Self-esteem was an essential component of FBI firearms training. As FBI agents, we were trained to use good judgment when confronted with stressful situations. We had confidence in our ability to handle our weapons because we spent hours developing our skills.
When we have high levels of self-esteem, we are less vulnerable to anxiety and stress. It’s essential to keep a calm head when drawing a weapon during an arrest because circumstances can change quickly, and with little or no warning.
Self-esteem is your belief in yourself—it’s a fuel source and it powers your approach to both business and life. Almost everyone has experienced a time in their career when they’ve lost faith in themselves—the loss of a job, a failed business, the startup that hasn’t quite started, or the realization that they are in the wrong career.
I learned quickly in the FBI that success would not make me confident; instead, confidence would make me successful. Loss of self-esteem is a loss of dignity and self-respect, and that is a downward spiral that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here are five effective ways you can boost your self-esteem:
1. Understand your environment
\When I was transferred to a new city or squad, the first thing I did was identify the top performers. I learned the secrets to their success, from their interactions with colleagues in the office to the way they conducted their investigations in the field.
Troubled relationships with supervisors and colleagues can easily destroy even the most talented person’s confidence. If you have relationships that are troubled, try to identify when/where/why it happened and if there is anything you can do to get things back on track.
How to make it work for you: Take the time to study your environment, especially the people with whom you work. Educate yourself on how to recognize different personality types so you more easily identify what makes the people around you tick.
2. Find a mentor
After I identified the top performers on my squad, I made them mentors. The toughest nut to crack was a group of 4 male agents who hung around together and had all the best cases assigned to them. They were an exclusive club so I labeled them “The Gang Of Four.”
Trying to become one of them was laughable, but I knew I needed to mirror their approach to working counterintelligence cases. They would die of shock if they knew I considered them to be my mentors, but they gave me the perspective I needed if I wanted to be confident—and successful.
By latching onto their attitudes and habits, I better understood the culture of my environment. They helped me identify the unwritten rules of the FBI that boosted my self-esteem.
How to make it work for you: There is a big difference between a coach and a mentor — a coach is someone who sees the potential in who you can be, while a mentor is someone you’re trying to imitate or mirror. Both are essential but if you are experiencing lack of belief in yourself, surround yourself with people who are experienced and confident so they can show you how to move forward.
3. Be honest with yourself
In the FBI Academy, we trained how to run down and tackle an individual resisting arrest. I was a lousy runner, showing up at the rear end of every race our class ran. The idea of me running down, or even catching up with, a suspect produced snarky comments and rolled eyes from my classmates.
Yep, my self-esteem suffered mightily but I also knew that true confidence must be grounded in reality. I had to make an honest assessment of my skills and strengths (I excelled in firearms), and then plan for ways to grow my strengths so I could manage my weaknesses.
Ego can take a hit but it’s essential that you are honest about your abilities. Pretending that you don’t have drawbacks or weaknesses is just being stupid. Instead, be smart and get ahead of them so they don’t sabotage you when you’re confronted with a stressful situation.
How to make it work for you: Find ways to get constructive feedback and criticism on what others see as your strengths. It will make it easier to shake off unfair criticism that you may receive in a competitive work environment.
4. Heal from the past
Take the time to uncover any unresolved or stress-producing issues that could still be lingering from your past. If you struggle with something from your past that drags you down, now is the time to have the mental toughness you need to deal with it, once and for all.
How to make it work for you: Get a counselor or therapist if you need one, but it’s time to slay that demon once and for all. “Age and wisdom do not always travel in pairs. Sometimes age shows up by itself.”—LaRae Quy
5. Explore new life experiences
One of the best ways to boost your self-esteem is to learn a different skill-set by starting a new pastime. Your ego is not as invested in an avocation as it is in your career, so it will feel less threatened if you fail.
Each time you learn something new, you will build confidence in what you’ve accomplished. You will build self-awareness of how you deal with disappointment, rejection, or failure.
To get something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done. To boost your self-esteem, you will need to wrestle with your fear of failing as if the quality of your life depends on it. Because it does.
How to make it work for you:: Notice how you respond to both failure and success. What can you learn from your experience? The more you understand how you respond to situations where you experience failure or success, the better you can craft the reaction you want.
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.
If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.