Moving Beyond Self-Esteem For Self-Fulfilment by@scottdclary
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Moving Beyond Self-Esteem For Self-Fulfilment

by Scott D. ClaryApril 14th, 2024
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I've been thinking about the concept of self-esteem, and I've realized that it might be doing more harm than good. I want to share two counterintuitive arguments against it. Building self-discipline is making your mind antifragile. Minimize future regrets by taking hard action now.
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I've been thinking about the concept of self-esteem, and I've realized that it might be doing more harm than good. I want to share two counterintuitive arguments against it.

I was thinking of turning these ideas into one newsletter today and one newsletter next week, but I figure I'll have something new that I want to write about next week, so I'll just give you both of my ideas now.

The question that prompted these ideas was very simple.

In a world focused on feeling amazing, why do so many people still feel unfulfilled?

Could it be that the self-esteem movement, while well-intentioned, has inadvertently made us less resilient and less capable?

Feeling special isn't enough; it's self-discipline and owning your life that paves the way to lasting achievement.

Let's unlearn some feel-good platitudes and discover the true power of showing up, even when it's hard.

Part 1: The Power of Self-Discipline and Personal Responsibility

We're drowning in a sea of self-help advice telling us to love ourselves more. But constant affirmations and chasing a feel-good state won't build a meaningful life. It takes grit and owning your choices. That's the path to real fulfillment and lasting achievement.

The Marshmallow Experiment & The Antifragility Framework

Remember the Marshmallow Experiment? The kids who could resist the tempting treat went on to have far greater life outcomes. What does this teach us?  Delayed gratification is a key to success, but more importantly, it's like weight training for the mind.  This ties into Nassim Taleb's concept of 'Antifragility'. Systems that get stronger from stress, not weaker, are the ones that thrive. Building self-discipline is making your mind antifragile.

The Illusion of Self-Esteem: Why It Backfires

The self-esteem movement sounds noble, but it backfires in unintended ways:

  1. The Entitlement Trap: Thinking you're special without earning it breeds entitlement. The world doesn't owe you success just because you exist.

  2. The Victim Mentality Paradox: A 'blame game' mentality tied to your self-esteem keeps you trapped. Bad things happen. When your self-worth depends on others' actions, you lose all power.

  3. Growth Stagnation: If feeling good is your goal, you avoid anything remotely difficult. No challenge, no growth. True progress is made in the struggle.

Reframing Success: The Locus of Control

Instead of external, fluffy self-esteem, let's talk about Internal Locus of Control.  This is the belief that your actions primarily determine your outcomes. It's NOT about ignoring external factors but focusing your energy on where you DO have influence. This is true power.

The Power of Personal Responsibility: Owning Your Choices Creates Agency

Taking responsibility unlocks these game-changing benefits:

  1. The Failure Advantage: When mistakes are seen as feedback to adjust (not personal indictments), you learn way faster. You become a relentless improvement machine.

  2. Breaking the Procrastination Loop: No more waiting for the perfect time or mood. You realize you are the driver, so you initiate action despite fear or discomfort.

  3. Optionality over Luck: Believing you control your choices makes you proactive. You build skills, networks, and opportunities. Luck still exists, but you make way more of your own.

Putting It into Practice: Building Self-Discipline & Responsibility

Here are some concrete strategies, along with some less common ways of thinking about them:

  1. Goals as Commitments: Don't just 'try' to hit targets. Frame each goal as a promise you make to yourself. This raises the stakes.

  2. Micro-Habits as Trojan Horses: Start tiny with new habits, ridiculously tiny. Overcoming the initial inertia is the hardest part, so trick your brain into a beginning.

  3. Temptation Audits: What derails you? Not just substances but time-wasting apps, toxic people, etc. Ruthlessly eliminate or limit what messes with your focus.

  4. Seeking Regret, Not Comfort: Make choices based on the person you don't want to become in 20 years. Minimize future regrets by taking hard action now.

  5. Embracing Adversity as Investment: When things go wrong, ask: "What skill is this forcing me to develop that will be valuable later?"

The Takeaway: Build Character, Not Fluff

Self-esteem is like the stock market – prone to fluctuation based on things you can't control.

Self-discipline and responsibility are like compound interest – slow at first, unstoppable over time.

Coach Wooden was spot on; only character ensures lasting success.

Don't get distracted by the mental cotton candy of endless self-love; build a truly powerful, action-oriented mindset.

Part 2: Self-Concept vs. Self-Esteem: Who Do You Think You Are?

Self-esteem is fleeting – it depends on good days and external praise.

Self-concept runs much deeper.

It's your fundamental belief about the kind of person you are – your capabilities, traits, and identity.

A strong self-concept isn't about arrogance; it's about a quiet understanding that you are capable and adaptable and that you figure things out.

Building Your Self-Concept: Evidence Over Affirmations: Don't confuse positive affirmations with a strong self-concept.  The latter is built on concrete evidence.  Track your accomplishments, both big and small. Did you stick to your workout plan? Nailed a difficult conversation? Managed a stressful situation calmly? These become the building blocks of trust in yourself.

The Power of "Yet": Growth Mindset in Action: Ditch the "I'm good/bad at..." labels that leave you stuck.  Add one simple word: "yet".  "I'm not great at public speaking… yet." "I don't understand finances… yet." This cultivates a belief in your potential, which motivates action versus self-defeating beliefs.

Reframing Failure: It's Not an Indictment, It's Data: Everyone wants success, but without failure, you won't learn and grow.  Flip the script: view mistakes not as evidence of your inadequacy but as valuable data points. What went wrong tactically? What underlying skillset is lacking? What can be adjusted for next time?  This creates a continuous improvement loop.

The Compound Interest of Self-Belief: Small Wins Matter: Don't undervalue small victories. Consistent successes, even seemingly minor ones, slowly rewrite your self-concept. The person who sticks to their budget this month or finally sets boundaries with a difficult friend is building the mental muscle of self-trust. This pays massive dividends later when tackling bigger challenges.

Practical Applications: Internal Shifts for External Wins

Here are some strategies to strengthen your self-concept and transform your relationship to setbacks:

  1. The Accomplishments Jar: Simple but powerful. Each week, write down a few things you did that you're proud of. When you doubt yourself, read these as reminders.

  2. Seek Growth-Zone Challenges: Stay in your comfort zone too long, and your self-concept stagnates. Pick one thing just slightly outside your current abilities and tackle it.

  3. "Failure Resumes": Alongside your successes, list failures. Force yourself to analyze what you learned, not just how it felt. Destigmatizes the process.

  4. Replace Self-Criticism with Curiosity: Instead of "I'm an idiot," ask, "Why did that approach not work? How could it be done better?"

It's a Practice, Not a Perfect State

Building a strong sense of self-concept and resilience is work.

There will be setbacks.

What matters is that you keep choosing to see yourself as someone who solves problems, who adapts, and, most importantly, who keeps showing up to the game.

- Scott

Also published here.