In difficult times, it helps enormously to have psychological resilience against unexpected obstacles, stressors, and uncertainty. If today’s world doesn’t qualify as unexpected and unusual, I don’t know what would.
Every problem you face now and for the rest of your life occurs at two levels.
The first level is the functional problem. The second level is your emotional response to the functional problem.
Let me explain.
If you face a career problem, you need career skills to overcome it.
If you face a financial problem, you need financial skills to overcome it.
If you face a relationship problem, you, of course, need relationship skills to overcome it.
You already know this.
Functional problems require functional skills to solve.
What’s less obvious (and often far more destructive) is how you respond emotionally to those challenges.
Why is it that, when two people face the exact same functional problem, one struggles through and gets to the other side while the other completely falls apart?
Why do studies on aging find that stress can shorten one’s lifespan more than virtually any other cause of premature aging? (Apparently, you actually can worry yourself to death.)
Why do some people fall down and get back up, while others just fall down and stay down?
This question became an obsession of mine starting 12 years ago — at the start of The Great Recession.
My business was decimated due to the largest economic crisis of the prior 70 years. I fell apart. I was borderline suicidal.
I questioned my identity as a husband (because I wasn’t being a good one).
I questioned my identity as a father (because I was too fallen apart to be there for my kids).
I questioned my identity as a provider (because I wasn’t providing for my family).
I questioned my identity as a human being.
I questioned my sense of worth.
Needless to say, I was in the darkest of dark places.
Fortunately, my functional skills enabled my business to recover completely within 12 months.
But, the damage was done. I was shaken to the core.
It took me seven years to figure out where I went wrong.
I realized that I had based my sense of worth on two factors:
- My achievements (or lack thereof during that time)
- My perception of what others thought of me (and my lack of achievements)
There are two terrible flaws in this way of living.
First, you can’t always be successful. It is normal to have both wins and losses (not just wins 100% of the time).
Careers, like everything in life, occur in cycles.
The sun rises. The sun sets.
The tide goes up. The tide goes down.
The year begins. The year ends.
In addition to cycles, sometimes you can do everything right and still lose.
In other words, sh*t happens sometimes.
Basing your sense of worth around achievements (or lack thereof) guarantees you’re going to feel worthless at many times in your life.
The second major flaw is basing your sense of worth around other people’s opinions of you.
It’s a major flaw because you can’t control what others think of you.
Sometimes, you can do the right thing and people hate you.
Sometimes, you can do nothing at all and they love you.
Sometimes, people are mean.
Other times, they are arbitrary.
To base your sense of worth (and psychological stability) on other people’s opinions of you requires you to either hide all your struggles and failures (which is incredibly lonely and isolating) or be on a constant emotional roller-coaster ride for the rest of your life.
This approach to living… is… exhausting.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to this chaotic, exhausting, and anxiety-provoking way of living.
When I discovered this insight, it was a complete game-changer for me.
It eventually led me down a path where my psychological resilience improved by ten times compared to a decade ago.
I still struggle. I still fall down. I still fall apart. The difference is that I now do so for just a few hours or a few days, as opposed to a few months or years.
So, what is this difference?
Most people’s sense of esteem comes from others — other people’s opinions, other people’s control in your successes (e.g., boss agreeing to promote you, boss firing you).
I call this “other-based esteem.”
This occurs when your sense of emotional well-being comes from others.
You have “other-based esteem” if any of the following apply to you:
- Your largest customer cancels and you’re a wreck.
- You get fired and you’re devastated (as opposed to just disappointed).
- Your spouse thinks you’re a terrible partner and you feel terrible about yourself.
- The stock market crashed and your life savings got cut in half, so you feel like a failure.
- Your child says you suck as a parent, and you feel like a loser.
- Your performance review says you’re a poor performer, and you feel despondent.
The alternative to other-based esteem is to shift toward self-based esteem.
This shifts the locus of control related to your psychological well-being from others to yourself.
The key to self-based esteem is to base your sense of worth entirely on things that are 100% in your control.
In self-based esteem, you don’t base your worth on:
- Whether you get a job promotion or not (because you don’t have 100% control over that decision).
- Whether your sales go up by 30% or not (because you don’t have 100% control over that decision; just ask any restaurant owner in a lockdown).
- Whether you get a job offer or not (because you don’t have 100% control over that decision).
- Whether your spouse is happy with you today (because you don’t have 100% control over that decision).
- Whether your kids think you’re a great parent (because you don’t have 100% control over that decision).
- Whether your social media post got as many “likes” as you wanted (because you don’t have 100% control over that decision).
When you base your sense of worth around things that are 100% in your control, you end up having an incredibly high degree of psychological resilience and emotional wellness.
If after reading this, you’ve come to the conclusion that your sense of worth has been based on other people and things you can’t control, I invite you to transition to developing self-based esteem.
I have made this transition, and it has made a world of difference. If you’re ready for a change in your own life, I’d encourage you to take my home-study course on How to Develop Unshakeable Self-Esteem.
Click Here to sign up, and learn the processes, skills, and building blocks to shift from other- to self-based esteem.