themselves. And it leads to a gravitation toward certainty, extremes, and control. The client who binged, for example, and then went immediately to setting up a new, rigid structure with which to follow for the next week.

The space I felt operated on a continuum…like the circular motion of the clock hands. No end and no beginning. Just perpetual motion. The space I see so many others contort themselves into is a narrow, limiting, suffocating space.

We keep looking for perfection...This type of space is what the pursuit of perfection feels like. And perfection grants us no choice but to strive to be someone better, someone smarter, someone prettier, someone with more willpower…you name it. Perfection says to us, “Once you accomplish __________(fill in the blank), THEN you can__________________.”

As a woman I think we’re faced with a different space than men. We have varied challenges to contend with. Sure, I’m speaking in generalities, but think about it. Our space has historically been the home. Our space has historically been with the children. Our space has culturally been to accommodate the needs of others and fill the care-taking space. Our space is genetically and biologically more emotional, yet so often we’re chastised for showing our feelings and “being emotional.” Hence, our space is often rife with a twisted, confused, and desperate longing. Our space is gradually opening up to allow us to speak our truths, however, and some of us take that space more readily than others, but it’s a conflicted space.

Trust YourselfThe space demands that we learn how to trust ourselves. And in trusting we learn how to let go of the expectations that we’ve let cling to us–the unrealistic expectations that we’ve created, the expectations of others, and the assumptions we make about what and how we need to be. We’re not victims. Far from it. And we’re not criminals for wanting to have a voice and our own truths apart of what we believe we SHOULD be.  But we can erroneously begin to take on that role and end up building our own prisons- a space with solid, iron bars and minimal light to allow us to grow into who we really are.

I described this compelling imprisonment to a client of mine just this morning: so often we’re navigating our days in automatic pilot mode. We’re putting out fires, we’re crossing off the items on our lists, we’re accommodating the needs of others, and we’re barely aware of what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, and what space we’re in. Until the day is over or we MAKE a space, intentionally and deliberately, to check in with our truth in the moment, and we finally breathe and realize just how much of a magnet we have been all day. We look down at ourselves and we’ve got stuff just hanging on us. And we can pick it off, piece by piece, and decide what can stay and what needs to be let go of. But without the space, we become everyone else’s truths, just dragging our own behind us…or barely aware of what they are at all.

Your Truth Sounds Exactly Like FreedomAnother client today spoke directly of perfection being a problem for her. If she were to step into a freeing space, we could examine together how her perfection is less a problem but more a signal of a deep desire to be and do something, to experience a sense of mastery, of purpose, but taken to an unrealistic extreme.  Underneath the behaviors and black and white thinking is intelligence and wisdom and talent. It was just taken too far. Stilted from ever getting past a certain point in various areas of her life she wondered why she couldn’t follow through. Perfectionism. With the goal of being perfect, a setback would annihilate her self-confidence and be the proof that she just wasn’t good enough. If she were to face the space and step into it intentionally and vigilantly every time she felt that controlling pressure to “succeed”, or every time she heard that voice that says, “See, you can’t do it” or “How come you can’t get it right…” she could then ask, “What is it that I can let go of now?”

If you were to face your space, step into it, honor and embody it, what truth would you speak? How would you respond differently? How would your life blossom?

Afraid to get excited?

3 Aug

“Everything has been going so well, I’m afraid to get excited,” my client stated emphatically. “What if it doesn’t last?”

“Guess what…” I said, “It won’t!”

I know what you’re thinking. Dang, Kori; way to burst her bubble! You always talk about how powerful our thoughts are and how important being positive is!

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I do. And I’m also a realist! Positive thinking is beneficial, if we’re still operating in reality– objective reality.

“It won’t last,” I confirmed. “And that’s the entire reason I need you to relish in the excitement you’re feeling right now. I hear it in your voice, I see it in your face. Your entire body relaxed when you were describing for me what you’ve noticed lately, how well you’ve been eating, the different ways in which you’re taking care of yourself, and how motivated you’ve been during your training sessions!”

