Dale S. Brown
Believing In Yourself:
Self-Esteem and Motivation
The last chapter discussed making friends, becoming someone that others like,
and improving conversational skills. But what if you think you are unlikeable?
You put yourself down, or don’t think you can be an excellent worker? Or,
conversely, you think you are so great that you can get a job without even
trying--it should come to you?
This chapter will discuss both self-esteem and motivation. The two work together. When you have good self-esteem, you are more motivated. And motivation leads to success, which leads to better self-esteem.
What Is Self-esteem?
The term "self-esteem" refers to your inner judgments about yourself. If you think of yourself as flawed or inferior to others, or generally don't like yourself very much, your self-esteem is low. If you think you are "special" or better than other people, and sometimes get accused of being conceited, your self-esteem is too high. If you see yourself as a pretty typical human being with your fair share of strengths and weaknesses, you have healthy self-esteem, which should be your goal.
Having healthy self-esteem means that you see the truth about yourself and how you affect others. Sometimes that truth is positive. Other times it is negative. You basically like yourself. When things go wrong, you figure out how to correct the problem without putting yourself down. On the other hand, you are also humble. You realize that your successes are partially due to the help of other people.
How Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Dyslexia Affect Self-Esteem
The experience of having learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder,
and dyslexia can lead to an inaccurate view of yourself. This can get in the way
of any task--particularly looking for a job.
Other people with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia receive more than their share of attention. Sometimes accommodation is taken too far--and they believe that other people should do things for them! They may be taught that they are different, special, and better than other people. These people often end up arrogant and have too high self-esteem. Sometimes, however, the appearance of arrogance--or even feeling arrogance--is actually a “mask,” a way of hiding low self-esteem, from others or from yourself.
With so many negative experiences from society, people with learning
disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia have serious challenges
developing healthy self-esteem. Meeting that challenge is a key to success.
Looking Inward to Evaluate Your Own Level of Self-esteem
Figuring out how your own self-esteem rates is not always easy. To help you, here are some examples of common difficulties. They are followed by examples of what a typical person with too-high, healthy, and too-low self-esteem would think. Compare your thoughts to these samples and you will be able to figure out where your self-esteem ranks.
Attitude toward mistakes
1. It's somebody else's fault. I didn't do it.
2. I wonder what I can learn from this. What an interesting error. I'll make
amends to anyone I have hurt.
3. How could I have done such a thing? Boy, was that stupid. It proves that I
will never. . .
Attitude toward accepting a job that does not fully use your education and abilities
1. This job is below me. I think I'll do as little as possible. Boy, do I
have things to teach the boss. I could run this place better than her and maybe
do her job. I'm such a good worker that I can do it in half the time. So, I
guess a three-hour lunch is OK.
2. I need to accept this job right now to allow me to make a living so I can
find the job I want. While I have the job, I will definitely be worth my pay. I
don't like much of the work, but there’s got to be something I can learn! Even
if it's only to develop patience.
3. This job is all that I deserve. I'll never do any better. I have no
choice. It shows that I'm not worth very much.
Attitude toward compliments
1. Definitely, she's right. I'm glad she noticed. More people should
2. Thank you. I appreciate compliments, but if I don't get any, it's OK.
3. I am so embarrassed when someone compliments me. Sometimes I even tell
them they are wrong!
Attitude toward put-downs
1. Absolutely ridiculous! Boy, I will get her for that. I might even punch
2. I'll certainly defend myself. But maybe there is something I can learn
from the comment. Basically, I'm OK even if some people do not like me. [Often,
the person with healthy self-esteem sees the humor in the put-down.]
3. She's probably right. I am too aggressive/fat/self-centered, stupid
(whatever the put-down is).
Attitude toward learning something new
1. That's easy. I don't even need a teacher. I can probably learn it in a
minute. OR: I already know how to do that!
2. That's a challenging thing to learn, but I can do it. I'll get started now
and learn it. I'm curious anyway. This might be fun. I’ll figure out a way to
accommodate my dyslexia if it gets in the way.
