What causes some people to have loads of confidence, while others are overcome with insecurity? It’s a question that psychologists and philosophers have tried to answer for more than 100 years. As it turns out, it all depends on what you believe to be important in life. A new study uncovered that people who believe they possess great traits are the individuals with the most self-esteem.
In 1890, the “father” of psychology William James wrote a popular theory about self-worth that argued that self esteem is the result of the balance between one’s actual successes and what he hopes to achieve. James argued Self Esteem = Success/Pretensions. One famous quote attributed to James is, “”The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” He believed people had various selves to focus on (for example perhaps you are a writer, or a business person) and the parts of you that are the most tied to your definition of your personal self become the most important. He argued, “All other selves thereupon become unreal, but the fortunes of this self are real. Its failures are real failures, its triumphs real triumphs, carrying shame and gladness with them. ” Researchers conducted a study to determine whether this century-old theory had any validity in today’s world.
It looks like James was on to something. Unsurprisingly, the people with the highest self-esteem had rated themselves well in the areas they thought were most important. The opposite was true, too: people with no self confidence considered themselves weak in the attributes that were most important to them. Those who rated themselves as physically attractive show some of the highest levels of self-esteem. On the other hand, the trait people are most likely to forgive themselves for is a lack of athleticism. Even for people who wished they were better at sports, this attribute had little impact on their overall self-esteem.
The lesson, focus on the parts of your “self” that give you joy, success, and validation.