Self Esteem: Something I have or something I do? Why would this be important?

Stick with me and you'll see why this could be 'the difference that makes the difference' in improving self esteem.

Firstly a small experiment. What do you notice differs in your answers to the following pairs of questions?

  • Where would you buy a car?
  • Where would you buy pride?
  • Where would you store a chair?
  • Where would you store a relationship?
  • What color is your front door?
  • What color is your friendship?
  • What are the dimensions of your bedroom?
  • What are the dimensions of your motivation?

If you found the first question easier to answer than the second, that's normal! But why is this? The questions require some physical or tangible aspect to be answered. Far easier when the object of the question is a physical or tangible 'thing' - but when the object is less tangible, such as 'pride, relationship, friendship, or motivation', the answer is not definitive.

Easy you say, one question is related to a 'thing', the other is not.

You got it. Exactly my point!

Yet we constantly treat intangibles such as 'pride, relationship, friendship, or motivation' exactly as if they were 'things' outside of us that we could somehow alter, exchange or improve, just like cars, houses, or furniture.

For example: "I'd like more motivation." Or: "I want a better relationship." Or: "I need to improve my friendship with ... (someone)." Or: "I wish I could feel more pride."

Tell me, could you go to the supermarket and buy a new relationship?

Or have a tradesman come over and repair your friendship?

Of course it makes no sense to say this.

Yet when someone says "I have low self esteem", they are describing their self esteem as a 'thing', exactly as if some other person or process could come around and fix it for them.

Now to my first question.

Why would this be important?

It has to do with being able to exert control. By representing an 'intangible' as a 'thing', we can inadvertently place it 'outside of ourselves' - as if it could exist independently of us. By doing this, we accidentally abdicate responsibility for controlling how we 'do' this intangible. Lots of fancy words, but let me give you an example for the sake of clarity.

'Relationship' is an intangible noun. It appears to be a 'thing', but is really no more than a collection of thoughts, feelings and behaviors at any one time. To represent it as a noun tends to make it seem more solid or sometimes even stuck in a certain way of doing things - as if it were not an integral part of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

So lets reclaim our power and control over these intangibles. Luckily, it is very simple to start, although a life's work to refine!

Lets begin.

So far we have been looking at nouns ... now lets take a look at verbs, the 'doing words'.

Most, if not all of these intangible nouns are simply a large group of verbs, collected together and 'nominally' turned into a 'noun'. This process is called nominalization. The reverse of this process then is called ... yes you guessed it ... 'de-nominalization'!

We can now reclaim control by denominalizing our intangible nouns, such as relationship, by first turning it back into a verb. "I want a better relationship" becomes "How can I relate better?" or "How am I relating right now?". Notice the difference this makes inside of us when we ask the question in this way. It starts to uncover my real thoughts, feelings and behaviors that comprise this aspect of me. It is no longer something outside of me that I might perceive myself not to have control over.

This is tricky, because it requires me to be a 'Human Doing', not a 'Human Being' (for the sake of this exercise!), which is not necessarily something we are taught to do or have learned about before. But it is well worth it, especially now we get to the point of the experiment: My Self Esteem. By now, I hope you can easily see that self esteem is a nominalization and we need to turn it back into verbs to reclaim control.

Ask yourself: "How am I self esteeming?"; "How do I 'do' self esteem?"; "How am I lowering my esteem?"; and you will find these are very powerful questions that can connect directly with your unconscious thoughts and bring a sense of personal power.

The answers may still not be immediately evident or easy - but they are inside you!

All the best for your journey ...

Author's Bio: 

Robert Scanlon is a corporate consultant, NLP Trainer, and the author of "Boost Your Self Esteem To New Heights", a free 21-day online Self Esteem Course and 35-page Workbook. You can find the course at