By Harvey Mackay

The next time someone calls you an egotistical jerk, you might think that thanking them just confirms their opinion. But that’s exactly what you should feel like doing. They have just provided a strong endorsement of your mental health.

Self-esteem is a lightning rod buzz word these days, mostly because it is often perceived as being a personality flaw. That’s false self-esteem, the result of heaping praise on people for accomplishing routine and simple tasks.

The only thing worse than false self-esteem is false humility. Humility is an important virtue, and certainly one that we all should possess. But please, acting humble just to fish for compliments is a sign of raging insecurity.

So let’s be clear from the outset — I’m referring to legitimately earned high self-esteem. The kind that comes from performing well because you have worked so hard to reach the top. It means you have developed your natural talents to their optimal point. The kind that Will Rogers was talking about when he said, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.”

Genuinely deserved self-esteem provides a competitive edge in our competitive world. Like it or not, life is a series of competitions. You may be competing for a grade, a spot on a team, a job, or the largest account in town. The higher your self-esteem is, the better you get along with yourself, with others, and the more you’ll accomplish.

Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden discovered an additional benefit to having high self-esteem: “There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness and generosity.”

What’s the matter with being proud of what we have done or think we can do? When we’re young, we’re full of the sense that we can and should be able to do almost anything. That enthusiasm shouldn’t change as we get older and more experienced. Our accomplishments should reinforce our sense of self worth.

Dr. Anthony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington, calls it the “egocentricity bias.” This is the reinterpretation of events to put ourselves in a favorable light and the belief we have more control over events than we actually do. He says it is a sign of mental well-being.

That makes perfect sense to me. Dr. Greenwald can call it the “egocentricity bias,” but I call it optimism. And I believe optimism is a quality that consistently delivers results. Did you ever get a good performance out of a pessimist? (By the way, few people ever call themselves pessimists. Pessimists usually call themselves realists.)

Optimism involves self-delusion, a belief that our own abilities are superior to the obstacles that logically should overcome us. But that’s exactly what’s needed to perform any heavy-duty assignment.

How can you be any good unless you think you can accomplish what you’re not supposed to be able to accomplish?

Olympic skating star Scott Hamilton observed, “Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you. They can give you a value and a self-esteem that is priceless.”

There is no better example of the power of positive self-esteem than Muhammad Ali. He called himself “The Greatest” — actually, “The Greatest of All Time.” He never doubted his ability to compete at the highest level, and his record proves it.

Top performers in athletics or business are always convinced they can be heroes, even if they don’t shout it from the rooftops. And it shows. In fact, baseball scouts call that look “the good face,” the sense of self-confidence that radiates from winners.

A little boy was talking to himself as he entered through his backyard, baseball cap in place and carrying a baseball and bat. “I’m the greatest baseball player in the world,” he said proudly. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung and missed.

Undismayed, he picked up the ball, threw it into the air and said to himself again, “I’m the greatest player ever!” As the ball descended, he swung at it again, and again he missed.

He paused a moment to examine the bat and ball carefully. Then once again he threw the ball into the air and said, “I’m the greatest baseball player who ever lived.” As the ball came down, he gave another mighty swing and missed the ball again.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “What a pitcher!”

Mackay’s Moral: If you’ve got what it takes, take it to the top.

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