We all come equipped with a built-in, ever-ready fear fighter. But like any of our muscles, intellectual capabilities and skills, if you don’t use it regularly it becomes flabby and ineffective.
That fear-fighter is our self-esteem. The good opinion we have of ourselves and the pride we take in our capabilities and accomplishments. Whenever our self-esteem is high, anxiety and worry go down. So it’s important to regularly remind yourself that you are so much better than you sometimes think.
Self-esteem grows with every accomplishment. Whether it’s doing a great job on a project at work, pushing yourself just a little bit harder in your exercise or going out of your way to help someone else, whenever we do something that we consider ‘good,’ we feel better about ourselves. And are much more likely to try that little bit harder again the next time.
One great way to build up self-esteem is to regularly review your successes. Start by making a list of the top five successes you had before you turned 18. These could include academic achievements, trophies you won in sports or on the debating team, or simply learning something that was challenging to you. When you’re done, make a list of the top five successes you had last week.
As you write these lists, recall how you felt in the moment of success – proud, elated, satisfied… As you recall those emotions, you’ll find them welling up inside you again, right along with all the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin that start pumping through your veins and making you feel great.
When that happens, anxiety and worry are nowhere to be found.
Every time you try something and succeed your self-esteem goes up. Every time you try something and fail you learn. And because you’ve learned, that (entirely justified) self-esteem still goes up.
Each of us is so much better, so much more capable, so much more talented and resourceful than we think! We just need to remind ourselves regularly.
At the risk of being overly-scientific, the Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of nerves in your brainstem. Its function is to automatically filter out unnecessary information so the important stuff can get our attention.
What’s the ‘important stuff?’ It’s the stuff we think about most. The RAS is why you can be standing in a noisy room and yet clearly hear when someone across the room says your name. It’s why, when you start thinking that a red sports car might be a nice thing to own, you start suddenly seeing them everywhere.
It’s not that the red sports cars weren’t there before, it’s just that your RAS takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then uses the data that your five senses are constantly supplying, filters through it all, and presents your conscious brain with only those things that you’ve told it are important. Your RAS takes your predominant thoughts – whether you find those thoughts to be pleasant and useful or not – and assumes they represent what is most important to you. And it goes looking for images, thoughts and circumstances that match.
None of this happens at your level of consciousness. It’s all going on in the background but you get to consciously register the results.
While the RAS spends its time looking for things and circumstances that match your thoughts, it also seeks information, people, news items that validate your beliefs. Your thoughts and beliefs provide the parameters and the RAS finds things in the world that confirm them. If you believe that you’ll never find a good relationship partner, you’ll discover yourself dating a string of losers. If you think that money is hard to come by, you will prove yourself correct. The RAS filters what you see and hear to match what you believe you will see and hear. In doing so, it will also influence your actions.
You might protest that you don’t think about poverty, you constantly think about how to get more money. And here’s where things get subtle. There are two sides to every thought – the aspect of it that you want, and the aspect of it that you want to avoid.
You don’t want to struggle with finances You do want to enjoy abundance
You don’t want to be sick You do want to be healthy
You don’t want to be lonely You do want to have love in your life
When we really examine and analyze those things we spend most of our time worrying about we discover that our minds are dwelling on what we don’t want.
In contrast, when you focus on what is going well, your RAS finds more things that are going well, presents solutions to your current problems, and things get better and better.
The choice is yours.