Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D.

The Right Mindset

Are You a Lowercase "i" or an Uppercase "I"?

How to Capitalize yourself and make happiness yours forever.

Posted Aug 04, 2020

Photo by HD Brick Wallpapers on Unsplash
The real key to happiness and success is to CAPITALIZE yourself.
Source: Photo by HD Brick Wallpapers on Unsplash

Do you consider yourself an “i” or “I?” That might sound like a silly question, but it isn’t. If you think of yourself as lowercase—small and insignificant—it will show through in all aspects of your life. If you think you’re too small to make a difference, follow the advice of the His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, “Try sleeping with a mosquito.”

For some people, Capitalizing yourself means booking a vacation to the Caribbean or a full day of pampering at the spa. But while the idea of getting away from it all may sound great, it might not be the most practical option in the era of a pandemic. But you don’t need lavish vacations or expensive therapies to Capitalize yourself. There is a cost-free, mobile, and easy way. And that’s to nurture yourself for just a few minutes a day to relieve stress, enhance mental clarity, and soothe physical tension.

Everybody has a lowercase "self" — that voice that lives inside your head, putting you under a microscope. Much like the drill sergeant who wants to save his soldiers’ lives, the lower-case self's job is to point out your failures so you don’t get your head blown off in combat. You can’t get rid of it, so don’t even try. But you can develop a relationship with it. Next time it blinks in your mind like a neon sign, think of it as a part of you, not all of you. Listening to it as a separate part, instead of as Capital Self, gives you distance from it and keeps you from attacking yourself. Once you hear it as a part of you instead of as you, your nurturing, encouraging voice comes through the clouds, cheering you on with goodhearted affirmations like a best friend would.

Whether you’re remote working, making a pitch to clients, applying for a new job, or struggling as a new parent, your lower-case voice can flood you with self-doubt. It might say, "I can’t do this. I might as well give up." That voice inside you is the lowercase “self.” The uppercase voice with a Capital "S" is your thrive voice—the one who hears and sees the lowercase “self” and talks back to it. What would you say to your best friend or child if they thought they couldn’t do something? You wouldn’t say, “Of course, you can’t do it. You might as well give up.” You probably would give them a pep talk and tell them how smart or capable they are.

Capitalizing your “Self” involves learning to silently speak to yourself with compassion. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s just as easy to build yourself up as it is to tear yourself down. You can’t get rid of your lowercase self anyway because you can’t get rid of yourself. The solution is to be for you—not against you, but for you. If not, then who will be for you? That sounds simple enough, but chances are you’re not used to being for your "Self."

The size of your frame, whether you’re male or female, gay or straight, or thin or bulked out—none of that really matters when it comes to your well-being. What does matter: You treat yourself first-rate inside your skin instead of permitting your lowercase “self” to cause you to crouch in your negotiations, your demeanor, your self-talk, and the ways in which you allow people to treat you. Holding yourself in high esteem, being your own cheerleader, giving yourself an “atta-boy” or “atta-girl”—all are important ways of capitalizing your Self and letting it carry your power.

During the 1990s, comedians mocked the notion of self-affirmations with tongue-in-cheek phrases such as, “I’m smart enough” or “I’m Good enough.” Al Franken created and performed the fictional character Stuart Smalley on “Saturday Night Live” in a mock self-help show called “Daily Affirmations.” Years since, otherwise willing clients have steered away from the off-putting idea of self-kindness and positive affirmations. The comedic antics of the 1990s stigmatized the practice with lower-case shame and embarrassment, which led the public to disavow the practice.

Then in 2014, psychologists Clayton Critcher and David Dunning at the University of California at Berkeley conducted a series of studies showing that positive affirmations function as “cognitive expanders,” bringing a wider perspective to diffuse the lower-case tunnel vision of self-threats. Their findings show that affirmations help us transcend the lower-case self by engaging the wide-angle lens of the Capital Self. Self-affirmations helped research participants cultivate a long-distance relationship with the lower self’s negativity bias and see themselves more fully in a broader self-view from the Capital Self, bolstering their self-worth.

Self-compassion is like a best friend that talks you off the ledge, bounces you back when you feel disheartened, and propels you closer to your goals. Pep talks, affirmations, or an arm around your shoulder are good medicine to co-exist with your lower self’s oppression. I don’t mean someone else’s arm. I mean your own Capital Self’s supportive arm. When you self-soothe through letdowns—instead of attacking yourself—you feel better and cultivate the confidence and courage to face many career challenges.

Coming down hard on yourself in a crisis, after a failure, or in the aftermath of stressors such as a job loss, divorce, or diagnosis of a serious illness reduces your chances of rebounding. Conversely, empathy for yourself after a letdown motivates you to get back in the saddle. Start giving your Capital Self equal time, letting it acknowledge your accomplishments and positive qualities. You might imagine it sitting across from you in a chair, as you listen to what it has to say. The more you watch Critic from afar — without getting frustrated or trying to get rid of it — the easier it will be for Confidence to show up and give you a friendly hand.

Contemplate considering yourself as uppercase, as powerful and deserving, with a few self-affirmations. Only as you cultivate the right attitude toward yourself will you have the right attitude toward success. Negative self-judgments actually reduce success and increase stress, whereas self-compassion—the loving-kindness, supportive treatment you give to yourself during challenges, personal shortcomings, and setbacks—is a more powerful stress-resilient tool. What does your upper-case Self want to say to your lower-case self right now? Say it once or twice a day then notice the difference in how you stand up to impossible standards, harsh judgments, and challenging obstacles.