Positive Reinforcement and Self Esteem by Ed
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Positive Reinforcement and Self Esteem
          by Ed (BiPo)                            Email Ed


A while ago, I did some research on self-esteem and I thought it would be a very therapeutic topic for me, and hopefully for you.  I decided to read up on it today because I am feeling down on myself, and as I was reading, I came across two paragraphs which reinforce the value of positive reinforcement on helping others, or one's self, to higher levels of mental health and/or achievement...
In the article it speaks of team playing - perhaps a basketball time.  The team that is winning needs only to be told that they are doing a great job, and to keep doing what they are doing.  Their self-esteem is already high.  The team that is losing, on the other hand, needs bolstering - they need support and to have their self-esteem built up.  As the coach of the losing teams I could either constantly reinforce the team, and if they thought I had confidence in them, they would eventually rise to a level they never thought they could achieve.  

In other words, positive reinforcements are given out in one and in others, by bringing out their positive qualities and assets, while ignoring and perhaps redirecting their weaknesses or negative behaviors. We can also do this to ourselves, by ourselves…  Gaining self-esteem has a snowball effect.  One starts out small, by just one small achievement that had been impossible for him before.  If he receives the positive "pat on the back" - the positive support, he begins to feel a bit better about himself.... and in feeling better finds he is able to take on just a little bit more.  Small success after small success, like a rolling snowball the momentum gains, and before long he is feeling good about himself, and capable of achieving great things.

Anything that contradicts experience and logic should be abandoned. -- The 14th Dalai Lama

many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. ~Henry David Thoreau

I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with a soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments." --Jim Morrison, late member of the rock group; The Doors

Greatness can never be achieved unless we feel good about ourselves.  Is this a true fact?   Take a look at Alfred Kinsey … his achievements in his lifetime were great.  He was one of the first to publicly denounce homosexuality as a mental illness, first to attempt to scientifically study human sexual behavior apart from religious beliefs, and to bring out into the open that women actually had a sex drive.  Yet he died feeling that he was a failure, due most likely to lack of positive reinforcement.

Is the will to do so a sufficient tool to pull out of the ruts of low self esteem?  I want to believe that the answer lies more on the side of scientific validation than in religious or spiritual intuitive thought. I know for a fact I have survived more on intuition and spirituality than in scientific thought. Humans I think have a tendency to latch onto religious and philosophic answers, especially when damned by disease of the body or of the mind.  I guess in many ways I still have more growing to do, but hopefully I am getting there, by doing what I think is right, and leaving the results to a Higher Power, who I choose to call God


Look at Billy, a young man who loved the game but was down on himself.  He was 30 pounds overweight and not often called upon to actually play.  Billy blamed the coach for his bad feelings.  After all, it was the coach who chose who would play.  But was it the coach’s fault?  No – it was Billy’s.  It is so easy to blame others for our own lack of achievement -

A revelation takes place here.  If I blame forces outside of myself for my failures and disappointments I am unknowingly on the wrong track. I am good at blaming people and things: the guy that assaulted me when I was a preteen, my parent's lack of education, my bad friends of youth who led me in a path of self destruction for a while, my migratory status, never having a place I could call home, my past failed relationships, and on and on and on with the blame game.  I was a classic nonachiever until one day I hit one of my bottoms and joined the ranks of 12 step programs of recovery,

In time I learned to minimize my weaknesses, and believe in my strengths.  One of the most important things that I learned is that I am the one who has control over my self-esteem and my life.  What I thought was the “lucky breaks” others got in life was simply that they had learned to have good work ethics and to be proud of who they were.  They did not accept being a failure in life, using every excuse in the book to avoid having to do things the right way in the first place. 


Those who were underachievers at work and at home also used one excuse after another to explain their failure.  Well, here I have to disagree with the author. I am not an underachiever. I am good at what I do and I do it right. I just have not had the guts to be competitive enough, and do what I have to do to achieve the rewards that we in the western world are accustomed to. The al-mighty and GdDm dollar!

When it comes to that line of thinking, yes I have failed big time! I have failed to cheat, steal and connive my way up the corporate ladder of "success" AHA!

