I screwed up, now what?

By Good Magazine

June 2, 2017

Sometimes it feels like life is delivering one cold shower of rain after another. Alice Boyes offers some tips for keeping your self-esteem robust 

By Dr Alice Boyes

1. Maintain your interests

Joe lost his job. He used to enjoy going to the gym on his lunch break but he has stopped going since it’s no longer part of his routine. This is a common scenario – people often start opting out of their hobbies and interests when they’re experiencing stress and change.  

Your interests provide you with stability and a sense of positive identity and confidence. Try to keep up your routines of seeing friends and participating in your hobbies and interests. You may need to find a way of reducing costs if money is tight. For example, try to negotiate a temporary fee reduction with your gym, or arrange to do a similar but lower-cost activity with friends.

2. Tell the truth

Lying about your situation will cause embarrassment to morph into shame, which is a much more destructive emotion. Shame can eat you alive psychologically. Be upfront with others about what you’re going through. For example, if you screwed up in a way that has resulted in getting fired, be honest with your friends about that. Most people have made past mistakes they now regret.

3. Don’t put all your eggs in one self-esteem basket

The key to stable self-esteem is diversifying. If your self-esteem is based on your looks or having a rich partner, then you’re going to be vulnerable to feeling awful if those domains of self-esteem fade or disappear. Likewise, don’t base all your self-esteem on your career success. 

Self-esteem is comprised of a mix of self-worth and sense of competency. Know what gives you a sense of self-worth – for instance, that you’re a loyal friend. Recognise your skills, such as, that you’re great at Googling information you need. 

4. Use your core competencies to solve your problems

Whatever you’re good at, use those core competencies to help solve your problems. For example, if a strength of yours is getting along with others, then you may be able to utilise relationships you’ve built in the past to help you solve your current issues. If you’re phenomenal at researching information, how could that skill help you now? People usually feel better and more empowered when they have a sense that the strengths they need are the strengths they have. 

5. Balance trying to solve your problems with restorative time

People can sometimes exhaust themselves by focusing all day, every day, on trying to solve their problems. This is counterproductive. Allow yourself enough breaks and time away from thinking about your problems so you can maintain a view of the big picture.

6. Don’t take the reality TV star approach

Thanks to reality TV and paparazzi, we’ve all observed people react to difficult moments in life by getting plastic surgery, driving drunk, making bad dating choices, or living way beyond their means. When looking from a distance it’s easy to see how those reactions can make the person’s situation ten times worse and lead to ongoing problems such as living with plastic surgery gone wrong. Avoid extreme behaviour and taking risks when you’re down in the dumps. On a less extreme scale … think twice before getting that pixie cut after a break-up or being passed over for a promotion!

Alice Boyes, PhD, is author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.

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