In a previous blog, we introduced the concept of optimal performance, the alignment between ones lived reality and a sense of well-being. In response to the blog, many people asked whether the model advocated an elitist view of life, the idea that one can only be optimal if one reaches their perfect existence. Optimal performance is not elitist, nor is it about perfection. It is about the journey toward the best version of you, recognising that road will be rocky. Underpinning this journey is one’s sense of self-esteem and mental health.
People who are only happy when they have obtained their goals or live a life of misery due to envy lack self-esteem. Self-esteem is at the foundation of mental health and is one’s opinion of oneself, independent of external achievement or rewards. You have an appropriate level of self-esteem when you trust your mind and believe that you deserve happiness due to your inherent worth. For many people, however, self-esteem is dependent on the external, dependant on others’ judgement. However, the psychological model of self-esteem depends not on others’ judgement but one’s judgement of themselves.
Psychology has many models of self-esteem. Often psychologists define self-esteem as one’s sense of global self-worth or how much value one believes they have. Self-esteem is more than self-belief; to be practical, we need to have models that describe self-esteem and prescribe how to cultivate self-esteem. One such model is the model developed by Nathaniel Branden, the famous Objectivist psychologist who practised psychotherapy up to his death in 2014. Below I review Branden’s model of self-esteem, known as the six pillars and discuss how to practise the pillars through Boxing, which results in developing a deep sense of self-esteem, the psychological foundation of the optimal self.
Pillar 1: Live With Awareness of Your Self-Esteem and Mental Health
Ironically, the starting point for self-esteem is not the self. Self-esteem starts with respect for reality. The definition of well-being discussed last week is a link between the internal state and respect for reality. Self-esteem is not a means of escaping reality. While pseudo-self-esteem involves escaping reality to keep a notion of the self in tack, genuine self-esteem reflects respect for reality. People who ignore reality are choosing ignorance rather than wisdom to protect what is a fragile sense of sense.
Individuals with high self-esteem will attempt to confirm reality or the truth when the truth is unknown; they will test themselves and their ideas about what is real. They will not distort reality because it is comforting to do so. Their sense of self is not affected by this reality, but the reality is essential for gathering information on what behaviours to continue and those behaviours to cease.
One of the greatest gifts from Boxing is learning respect for reality quickly. Many times, someone comes into a gym believing they know how to fight only to quickly be humbled and, from there, be able to appreciate the sweet science. The same is true for those that want to learn techniques and engage in Boxing without bruises. Often they will think that Boxing is a simple and brutal sport only to find that the coordination of feet and hands is far more sophisticated than they realised.
In Boxing, there is no faking reality. Respect for reality is guaranteed. There are few moments in life where one can not cheat reality, where some intelligent talker can not distort the truth. Boxing does not allow this to happen and is such a great environment to fully appreciate the first pillar of genuine self-esteem.
The second pillar is to be able to accept yourself
Aligned with the first pillar are self-acceptance and the ability to accept one’s limitations while simultaneously being one’s best advocate. Self-esteem means being willing to experience all one’s emotions and behaviours, for by accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses, one will know areas one wishes to improve. Accepting oneself also means accepting that one is human and treating oneself with kindness by accepting poor behaviour and then empathetically questioning the gap between the desired and actual behaviour.
Again Boxing is a great teacher in this regard. People can improve only when they move past their ego and into self-acceptance. They accept the need to make improvements. They accept that their error created the opportunity for the opponents to overhand the right to land. They accept that they don’t know how to bob and weave correctly. Acceptance is the catalyst for the third pillar of taking responsibility for one’s life.
The third pillar is to take responsibility for your life
Self-acceptance does not mean that one accepts their failings. We need to differentiate what can be changed from what is fixed and look to fix what can be changed. Having accepted oneself, one must then take responsibility for their life. You think independently. You analyse others’ opinions, only repeating them if you believe and understand them. You are responsible for reaching your goals. You understand that only you can develop and implement a plan to be your optimal self. People are not there to save you, but self-esteem means you take responsibility for developing and ultimately saving yourself.
Only you can take responsibility for learning to bob and weave correctly. Only you can take responsibility to keep your hands up when in the fight, and only you can learn to dig deep when the situation demands that the only way through is to find an inner self you did not know.
The fourth pillar is to assert yourself in order to improve your self-esteem and mental health
Self-esteem will invariably mean asserting one’s needs in a world of committing demands. Self-esteem does not mean taking a back seat or railroading through one’s point of view. Self-esteem means asserting oneself and recognising that others also have the right to assert their needs. The need for assertiveness as a measure of self-esteem can best be recognised by those who lack self-esteem and will often let others’ needs take priority or those who aggressively want their way without considering the needs of others.
Self-assertiveness is again naturally practised in Boxing. In training, it is self-assertiveness, which means that questions are directed at coaches to improve your technique. In sparring, self-assertiveness means communicating how hard you wish to fight, not allowing your partner to push you into deep waters beyond your comfort level. In fighting, a core tenet is to assert your will on the opponent, not be a victim of their self-assertion. When it comes to self-assertiveness, Boxing is a great teacher.
The fifth pillar is to have intentionality in regards to your self-esteem and mental health
Intentionality concerning self-esteem means goal-setting. The ability to set goals is to create an intent. Those with self-esteem are clear on the goals that they set for themselves. They live their life in line with their goals, and they move toward the accomplishment of these goals.
No one improves in Boxing without clarity of goals. Short-term goals are stepping stones to longer-term goals. Many trainees engage in an 8 or 12-week challenge to achieve their goals; Boxing is a goal factory, which is why it is such a powerful exercise modality.
The sixth pillar is to live with integrity in order to support your self-esteem and mental health
The final pillar of Branden’s model of self-esteem is integrity. Concerning self-esteem, integrity means being integral or whole and consistent. Integrity means that one’s actions match one values and the words that one speaks.
Integrity creates a virtuous cycle, Branden, as your self-esteem will drive and depend on your behaviour in a never-ending cycle: Your actions align with your expectations. Your behaviours inevitably affect your self-esteem—you can’t avoid feeling some way about how you choose to behave, and these feelings affect your opinion of yourself.
Integrity is a core part of the boxing lifestyle, especially at Spartans Boxing. Integrity means living the life of a boxer, respecting others in the gym independent of their sexuality, nationality or any other demographic variable you wish to choose. Integrity means recognising that everyone is on their journey of self-improvement. Integrity means committing to the FIGHT code of Spartans. Integrity means living your life in line with the person you wish to become.
How to Improve Your Self-Esteem Boxing
One of the strengths of Branden’s model is that it provides a template for how one would improve their self-esteem. Branden explains that by practising these pillars, you behave in ways that foster and improve your self-esteem. Since behaviours both cause and are effects of self-esteem, practising the pillars creates a virtuous cycle: The more you accept yourself, the more you’ll raise your self-worth—and thus your self-esteem. The higher your self-esteem, the more self-worth you have, and the more you’ll accept yourself.
Boxing is the practice ground for the development of self-esteem. Boxing naturally results in developing a true sense of self, a deep appreciation of individuality, and an acceptance of your worth. Boxing is where everyone is on their journey of self-improvement and at the heart of the psychological journey is self-esteem. I know of no better exercise regiment than Boxing to build strong, healthy individuals with the self-esteem required to take on the world.