Life- ScrabbleLife.

I can go from feeling blissfully grateful to depressingly disappointed in the span of 60 seconds!

Emotion.

Memories are created by emotion. Events that  stand out for us have feelings, driven by hormones, attached to them. You could be sitting in the middle of a movie theater and recall something you were involved in years ago because of a similarly felt emotion evoked from the movie you’re watching currently.

My client has disappointment, discouragement, frustration, hurt, and anger entangled around her previous weight loss attempts. Happiness– if that’s felt for her, it’s like traveling to a foreign land where she stands among throngs of people unable to speak the language. What? Huh? Where am I? What is this? Yet she knows what it feels like because she has experienced it in other areas of her life.

Unable to make sense of it in this context, however, with it being such a rare occurrence, not only was she uncomfortable about acknowledging it but she began attributing it to some magical phenomenon.

She said, “Everything that’s happening has to be pure coincidence….or magic…or luck.”

Self-determinationTo which I replied, “You’re right. It couldn’t be that you’re taking proactive steps toward planning ahead, thinking through your actions, defining for yourself how you’d like to feel at the end of the day, playing your behaviors forward, and moving away from the belief that you need to be perfect in order to be successful…..no. It can’t be that stuff.” I winked. “You’re developing a sense of competence through engaging in meaningful behaviors,” I said. “Roll around in that!”

When was the shoe going to drop? Who knew. But what I did know was that eventually it would, whether big or small, but it was the sense of mastery and competence she was developing that I needed her to feel and take advantage of while it was there, that she could draw on when the shoe did drop. She needed to sink into the gratefulness for her successes and the excitement she was feeling. With that would come more happiness and optimism and importantly, a new narrative that she could write to explain where she was headed.

The self-handicapping, a term coined by Knee and Zuckerman (1998) needed to erode away into an objective level of responsibility-taking when the negative would pop up and setbacks would occur. In other words, I wanted her to understand that she didn’t need to defensively prepare herself for possible failure by not attributing her success to personal efforts.  If we could acknowledge that there would be failures along the way, and expect them, she wouldn’t need to make excuses “just in case.”I write...

Her new narrative, her story, that she would write about herself, or explain to others, when they would eventually ask, “How’d you do it? You lost so much weight!” would be an amalgamation of the events in her life that she would craft and connect in ways that would define her identity as a persistent, determined, competent woman who set her sights on health, and put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again; rather than a victim of circumstance, untoward events, and the cosmos colluding in creating a fate that has her resigned to believing “I guess I was just meant to be fat.”

Dan Abrams, a Northwestern University psychologist, explains how stories give our lives coherence and meaning. Simply, they put the events we’ve experienced into perspective and help us create patterns. I wanted my client to begin rewriting the story she had been living for so long– that she was broken, unsuccessful, and a failure– and put herself in the role of a self-determined, cunning, clever, intelligent protagonist that could navigate even the toughest stuff and come out the other side. I wanted her to write a new story that had her as the hero!

Often the stories we’ve written are unconscious– think of all the times you’ve wondered why you act a certain way and have such trouble doing something different. We begin writing our stories at a very young age, and oftentimes we’re the main character in a story that is no longer true or valid for our present selves. Even if an event happened when we were a child, the meaning we spun around it then is often irrelevant for us as adults and keeps us stuck and frustrated. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we keep reliving the same events again and again and again.

Great stories happen to those who can tell them...So think positive. But think realistically positive.

Proofread your stories and proofread them well.

Demand excellence from yourself, but not perfection.

Don’t wait for the shoe to drop– expect that it will. Then go put it on and tie the laces tightly.

And finally, get excited. Go experience and take risks so you can write new stories in which you’re thrilled to be the main character!

