Evidence Based
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Should We Be Building Our Self-Esteem?

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

I spoke about the illusion of choice and fatalism, but perhaps more important than describing patterns of behavior that are conducive to well-being is debunking what is harmful to our well-being.

Which “Self” Should We Esteem?

We’ve been told since the earliest we can remember that we should improve our self-esteem. We are told that we should be proud of who we are and view ourselves in the loftiest way possible.

We think that we should esteem this self and so we try to change our opinion of what we think is ourselves. We tell ourselves to think positively about ourselves and how we’re completely awesome in every way. We think of all of the ways we’re great and we get momentarily excited and exuberant.

I ask the reader, however, which “self” should we be esteeming, exactly? Should we esteem our conscious mind, our thoughts or who we feel “we” are?

How Building Your Self-Esteem Can Be Harmful

I believe self-esteem building is a colossal mistake. What results from this approach/style of thinking is a strengthened sense of self, a greater illusion of “I” and more neuroticism.

Think about what happens when we prop your “self” up and you tell yourself how great you are. The importance of this thinking self naturally increases. You start creating a web of illusions about this self.

But what happens when this self f*cks up? What do we do then? Create more illusions about how we don’t care? The fact is you do care because you like viewing yourself in some grandiose way and that’s why you prop yourself up with just more thinking.

Dan Harris went through his life with only valuing his thinking mind. He cared too much and so he started getting anxiety and being a workaholic to escape his reality. He had no “self-esteem” even though he was successful in his profession. The most successful people are woefully insecure.

We Should Esteem Ourselves, But Not the Self You’re Thinking About

I say we should esteem ourselves more, but not the self you’re thinking about and not the way you’d instinctively try to do it.

We should esteem the self that is aware of the fact that we’re thinking, not the thinking mind itself. You can call this aware mind, as opposed to the thinking mind (in reality our brain is always making computations without thinking).

To esteem or respect the aware mind is to not esteem or value what goes on in our thinking mind at all. To respect ourselves is to allow ourselves to be as we are, not as our thinking mind wants us to be. To esteem ourselves, then, we should focus on being and awareness and not by thinking just more thoughts.

To esteem who we are, doesn’t require complimenting ourselves, but instead, understanding who we truly are – our capabilities, wants, desires, etc.. – and unconditionally accepting this reality.

If we accept this reality, it means we stop trying to change who we are and instead work within the boundaries that nature has set for us. It means we realize the folly and absurdity of our human experience and fully accept it.

The Absurdity of Our Experience

What do I mean by the absurdity of our experience? Everything we see and experience is through the lens of our limited consciousness, not some absolute fact. Color is literally just a wave of a certain length that bounces off of some object. If the wave is just a fraction longer or shorter, we see it as a different color. However, we experience color as something completely different – something we all know but can’t describe.

We experience the hardness of a rock because of the softness of our skin. In reality, there is no hard or soft in an absolute sense, it’s just how we experience the world. Everything is made up of spinning electrons around protons and some other subatomic particles. At the level of protons, electrons, and subatomic particles, one particle isn’t different than another. There are no real differences in objects, except in the number and arrangement of these particles. Our experience sees objects in a completely different way than their absolute reality.

Our Feelings of Worthlessness is Just an Experience

If we’re depressed or feeling worthless, it’s not because of some absolute fact, or external factor, but merely because of our own perception and experience, which we can’t control by thinking about it differently. Trying to change a feeling of worthlessness is like trying to change how you see the color red. As hard as you try to see the color red as just a wave, you still won’t be able to.

The only thing you can do is watch and accept your experience for what it is: an illusion that we can’t change or help to see differently. This doesn’t mean we aren’t experiencing it, but we should see it for what it is – as a biological oddity – and observe it, just like we see a wavelength as the color red. This pattern of thinking is conducive to overall well-being but doesn’t magically change the experience you find yourself in any given moment, so you shouldn’t expect this outcome in the short term.

The Importance of Psychedelics

Steve Jobs is known to be supportive of psychedelic usage – at least once. The reason why psychedelics are important is because they change our experience in such a way that we see how illusory our perceptions are. We can experience color and reality differently for the first time by manipulating our biology. (I hope to try these soon.)

“You” Are Your Own Worst Enemy

All of your problems are created from within you – either because of your subconscious (i.e. our biology, and we can’t control this) or because of your ego (the “I”) tries to change the real you.

By trying to change our experience, the only thing that changes is the strain we feel from trying to do this. Therefore, “You” are your own worst enemy and instead of trying to strengthen or esteem this “You”, we should see it for what it is: an illusion.

Therefore, what it means to truly esteem ourselves is to esteem our true self and just be. Instead of trying to build what we think is our self-esteem, we should lower the esteem we have (this illusory “self”) and let our experiences be as they are by not interfering or trying to change anything.

The Take-Away

If your biology is working fine, then the only possible reason for not feeling good about yourself is because of your ego or what you think of as “You” – the thinking mind.

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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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