Self-respect is the ultimate reward of a job well-done or a worthwhile goal that you are chasing. Think about where you are in your sports career. Think about where you are in your life. Think about yourself. Not just your athletic skills or accomplishments, but you. What words come to mind when you think about who you are? If it’s anything less than a positive and self-respecting view of yourself, you should read this entire article. 

Common labels for athletes

It’s a tough question for an athlete, who am I? There is who you are as a person (traits like funny, kind, a good listener), who you are as an athlete (traits like determined, committed, tenacious, confident), and even a description of who you are as both an athlete and a person.  You echo these words and ideas about yourself throughout your life. That means you end up creating a label of who you are that simplifies all the complex traits into a single word or sentence, sometimes without a second thought. 

Then the label becomes how you see yourself entirely.

Is it useful to understand who you are at this level, where you can describe a handful of traits? Not exactly. A useful understanding is one that allows you to gain self-respect as you go along your journey. You feel self-respect because you know on some level that what you are doing is good.  That is the process of growing up. It’s the answer to the question ‘what is important for you as an athlete and a person?’ You want to live a life that you are happy with… one that you can respect.  

How labels work (and don’t)

The truth is, many of us lack a deep understanding of ourselves because of these simplified labels. So the first thing you can do to respect yourself is to understand some more accurate things about yourself. ‘Funny’ is a nice description, but are you truly always funny? Are you only funny? Does being funny make you happy? Self-understanding is about diving deep into the essence of who you are. It’s about exploring your thoughts, feelings, values, motivations, and desires.

It then becomes about becoming the type of person you want to be over time. You get to learn to understand yourself through the daily actions you take. More simply, the life you live teaches you everything you need to know about yourself. You actively pursue something meaningful and let yourself learn through experience. Without pursuing something, it’s much harder to learn about yourself. Sports can be great for this. When you understand yourself and value what you are doing, you can truly respect yourself.

Cause and effect of how you see yourself

This respect doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere; it’s more like a flywheel that gains momentum as your self-understanding deepens. It’s a causal relationship: the more you understand yourself, the more respect you’ll develop for yourself. Because every time you understand something about yourself you are forced to either accept it or to change it. Those things which you don’t want to accept, you will change. If you don’t accept your worst traits, eventually, you won’t have many bad traits left. You will then only have blindspots (which you can also learn about and either accept or change). This doesn’t mean you’ll never make mistakes. It means that over time you get to calibrate the type of person you’re becoming. And then you have a lot of say into whether you’re the type of person who deserves your own respect. 

Having self-respect

How do you cultivate self-understanding and, consequently, self-respect? You tackle what makes you respect yourself less.

Here is an example: think about where you invest your emotional energy. Are you working hard to gain the attention of others? This flaw might really upset you, because, in this example, you are not doing what you’re doing for yourself. There is nothing wrong with working to make others proud or working for yourself, but once you know this about yourself you are able to have a preference: you can choose to accept or change.

If you do not like where you spend your energy, that is great. You have found a flaw. Now you can seek to understand it. Understanding your traits (more than “I am funny”, more like “I tend to like when other people give me praise”) allows you to accept or change the way you see the world. 

What would happen if you accepted this? You would know the things that motivate you. You could allow it to continue to motivate you AND you could recognize when it might become a problem. Strong mental performers know when they have a bad attitude. If you accept the way you are, you can work with your own attitude. You can use it when it’s beneficial and adapt when it’s hurting you.

What would happen if you changed the way you think? You might have to change if your attitude is hurting your results or well-being. In this same example, you could put more energy into working on your favorite skills rather than working to gain the attention of others. This is real growth as an athlete: you are doing something you formally were not able to.

Here is the best part about being the type of athlete who grows. When you grow, you can look back at where you came from. If self-respect is liking and accepting who you are today, being the type of person who works on their flaws is guaranteed to win you more self-respect. 

The goal here isn’t just to develop self-respect, but also to foster a sense of well-being and emotional balance. Self-respect should feed your emotional balance, because you will be more resilient to stress. Especially stress that people without as much self-respect have (that includes a hypothetical version of yourself that has less self-respect).

You won’t doubt yourself when the pressure is on, because deep down you know you deserve the best. You won’t beat yourself up when things go bad, because you’ll know that you’ve been doing things well and if there is a way in which you are lacking you can seek to improve it. When you understand and respect yourself, you’re more likely to see the world as a place where you belong and see others as your equals. 

It’s time to give yourself the respect you deserve. You’re not just an athlete; you’re a complex, fascinating individual with dreams, emotions, and abilities that extend beyond the field. Get to know yourself. Understand yourself. Act in your best interests. Respect yourself.