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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 4

How to Stop Chasing Self-Esteem

The more you pursue self-esteem, the more your confidence—and happiness—will recede. The following four steps will help you break the cycle.



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1. Be aware of how you feel.

As soon as you sense that you are tense, obsessed or conflicted, pay attention, advises psychologist Jennifer Crocker of the Ohio State University. These emotions signal that your motivations may be tangled with self-esteem.

2. Ask yourself “Why?”

As you think about your situation, ask yourself: What am I trying to prove to others? What do I want to gain? What am I afraid to lose? If your answers revolve around either a fear of failing or the success, status and rewards that will arrive once you have accomplished your goal, you are likely chasing self-esteem.

3. Change your outlook.

Instead of focusing on your own success, think about what you might want to create or accomplish, how your efforts might benefit others or what you might learn from the experience.

4. Embrace empathy and vulnerability.

Be honest with others about your fears and challenges and listen openly to their concerns. Leadership coach Shayne Hughes of California-based consultancy Learning as Leadership says such actions allow you to cultivate compassion. Reorienting your goals in a more compassionate way can make you feel more clear-headed and at peace.

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