I have just failed to see that in this imperfect world full of imperfect people, it is not the well educated or the honest or the humble or the handicapped that get ahead, it is the greedy, power driven, swift minded and "fast thinkers" that do so.

Remember Billy?  When he eventually understood that he controlled what happened to him, he began to feel empowered. That's a wonderful feeling. It tells us we don't have to depend on others. We don't have to be burdened by others' perceptions of us, whether right or wrong. It tells us our success or failure is up to us. We are the captains of our ship. We determine our own destiny.  What a feeling!

In reality though, we have to face that life isn’t perfect.  Everyone goes through times of frustration, even those who hide the symptoms well.  It is my experience that we live in a society that covers dysfunction really well. I don't mean dysfunction in the sense that you or I try on the surface to appear "normal", I mean the adept and skillful individuals that machiavellize, lie, cheat, connive and steal their way thru life, without regard for others.  Do you know anybody falling under the category?  I am so thankful to God, that even though I doubt myself, and have doubted myself so many times in my life God has always been there for me. Thru thick and thin, ups and down, glory and defeat. My Higher Power has been, is, and will continue to be the greatest coach I will ever have!

We need to learn the value of having patience.  In these days of instant gratification great things are expected, without putting in the requisite time to achieve them.  So we’re expected to take on things foreign to us - to do things out of weakness to achieve faster results. Well, I KNOW I am not one of those players...God do I have weaknesses! Character defects, or whatever you want to call them!

But in another sense, I KNOW I have strengths. It is hard to put them to use, or rather, it has been hard to put them to use when putting them to use means I also will have to fall into the traps of the corporate world and mimic, copy, emulate, and kiss butt to those that manipulate the game in the name of profit.  I guess in that sense, I still have not grown up. It has been really fearful for me to lie, cheat, connive, or steal in order to hold a job. And no, it is not that I have not been qualified to do the jobs I have done in the past. It is that I've gotten hired, then stepped up in the learning curve, and gave up once I learned the "game" I was really expected to play.

Our self-esteem is not a measure of how we stack up against everyone else.  The realization is that we are all different, with different goals and talents.  If we have a special talent we can use that talent to be the best we can be in that area.  That does not make a ballerina a super-jock.

Age is no criterion when it comes to changing your life. In fact, it might be just the opposite. The older we get, the more we must change.  OMG!  Is that hard, or what? Seems that the advice makes a lot of sense, as it is good to keep the neurons in the brain going, to not let them set into a pattern. I have found out that practicing meditation helps keep my attention and awareness in the present moment, and this helps me to not cling so much to routines, set behaviors, set thought patterns and the like, BUT my brain still craves for structure and routine a lot of times...It is such a hard balance to keep.  The older we get the more set in our ways we become. We've found out what our comfort level is, and we all want to stay in it.

If I had my way in life, I would want to live in a world that is more cooperative than competitive, but I do not think that is going to materialize in my lifetime.  When I was a young lad, I was raped. I had to live with that, on top of everything else that came along.
I learned to cope. I learned to fight back, in spite of myself, but the scar is still there. I could have become bitter resentful, vengeful and worldly. But, for one reason or another, I didn't. I am still the product of my past. I cannot change it. I CAN change my present, I CAN hope for a better future. I CAN let go and let God. I can continue learning. I can continue helping if and when needed. I CAN still be compassionate, caring, thoughtful - understanding, to the best of my ability...and no, I am not perfect by any means, God only knows, and you as well by now...

I CAN hope that one day people will finally realize we belong to the same earth - that we are animals of the same species, and that, even though we are part of the animal kingdom, we do not have to buy into the crap about the survival of the fittest, that we can use our consciousness, as higher level mammals and raise the standard. We can continue to do what is right, true, ethical, and moral in spite of it all.

Am I always all those? Do I always live by those standards? Do I at least try? Perhaps not, perhaps I allow myself sometimes to be a mirror. Perhaps I allow the world to get to me, perhaps I'll never have what I really want... but I too, like MLK have a dream.

When you become organized, have discipline in your life, and are prepared to win--that's when you should start to give yourself some credit. Only when you've proven that you deserve victory.  Golly, this is the hard part. How does someone with ADD become organized, come up with the magic discipline and prepare to win? Well, what I did in the past was to have structure in my life, to go school come hell or high water, and to have a routine. I took Martial Art classes. They helped me develop focus, self-control, self- discipline, concentration, and physical fitness.