Chasing Color…

27 Jul

If you find a path with no obstacles....Our lives are ours to polish; to brighten in the ways that will illuminate our souls; to dive into head first with consciousness and appreciation; to paint with a creative palette of colors; and to write with twists, turns, and new experiences.

Are you chasing color in your life? Desperately clinging to something or someone rather than stepping into the color that is right here around you?

If you’re suffering, do you see the shades- the depth- that is this ‘suffering’? Is the ‘suffering’ a masterpiece of your own creation? If you believe you should not be suffering, you believe that you are not capable of growing and emerging from your safe and sheltered cocoon.

Embrace your suffering. Stop chasing and start acting. Move with passion. Remove the complaints, the whining, and self-fulfilling barriers. Step away from the wishing and explore the possibilities that are right there in front of you. Check your ego at the door. No, you don’t “deserve” anything. No, you shouldn’t “have it all.” Go make it happen. Turn on the light.

“Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of ego.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

The colors are there– you just aren’t seeing them…

29 Jun

Living in Full ColorI’ve heard a lot over the last week, “I’ll try, Kori.”

On the other end of the continuum I’ve heard, “I won’t _____________ (fill in the blank)” or “Every day I will _________________.”

On one extreme are half-hearted attempts at changing a behavior (perhaps unconscious), and on the other are absolutes that just might fall through the cracks and result in feelings of failure and discouragement (also often unconscious).

The middle ground? The space between the event and the response.

The space where breathing takes place, slowing down, critical assessment of what needs attention in the present moment, and an honest noticing of what is right here, right now.

It’s a space where we recognize what holes we’re dragging ourselves into through our distorted and unrealistic, completely off-base thoughts and perceptions.

A space that welcomes creativity and a turning over of our well-worn beliefs and stories that so often were not written by us but that we’re living out.

A space that reveals the fresh earth beneath the hardened and biased outer shell that we barely take notice of.

It’s a space of vulnerability that often unveils the shame driving our behaviors. It’s a gap filled with ‘aha’ moments we’ll never have unless we give ourselves permission to step into it.

It’s a time where we realize we’ve adopted someone else’s goal.

A moment when the fog lifts and even if painful we decide to let someone or something go that we’ve been clinging to.

A glimpse of our power and our courage.

A reach toward compassion for what we’ve left behind and forgotten, or actively thwarted and stuffed away because we erroneously believed it needed to be hidden from others.

This middle ground– the space– is always there. We rarely, however, give ourselves permission to experience it. It’s inside of us. Ever taken the time to finally clean off your computer monitor and you’re struck by the clarity of the screen? The vibrant colors that pop out at you? The colors have always been there- you just weren’t seeing them.

Behavior change is hard. Just thinking about being different or doing something different is exciting. Totally different ballgame when you’re in the throes of the intentionality and practice that comes along with it.

If you’re not used to looking for the colors, you have to start looking for them. And you have to look for them constantly. You have to stop running from yourself and what you give to yourself, be it a thought, a feeling, or a behavior. Each of these may be inappropriate, ugly, or incongruent from what or how you believe you should be thinking, feeling, or behaving, but none of that matters.

They are colors. And when you see them, you can paint with them. You as the artist. Your life as the canvas.

The middle ground is a place of opportunity. A place where we can ask “What if?” and see what comes up rather than an obstacle in our path. It may be fear. It may be doubt. It may be excitement. Or it may be anticipation. But with each of these also comes a choice. Will you give yourself permission to see the full spectrum of the fear? Can you walk from the deep, pulsating reds that screaming “Stop! Don’t take another step!” to the calming “Come this way, it will be okay” life-giving greens?

I think you can.

Don’t Kill the Messenger!

31 May

At the conclusion of my workshop earlier this week one of the participants expressed concern about the utility of a particular tool I’d recommended. I gave everyone 10 different tools to begin putting into practice that would set them on a course toward navigating the barriers we so often trip over and give permission (not often consciously) to minimize our goal persistence.

