Updated: Nov 13
It's Good for You, and It's Good for the Rest of Us, Too
It’s no small feat to consistently think well of yourself--to regard yourself with warmth and compassion and respect, the same way you would regard someone else you care about. A lot of us wrestle deeply and daily with this challenge. And if you do, then you know how painful it can be. Therapists’ full calendars and the existence of jobs like mine attest to this reality.
The implications of not thinking well of ourselves can be grave. But the impact of the opposite can be transformational.
In this episode, I’ll share a recent chapter from my own story to illustrate the point, and I’ll give you a tool to help you begin thinking well of yourself today.
Ski Day Downer
My wife was in the passenger seat next to me and our boys were bundled up, helmeted, and goggled in the backseat. In most ways, it was a normal snowy Saturday morning for our family as we made our way to the ski mountain for a few hours of fun together. In one way, though, this morning was a bit different than others, and it was about to take a turn for the worse.
For a day or so, a dark cloud had been hanging over me. It’s been long enough now that I don’t remember why, specifically, but I do remember that I was unusually dark and brooding that morning, struggling to stay afloat in a stormy sea of self-doubt and self-condemnation.
Earlier, I’d asked my wife if she’d be up for me processing verbally with her, but we hadn’t found a good time in the midst of getting out the door.
Now, as I drove us to the mountain, my internal pressure was mounting, and I made a decision I almost instantly regretted.
I turned to my wife and just started unloading all of the crap that had been building up inside of me. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do know that it was full of “I can’ts” and “I’m nots” and “I’ll nevers.” And I do know that after a couple of minutes of spewing unfiltered negativity, I felt worse, not better, and clearly the same was true for my wife. My dark cloud had spread and now hung over her head, too. She had become a victim of the same toxic negativity I was subjecting myself to.
Those brief couple of minutes put a damper on the rest of the day.
The Upside of the Ski Day Downer
I regret the darkness that I brought into my wife’s day on that occasion. AND...in hindsight, I’m also super grateful for what that moment revealed to me.
I’ve known for a long time that it’s easier for me to think poorly of myself than it is to think well of myself. It’s more instinctive to doubt myself than to trust myself and more familiar, sadly, to condemn myself than to affirm myself. I even have some awareness of where those unfortunate tendencies originated and why they persist. It’s something I’ve wanted to change and something I’ve worked on. But WOW.
Until that moment in the car, it wasn’t clear to me just how invasive, pervasive, and destructive my negativity was. Frankly, it was appalling to realize.
That negativity hurts me, yes, AND it hurts others.
So with fresh resolve fueled by this new awareness, I set about to improve the situation. Insight + Action = Transformation. The approach I’ve taken is the tool I want to share with you today. We’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, let’s talk baseball.
Which Base are You On?
If life was a baseball diamond--and I’m not a baseball guy, so apologies in advance if I bungle this metaphor--but if life was a baseball diamond, then all of us entered adulthood at different places on the diamond in terms of our ability to think well of ourselves. Some of us entered adulthood rounding third base on the way to home. Some of us haven’t even gotten up to bat yet. And let’s be honest, some of us are still toying with whether we even want to play this “adulthood” game at all. We’re still outside in the parking lot looking for a cheap scalped ticket to get into the stadium or trying to prolong a tailgate party that has long since been over.
No matter which of those descriptions fits you best, both Nature and Nurture are at work. I touch on Nature and Nurture in more depth in Episode 035, Build Your Personal Owner’s Manual: Understand Yourself Better, Enjoy Yourself More, and Live the Life You Were Made to Live. So for now I’ll just define them briefly en route to showing how they apply to thinking well of ourselves.
Nature refers to innate qualities and abilities that influence how we operate in the world on a fundamental, hard-wired level.
They’re the default or factory settings that we’re born with. With the help of the Myers-Briggs assessment, for example, I know that one element of my Nature, namely my personality, predisposes me to idealism. Sometimes, idealism is really helpful--enabling me to appeal to a higher standard and point the way to an even better future. But idealism can also lead to a pretty withering self-critique, if where I am is always and only seen as short of the ideal.
Some of you listening right now are picking up what I’m putting down as you recognize both the blessing and the curse of your idealism.
My innate idealism is just one example of how Nature has played a role in the negativity that developed within me over the years. There are other examples, of course, but for now we’ll move on to the influence of Nurture upon our ability to think well of ourselves as adults.
Nurture, in the sense that I use the term, is essentially your Story.
And for our purposes today, it’s especially the part of your Story that occurred in your childhood and teen years. If Nature is the unformed lump of clay, then Nurture is the potter’s hands--profoundly shaping how our Nature gets expressed. Our family, our friends, and our experiences--especially traumatic ones--have the most influence in this area. Were you in a supportive home environment, where you were loved for who you were more than for what you achieved? Or were your achievements or lack thereof a primary measure of your worth? Were both parents in the picture? Where were you in the sibling birth order? What social circles did you inhabit and move between? Did you feel smart or dumb in school? What labels did others give you? Respectful? Troublemaker? Promising? Hopeless? What mistakes did you make, and how did they impact your perception of yourself?
In short, as it relates to thinking well of ourselves, what messages about yourself did you receive from your Story? How adequately did the interaction of Nature and Nurture equip you to think well of yourself as an adult?
Which base are you on?
Now, lest we’re inclined to begin sliding down the slippery slope of victimhood--blaming our Nature and Nurture for any difficulty we have thinking well of ourselves--let’s turn our attention to our responsibility in this area and what we can do to change things for the better.
As adults, it’s up to us to get this “think well of yourself” thing sorted out.
It’s up to us to “parent” ourselves to maturity in this area. We are 100% responsible for thinking well of ourselves.
