Personal Development Can Be Detrimental to Your Self-Esteem

And this is what to do about it.

We, personal development enthusiasts, are usually very harsh on ourselves. We set very high goals. We are never satisfied with our progress. We are critical of ourselves, finding flaws in ourselves and in our lives. Once we fail to achieve our audacious goals, we ignore the progress we made and we get disappointed with ourselves. All of that robs us from our self-esteem.

On the other hand, you might come across people that aren’t interested in improving themselves at all. They don’t even think about it. Yet, they seem happy and content with their lives and they are very confident.

Does that mean that we should quit improving ourselves and our lives altogether?

No, not at all! We don’t need to quit personal development in order to have high self-esteem. It means that we should adjust our methods of personal development. This post is exactly about how to do that.

Acknowledge Yourself

We humans are hardwired for negativity. Negativity allowed our ancestors to survive in the savanna. Our ancestors that found lions cute were eliminated from the gene pool.

I came across multiple resources that explain that five positive stimuli is needed to offset the effects of a negative stimulus. The latest resource that I came across was an audiobook called the Art of Conflict Management by Prof. Michael Dues (available at audible.com).

The 5-to-1 ratio has applications everywhere human relationships are involved. If you are in a relationship with someone, you’re better off offering five positive pieces of feedback for every negative or critical piece of feedback you offer. This includes your life partner, your family, your colleagues, your dog, and your cat, literally every relationship you have.

If the 5-to-1 ratio is so important and it applies to all the relationships in your life, why not apply this rule to the relationship with yourself as well? There’s no reason not to do that and it’s the key to a healthy self-esteem. That means you need to find five positive things about yourself and your life for every negative thing you come up with.

Find five positive things about yourself and your life for every negative thing you come up with.

Moreover, when you come up with a negative thing about yourself, immediately change it into a point of improvement. Don’t say “I suck at playing piano.” Formulate it as “how can I improve my piano playing skills?”

Gratitude

Finding five positive things about yourself and your life involves gratitude as well. Do you think taking everything granted means self-esteem? No, not at all. Taking everything granted means arrogance, not high self-esteem. Don’t confuse the two.

Daily Journaling Practice

I have already written about my single page, daily journaling practice. It involves my life goals, an evaluation of the day, and an overview of the next day. The evaluation of the day includes positives and points of improvement.

The positives include my own achievements as well as positive events that happened in that day. In other words, it includes acknowledging myself as well as gratitude.

Up until now, I haven’t paid much attention to the ratio between the positives and the points of improvements. On some days, I have a lot of positives without any POI’s. On other days, I have a lot of POI’s without any positives. Yet on other days, they are more or less balanced.

From now on, I’m going to make a conscious effort to have at least five positives and only one POI on my daily evaluation. I recommend you do the same. That way you’ll rewire your brain for positivity and high self-esteem and still be able to improve yourself.

“I don’t have five positive things happening in my life every day.”

If that’s how you are thinking, let me break the news. You do! You can read (or listen to) this post, that’s one. You have access to the Internet, that’s two. You can breathe. That means you’re still alive, that’s three. You are interested in personal development, that’s four. You have the time to read this post, that’s five.

See? you already have your daily five for today. Now, go ahead and repeat that every day! Look carefully and you will find at least five great things about yourself and your life every day.

Set Your Goals in Your Stretch Zone, Not in Your Panic Zone

Setting your goals way out of your comfort zone is another way personal development enthusiasts are robbing themselves from self-esteem. That doesn’t mean staying in your comfort zone all the time. That means setting your goals slightly out of your comfort zone, so that you can achieve them with some effort, yet they are challenging enough to engage you and help you grow.

Setting your goals way out of your comfort zone will result in panic. Setting your goals in your comfort zone will result in boredom. Ideally, you might want to avoid both extremes and set your goals somewhere in between, in a zone called stretch zone. I have already discussed this concept in a post titled the Secret to Happiness, so I’m not going to go into detail here.

Summary

You neither have to sacrifice your personal development efforts nor your self-esteem for each other. The perfect balance between both can be found in the 5-to-1 ratio and by setting your goals in your stretch zone.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.