How small achievements can boost self-esteem

by Ezra Hewing | 16 May 2019

Written by Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education, Suffolk Mind

We all need to feel that we are achieving things and growing. These don’t have to be huge achievements either. Achievements can be small tasks, like cooking a meal for ourselves, which gives us the sense that we are in control of our lives and managing. Achievement is good for our self-esteem; especially if we are doing something we are good at and learning to get better.

But what if we are unrealistic about achievement? What if we have always dreamt of achieving something incredible, but lack the confidence to get started? Or worse still, fear that we will fail and so put off getting started?

One approach to conquer fear of failure is to start with small steps. In his book Micromastery, travel writer and adventurer, Robert Twigger describes how he learnt to focus on mastering small skills which were fun and easy to go back to. So instead of dreaming of becoming a world class chef, just focus on making the best omelette you can – the essential test for all chefs.

Twigger describes how you might Become a Street Photographer, just by taking hundreds of photos with your phone, getting up close to your subject and playing around with colour and contrast filters, to take interesting pictures you can share online.

If photography or cooking don’t inspire you, make a list of things you learnt how to do when you were young, perhaps colouring in, doing an easy crossword puzzle or writing a postcard. And then put some time aside, maybe twenty minutes, to practice the skill and remind yourself of how it feels to do something you are good at.

When small steps seem like mountains

If we are experiencing depression, it can be easy to forget that we are good at things and feel robbed of the motivation even to do the most basic day-to-day tasks. Depression steals confidence and motivation from people, no matter how competent they are when they feel well.

If you find that just getting out of bed in the morning feels too much, try breaking things up into the smallest possible steps; start by moving to the edge of the bed. When you are at the edge of the bed, focus on pushing the duvet back. Once you have managed to push the duvet back, put one foot on floor. Notice how it feels to be half way there before sitting up and putting your second foot on the floor. In your imagination, see yourself standing up and making your way to the bathroom or kitchen. With each small achievement you may notice your sense of purpose returning, little by little.

Achievement is one of our 12 physical and emotional needs.

by Ezra Hewing

Ezra Hewing is Head of Education at Suffolk Mind and a Human Givens Therapist. Since joining Suffolk Mind in 2009, he has grown our busy workplace wellbeing service, training frontline mental health workers, doctors, nurses, substance abuse workers, members of the emergency services and heads of organisations, amongst others, in how best to understand and support emotionally healthy workplaces. He holds an MSc in the psychology and neuroscience of mental health from the internationally renowned Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King’s College, London, where he researched REM sleep and mental ill health, with a focus on the symptoms of schizophrenia.

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