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There's a Formula for Self-Esteem?
By Heath Shive
Worried about your self-esteem? You are not alone.
The term “self-esteem” was coined by the great psychologist William James over a hundred years ago in his masterpiece Principles of Psychology.
To James, your self-esteem could be determined by a simple equation:
Self-esteem = Success / Pretensions
So you could increase your self-esteem in two ways. As Alain de Botton – author of the book Status Anxiety – writes, “On the one hand, we may try to achieve more; and on the other we may reduce the number of things we want to achieve.” (Italics added).
“Success” is usually defined as more money, more prestige, more status, more sex, more power, more influence, more fame, more achievements, etc.
For more self-esteem, you could increase your success. Or…you could also reduce your pretensions.
To the philosophy!
Pretensions and the F-word
Pretensions are simply what you think you should have.
You drive a minivan, but you think you deserve a SUV (even though both just carry your butt to the same place). You think your kids should be in private school (even though plenty of kids are going to public and doing just fine). You think you should be promoted (even though your work performance isn’t the best).
As Mark Manson – author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – writes: “It has become an accepted part of our culture today to believe that we are all destined to do something truly extraordinary. Celebrities say it. Business tycoons say it. Politicians say it. Even Oprah says it (so it must be true).”
Even if people didn’t say such platitudes, then commercials, TV and movies would blast the same message at you anyway. Manson writes: “Everyone and their TV commercial wants you to believe that the key to a good life is a nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend…The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more…”
According to James’ equation, as you increase your pretensions you decrease your self-esteem!
So Manson advocated that people not give “a f*ck” (i.e., reduce your pretensions), then the “stress and anxiety of always feeling inadequate and constantly needing to prove yourself will dissipate” so that “the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations.”
Lowering your goals to the point where they are already met is the definition of the word "mediocrity."
But James, Manson, and de Botton are not advocating mediocrity. They are preaching independence.
Then, your self-esteem will be created, maintained, and fueled entirely by you. This will probably not reduce work and pain – but it could decimate your anxiety.
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De Botton, Alain. Status Anxiety. Pantheon Books, 2004.
James, William. The Principles of Psychology. H. Holt and Company, 1918.
Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. HarperOne, 2016.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.