Our thoughts are made up of our internal pictures, sounds and our inner dialogue: how we speak to ourselves and what we say. Our mind is mighty and affects our body and how we feel. I’m sure you’ve heard of the placebo effect.

Energy flows where you put your focus. Are you focusing on the negative or the positive? As humans, we are drawn towards disaster. Newspaper publishers know this and use stories about catastrophes and diseases to sell their papers. It’s easy to get drawn into the negative and think of crises, and it makes us upset.

As a manager, it’s good to be a realist and collect information about the surrounding world so that you can do a better job. As a person, you need to have a positive dialogue with yourself. Remember, you are the most crucial person in your life. If you say negative things to yourself or about yourself in your internal dialogue, you can make yourself quite depressed. If other people said negative things to you, you probably wouldn’t want to stay friends with them. Be your own best friend!

Positive thoughts give you more and happier years. One way of achieving this is to focus on what you want to happen, rather than what you don’t want. What you focus on will give it energy. If you hop into a taxi at Stockholm Central Station you don’t say, “I don’t want to go to the airport, I don’t want to go to Mall of Scandinavia, and I don’t want to go to the Royal Palace.” The taxi driver would probably just sit there and wait for you to decide where you did want to go. If you’re going to have a happier state of mind, focus on better things. If you sow flowers, you get flowers, and if you plant an apple tree, you get apples. What happens if you don’t plant anything? You get weeds.

We routinely ask ourselves questions in our minds. Our unconscious mind is excellent at answering questions. Are you aware of the items you ask? They tend to be the same ones, day after day. Beware of the bad ones and stop this prompt asking, “Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to me, again? How could I forget that? What is wrong with me?” Maybe you are dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Change them into the right questions, open to alternatives, and be kind to yourself: “How can I make this day a great day or maybe a fun day? How can I be more present in my meetings today? How can I make others grow today?”

When I coach people, I ask them to focus on what they do well. If someone is a slalom skier, he might be focusing on the great turns in the middle of the race. If the person is a manager coming for presentation skills training, we might focus on how well her body language was, or how good her voice was throughout the presentation. Build on your strengths. 

To build your self-worth, you could look at yourself in the mirror every morning, pay yourself compliments and say how much you enjoy spending time with yourself. I know at first it seems strange and silly. But it works. My father started saying to himself, while shaving in the bathroom every morning, “Good morning, you handsome man!” When I was growing up, I heard him from my bedroom, saying positive things. I never heard him putting himself down.

We also have pictures in our mind: images of goals, visualisations of success. Make these pictures vivid and colourful, big and close to you, seeing what is happening from your own eyes rather than seeing yourself as if you are in a film. It will make a more significant impact. You also have pictures of your self-esteem and your self-confidence, who you are and what you do. Building confidence and getting into the loop of con dence and competence encourages you to do new things. And when you do them well, that in turn increases your con dence. Challenge yourself and feel your confidence grow. I know it’s scary – do it anyway!

When I was pregnant with our third child, we lived in Chislehurst in the suburbs of London, and I usually took our young daughters for walks in the neighbourhood. I saw boys and girls playing in their gardens. Often there was a Weeble, which would act as a goalkeeper when there was a football game going on. A Weeble is an egg-shaped toy, in some cases designed to look like a person or animal, with an inflatable part at the top and a printed face of some sort. As the football came knocking the Weeble over, it quickly bounced back to its original position, thanks to gravity and the weight located at the bottom-centre. Very handy, and it was a goal every time.

When I later studied behaviour psychology, I thought that we are like Weebles. We want our self-esteem to be like a big massive clump that quickly gets us back on track if we fall over; it represents who we are, our identity. The inflatable bit can be punctured or fall over, just as happens with our behaviour, our self-confidence. We don’t want the confidence part to be hugely more significant than our self-esteem, or we sort of topple over.

It’s best to work on self-esteem every day by being an awesome person. Why not write down somewhere every night before going to sleep: ‘What was good today? How have I made a difference today? For what am I grateful?’ If you have children, what is stopping you from doing it with them? I firmly believe we need to be kinder to ourselves, as we impact the system: body, feelings and thoughts.

Rip up your membership card for the association of ‘We Who Kick Ourselves’. I know we get drafted in unconsciously and often find ourselves on the board of directors. Make active choices and stay out.

An extract from “Outstanding in the Middle” (Panoma Press) by Birgitta Sjostrand.