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Mindful : June 2013
To Love You Is to Know You It was the 1980s that made self-esteem more like a punch line than a desirable quality. That decade brought us the much-ridiculed California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem (only California would create an official program for ma king people feel better about them- selves), the National Association for Self-Esteem, and enthusiastic efforts to ra ise people’s self-esteem, not by making them smarter, more talented, kinder, or otherwise better but just by telling them how wonderful they are. It was the era of sports trophies for every kid who simply showed up. Alas, as research subsequently showed, such artificially inflated self- esteem does not boost academic perfor- mance, occupational success, or leader- ship ability, let alone improve personal relationships. The best account of these findings is a May 2003 paper in Psycho- logical Science in the Public Interest. I was prompted to take this trip down memory lane when I began noticing a recent profusion of studies on “self- affirmation.” This is a little different from self-esteem. Self-affirmation is the pro- cess of reminding yourself of the values and interests “that constitute your true or core self,” Lisa Legault, assistant pro- fessor of psychology at Clarkson Univer- sity in Potsdam, N.Y., told me. “It’s taking stock of who you are and what you care about. You can think of it as mindfulness of the self ”—without the “I’m wonderful” component of self-esteem. What piqued my interest were Too much self-esteem is a drag, writes Sharon Begley, but the right dose of self-regard makes us better at learning from our mistakes. Sharon Begley is the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. Illustration by Malin Rosenqvist 30 mindful June 2013 mind/body