There's an old story of how Albert Einstein was teaching a class. He wrote 10 simple math problems down on the board and asked the class for feedback. One was wrong out of the 10 problems; 9 x 10 = 91. When he asked for feedback, everyone in the class laughed at him and completely denigrated him. So even though Einstein is one of the greatest mathematical minds to have ever lived, he got a problem incorrect. Why? Because he was human, and he wanted to prove an even more profound point. We all tend to focus on our 1 mistake and not our 9 accomplishments.
In this article, I will discuss why we all focus on somebody's imperfection, the 10% of them, and not the perfection, which is the more significant part. I will also provide you with some tips on transforming your self-esteem instantly.
Why do we focus on the negatives?
As we struggle with our self-esteem, pointing out someone else's imperfection is our way, conscious or not, of bringing them down to our level. Why should they feel good about themselves when I feel so terrible? It's the crabs in a barrel mentality: when you put a bunch of crabs in a barrel, as soon as one starts to climb out, the others pull it back down. As a society, we really struggle to accept another person's success, especially if it's directly in our sight. You can see examples of this time and again in popular culture. The up-and-coming artist is beloved and celebrated on their journey to the top, but once they're there, people begin trying to tear them down, whether that's based on their talent, appearance, or any number of qualities that may or may not be there.
We do these things because we notice we're not doing what they're doing. We're not taking the same risks, we're not putting ourselves out there, and we don't want to admit that it's our failing. So it starts to become about how the other person doesn't deserve their level of success because these small mistakes likely only make up 10% of the overall picture where the rest is ignored. So it is really just us covering up our low self-esteem. All of those judgments and things we see in them are things we see in ourselves, but we're not quite ready to face them and what it means.
Think about the last time you struggled with somebody's success. Notice how your talk of them mirrors your internal dialogue towards yourself -- it's identical, isn't it? Think of the politicians you hate, or whichever side of the current societal dynamics you're on, and how you denigrate the other side. Then think about when you're imperfect in your own life and how your description of them is identical to your description of yourself. You belittle yourself or talk to yourself the exact same way for whatever mistake you made. So that's why when people start to succeed, we focus on the 10% and not the 90%.
Tips to change your perception
1. The 90/10 rule.
Instead of spending 90% of your time pointing out your imperfections, spend 90% of your time focusing on your perfections and all the ways you succeed. To help you achieve this, start writing down three things that you accomplished at the end of the day. Simple things like "I drank a glass of water" can be a victory because how many of us don't stay hydrated? The positive things we do should be treated as a victory. Very few times do we fail in life. So when you hear that negative voice condemning you, pause, shift, and do something positive like listing 9 things you did incredibly to cancel out that 1 mistake you made.
2. Get an accountability partner.
It could be a stranger living halfway across the world or someone you know personally, but you need to find someone to help hold you accountable (and you can help keep them accountable too). The goal is that whenever you have a negative thought about yourself and catch yourself in the act, you're going to tell your accountability partner. You'll then follow up with those counter-thoughts – the 9 positive thoughts you have about yourself. And they'll do the same for themselves. Together, you'll teach yourselves how to start seeing the reality of who you are – the 90% is that reality. The 10% is just that human part of us prone to making mistakes. All humans do.
3. Find a way to reward yourself.
Set a target for yourself that is attainable. It could be a weekly check-in or multiple times per week if needed. Reward yourself for staying accountable and tracking those negative thoughts along with recognizing the positive things about yourself. Your reward could be whatever will benefit you most – it could be going out to a restaurant you love, going for a hike somewhere you really enjoy, taking a new class, whatever. As long as it makes you feel good and helps to reinforce the behavior, you're developing in recognizing the positive things about you – that 90% -- then it will work for you.
If you're competitive in nature, you and your accountability partner can turn it into a sort of game or competition to see who can recognize the most positivity throughout the week. Maybe whoever wins then has to buy the other dinner. Find what will work for you and what will keep you on the hook to help you build your self-esteem.
Remember that we all make mistakes. That's how humans are. We're all perfectly imperfect. However, making a mistake does not make us less deserving of success and self-esteem. If you complete these three exercises, you'll be able to flip the dynamic you're currently working in where only 10% of your mindset about yourself is positive. You'll notice a huge difference when that number changes to 90%. That's how you raise your self-esteem instantly.
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