Emotional Resilience, Part 3, Strengthening Your Inner Selves

I realize that some of you have been waiting for this post for a while. Sorry. Was busy.

Siebert says most people can live with just parts 1 and 2 quite nicely. That is, until they have a traumatic event. It’s time to get to know your inner selves and build them.

Those of us past the age of 4 have been learning about our inner selves for a while. That’s when we learned that the world did not revolve around us. Depending on when that happened to you, we had to learn to develop these three core inner strengths: Self-confidence, Self-esteem, and Self-concept. They are what you use to access more of your emotional resilience.

I didn’t realize that each of these selves actually has a physical component from the major nervous system (from Siebert’s Resiliency Advantage):

  • The somatic nervous system controls your physical actions and is the source of your self-confidence.
  • The autonomic nervous system governs your feelings and is the source of your self-esteem.
  • The central nervous system includes your brain, and is the source of your verbal, conceptual thinking. Your self-concept is your collection of thoughts about who and what you are.

This is why when all three of your selves are healthy, you can bounce back. You might not bounce, but you can recover.

When I was dizzy all the time and had no medication to manage my dizziness, I was not confident of my ability to manage anything physical. I was difficult to be around. (I didn’t like being around me, and wherever I went, there I was!) As soon as my medication kicked in, I was back to my old self. Sure, I fell down, and I had infrequent vertigo attacks, but I knew I would get over them. Sometime. When I didn’t know I could recover from a fall or an attack, I felt quite differently about them.

The problem I have with Siebert’s writing is that he lumps all self-confidence together. I have enough self-confidence in my work for about 15 people. Those of you who have seen me teach or speak or consult can vouch for that. If I screw up at work, I can apologize or make it right somehow and go on. I know how to do that.

Now, when I fall over from my vertigo, I have less self-confidence for falling. Because I can’t predict if I’m going to fall over again. Every time I fall, it takes me a while to build back up to where I was before I fell.

Siebert says “Self-confidence is an action predictor.” Well, IMNHO it depends on the context. I do expect to succeed in new activities, as long as they are within my physical capabilities. He doesn’t say anything about that kind of context in the book.

So, how do you develop your self-confidence? First, become good at what you do. This is where intentional practice comes in. If you have read Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, you know you need lots of deliberate practice to become good at some kind of task. He talks about 10,000 hours of practice with feedback. Esther Schindler told me you had to write 100,000 words to become a great writer. I think she meant 100,000 edited words. And, in Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, Kerry Patterson et al say that rapid feedback is essential:

one of the vital behaviors for effective teachers is extremely short intervals between teaching and testing.

As you become good at something, set some reasonable goals, and reach them. I am super-competitive with myself. When I started to blog, I set myself a goal of blogging at least twice a week. So I did. This year, I set a goal for myself for a monthly column. I’ve never done that before. There is no reason I can’t. I have some techniques that will help me see my work and achieve those goals. I am super-competitive with myself at the gym. Erik uses that to help me gain muscular strength. It’s working.

That’s how you achieve self-confidence: gain some competence, practice, set some goals, rinse and repeat. Notice how that leads into your self-esteem. Notice how I said above, “There’s no reason I can’t.” That’s how I feel about it. I have high self-confidence which leads to my emotional opinion of myself.

Because I set small incremental goals, I often succeed. That means I can keep up the inner praise for myself, even when other people don’t notice. Because other people aren’t going to notice even if don’t succeed!

Other people are not going to notice when I stick to my eating plan every day or not. They are not going to notice when I increase the friction on the bike at the gym or not. They are not going to notice if I increase the number of articles I write a year or not. Ok, they might notice that :-) They might notice if I blog more or not. But I do this because I want to improve me, my work.

As soon as you do something for other people, it’s harder to make it stick for yourself. Well, it is for me. I don’t improve me for Mark or my daughters. I do it for me. You hear about this all the time. For weight loss, for smoking cessation, for anything that people do for their health, until it means something them, they can’t do it. Once it means something to them, that’s when they can do it.

For me, the self-confidence and self-esteem are a tangled Gordian knot. I succeed at something, I feel better about myself. And, if I don’t succeed at something, I don’t automatically feel badly about myself. Oh, sure, I feel momentarily gut-wrenched. Then, I use my problem solving skills to say, “Okay, now what do I do?” In PSL, we call this the ‘Oh boy. Now, let’s solve the problem’-moment.

And, if I don’t succeed, it’s not the end of the world. Last year at the AYE conference, each host led problem-solving clinics at the end of the “Design the Conference” session on Monday morning. I didn’t handle mine that well. I was kicking myself mentally at the end of it. One of the participants suggested something I could have done better. I was all set to defend myself, and I stopped, and said, “Thank you.” Because, he was right.

He seemed surprised to hear me thank him. And my reaction transformed our relationship right then and there. He was more open with me throughout the conference.

Our self-esteem shows up in unexpected ways. Think about how you react when someone provides you feedback, good or bad. Do you shrug it off or say thank you? I used to become upset when I read bad reviews of my books or my articles. Now, I think, “Oh, I either wrote something that really connected with that person and it’s not about me or my writing,” or “I didn’t write that well so that person misunderstood,” or, “I really blew it.” I have an opportunity to do better with my next article or book.

The third part of the inner selves is the self-concept. For those of us who are adults, our self-concept is often tied up in our jobs. Let me caution you now:

You are not your job!

The very first time I was laid off, I was all out of sorts. I’d been a software developer. My job title was senior software engineer. Could I keep saying I was software engineer if I was no longer employed? I was all confused.

My self-concept now is much deeper than my title. I still introduce myself as a management consultant, because people want to know my job.

Now, when I think of self-concept, I think of adjectives to describe me, such as: driven, thoughtful, sharp, goal-oriented, field-marshal, quick to laugh, persevering, those kinds of adjectives. I often think of myself as a problem-solver and a lifelong learner.

So, these inner selves of ours, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-concept, how do we strengthen them? First, recognize that they are linked together. For me, that was an aha moment. Second, you can build your self-confidence by succeeding in small chunks with small doable goals. The more you succeed, the more you grow as a human. The more you grow, the more your self-concept grows, and the more your self-esteem grows. The more your self-concept grows and the more your self-esteem grows, the more your self-confidence grows. It’s a positive feedback loop, based on taking that one small step. Gee, does that sound familiar at all?

Since you are not me, you are going to do this your way. I hope you decide to share either how you have built your self-confidence and how that has worked for you. I realize that being super-competitive with yourself is not what everyone needs! I suspect that small steps and getting feedback on each step from trusted colleagues or friends might work for you. If it fits for you, please share.

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