How to Build Self-Respect: Fake It Till You Make It

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Magic of Thinking Big" by David J. Schwartz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Have you ever noticed that some people seem to walk around commanding respect while others go ignored or, at best, tolerated? What do you think is the difference?

David J. Schwartz, the author of The Magic of Thinking Big, proposes a simple answer: thinking. If you truly believe you are an important and valuable person and carry yourself with self-respect and confidence, that attitude will shine through and others will react to you with respect and deference.

Without further ado, here’s how to build self-respect, according to David J. Schwartz.

The 4 Ways to Build Self-Respect

To gain the respect of others, we must first show a high level of self-respect and self-confidence. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to build self-respect so that others can see you as a self-confident and important individual. This entails four steps:

  1. Look important.
  2. Believe your work is important.
  3. Create and deliver your own pep talk. 
  4. Think like an important person.

1) Look Important

Your appearance says volumes about how you feel about yourself and how others perceive you. If you present a careless, slovenly appearance, especially in a job setting, you’ll be perceived as a non-entity. Your appearance is telling others, “Don’t mind me. I’m used to being pushed around.” 

If, however, you look your best, you’ll be perceived as someone who is important and capable. Your appearance is saying, “I’m used to being treated with respect.” Others will fall in line and treat you with the respect you’re commanding. 

Your physical outside influences your mental inside. When kids wear a costume, they start acting the part, whether it’s a superhero or a princess. As adults, we shouldn’t think we’re immune to this effect. If you’re an executive, dressing like an executive makes you feel like one. 

Dressing differently also influences how other people perceive you. When you buy produce, you want to buy more attractive, better-packaged produce more than less attractive produce. Other people treat you the same way.

What if money is an issue? You’d love to wear a top-notch suit and think more like an executive, but you simply can’t afford it. Then buy fewer items, but make sure they’re higher quality. You may ultimately spend less because higher-quality items tend to last longer. 

2) Believe That Your Work Is Important

Just like your appearance, your attitude toward your work or goal speaks volumes to everyone around you. If you believe your work is important, other people will believe you are important.

There’s a classic story of three bricklayers who are asked what they’re doing. 

  • The first answered, “Laying brick.” 
  • The second said, “Making $9 an hour.” 
  • The third said, “Building the world’s greatest cathedral.”

The third bricklayer showed vision and respect. You can imagine the third one propelling himself to greater heights. You wouldn’t imagine the first two doing that.

If you think your job is pointless, you won’t want to improve anything, and you won’t take responsibility. If you think your job is important, you’ll motivate your brain to unleash ideas on how to do an even better job. 

Your attitude about your work (or goal or endeavor) works for people above you and below you:

  • Universally, managers and bosses admire people who respect their job. 
    • Who’s going to get the promotion: the person who browses her phone whenever she gets a chance, or the person who actively finds every opportunity to help the team?
    • In an interview, speak with pride about your job. You’re telling your potential employers that you’ll be taking enormous pride in this position as well. In contrast, if you speak of your current job with disdain, you’re telling your potential employers that you’ll likely view this position with disdain at some point. 
  • Your attitude rubs off on your subordinates and colleagues. If you arrive late every day, take two-hour lunches, and leave early, you’re inspiring people you lead to behave in this exact same way. But if you develop a genuine enthusiasm about your work, you elevate everyone’s situation. Strive to have an attitude worthy of being imitated, and greater respect will follow. 

3) Create and Deliver Your Own Pep Talk 

To be “on top” of any work situation or endeavor, you need to feel like you’re on top, and one of the best ways to feel motivated and enthusiastic is to receive a rousing pep talk. A pep talk plays up your strengths and talks about how you’re going to succeed. 

Since most of us don’t have a personal coach standing by, creating our own pep talk is a great substitute. Think of it as a commercial to market yourself to yourself. Here’s how to build your own:

  1. Remind yourself of all your best attributes and how they make you unique and special, different from anyone else. Now’s not the time to be shy. 
    • Example: ”I’m smart. I’m funny. People trust me. I come up with new ideas. I help others feel good about themselves.” 
  2. Put these points down on paper in your own words and craft your commercial. Refer to yourself in third person by your name. Sell yourself.
  3. Practice your commercial out loud, in private, preferably in front of a mirror.  Really believe what you’re saying. Do this at least once a day.
  4. Read your commercial silently several times a day. Keep it handy and use it anytime you need a boost.

This might sound a little too hokey, and you might feel silly. But no one’s watching you or judging you. If you doubt it, ask the most successful person you know what they think of the idea. (They’ll probably see the value of it, and do some version of it themselves)

4) Think Like an Important Person

When you think like an important person, you are upgrading your thought power and, by default, you will upgrade your actions. You’ll focus your energy on what really matters.

Here are example situations:

  • Worry: “Would an important person worry about this issue?”
  • Appearance: “Do I look like someone important?”
  • Reading: “Would an important person spend time reading this?”
  • Conversation: “Is this something important people want to talk about?”
  • Ideas: “What would an important person do with this idea?”

If the answer to any of these questions is no, change your behavior act as someone with self-respect and confidence would act. You’ll immediately feel better about yourself and carry yourself with more personal power. You’ll also channel your energy toward what important people do — fulfilling their goals.

How to Build Self-Respect: Fake It Till You Make It

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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