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Continuing on the theme of ‘the ideal’, I am reading an interesting book at the moment called ‘The Only Way to Win’ by Jim Loehr. The book is looking at how building character drives higher achievement, and an early chapter addresses the question – is high self-esteem a consequence of achievement, or is achievement a consequence of high self-esteem? There is a lot of discussion about having too much self-esteem being as bad, if not worse than having too little because inflated egos need, well, more inflation!

But one relevant quote provided is that of Dr Roy Baumeister, professor of Psychology at Florida State University, who says, “After all these years, I’m sorry to say, my recommendation is to forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline.” This is exactly the objective of applying the First Resolution.

The suggestion has often been that self-esteem is either a pre-cursor to achievement (usually good) or a consequence of achievement (occasionally bad). Here’s the discovery Loehr made – if achievement is required in order to gain self-esteem, then anyone failing by any degree loses their self-respect. Furthermore, when people get what they seek they frequently become depressed because having achieved it they feel that it was too easy, so creating doubt in themselves that they earned what they have – and so they go seeking more in order to get the self-esteem that eluded them because they decided – they decided – that they didn’t deserve the esteem their achievement should have provided them!

This relates again to earlier posts – is my goal truly mine? Is my ideal truly ideal? If I DO get it, will I be happy?

Now, referring back to Baumeister’s quote and to further utilise the philosophy of Dr Charles R Hobbs, author of TimePower , if instead of using achievement as a measure of self-esteem we use our desire and ability to be in CONTROL of our lives as our ‘self-esteem measuring stick’, could we be happier in the moment? Could we still seek to achieve but do so more happily, to the degree that provided we remain in control of that striving we stay happy regardless of the end result. We live in the now, not in the hope that we will live ‘when we get there’.

Loehr used an example of a schoolboy wanting to be a doctor.

“I’ll be happy when I get my school exams done with,” becomes “I’ll be happy when I get my medical degree” becomes “I’ll be happy when I finish my doctor training/internship” becomes “I’ll be happy when I can be a consultant” etc etc. Such dependence on achievement to assuage one’s self-esteem is fraught because one failure along that route means ‘the END!’, despite the potential each step provides. And in circumstances like that example, we won’t be happy until we are far too old – and too tired – to enjoy the success we sought.

Indeed, while we are striving we tend to use what we achieve as we go along to influence everything we do – for example, we spend money in a way that serves each step and doesn’t necessarily serve the end in mind; we nurture or stifle relationships that serve/obstruct our goals; and we dress, eat and live ‘in the expected way’.

(Don’t get me started on how we are taught to avoid stereotyping when we all, ALL OF US willingly comply with stereotypes to get what we want, either consciously or subconsciously. In my country, we say it’s easy to spot a conservationist/social worker/Guardian reader, and have you noticed how people being interviewed in the media are often wearing suits but have taken their ties off to look ‘media cool’. Well, they’re not. I digress.)

Anyway, I asked the question that perhaps every goal-orientated person should ask at the off – “What responsibility or consequence will arise from my success?” Not just the award, prize, wealth or immortality, but what goes with it.

Fame – and the media interest in your private life? Perhaps you seek a Professorship – and the subsequent need to lecture, write, and be approached for authoritative opinion ad nauseam? How about professional status – and the realisation that you will have to earn a living at it 60 hours a week for 50 years? All the time having to spend time with colleagues you don’t trust rather than spending time with the family you love? (BTW, earning millions while your kids don’t know what you look like is NOT the only way to bring up happy kids. Try earning only £1million and spending time with them instead.)

So – great self-esteem is something you deserve to have NOW. It comes from having great self-discipline and exercising self-control. You being in charge means you recognising and deciding whether the consequences of your dreams are what you expect and want them to be, and to adjusting your sights and plans accordingly. Make sure the Important Things are YOUR Important Things.

Incidentally, after I read the paragraphs in Loehr’s book I texted all my kids and told them how proud I was of them regardless of their achievements.