3. I’ll never be able to learn that. It's too hard. Probably impossible--
especially with my learning disabilities.
Attitude toward job interviews
1. I'll breeze through it. No need to prepare. I know I’ll really impress the
interviewer. I'll get the job.
2. I'm excited about this opportunity, although I am nervous. I am going to
prepare and use my computer and the library to find out everything there is to
know about the company. I'll be sure I look my best and show them how qualified
3. They won't like me. I am too ugly. I'll probably screw up. I can't meet
the qualifications anyway.
Attitude toward the challenge of finding a job when an offer has not come in as soon as expected
1. I can't understand why nobody will hire me when I am so qualified and an
excellent worker in every way.
2. It's always a challenge to find a job. I will work at it and believe that
ultimately I'll succeed. I'll find the right way to handle my dyslexia, either
by finding a job that doesn't require reading or by asking for an accommodation.
3. How can I look for a job when I'm not qualified? I am obviously clumsy, so
interviewers will definitely not want me. Besides, the job market is disastrous
right now. And they'll discriminate against me because of my attention deficit
Looking Outward to Evaluate Your Self-esteem
Another way to decide if you need to work on your self-esteem is to look at how other people react to you or things that happen to you. Here are some examples:
Some Signs of Too High Self-esteem
• People avoid you.
• You brag and are contradicted.
• You often expect something good to happen (such as being offered a job), but it doesn’t.
• You are sometimes accused of being lazy. If this accusation is because you fail to do work that you think is unnecessary due to your talents, you probably have too high self-esteem.
• People tell you that you are conceited or brag too much.
• You expect people to reach out to you or offer you help and are frustrated when that doesn't happen.
• Failure surprises you.
Some Signs of Too Low Self-Esteem
• People avoid you.
• People tell you that you are not working up to your potential. Or that you need to market yourself more.
• People act in a paternal way toward you. They reassure you, compliment you, and help you.
• You put yourself down.
• You work extremely long hours.
• Success surprises you.
What If Your Self-Esteem Is Too High or Too Low?
As you can see, having self-esteem that is too high or too low offers many excuses for doing nothing. If you think you are too good, you will assume you will naturally get what you want without trying. If you think you are not good enough, you will feel depressed or helpless. You may decide your actions will not make a difference, so you don’t bother doing what you need to do.
Your goal should be to see yourself realistically and to have healthy self-esteem. Since that won’t happen overnight, you may want to begin by acting as if you have healthy self-esteem. Your feelings about yourself do not have to affect your actions. Whatever you do, don't tell yourself that you can't do something because your self-esteem is too low! Or that you won’t do it, because you are so great that your goal will be met without any effort on your part.
If your self-esteem is not what it should be, it is worthwhile to work on it as you look for a job or face any other challenge. If your self-esteem is too low, you can start by making an effort to look on the bright side of things as you hunt for work. Feeling cheerful makes you look more confident, since your face shows your emotions. Although you will still have your disabilities, you will feel more competent. This may make it easier for you to attract a job. And knowing you have stayed cheerful while challenged will improve how you feel about yourself for the rest of your life.
If your self-esteem is too high, you will find that looking for work is naturally humbling. If you keep doing what you need to do to get a job, you will gradually become more realistic about yourself and your abilities. Life will dish out lessons and you will learn them.
Whether your self-esteem is too high or too low, the section on motivation, below, should help you learn to look at yourself more realistically.
Keeping Yourself Motivated
Looking for a job is a major project that entails frequent rejection. You will have to go to many interviews before you get the job! A lot of tasks involved in job hunting are not fun. You must be able to keep going, even when it is hard. That is why it is important to learn how to motivate yourself. This section covers four strategies that will help you build your self-esteem and keep you determined:
1. Affirmations: Repeating phrases to yourself that will help boost your self-esteem and improve your behavior.
2. Questions: Asking yourself questions that make you think positively and constructively.
3. Visualization: Imagining yourself at your best.
4. Motivational Resources: Listening to books, lectures, tapes, and videotapes and participating in classes.
Affirmations are sentences you say to yourself to help yourself achieve realistic self-esteem or to change beliefs that limit your abilities to act.
