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Do you remember a time in your life when you didn’t feel good enough?
Maybe everything you did seemed to fail and you began to feel worthless?
You ended your day feeling like nothing worked, your self-esteem falling away like sand through your fingers.
We’ve all felt like this at some stage, and I’m sure we had someone telling us that we were “good enough” and to “pull ourselves up and carry on”.
Verbal compliments have been the way to build self-confidence since I was a child. It’s been great, but is it enough?
Phrases like “Well done!’ or “Great job!” are valuable tools and are perfectly fine things to say to someone if they have the self-assuredness to actually believe you. But what about the people that don’t?
Saying “You are great” may yield a positive result in the short term, but it lacks that lasting, foundational effect.
Before we go on, let me clarify that I am by no means saying you should stop complimenting people. I’m just pointing out a need to give people the tools to be able to compliment themselves, even after you’re gone. Teach a person to fish instead of giving them a fish, to use an overly used cliche.
So in conjunction with positive verbal re-enforcement, how do we teach someone to have higher self-esteem?
You challenge them.
This may sound pretty easy, but if you get it wrong you will have the opposite effect; destroying their self-esteem instead of boosting it. Challenge someone with something they can’t reasonably achieve and you might as well tell them they can’t accomplish anything.
The key is to set a challenge that is hard enough to make them work, but not so hard that they give up before they finish.
In my years as a martial arts instructor, I got used to pushing people to their limits through verbal motivation. I’ve developed a solid sense of how to challenge someone just enough. Here’s what I discovered…
1. Know the person.
Firstly, get a sense of the person you are working with. This can take some time but is an invaluable tool in helping someone with their self-confidence. Take the time to have a conversation with them, watch their body language or talk to their loved ones. To be able to read people quickly and therefore gauge how far you can push them is a skill and it will take practice to master so stick at it!
2. Be involved.
When challenging people you need to make sure you are there for support throughout the entire process. You don’t want to interfere as they need to do it on their own, but do be there with verbal encouragement when they need it. Tell them that they are doing a great job, but don’t offer any overpowering solutions to the challenge as part of the process is feeling as if they have gotten the result on their own.
3. Choose the challenge wisely.
This is the number one most important aspect of this technique. To reiterate, if your challenge is too hard, you’ll destroy someone’s confidence instead of boosting it.
The challenge you set for them is going to depend on the person (see note 1). For kids, opt for a group challenge or something game-related (make sure to make it fun!). For adults and older kids, something they can work on by themselves. And remember, it must be achievable, but it must take work.
Because I know you want one, here is an example.
Dad: “Hey Johnny, do you think you can join us over here? We are trying to build this lego tower as tall as your brother.” Johnny: “Ok, that sounds pretty hard but I’ll give it a go!” Johnny joins the group and after a few attempts, he successfully builds the lego tower past his brother's head.
This is a simple example but it illustrates the point. Johnny’s Dad knows he will be able to do the challenge but Johnny doesn’t. He does something he didn’t know he could do and therefore gains self-confidence.
Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or just want to make a difference to the people around you, challenges are a great way to build self-esteem and create a lasting effect on the participants.
So challenge yourself and give it a try!
You might change someone’s life.