In this chapter, the authors examine the concept of self-esteem because highly effective individuals have high self-esteem. This phenomenon stems from the fact that believing that you are capable of doing something increases the chances that you will succeed which in turn will re-affirm your initial belief that you are capable. Positive self-esteem also enables you to cope better with stress and remain optimistic (a key factor of happiness and effectiveness).
The authors list several different areas where an individual typically assesses his/her self-esteem: family, competition, physical appearance, religion, academic achievement, virtue, and the approval of others. They recommend that an individual not concentrate all of their feelings of self-worth on any one of these categories, rather an individual should seek out varied sources of self-worth or should simply recognize that he/she is a unique individual with unique strengths. The authors note that the groundwork for self-esteem levels is laid in early childhood.
Genetic factors are extremely important for self-esteem as are environmental factors such as unconditional positive regard from parents and family. The authors suggest that the feedback received from parents (whether unconditional or conditional) stays with an individual later in life in the form of an internal voice, or coach. Of all of the different parenting styles, authoritative parenting (nurturing, limit setting) tends to bring out the best levels of self-esteem. Teachers and peer groups, especially in elementary and middle school, can have a significant impact on a child’s self-esteem.
Even experiences as an adult impact self-esteem because this is a complex value that is constantly in flux. The authors offer several techniques for improving self-esteem. First, they suggest uncovering the irrational beliefs you hold about the qualities a worth-while person should possess and recognizing that each of these “shoulds” is open for questioning. These “shoulds” come from an individual’s inner critic and can be questioned and rephrased in a positive manner. People with high self-esteem regularly engage in this process.
Second, they discuss cognitive distortions, or the tendency to look for evidence that supports our current opinions of ourselves instead of looking at the whole situation. In particular, individuals with low self-esteem will seek out confirmation of their view of themselves. This could be helped by looking for evidence that supports the opposite assumption. Third, the authors suggest alternate ways of looking at, or framing, mistakes. They suggest seeing mistakes as either opportunities to learn, or as warnings, or as opportunities of self-expression.
The authors discuss several additional techniques, derived from positive psychology, for improving self-esteem. These ideas are rooted in the study of character. Good character is a global construct that is encompassed by six virtues: wisdom / knowledge, courage, love / humanity, justice, temperance, and spirituality. Each of these virtues is subdivided into a number of signature strengths. Developing a good character is accomplished by hard work and good choices, and it has a positive effect on an individual’s self-esteem. Individuals have the choice over which of the signature strengths to cultivate.