The tip, BOYCOTT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, suggests that we would do well to become more open to experiencing what life hands us, to pay attention, to slow down, and to savor.

Open to ExperienceBoycotting the zombie apocalypse means we aren’t operating in the misconstrued land of “ignorance is bliss.” No. In fact, deciding to disengage from the automatic pilot mode that so many of us move through our days with, gives us hope for a new level of authenticity and importantly, choosing goals that actually resonate with who we are.

So my workshop attendee’s concern went something like this: “Kori, I’m getting stuck in the part where you talk about letting yourself experience emotion. Like pain. I’m worried that if I let myself feel it, I’ll just wallow in it.”

She related her perceived tendency to stay steeped in emotion, as so many of us do. But not because we’re consciously making a decision to invite it in and acknowledge it… when we get overwhelmed by pain, it is more a function of believing the thoughts that we’ve constructed about the meaning of our pain. And often the thoughts are distorted and untrue.

It is our nature to feel coherent and integrated. You know when you feel uncomfortable– like something is awry. Our bodies signal us through symptoms like an increased heart rate, lack of concentration or focus, or fidgeting. Our thoughts can clue us in to how we might be experiencing a situation as well, for example, “you’ll never finish this project”, or “he’s very angry with you right now.” These thoughts give rise to feelings that manifest in our physical bodies and can cause a host of behaviors. When we’re in zombie land, we move impulsively. We react. If we can slow down when we recognize these cues, we can respond in a more coherent, integrated manner.

It’s not our nature to tend toward wallowing and staying in the center of discomfort- we want to feel like we’re well oiled and calibrated. The body strives toward equilibrium as well. However, if, for instance, my workshop participant grew up in an environment where by staying emotionally engaged and emotionally intense she received attention and nurturing, perhaps her concern is valid. There were positive consequences for her to remain in the emotionally volatile place, despite its being uncomfortable and disintegrating.  Now, in her adult life, such behavior is likely not so effective. She gets to learn a new way of being with her emotion, and still “using it”, but in a different manner.

The pain is the messenger. When we try to push it away versus inviting it in and acknowledging it, we in essence, tell ourselves that we’re unimportant and that our bodies are misguided and we can’t trust them. I read this equation that is helpful to remember: Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Listen and LearnIf we resist the pain, we kill the messenger…and the message. And the messenger can be delivering some astoundingly revelatory and insightful information to us….if we’re willing to listen.

We don’t have to wish for pain or not-so-comfortable experiences. What I am implying is that through the adoption of a more open nature and a boycotting of the zombie apocalypse, you will experience a wealth of benefits including: greater emotional regulation and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances; higher thresholds for experiencing threats or stress; viewing all experiences as opportunities for growth and learning; fewer inclinations toward awareness distracting activities like television, video games, or compulsive behaviors such as binge eating; and the adoption of goals that are not only personally meaningful and relevant, but the ability to pursue them with persistence.

So don’t kill the messenger. The messenger is your friend. And as Carl Rogers once said, “All the facts are friendly” (1961).

Tell Me If I’m Wrong…Because I Want to Be Right!!- Part 3

15 May

Optimal ExperienceThe concept of “flow” is a useful tool to describe how moving toward opportunities of dissonance (discomfort) as well as being among others whom we can trust to hold our tensions as we practice holding them ourselves, is necessary for developing a more complex self. The “absent” friend solidly reminded me of our necessary journey toward differentiation and self-understanding and sufficiency– complexity. Examining the flow experience, it is not surprising why we crave it. Described as optimal experience, it’s a suspension of space and time and captures the most cohesive of moments when our “I”s disappear, self-consciousness and critique vanishes, and the activity is purely engaged in for the experience itself. Yet, in order to achieve it, we have to move out of the hiding, numbing, oblivious, undifferentiated cocoons that we live in.

