On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being “I have a lot!”), how much self-esteem do you possess? If you’re like most people, your answer can vary depending on the day, recent experiences, and current circumstances. No matter which end of the scale (or in the middle) repeated experiences have shaped you to become, moments of self-doubt always have the potential to creep in and lower your number. To combat feeling overwhelmed by a distressing challenge, it helps to develop the core quality of resilience, a component that helps you move through self-doubt and on to mastery. First step: learning how to improve self-esteem at a moment’s notice.
The science of self-esteem received an interesting boost not too long ago. A study focused on researching how survivors were affected by the 2011 Japanese earthquake found an unexpected result in the brain scans. Comparing scans of a number of students done prior to the earthquake and then one year later, researchers noticed that in the post-quake scans the orbitofrontal cortex (a part of the brain engaged in cognitive processing and decision making) had increased in correlation to subjects’ self-esteem scores. In other words, the more self-esteem a subject exhibited, the more his brain reflected an increased ability to facilitate the high mental processes of problem solving, perception, language, and memory—all core processes that help you develop resilience.
The bottom line: the more self-esteem you possess, the more you will be able to think clearly and proactively and the more likely you will be to bounce back.
Wherever, whenever, and however those cringing moments of “Am I worth it?,” “Can I do it?,” or “Will I succeed?” occur, the following three actions will help you to improve self-esteem when you really need it. By combining the science of what helps to develop higher mental processes with the essence of self-esteem, you can shift from a less than to more than feeling frequently and with simple effort.
Recognize what you’re good at.
Pause the self-doubt cycle of any situation to notice what qualities you possess in the moment that are helpful to you in navigating a challenge. Taking stock of what is currently true about you activates self-appreciation and encourages positive self-perception.
Acknowledge the advantages of the skill.
Take a look back into the past. When and where have you utilized these qualities? Notice how what you’re good at has historically benefited you. This perceptual focus builds self-respect and activates neural pathways associated with success.
Identify ways to use your skill.
Specifically plan how to use the qualities you possess to resolve the challenge of the moment. Pinpoint what choices will allow you to engage these skills. Then map out the actions necessary to fulfill each choice. Engaging in this kind of problem-solving activity increases your sense of self-efficacy and puts you in motion, which reduces the fear that accompanies self-doubt.
For added power in each of these steps, write out your answers and even share them with a trusted friend. Transforming your ideas from fluffs of imagination to hard-core language in the real world offers you the opportunity for further creativity and flexibility, hallmarks of the resilience process.
One of the major outcomes of the Japan earthquake study was proof of how dynamic the brain continues to be despite major stressors. Rather than remain static and frozen after the quake, many survivors’ orbitofrontal cortex changed—and changed for the better. This is a terrific reminder that the effects of life’s daily trials are often, in many ways, less permanent than they appear. In every moment your self-perception and your brain contain the ability to evolve, expand, and strengthen. Self-esteem and its development are, like many personal qualities, elements that can be deliberately advanced. With focus, practice, and repeated success, it is possible to increase or reduce any personal qualities to create life change that is more in alignment with who you want to be and the life you wish to create.