How do affirmations work? All of us talk to ourselves silently. In our minds, we say things that may or may not be true. Some of us have a critical voice that mostly tells us what we are doing wrong. Some of us have negative thoughts that repeat over and over and over again. These inner recordings often repeat what we heard in the past. For example, many people with learning disabilities and dyslexia have a recording that says, "I'm stupid."
Here are some typical negative thoughts that people with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia experience:
Affirmations contradict the negative inner voice and substitute something supportive. They put a new positive recording in your mind. If you consciously repeat an affirmation to yourself, you will gradually come to believe it or to act as if it is true.
Listen to what you say to yourself. When you hear a negative thought, defend yourself. Develop affirmations that say the opposite. Affirmations do not have to be true. The goal is to say them to yourself often enough and with enough intensity that you begin to believe them. Then you act as if they are true. Then they become true.
A good affirmation is:
It should sell your mind on the new thought much as an advertisement sells you on product.
Some good affirmations for job hunters who have too low self-esteem are:
Some affirmations for people who are challenged by their learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, or dyslexia are:
(Fill in the blanks with the word you use to describe your disability)
Affirmations are usually not recommended for people who have self-esteem that is too high, but you may want to try these:
Once you've picked one or more affirmations, use them constantly. You might:
If you are conscientious about using your affirmations and repeating them to yourself, they will slowly replace your negative beliefs and thoughts. For example, after a tough day of getting letters ready to mail to employers, you'll find yourself both saying and feeling, "I'm a great job hunter. This will really work!"
Asking Yourself the Right Questions
Another esteem-boosting technique is to persistently ask yourself questions. Your mind loves to answer questions. The problem is that you may have been asking yourself the wrong ones, such as:
If you ask yourself negative questions, your mind will come up with negative answers. Think about the last time you thought about why you couldn’t find a job. Most people think things like:
The more you try to answer a negative question, the more depressed you get. Here are some better questions to ask yourself that will help you think more positively:
Some people ask themselves positive questions but their minds still respond negatively! If this happens, you probably have thought negatively about the subject for awhile—and you will need to persist. Inquire over and over again. Your brain will come up with a good answer. Here is a sample inner dialogue:
“What are some of your strengths in a job interview?”
“Yes, you just got rejected from three jobs. But what are some of your
strengths in job interviews?”
“Everything can’t possibly be wrong. There has to be one strength. What is
one tiny little strength in your job interview?”
Using Questions Every Day
Many people find it helps their confidence to set up a routine of asking themselves questions each morning, evening, and week. Here is an example of how that can work. Each morning you could ask:
At the end of the day, you could ask:
Each week, you could write, record, or tell someone your main achievements for the week. You could also ask yourself:
Visualization refers to imagining yourself at your very best. Athletes frequently use visualization. For example, a basketball player might see himself making a perfect shot. He may imagine how he feels inside and how his muscles move.
By envisioning yourself as the person you want to be, you begin to subtly make yourself that way. For example, you might imagine yourself giving an excellent presentation at a job interview. Relax. Picture yourself serenely waiting in the reception area. Then imagine your future boss coming out to greet you. Feel yourself standing up tall. And shaking her hand. Imagine walking to her office--the smoothness of your steps, the alert and calm look on your face. Your graceful movements.
Before a major job interview, imagine the entire interview. Role play with a friend, parent, job counselor, or even yourself. Imagine the question that you fear the most. And hear yourself confidently answering it. By picturing a successful interview, you make it more likely that the interview will match your new picture.
