“An individual’s self-concept is the core of his personality. It affects every aspect of human behavior: the ability to learn, the capacity to grow and change. A strong, positive Self-image is the best possible preparation for success I life”
– Dr. Joyce Brothers, American Psychologist and author.
Are you fat, thin, intelligent, stupid, masculine, feminine, likable, unlikable, social, antisocial, weak, strong, attractive, unattractive, a good person or a bad person? How would you know? You know because it is your self-image.
What is your self-image? How do you see yourself? Think back to the last time you bathed or took a shower. Recall your “mental movie’ of the event. Replay it. What do you see in your mind? I’ll bet you view yourself from a distance, rubbing the soap over your body, or wiping yourself with a towel. But, how could that be true? You weren’t actually standing apart from you and watching yourself. If you had accurately recorded the actual experience or reality, you would have been looking at the bubbles in the tub, the tiles on the wall, the soap in your hand, the towel being pulled off the rack or various parts of your body as you dried yourself. Maybe you would have even caught a reflection of yourself in the mirror. But – that’s not what your “mind” seems to have recorded. Somehow, magically, you remember yourself “outside” yourself.
What does this mean? It means that what you remember is really your “subconscious” image of – you. It is the way you see yourself and the way you see yourself can provide you with a wealth of information – for growth.
A person’s self-image is a mental picture that depicts not only details that are available to objective observation by others (hair color, height, weight, gender etc.) but also what has been learned by that person about himself or herself both from personal experiences and by internalizing the judgments of others. Examples of this complex amalgam are your physical appearance, of course, but also your skills, relationships, background and the environment from which you came, accomplishments in academics and achievement in athletics, jobs and roles played in your life at school, home, work and the community.
What’s your image of yourself as you discipline your children, talk on the phone to a client, persuade someone to accept your ideas, communicate with your boss or your staff or work at a creative project? If you really take the time to examine your self-image, you will most likely have a great deal of self-judgment, both positive and negative. The positive side of the negative judgment is that it gives you “clues” as to how you may want to shift your self-image from negative to positive. That’s where the elegance of your subconscious mind and the extraordinary power of your imagination come in to play.
It’s from your self-image that you devise labels for yourself, create your scripts of how you “should” act, develop habits and take the actions necessary to fulfill your self-image. That’s all well and fine – except when your self-image retards your potential for living an exceptional life by keeping you stuck in habits and relationships that are limiting or even self-destructive.
Negative self-image equals negative self-esteem as a positive self-image equals positive self-esteem and when you project a positive self-image, people will be much more likely to see you as a positive, capable person.
The good news is that while the image of self is very resistant to change, it can be changed and you have the power to do it IF you have the motivation and commitment. One of the best books on changing our self-image, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, plastic surgeon and motivational speaker who said, “The ‘self-image’ is the key to human personality and human behavior. Change the self-image and you change the personality and the behavior.” Our self-image determines who we become but who we become is still in process.
Research has shown that we actually make decisions a fraction of a second before we “consciously” make the decision. In other words, there is another part of ourselves controlling us and that part is called the “subconscious” mind. It is ready and waiting to hear and take in positive suggestion. Oh, yes, and negative suggestion too because its unwavering attributes are: It cannot tell the difference between a real or an imagined experience and it accepts suggestions without question when given powerfully. Since it contains the “programming” as to what and who we are, our self-image, it is possible to override the negative with good stuff.
If the programming, the suggestions that we have picked up along the meandering journey of life act as barriers to living an exceptional life, maybe there is something we can do about it. Research also shows that our brain has a lot of “flexibility” and “plasticity” and that we can form new neuro-pathways and beliefs IF we are willing to put in a little work.
The following tips will help you to develop a positive self-image:
- Look at yourself and your life – without blinders – and ask, “What would I like to change about myself?”
- Be realistic. If you are five-feet, two-inches tall, you can’t be six-feet tall. There are things that you can change and things that you need to let go.
- Refuse to bully yourself! Let go of “should” “could” and “would.” Refuse to put standards on yourself that you wouldn’t expect from others and stop criticizing yourself.
- Cut off negative thoughts about yourself. The next time you start beating yourself up, tell yourself in your louder inner voice, “STOP IT!” It works.
- Stop exaggerating. Cut yourself off when you have self-judgments such as “I’m stupid.” “I always make mistakes.” “I’ll never get a promotion.” “I’ll never lose weight or quit smoking.” Turn judgment into curiosity and try laughing for a change. Believe me when I say we are very funny creatures.
- Develop positive self-talk. This is critical. Your subconscious is listening! The American speaker and author Denis Waitley once told me that “Repetitive, relentless positive self-talk is what changes our self-image.”
- Accept that all humans are flawed. Everyone makes mistakes. Lighten up! And know that you can’t please all the people, all the time.
- Forgive. Your past can control you if you don’t control it. Choose to let go of painful memories and move on. Forgive yourself and forgive others. Forgiveness is only about you and may save your mind.
- Discover and focus on your strengths and assets instead of your negative qualities. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Constantly remind yourself of all your capabilities, positive qualities and accomplishments.
In today’s chaotic and ever-changing world, I want you to take charge of your mind and use the tools available to you to fortify a strong self-image. You can do it!
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.