This weekend as I sat in the movie theater preparing for the cinematic adventure of Iron Man 3, my 3D glasses perched on the bridge of my nose, I leaned over to the friend on my left to say, “I feel like I need to put on my seat belt.” The objects in the trailers were sneaking up on me, flying past me, exploding before me, and I felt like I needed to prepare myself in some way…buckle in and put on my armor?  Achieving flow demands a removal of our armor, a movement away from the belief that we have to protect ourselves or prepare for battle, or approach life like a mine field.  (If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and you want to, don’t read this next sentence…) At the end of the movie, Robert Downey Jr. chose to remove the shrapnel from his chest, blow up every armored suit he had created, and live a more vulnerable, less fearful, more heart-centered life with his partner, and he stated, “We create our own demons.”

Epictetus agrees with him, “Men are not afraid of things, but of how they view them.”

And Marcus Aurelius, the great emperor, similarly wrote: “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.”

I believe in all of these statements.

Creative and UnlimitingAristotle stated long ago that more than anything else, we move toward what will make us happy. Perhaps we perceive that as comfort, as rightness, as the hope of something great in the future. Any way  you look at it, however, the impetus toward the pursuit of happiness is not firmly seated in the present moment. Protection and numbing of vulnerability is for fear of what might happen. Further, avoidance of conflict and striving only for who and what agrees with us or meets our expectations is created by way of what we have experienced in the past and distorting how others might perceive us in the future.  Flow, however, depends on this moment, right now. Flow is conditionally attached to a non-worrying, unselfconscious, effortless energy when information filtering into our awareness is congruent with our goals. If we do pause to assess our performance, the internal feedback is positive, and our sense of self is strengthened. Through these experiences our grit, our determination, our resilience, our behavioral persistence, and the balance between differentiation and integration are fortified.

On the other hand, without awareness, if we live on automatic pilot, should we decide that it’s just too hard to go through whatever effort is required to meet the demands of our goals or learn the skills necessary to become more proficient, or if we base our behavior on what everyone else thinks we should be or believe, we miss the possibilities of flow. Like the question I posed at the beginning, “how does this relate to what I already know?”, Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow– The Psychology of Optimal Experience, explains how the information we encounter is filtered according to its importance to the self. We can perceive it as threatening, supportive, or neutral to our goals, and with this assessment our behavior follows suit.

Do you know individuals who persist in the face of adversity? Just this morning I saw another woman on the news being put through her paces in the physical therapy department of her local hospital after losing her leg during the Boston bombings. “This is the hand I’ve  been dealt,” she said with a smile. Comfortable? Not even close. Painful, arduous, and demanding. And yet she uses that energy to move closer to what is meaningful to her. Is it “right” that she lost a limb in the attack? Is that question even worth asking? It makes sense that we would. Our bent toward rightness and avoidance of conflict started almost immediately. We were rewarded at home for following rules. We were punished for doing something “wrong.” In school we receive grades for completing assignments the “right” way or giving the “right” answers. Surprisingly enough, my dissertation work is even graded. How can you grade a student on the level of understanding and synthesis regarding theory and conceptualization of a study? It’s not black and white, and yet because we need certainty, grades persist. Even in our places of work we are rewarded for following protocol, for staying true to procedure. Of course, value exists in many regards when it concerns safety, however, when it is expected that individuals not think for themselves or develop a sense of autonomy and competence in regards to their unique skills and assets, creativity and innovation is thwarted.

Keith Sawyer, Washington University creativity researcher, has shown that individuals who work alone are more efficient at creating innovative ideas versus those who work in groups. Understanding our desire for acceptance and relatedness, this makes sense. However, in a group environment, where individuals are actively encouraged to throw out any idea, no matter how ignorant, mundane, corny, irrelevant, or insane, and when quantity is the goal, creativity spikes! If every individual has had a different experience in life, and they have interpreted it in a different way, and they are asking themselves, “how does this bite of information relate to what I already know?”, can you see how the possibilities expound? This wouldn’t happen if we were focused on avoiding vulnerability, worried about making mistakes, or taking risks!

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