The ability to accurately perceive reality is fundamental in order to experience any personal growth or improvement. One of the most critical parts of reality we need to perceive accurately is ourselves. Unfortunately, being able to have a truthful view of our own strengths and weaknesses is incredibly difficult. Ultimately, because of our own bias, I think most of us tend to assume we are far better at truthfully perceiving ourselves than we actually are.
Fortunately, there are several ways we can improve our ability to accurately perceive ourselves. We can also use these techniques to help distinguish the events in our lives from our intrinsic sense of self-worth.
There is a Buddhist meditation practice known as being mindful. In this practice you don’t ignore any of the sensations or emotions you are having, but you analyze them from a completely objective viewpoint. So, if while meditating, you are reminded of a particularly stressful moment, you would say to yourself, “Hmmm, that incident makes me feel stressful.”
Make your statement of these facts as neutral as possible, without a hint of judgement or explanation. Imagine if you were to tell me, “My shirt is red.” Notice how there is no emotion or judgement attached to that statement, it is simply fact. This is how you need to disconnect yourself from your emotions in the process of mindfulness. State reality as facts, with no sense of rationalization, explanation, guilt or judgement. It is what it is.
Taking the process of being mindful, we can apply this practice when viewing our own abilities and skills. When you think about a specific skill you have, simply state it as fact. View your skills and attributes as being completely distinct from your consciousness. It might even help to think in third-person format for this exercise. For example, instead of saying “I am wearing a red shirt.” I would say, “Scott is wearing a red shirt.”
Whenever your ego is introduced into the mix, you distort any perceptions you have. By instead viewing them from the separate stance of mindfulness, you can often get the truth you need without attaching your own personal thoughts and judgements. Ego creates the need to rationalize or distort weaknesses and to pride our strengths.
Ego tells you that you are ugly and fat, mindfulness notices that you have a few extra pounds. Notice the distinction?
Most people in our culture derive their self-worth from their successes and failures. If you are successful, then you feel worthy. If you have failed, then you don’t. This is garbage. Your intrinsic worth as a human being is completely separate from your accomplishments and mistakes. Whether you are living on the street or a wealthy philanthropist, your intrinsic worth is the same.
Adopt the practice of unconditional self-love. This doesn’t mean selfishness or conceit. This viewpoint reflects the idea that we should show unconditional love to everyone, but you can’t show unconditional love to anyone without giving it to yourself first.
If you adopt the practice of mindfulness, you can separate your ego from your skills. Once you do this, it seems silly to feel unworthy or superior because of your competency in any area. To feel low self-esteem with this approach would as ridiculous as feeling low self-esteem from saying, “I am wearing a red shirt.”
Now, of course, this is easier said than done. Keeping the ego separated from our skills and abilities can be very difficult. This is especially difficult when so much of our Western culture judges people on this very basis. I too have moments when something throws me off balance and I feel lowered self-esteem due to an event. In these times, you simply need to take a few breaths and remind yourself that your worthiness is distinct from your competency.
Get an Objective Viewpoint
My first two suggestions for improving our ability to be honest with ourselves involved how we can remove distortions by separating our ego. That process is necessary, but it can often be very difficult. There is another way you can get an accurate representation of your skills, which is through an objective viewpoint.
When getting an objective viewpoint, you are comparing your skills in a scientific way against a certain scale or standard. So if you aren’t sure whether you are actually fat or just feel that way from low self-esteem, then going to a doctor to do a health examination can give you an idea of where you stand. If you want an easy way to see how you fare, then comparing yourself to an external standard will often work best.
There is a danger, however, in using an objective viewpoint when determining your skills. Misuse of this method can create several problems:
- If the standard is based on the average person, then it might give you a false sense of security. The average person in America today is overweight. Many are stressed, unfulfilled and unhappy. In these cases, you need to recognize that being a bit above average won’t cut it.
- If you are using the standard to validate your sense of self worth. The purpose of this technique is to give you truth. If you are using this as a method to build or create your sense of self-confidence, re-read the second section
- The standard might be irrelevant. Some comparisons or standards are meaningless to the overall context with our lives. This is especially true of things outside our control. Comparing your height to the average height of a person is a meaningless form of measurement. Just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean it is worthwhile.
The ability to be honest with yourself is a critical yet difficult skill to build. As long as you use your ego to get this ‘truth’, it will be highly distorted. Developing a healthy self-image is the first step. Separate your ego from your accomplishments and failures, so you can move forward in your own personal development.