by Anne Collier
While some have found a safe harbor to weather the next storm, some are still navigating treacherous waters. These intrepid adventurers batten down the hatches, drop anchor or shorten sail to survive, maintain workability and even enhance performance. Whether you consider yourself to be nestled in a safe harbor or trying to reach or create one, a strong sense of self is essential. In the case of the former, the ability to rest and enjoy the safe harbor requires a strong sense of self to let go of worry and embrace all that is good in life.
For the latter, the intrepid adventurers navigating successive storms seeming to blow in from all points on the compass, a strong sense of self is arguably even more important. A strong sense of self is beyond confidence, or at least confidence in the traditional sense. The word “confidence” comes from a Latin word fidere which means “to trust.” Self-confidence, therefore, is having trust in oneself.
A strong sense of self is qualitatively different than merely trusting one’s self. While you cannot have too strong a sense of self, you can have too much confidence. People who are overconfident are prone to overestimating their ability and the accuracy of their beliefs. When the overconfident make mistakes, typically because of the overconfidence itself, they blame others.
The essence of overconfidence is that it is untempered by objectivity, and that is the key. By contrast, a strong sense of self marries trust in oneself with acutely discerning objectivity. A person who is objective about self is self-aware. However, a strong sense of self is more than self-awareness. A person with a strong sense of self is highly self-actualized. The self-actualized strive to live to their highest potential as a matter of being and perspective, not just hard work. People who are self-actualized are confident and curious. They don’t assume they know all the answers and are eager to learn from others. The self-actualized stay focused on resolving problems that befall them, eschewing blame and defensiveness. Said another way, they don’t freak out when something goes wrong. Even though they have an opinion, they are open to others’ views.
What does “being self-actualized” look like in action? It is optimism, resilience, caring, curiosity, thoughtful refection, decisiveness, and strategic thinking. There’s more, but you get the picture. It’s how we want to be. Check out your own self-actualization by taking this short assessment.
12 Strategies for Strengthening Your Sense of Self
When the seas are calm your strong sense of self, like a life jacket, is nice to have, but not top of mind. But when a storm hits, your strong sense of self is your life jacket. There’s a reason the Coast Guard mandates that each boat have a life jacket for every passenger. If disaster befalls, you need it! Employing these 12 strategies will strengthen your sense of self.
- Heighten objectivity. When assessing how to best weather a storm, the more objective you are about your crew’s knowledge and abilities, and the storm itself, the more successful you will be. Period.
- Know yourself. Whether you are an expert sailor or just a beginner, being objective about your strengths, weaknesses, skill, and knowledge gaps will empower you to make better strategic choices, including securing the right support.
- Recognize your fears. There is no question that storms can be scary. Acknowledging what about a storm triggers your fears, and dealing with that, is an essential first step to surviving the storm.
- Stay focused on solutions. When you are taking on water, don’t waste valuable time and energy flogging yourself. Bail the water out of the boat. In other words, stay focused on solving the problem and don’t let distractions interfere.
- Adopt a growth mindset. When you’ve got water in the boat, identify the leak and learn from any mistakes. This predisposition to learn is called a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset resist understanding the source of the unwanted water because they fear their intelligence and skill are fixed at a low level. With compassion, get over it and learn.
- Don’t take it personally, really. Remember that crew members may be battling with an internal storm. Don’t take outward manifestations of their storms personally. Shift your embattled crew member’s focus with support and empathy. And, importantly, give the crew hope by focusing them on working together to get to safety.
- Care for yourself. You won’t have the perspective necessary to captain if you’ve been eating stale hardtack and working 24-hour shifts. Develop and adhere to self-care routines, including eating well and regularly, exercise, sleep, and social contact. Not only does routine self-care stabilize you and the boat, routine refreshes your sense of well-being and ability to perform.
- Know who truly supports you. It’s not just about getting the occasional pep talk, which is also valuable. It’s about knowing who in your circle has a strong sense of self and wants to support you by being optimistic, objective and truly happy about your successes.
- Focus on what you can control. An aspect of being objective is letting go of the fact that a storm has ruined your afternoon boat outing. Focus on salvaging what fun you can have, or getting to safety if necessary.
- Be present. Being present is critical. Lamenting the past, anxiety about the future and even stress about what you can’t control now, all impair your ability to be effective now.
- Zoom out. Don’t mistake a single drenching from an errant whitecap for a disastrous storm. Zoom out so that you can view a single unpleasant event as one event in a timeline. Don’t catastrophize. Remember, sometimes a seemingly negative event makes the way for fabulous good fortune.
- Recognize when to do nothing. Sometimes doing something is anxiety in action. Objectively assess the storm and determine whether there is any way to better secure your position. If not, enjoy the view.
Whether you’ve found your safe harbor or are navigating treacherous waters, a strong sense of self will improve your experience. A strong sense of self is yours and yours alone, and that’s the point. Equipped with a strong sense of self, you’re ready to face whatever storms come your way.