BTW, I’ve said it before, and I want to emphasize it again: Perhaps the greatest challenge of adulthood is assuming complete responsibility for ourselves and appropriate responsibility for others. I think many of the world’s greatest ills stem from failures of personal responsibility. And the degree to which each of us is succeeding in this area is also the degree to which the world is changing for the better. It’s no small thing.
So, if we want to think well of ourselves, and we’re willing to take our responsibility to figure it out seriously, then what’s next?
A Tool for Thinking Well of Yourself
That brings us to the tool I want to share with you today, the one I began to use more intently and intentionally after coming face-to-face with the darkness within on that snowy car ride to the mountain. It’s elegant in its simplicity and tragic in its scarcity. No matter your Nature and no matter your Nurture, you can begin using this tool right now to begin thinking well of yourself.
The tool is Encouragement.
To be encouraged is to be infused with courage. It’s the way forward when we doubt ourselves. It’s the way forward when we don’t think we have what it takes. It’s the way forward when we find ourselves spewing out “I can’ts” and “I’m nots” and “I’ll nevers.”
A friend of mine says that everyone is under-encouraged. I think he’s right.
Two Ways to Use the Tool of Encouragement
There are two key ways to get Encouragement when we need it:
One--we can get it from others.
Taking responsibility to think well of ourselves doesn’t mean doing it on our own all the time. It doesn’t mean trying to be completely self-sufficient. It does mean, though, that we take responsibility for acknowledging what we need and, when we can’t meet those needs on our own, enlist people and resources to support us in meeting them.
When you’re thinking poorly of yourself and finding it hard to right the ship, let your need for encouragement be known to those who already care about you or who are trained to help you. Reach out to a friend, a family member, a mentor, a therapist, a coach. Sometimes, the origin of our difficulty--especially in the case of past trauma--really does need a professional’s touch. Sometimes, we simply need someone who cares about us to help us see ourselves more clearly and break the grip of the negativity.
For example, I get encouragement on a regular basis from my wife, my parents (yep, even at 47), my coach, and the guys in the original Graveyard Group, where I’m a player-coach. They help me see myself more clearly and think well of myself again when I’m faltering in that area. They pick me up, dust me off, and send me back into the fray of life ready to go another round.
I know. It’s not easy to let others know that we need encouragement, but it’s essential if we’re to take responsibility for thinking well of ourselves--for our own and others’ benefit.
And thinking well of ourselves sure is a more pleasant way to live.
The other way to get encouragement is to encourage ourselves.
Doing this involves both a shift in perspective and a change in behavior. I’m going to borrow heavily from clinical psychologist and author, Jordan Peterson, here, because his counsel is the best I’ve come across recently on the topic of encouraging ourselves.
First, let’s look at the shift in perspective needed in order to think well of ourselves. One of the rules for life in Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is “treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” In the ski day story I shared earlier, I said things about myself that I would never have uttered to my wife or boys about them. I wasn’t treating myself like someone I’m responsible for helping. Quite the opposite.
If I wouldn’t say those things to my wife or boys or someone else I was responsible for helping, then why in the world would I feel free to say those things to myself?
So, to encourage yourself, first begin treating yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
Then, change your behavior. Namely, borrowing from another rule in Jordan Peterson’s book, compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. Let me repeat that: compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
This is the behavior that became most important following the ski day debacle and my realization that something had to change. It’s a discipline, really, because the familiar well-worn path for me is that of self-critique and self-condemnation. So to do the opposite takes conscious intention and, frankly, a fair amount of work.
It’s like developing a new muscle to counterbalance the over-developed negativity muscle.
It takes time, it takes practice, and it feels kind of wonky at first. It can feel uncomfortable or undeserved or just really strange. That’s ok, and that’s normal if thinking well of yourself is a new concept.
The specific self-encouragement practice I’ve embraced is the one I offer to you, too. I simply take inventory of the ways in which I’ve demonstrated a virtue--like humility, kindness, or courage, of the things that have gone well recently--no matter how small they may seem, of the things about myself and my life that I’m proud of or thankful for. I do this in writing, in my journal, and the end result of any one instance of this practice of self-encouragement is a bulleted list of reasons to think well of myself. Sometimes the list is just a few items long, and sometimes there are 10 or more. The length of the list is less important than the intent behind it, the will to take responsibility for thinking well of yourself.
A particular benefit of doing this in writing is that you can go back and look at old entries to encourage yourself anew and track progress over time.
The focus is on how far I’ve come as opposed to how far I still have to go. And that focus provides fuel for the road ahead.
Thinking well of ourselves is something that many of us struggle to do and I’d wager ALL of us struggle with some of the time. We’re often much better at thinking poorly of ourselves. That’s personally painful and also harmful to others, because our negativity infects those around us.
Nature and Nurture heavily influence which base we start out on in adulthood in terms of our ability to think
well of ourselves.
The way forward is first to take full responsibility for thinking well of ourselves, then to infuse ourselves with courage by seeking encouragement from others and learning to encourage ourselves. With practice, you really can learn to think well of yourself.
It’s good for you, and it’s good for the rest of us, too.
You are the One and Only You. There’s never been anyone else just like you, and there never will be again. You’re here to fulfill purposes that are absolutely unique to you.
So remember, you are going to die. But you’re not dead yet. Get after it, and start thinking well of yourself today!
I Can Help
I know firsthand the pain of thinking poorly of yourself, and it’s my sincere hope that this episode has encouraged you and equipped you to begin thinking well of yourself--maybe for the very first time.
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Check out Jordan Peterson:
Discovering Personality (8-Module Online Course)
Self-Authoring (online guide to understanding your Story and authoring your future)
Understand Myself (personality assessment)