Ask yourself this question, do you believe that we’re all good at certain things, and not so good at others? Or do you believe that anything can be learnt? Ask yourself this, and I’ll be asking you again at the end of this article. Your answer may change.
You’re here because of the headline, but let me point out something. You already know the reason for low self-esteem. You just need someone else to point it out for you. Don’t we all.
Instead, I’m going to let scientific research point it out for all of us, because this is a healing potion that none of us wants to swallow.
This research – this very important research, in fact – comes from the Netherlands. Researchers compared two groups of children: those whose parents praised them for innate qualities, and those whose parents praised them for hard work. Theorist Haim Ginott called the former “person praise” and the latter “process praise”.
Let’s say a child is being praised for passing a test. Their parent might praise them for their ability (person praise) or for studying hard (process praise).
In the study, they found that children who were praised for their innate qualities, later associated failure with their innate qualities, too. They did not associate the failure with the amount of effort they put in.
The reason why this is significant is that those children felt that low value was associated with “the self”. If this isn’t enough to wreak havoc on your self-esteem, then I don’t know what is. To add insult to injury, parents were also more likely to praise children with low self-esteem for their innate qualities, too. It’s not the actions which hold the importance anymore, it’s “me”. It’s not just “I failed”, it’s “I’m a failure”. It’s not “I need to practice the piano more often”, it’s “I’m bad at the piano. I’ll give up now”.
So many of us do this, and for these children, how they were praised really did foster self-esteem. It fosters self-esteem (or not) in all of us from a very young age. I think most of us know this deep down, but it’s become a cliché of sorts. How the teenager with bad self-esteem in that movie has parents telling him to get straight A’s. But it’s true.
What’s equally as bad is that because many of us see this as a huge cliché, we ignore it. We become blind to the fact that we’re conditioned. We gave up piano because it just wasn’t our “thing”, right? Or we’re not creative individuals because we “can’t draw”.
This, my friends, is how low self-esteem takes shape. We also know that low self-esteem can have devastating consequences. It leads to the life-long belief that we are supposed to be good at something without practice. When we fall short, we feel awful, over and over again. But the thing is, we need to get something wrong one hundred times before we get it right. That’s life. None of us are professional tennis players on the first try.
Enough doom and gloom. Some good news: If we learned this, we can acknowledge it and un-learn it.
So, let’s imagine failure. Big, fat, horrible, uncomfortable failure.
What are you going to do this time?
- You’re going to separate failure from your innate qualities. From yourself. It’s nothing to do with intuitive talent or your personality. When you get something right or wrong, commitment, effort and hard work are your “whys”.
- You’re going to commit. When you want to give up, remind yourself that you are caught in these old thought patterns. It’s not you. You don’t suck. Instead, you’re going to do what every successful person has done before you (those who also thought they sucked). You’re going to commit. Failure is necessary!
- Say bye to the negative self-talk. Remind yourself that everything requires practice and patience.
Don’t let this past conditioning be the reason you don’t succeed. Millions of us let it be the reason. Millions of others don’t. Which group do you want to be in? You will succeed. After all, we must find all the ways that DON’T work to find the ways that do.
So, I’ll ask you again. Or, maybe I’ll leave that to you.