When you succeed, replay the incident in your mind. People with disabilities tend to play their failures in their minds over and over. Instead, learn from your mistakes, remember the lesson, but stop replaying the bad experience. Change the film in your brain. When you know you did something well, play and replay it. This gives you good raw material for your future visualizations. And makes it more likely you will repeat the success.
There are many books, lectures, tapes, videotapes, and television programs available to motivate you and keep you motivated. Many people find it helpful to expose themselves to some form of motivational programming each day. They find it inspires them and gives them ideas of how to do better. Sources include:
• Bookstores: In the psychology, self-help, and business sections, there are hundreds of motivational books and audiotapes. Many successful people, particularly those involved in sales, constantly read this literature. If you like to order from online bookstores such as Amazon.com ( http://www.amazon.com ) or Barnes & Noble ( http://www.barnesandnoble.com ), try searching for motivational materials using keywords such as: self-help, self-esteem, self-acceptance, affirmations, values, personality, interpersonal relations, and motivational.
• Libraries: Your public library also has books, tapes, and videotapes that can be borrowed. Again, look in the psychology, self-help, or business sections, or ask a librarian to help you.
• Direct Mail: Many fliers for books, audiotapes, and videotapes are sent directly to homes.
• Adult Education Resources: Seminars and classes are offered by public and private institutions. If you work for a large company, your training department may help you locate them. Ask for catalogs and be alert for flyers, posters, and other advertisements. Ask your friends. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Sales Training” or “Motivational and Self-Improvement Training.”
• Religious Institutions: Churches, synagogues, temples, and other houses of worship often offer classes and books with a spiritual focus.
Evaluating Motivational Resources
How do you know which, if any, of these products will help you? There are so many choices, you may be overwhelmed. It is also easy to spend so much time becoming motivated that you never act. Here are some promises and pitfalls. Be wary of:
The Promise of Instant Change. “This weekend will change your life!” “Read this book and you will stop procrastinating!” Although instant change is possible, it is not likely to come from such a product or process. People often end these experiences with a “high” feeling, thinking they have changed. But they often remain the same. Real personal growth takes time. You must make up your mind to change and then follow through.
The Promise of Secrets Revealed. Most strategies for achieving personal change are common sense. There are very few secrets and if something is being peddled in a book or workshop, it isn't secret any more.
Magical Thinking. Too many motivational books imply or state that if you follow their techniques, you will definitely reach your goals. They claim that if you do not reach your goals, it is because you have not followed their techniques right! Some seminars say you will reach your goals fast. Some even say you will reach your goals instantly. Remember: no technique is a magic bullet. Visualization, affirmations, and other techniques can be helpful. But they must be followed by action. Also, even if you are the perfect job hunter who has wonderful qualifications and interviews well, you may have tremendous difficult getting a job due to factors beyond your control.
Good motivational literature and classes should leave you determined to act. Some classes will help you find supporters and friends. This can be important if you feel you need a peer or coach who can urge you to do what you have committed to do.
Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Motivation
Do not confuse the need for motivation and determination with the need for accommodation. No matter how motivated you are, you will not be able to read a self-help book if you have dyslexia and have not been taught properly. If you struggle with typing your resume and can’t format it right, stop struggling! Pay someone to do it.
If you let yourself get too anxious, you may end up making the job harder for
yourself. You may add weeks or even months to your job hunt if you have dyslexia
and think you can get the resume or application perfect--if only you try.
Especially if you send it out and there are mistakes on it!
Working directly on how you feel about yourself and pushing yourself to act will help you obtain employment. This is because believing in yourself helps you actually do what you have to do to get a job. And confident people get hired.
The next chapter will guide you to learning more about how your disability affects you and how to handle discrimination. This, too, will help you see yourself realistically and also help you help others have a positive attitude about you. The next chapter also looks at ways to gain work experience and to start planning your job hunt.
If you would like to buy a copy of the book, the Center will receive a small commission if you buy the book from Amazon. This is a good way to help the Center and help yourself to learn about Job Hunting and all of its attendant issues.
Copyright © 1998