Coffee House Readings #15: The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

This is not a book review

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden is one of those books which is quotable after every page. It’s filled with poignant chunks of knowledge that give form and clarity to a term that is widespread but not necessarily understood. It’s a comprehensive analysis of a fundamental human trait and need. It is a psychology book that provides context and avenues of reasoning. However, discussing these issues in a short article would not do them justice and would only lead to the same information easily available with a quick google search. Breaking with tradition, this Coffee House Reading is not about the book, but about a lesson the book has to offer, one which I’ve been struggling with for a while. How to transform knowledge into wisdom.

“If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” Derek Sivers

If you are anything like me, you have probably watched many TED talks and have gathered vast amounts of information from many different sources on what it means to live a good life. And still, you might have found yourself faced with many situations where you weren’t able to apply that knowledge. To be able to effectively and actively integrate knowledge and make it lead to physical or mental action is what leads to wisdom.

Educational methodologies aside, the core issue in any learning practice is the practice itself. Even creative activities have certain practices and rhythms. If you have ever struggled with learning a foreign language, you know how much work and repetition is required to express even the simplest ideas efficiently. You do math exercises to learn how to solve other math problems, you code in order to learn how to code with ease, you take first aid classes so you have the proper training when you need it. But what if you want to tackle issues such as living consciously or purposefully? Everyone wants a job where they “can make a difference”, but not everyone has the luck, tools, or skill to find out what that means.

 I cannot organize my behavior optimally if my goal is merely “to do my best.” The assignment is too vague.
Nathaniel Branden, Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

The practical part

The author identifies six pillars of self-esteem:

  1. The practice of living consciously
  2. The practice of self-acceptance
  3. The practice of self-responsibility
  4. The practice of self-assertiveness
  5. The practice of living purposefully
  6. The practice of personal integrity

Again, all of this is valuable information that is explored in-depth in the over 300-page book. To talk about these issues here would not do them justice. The way Nathaniel Brandon addresses these issues is what I want to discuss. He uses something called sentence completion, which is a way of breaching the gap between our external goals and internal dialogues. It’s a way of getting some clarity into what we might think or know, but have not been able to consciously articulate.

Sentence-completion work is a deceptively simple yet uniquely powerful tool for raising self understanding, self-esteem, and personal effectiveness. It rests on the premise that all of us have more knowledge than we normally are aware of—more wisdom than we use, more potentials than typically show up in our behavior. Sentence completion is a tool for accessing and activating these ‘hidden resources’.
 Nathaniel Branden, Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

And it’s very simple (but not necessarily easy): 

1. Take an issue:

  • For this example, let’s take living purposefully as an issue.  

2. Identify the problem:

  • Not living purposefully. In some cases, it can be denying fears, disowning personal attributes, etc.

3. Write a stem sentence. Examples would be:

  • If I were to live purposefully…
  • If I brought 5% more purposefulness to my life…
  • If I brought 5% more purposefulness to my work…

4. Free write endings for each. This is the most difficult aspect to master. Freewriting is a task used by writers where they write continuously and without censorship. You need to write until you have 6 to 10 endings. The only thing you should consciously focus on is to create a grammatically correct sentence. Do not stop to think, analyze, or judge what you are writing.

  • If I were to live more purposefully
    • I would set down a list of goals
    • examine my goals to see which ones matter
    • decide which goals are my own or I have adopted without questioning them
    • only do the important things

5. Do the above exercise for five days out of the week. There will be a lot of repetition, but that is ok.

6. On the last two days of the week, review and reflect on what you have written down.

7. Use the following stem and write down 6 to 10 endings:

  • If any of what I have written this week is true, then it might be helpful to…

You get what you give

Deciding on how many, how often, and which kind of exercises to take on is not something I can comment on. The author has laid out a few in the book and on his website. What is important is that you practice them the same way you would practice any skill you want to keep.

Where to read the book and do these exercises

Whatever issue you want to tackle, I recommend you try 15 Suesse Minuten for one of your practice sessions. Right near Hauptbahnhof, it has great food and freshly baked sweets for when you need a break. It’s also got great Wi-Fi if you have to google something from the book.

15 suesse minuten cafe pic


Photo credits by the author

Cover image by Pixabay

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About Radu

Radu studied film & computing, works in EdTech as a content creator, and reads nonfiction books in his spare time.

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