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The Three Rules for Self-Esteem

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

"You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is not an event - it is a habit." —Aristotle, 4th Century BC Greek philosopher
A while ago, I was sharing the platform with Lou Holtz, one of the most successful football coaches of all time. Both of us were speaking to a large audience on the topics of success and performance, but I especially liked the way Lou got right to the bottom line. He simply said, "The most important thing I can tell you is to believe in yourself. Have faith in yourself."

In fact, he said the secret to his success as a coach ... and the secret to his teams' winning records ... was self-esteem. The more he built the players' self-esteem, the better they did. And that makes total sense to me. For years, I've taught in my "Journey to the Extraordinary" experience, "You perform exactly as you see yourself." If you see yourself as mediocre, you'll give a mediocre performance. But if you see yourself as gifted and confident, you will perform accordingly.

So how can you see yourself more positively? Or how can you raise your self-esteem ... and thereby your effectiveness in every part of your life? For starters, you have to follow 3 simple rules for your life, your work, and your relationships. Follow these 3 simple rules and you will have a strong, powerful, positive self-esteem...

  1. Do what's right.
    Your self-esteem grows when you know in your heart what is right and DO it. As Lou Holtz would say, "This first rule is not real complicated. Do what's right. Don't do what's wrong. And if you have any questions, get out your Bible to find the answers."

    It doesn't matter if you call it business ethics or personal morals, you've got to do what is right. There is no way you can feel good about yourself if you do what you know is wrong. It's a simple rule ... even though it may not always be an easy rule. As the saying goes, "Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on your front door forever." So choose your actions wisely.

  2. Do the best you can.
    Don't accept anything less than the best from yourself. Like rule #1, there is no way you can feel good about yourself if you do just enough to get by or turn in work that is barely good enough to meet the expectations and standards of your industry. You've got to do the best you can.

    When you do that, you reap all the benefits of peace, joy, and self-esteem. As author Pearl S. Buck noted almost a century ago, "The secret of joy in work is contained in one word — excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it."

    And the great President Abraham Lincoln lived by that principle. He said, "I do the very best I know how ... the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."

    Do the best you can ... even though you are bound to face obstacles. People with high self-esteem ... or people trying to build their self-esteem ... find a way to work around those obstacles.

    Such was the case with Peter Falk. At the age of 3, he lost an eye as the result of a tumor, and from there on out, he wore a glass eye. But he didn't slink around the back corridors of his school, with his hand over his eye, hoping no one would see him. No, he became president of his senior class and one of the school's outstanding baseball players. In fact, one time when he slid into third base and the umpire called him out, Falk took out his glass eye and said, "Here, you can use another eye."

    After high school, Falk went on to acting in a small community theatre. But his really "big break" came when he got a call from Columbia Pictures, asking him to come to Hollywood for a screen test. It was very exciting, but they didn't sign him. An executive said, "For his price, I can get can actor with two eyes." The strange thing is ... no one remembers which two-eyed actor Columbia Pictures signed instead. But millions remember Peter Falk from Broadway, TV, and the movies, for which he received two Oscar nominations.

    Despite his so-called "obstacles," Falk always lived by this second rule. He did the best he could ... making his success a foregone conclusion. And the same rule applies to you.

  3. Treat other people the way you'd like to be treated.
    It may sound as old-fashioned as the Golden Rule, but you show me a person who treats others badly, and I'll show you an insecure person with poor self-esteem. You cannot treat anybody ... and I do mean anybody ... badly and feel good about yourself.

    As author Michael Josephson puts it, "The way we treat people we think can't help or hurt us (like housekeepers, waiters, and secretaries), tells more about our character than how we treat people we think are important. People who are honest, kind, and fair only when there's something to gain shouldn't be confused with people of real character who demonstrate these qualities habitually, under all circumstances. Character is not a fancy coat we put on for show. It's who we really are."

    I agree. Treat people with respect, and you will respect yourself. George Washington Carver knew about that. Despite all the racial hatred that surrounded him, he became one of the world's foremost botanical researchers in the 18 and 1900's as well as one of the most respected men of his time. His guiding philosophy was all about this third rule of self-esteem. He said, "No individual has any right to come into this world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it. How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these."

Live by these 3 rules. Work by these 3 rules. And you will have a strong self-esteem. Guaranteed. But you'll also get 3 other benefits...
  • BENEFIT #1: You gain the trust of others.
    When you follow rule #1 ... doing what's right ... others know they can trust you. In fact, there's really no way others can trust you if you don't do what's right. And many companies have learned that lesson the hard way. When they've done something wrong and lost the trust of their employees or lost the trust of the public, they have a difficult if not impossible road ahead of them.
  • BENEFIT #2: You gain the respect of others.
    When you follow rule #2 ... doing your best ... others automatically respect you. But if you goof off or try to take short cuts on quality, their respect goes out the window. On the flip side, if you're a leader, you've got to expect and accept nothing less than the best from others if you ever hope to have their respect. Think about it. The teachers you loved the most ... respected the most ... were those who demanded the most and got the most out of you.
  • BENEFIT #3: You gain the affection of others.
    When you follow rule #3 ... treating others the way you'd like to be treated ... others like you. It's almost impossible to dislike someone who genuinely likes you, cares about you, and treats you well.

    Despite the jargon of pop psychology, you can't win by intimidation. And you don't win when you take the attitude of "I'm your parent ... or ... I'm the boss. Just shut up and listen." You win, according to Lou Holtz, "when you have a love for people and treat them that way."

Look at the three rules for self-esteem. Pick out one rule for your focus this week. And then throughout the week, ask yourself what you are doing or could do to follow that rule that day.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.
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