I remember the Stuart Smalley skit on Saturday Night Live when his guest was Michael Jordon, perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time (6 Championship Rings), and Stuart (who is not a licensed therapist) gets Michael to look into a mirror and recite his Daily Affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people like me.” It is hilarious because the audience knows that Michael probably does not have a self-esteem problem.

Stuart asks him after his affirmation recital, “Now Michael, don’t you feel better?” Jordon replies, “Well I never really felt bad. You see, God gave me this talent to play basketball and I’ve been blessed to share this to inspire other people.” Then Smalley has a very funny melt-down, “I am a fool, I don’t know what I’m doing, they’re going to cancel the show, and I’m gonna die homeless and penniless.” “Now Stuart”, says Michael, “I really think what you say on your show can be very helpful to people.” “You really think so?” replies Stuart. It is hilarious to watch the roles reverse as Jordon becomes Smalley’s counselor and talks him “off the ledge” and back to reality.

The comedic timing of the sketch is so ironic, because it is Stuart who really needed the affirmation, not Michael. (check out the skit on YouTube)

There is a story that a reporter once asked Jordon, “Michael, have you ever been surprised by your fame and fortune?” “No,” said Michael. “Why not?” said the stunned reporter. “Because I saw it in my brain years before it happened.”

Even though the premise of the skit is to make fun of the therapist, the hidden gem at the center is that how we think really is at the core of how we perform.

Thinking is everything. We all have a self-portrait, as it were, inside of our heads which we use as a reference point to define ourselves. This self-image is not something we were born with, rather it developed as we grew up from the messages we received from our parents, peers, and society. The image we have of ourselves creates what psychologists call self-esteem; which impacts how we think. Some of us think we can achieve anything with enough hard work, and some of us think we will never amount to anything no matter how hard we try.

The key point to understand is this: You will never perform above your own self-portrait.

Think about what messages you received as a child from your parents and peers; were they messages of potential and possibilities, or were they messages of restraint and restriction? And as you reflect a bit on your upbringing, be sure to not play the blame-game; saying to yourself, “It’s all their fault and what they said to me – my life could have been so much better.” That is called determinism and will keep you stuck in a rut. Our future is not totally determined by what happened to us in the past; we still have the power of choice and the chance to grow and change.

However, the first step to change is self-awareness. It can be enlightening to spend some time thinking about how your own self-portrait came to be painted the way it is – you may do this by some self- reflection, or even better yet, see a professional counselor or life-coach (a real certified one, not like Stuart) to help you along that path. There is no embarrassment in that – after all, every superb athlete (like Michael Jordon) had a trainer to help them reach their goal.

So, the BIG QUESTION is: Can I change my own self-esteem and become more confident? The answer is YES. I did. And in my next newsletter, I’ll give you some ideas. So, stay tuned and don’t change that channel.

Psychologist and Humorist,

Bruce Christopher