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As Long as We Remember...

October 27, 2009

Sanity: The Key to Self-Esteem

Nick Diaz

In my last article on developing sound math study habits, I referred to “procrastination” as ‘the thief of time.” I concluded that the issue of procrastination by students is not a simple one. Procrastination is a defense mechanism that protects students’ self-esteem.


Many math students, from middle school through college, experience problems in both their academic and personal lives because they lack self-esteem. This is in reference to that part of our personalities that allows us to feel good about ourselves and enjoy the results of our achievements.


The way I see it, having self-esteem means that a person respects others and has a sense of peace within him. Students who have self-esteem also have that “can-do” attitude about accomplishing their goals and accepting responsibility for their consequences.


Students with poor self-esteem may not put forth as much effort in accomplishing their goals. These students can improve their self-esteem by assuming full responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, abilities, and behaviors. Students with poor self-esteem need to transform their negative emotional reactions into positive emotional reactions.


Generally speaking, students can improve their self-esteem by changing the negative emotional statements they convince themselves to believe, and by changing the behaviors that can result in poor self-esteem.


For instance, a positive emotional self-statement may well be: “I accept who I am, and have the strength to accomplish my goals.” By putting these suggestions into practice, it is possible for a student to improve his math study skills. Improving one’s self-esteem will not happen overnight; it is, however, quite possible to improve it. I have witnessed this change in students many a time in my career.


Ways for a student to improve his self-esteem:


1. When I do well at something, I will congratulate myself.


2. I will stop procrastinating and blaming others (family, friends, teachers, ‘”the system”) for my problems.


3. When I fail at a task, I will not punish myself and get into a “funk.” I will, instead, find out how to be more successful the next time.


4. I will not worry about what others, especially my peers, think of me.


5. I will do something I like to do, at least once a week.


6. I will keep a written “to do” list, and I will feel good about myself when marking off each successfully completed item.


7. I will set up short-term and long-term personal and educational goals, write them down, and make such list accessible and easy to evaluate.


8. I will like myself and have the courage to take risks to change my behavior.


9. I will ask others for help without feeling guilty, or stupid, or inferior in any way.


10. I will put five positive statements about myself on a 3 x 5 card, and I will read them to myself when I feel bad.


11. I know that my poor math skills are due to poor study skills, and not my own ability; since I am working on my study skills, my math skills will improve.


12. I will solve problems, one at a time, and, therefore, I feel good about myself. I am not going to worry about that difficult problem; I am going to work the problems I can do.


13. I will use all the test time, and will check for careless errors.


14. Even if I do not get the grade I want on a given test or assignment, it is not the end of the world.


In other words, sanity is the key to self-esteem, and therefore, success.


It is important to realize that, in the large majority of cases, it is not the teacher’s, or professor’s, job to boost a student’s self-esteem. Students, as human beings, possess the right to life, liberty, and property – not to self-esteem.


Self-esteem must be earned by each individual, not given as a gift. A gift involves a transaction from one entity to another. As humans, we have the inalienable right to free speech; no one handed it to us, because it was not up to others to give us what they don’t own.


Same with self-esteem. A teacher can not give a student self-esteem, any more than he can take it away. It is up to each individual student to earn it, and work on retaining it and improving on it. No teacher can take away a student’s self-esteem unless the student allows it to be taken away.


E-mail your comments to me at


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