Your Behavior Comes From Your Self-Image

No one has ever seen a cock crow with its head down.

After delivering the keynote address at a national business convention, an audience member drew me aside. He said, “I’ve just been promoted to a very high position in my company. I’m scared to death. I don’t think I can do it. I’ll make a fool of myself!”

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been in a situation where your self-esteem was somewhat shaky? Probably yes.

In a recent seminar, I asked the people in the audience to raise their hands if they had all the self-confidence they wanted and needed. Most people laughed. Only a few of them were able to raise their hands.

The truth is most people look confident and composed on the outside. But most people have got self-doubt on the inside.

Is that a problem? Absolutely. According to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of Psycho-Cybernetics, your behavior is always consistent with your self-image. If you carry a self-image of failure, you will fail — despite your best intentions to do otherwise. If, on the other hand, you see yourself as victorious, you will find some way to succeed — despite the presence of obstacles in your life.

Unfortunately, most people don’t understand this basic psychological truth. They experience enormous difficulty in trying to change their habits, personality, or way of life, because their change efforts are directed at their symptoms rather than the central core of their self-image. On the other hand, numerous studies have shown that once a person’s self-image improves, everything in his life begins to improve. Positive changes come more easily and goals are accomplished more quickly.

So if you want to be more and have more, I would certainly recommend a little self-esteem work. In fact few things could be more important.

And I would suggest that you take a few minutes to look at yourself and your behavior. Do you have any behaviors that reflect a lack of self-confidence or a lack of self-esteem? Do you have any of the 12 behaviors that are sabotaging you? Read through the following list of low self-esteem behaviors, and if any of them seem to fit you, it’s time to get rid of them.


There’s nothing wrong with being nice, but one sign of poor self-esteem is taking the “nice” thing too far. The “Nice Guy” refuses to stand up for himself or choose his own course of action. He thinks if he simply goes along with others, if he refrains from challenging others, if he behaves submissively, others will like him. And the “Nice Guy” needs their liking because he doesn’t like himself all that much.

By contrast, the person with high self-esteem is much more assertive. He stands up for himself–like the man with a pretzel stand in front of a large Chicago office building.

One day a businessman came out of the building, plunked down a quarter, and went on without taking a pretzel. The same routine happened every day for three weeks. Finally, the man running the stand spoke up and said, “Sir, excuse me. May I have a word with you?”

The businessman said, “I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to ask me why I give you a quarter every day and don’t take a pretzel.”

The pretzel man said, “Not at all. I just want to tell you that the price is now 35 cents.”

That’s assertiveness. And that takes a bit of self-esteem.


The “Self-Depreciator” is an expert at putting herself down. She says such things as, “I’m no good at… I could never do… and… I’m not sure this idea of mine is worth anything.”

The “Self-Depreciator” is also very good at rejecting the compliments of others. When she’s told her work is good, she may say, “Oh, it was nothing… Anybody could have done it… and… Don’t mention it.” Of course she may think she’s being modest or humble, but such comments are almost always signs of self-doubt.

By contrast, self-confident people don’t put themselves down. And they say “Thanks” when compliments are offered.

The comedian George Burns exemplified that. At age 93 he signed a 5-year contract with Caesar’s Palace. When asked about it, he said, “They wanted me to sign a 10-year contract. That would be silly. How do I know they’ll be around in 10 years?”


On first glance, you might think that the person with the highest self-esteem would achieve the most. Not necessarily. The “Over-Achiever” is an exception to the rule.

The “Over-Achiever” has a hard time liking himself. He doubts his own worth as a human being, so he works-works-works to prove to himself — and others — that he’s really okay. The trouble is, even if he achieves a lot, he still feels insecure. He doesn’t feel that good about his success because he hasn’t changed his fundamental underlying belief about himself.

It’s like Harry, who got promoted to the position of Vice President. He felt pretty good about his accomplishment, until his friend told him not to take it too seriously. His friend said, “Every supermarket has a VP in charge of vegetables.”

Harry didn’t believe him, so he called the local supermarket and asked to speak to the VP in charge of vegetables. The receptionist said, “Yes sir. Would that be fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables?”

I’m all for achievement. In fact my PEAK PERFORMANCE BOOT CAMP is aimed at improving your performance in all parts of life and work. But I also know that performance must be based on a solid foundation of self-esteem. Otherwise, you’ll have nothing but a bit of success and a lot of burnout.


A person with high self-esteem is quite clear. She knows what she thinks, how she feels, and what she wants. She’s whole.

By contrast, a person with low self-esteem shuts down when it comes to feelings. She gets super rational because feelings are frightening. So she blots out what she’s feeling and is insensitive to the feelings of others.

Of course, the problem with that is she never gets to know herself or others. Communication is safe and relationships are superficial.

One cartoon said it quite well. One woman was talking to another woman at a singles bar. She said, “I’m not as optimistic about relationships as I once was. These days, when I meet a man, I ask myself, ‘Is this the guy I want my children to spend every other weekend with’?”

That’s four of the behaviors you’ll find when you’ve got too little confidence or too little self-esteem. Check in next week for an exploration of some additional behaviors.

Action:  Take a look at yourself. If you have any of these behaviors, it’s time to be honest with yourself. Admit the fact these behaviors do nothing to help you, and then look for future “Tuesday Tips” on how to eliminate them.