Today, I no longer have that kind of structure I used to have in my days, so I have had to create one. I develop lists of things that need to get done, and I accomplish most of what is on the list. If I don't, for one reason or another, I put them in for the next day to be accomplished. I also have a queue list of things that come to mind that need to be done. I lately manage my life in smaller chunks of time, daily, not weekly. I have weekly goals and things I routinely have to accomplish during a week.

I try to balance my work activities with leisure and fun...If I let myself go, I really over do it, so...it really is all about balance, and I constantly have to steer and make sure I am in my goals path. Some days are better than others, but in general, my life is much better now. Does not mean my life is perfect, it just means it is better.


Is it counterproductive to boost someone's self-esteem when that person doesn't deserve it?  I have to disagree here. Self-esteem leads to more productivity, which leads to more self-esteem. Granted, taking action might do the trick in being able to feel good. If a child does not feel good about him or herself, how can I expect of him to be able to do other things that depend on feeling good about ones self, example school homework...How can someone not deserve self esteem?  Perhaps you all can help me with this one


Yet the parents who keep telling their young child he is one day going to conquer the world and do great things while that child is constantly watching TV without any purpose whatsoever is doing that child a disservice.  OK I guess I had to read on to understand. Yes, I now agree with the concept. And.it really is not the child’s fault; it is the parents’ responsibility to tell the child what it is exactly that is expected of him or her with love, but with firmness. Behavior modification plays a very important role here. The parents are reinforcing a negative behavior if they praise their child's behavior of watching TV if he or she has homework to do or chores around the house. Perhaps they can take the extra step of telling the child the reasons why he needs to do homework instead of staring at the TV set. Perhaps tell him that his not feeling well will too pass once he engages in productive activity.


For some of us, the task is a bit harder, as we all know...But we have to do, we have to try... or else we pay the price of low self-esteem. Granted, sometimes, regardless of what I do I still feel at times less than, feel like I have not done enough, that I could've should've done this that or the other thing...I think many of us experience this.


If we keep telling ourselves we are going to be successful--or if we keep fantasizing it--but we don't do the necessary things to prepare ourselves to actually be more successful, then we are only deceiving ourselves.  Well said. I am sometimes frustrated when I use my affirmations over and over again, and there are no results...There probably are no results because I have not taken the necessary actions I need to take. It is a constant practice, practice, practice until we make perfect...But then again, I myself have to be cautious here with that perfection...we all need to be valued.


As we get older, we want the people we are teaching to be successful. That's the true wisdom that comes with maturity.  I had a lot of opportunity to practice this on a daily basis. It really gave me a lot of satisfaction to see young and old people put a smile on their face when they either accomplished something they had a hard time with, or learned new skills as time went by. Even praising someone for little things can go a long way! This reminds me of a book I read while training to be a Behavior Analyst (I never took the state certification exam, but did complete the class successfully), written by Karen Pryor, "Don't Shoot the Dog".  It is a book about Positive Reinforcement. I strongly recommend it to anyone teaching, coaching, guiding or parenting. The book is written in plain English yet is filled with scientifically proven methods to help someone achieve greater degrees of learning and life satisfaction...


What you eventually find out when you're looking only for your own individual gratification, is that it's short lived. But when you have had a hand in someone else's success, it's that connection, that bond that can last a lifetime.  And this is truly the way I felt all of the time I worked with the developmentally disabled. It is really a shame that the stupid red taped bureaucratic paperwork in the field burned me up.  I derive a lot of satisfaction, joy and a sense of success when I help someone be the best they can be. So can you!  What I do is to enable him to dream. 


The other thing to understand about raising self-esteem is to realize that everyone has their own agenda, and that individual goals and dreams exist among the collective dreams of the larger group. Each individual in an organization is motivated by something different.  Finding that motivation is the trick



  Give and receive positive reinforcement for the effort people are giving-you can perform and can accomplish great things


  Self-esteem is directly linked to deserving success.


You do have control over your life. Your success or failure is up to you.


Having doubts along the way is all part of the game


Self-esteem has to be earned to have significant value.



Everyone wants to believe that he or she has value




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