If you have big goals, you should start by considering how to shape your self-image.
November 2, 2017
The more I study self-image the more convinced I am of the power of self-image to determine how we navigate the world.
What is self-image
It’s almost as if self-image is a reflective lens through which we interpret our surroundings: we’re seeing the world around us, yet we’re also seeing ourselves reflected in that world, like an image with a double exposure. Whether or not we believe we can take that leap to achieve our next big goal, or we choose to hold ourselves back, is very often the product of how we see ourselves.
To change our self-image we first have to understand where it comes from, and most often our self-image is a social construct. We inherit notions of who we are from our families, our communities, and many of the formative experiences of childhood. We also gather an understanding of who we are through the people that surround us.
Despite being the cornerstone to our identity and our understanding of our place in the world, we very often fail to analyse our self-image, and we’ve all interacted with that person with big plans but a poor self-image. Usually those individuals come across as arrogant, conceited, and frankly, insecure. They’re looking for validation from the world, sometimes even begging for it, and in the process they end up sabotaging their ability to achieve their goals.
How do we change our self-image
If we’re going to set ourselves ambitious goals to achieve, we also have to be ambitious regarding the person we need to become in order to operate at our new desired level. To achieve this, we should first look at our models and determine what traits, habits or behaviours they have we want to mimic.
It is important to point out here that taking inspiration from our idols is not a sign of weakness or a lack of originality. Oprah, for example, famously mimicked what she saw as Barbara Walter’s formula for a great interview before she found her own voice.
Then, upon setting out on a new venture, we should write down a description of the person we want to become, including their attributes, habits, and behaviours.
Habits and behaviours are particularly important because they compose our comfort zone: when we talk about “leaving our comfort zone,” we’re very often discussing the hardship of leaving old habits and behaviours behind and forming new ones. Forming new habits is hard but also necessary if we want to operate at a higher level.
Finally, the last key part of developing our new self-image is understanding what stories we tell ourselves to hold ourselves back. Maybe we see ourselves as functioning within a collective where we have certain responsibilities that keep us from achieving what we want to achieve.
While parents are obviously responsible for their children until they reach adulthood, much of the other stories we tell ourselves are merely comforting tales that keep us squarely in our comfort zone and prevent us from taking that next scarey leap.
Whenever we challenge ourselves to reach a new level we have to consider how we adapt our self-image to our desired reality. We begin by understanding what our self-image has become as a result of our life-experiences, and then we begin purposefully crafting our identity based on whom we want to become. Such an exercise is neither self-indulgence nor superficiality: it’s about taking control in order to allow old ideas to sabotage new goals.
The next step is then understanding how we need to adjust our self-image to operate at the next level, and which habits and behaviours we need to shed and which ones we need to acquire in order to achieve our larger goal.
We are what we project onto the world, and often times we see the world through the lens of our self-image. We make it hard for ourselves to move forward when we don’t examine our self-image and when we don’t play a proactive role in sculpting it. We make it easier for ourselves when we become aware of who we are, what we lack, and who we need to become to continue on the never-ending journey towards self-improvement.