May 5th was my 44th birthday and a time for reflection. Looking back to when I was 18, my self-image was that of a pudgy young man, too embarrassed to go shirtless in public, too embarrassed to dress out for gym class. In fact, the image below is one of fewer than 5 pictures that show me without a shirt as a young man. As I look back now, I realize that my self-image was in conflict with reality and the way others saw me. It saddens me to know that my youth was negatively impacted by something that existed only inside my mind. It further saddens me to think I carried that image into my 40’s and almost allowed it to destroy me. Had I continued my weight gain and ill-health, I’m certain that a 50th birthday would have been an unexpected gift. My self-image became my reality.
This article isn’t about how to change your self-image, but rather a statement that it can be changed. Self-image is not limited to only weight. Our self-image can be related to many different aspects of our physical and mental self. It can drive whether you think you are pretty, ugly, or plain; whether you are too fat, too skinny, too different. Whether your are smart or dumb. Society plays a role too. What we see in catalogs, on TV commercials, in magazines, and on college campuses work to drive expectations. Family life and upbringing may also contribute to our self-image as well.
All of these forces push against us to mold our self-image into something that in my case wasn’t healthy. Maybe you can relate, maybe not. In any case, it took me too many years to realize that my self-image was damaged in the first place. I only started working on it when I was into my 40’s. Let me save you those wasted years and share with you now that I feel strongly that you can evaluate your self image and that you can change it if you choose. If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be that you already have everything you need to re-shape your self-image.
Here are some steps that can be a great start
Step 1 - Identify your troubling situations or conditions
Take some time to consider the aspects of your life that might be contributing to a poor self-image. Relationships, work, what you see in the mirror, etc. Jot them down in a notebook as you collect them.
Step 2 – Become aware of your thoughts and beliefs
Anthony Robbins, a well known thought leader on positive thinking and a great life coach has a simple formula that I think may work well for you here. Here it is
I x F = PR
That means that Information(I) times Focus(F) equals Personal Reality(PR). Here is an example I have used to explain this. Imagine if all you watched on the television was your local nightly news. If that is the information that you choose to focus on, what do you think your personal reality would be? Could it be that you wouldn’t feel safe in your local community because the local nightly news tends to present the negative aspects of your local community?
What if you chose to focus on positive things? Things that could take your self-image in a different direction. Would the re-shaping of your personal reality have an affect on your self-image? I think it might.
Step 3 – Challenge negative thinking
One of my challenges is that I tend to be too judgmental. In my experience, this is a fairly common behavior. Being judgmental can drive some pretty dark emotions and dark emotions only bring bad weather. If you want to keep the sunshine out, and who shouldn’t, try to convert your judgments into curiosity. Try to understand what might be driving whatever condition you are being judgmental about. Especially if that judgmental thought is aimed at you! Thanks again to Anthony Robbins for this tip. If you want great Information(I) to Focus(F) on, I’d recommend picking up some or all of Anthony Robbins coaching products.
Step 4 – Adjust your thoughts and beliefs
If your thoughts and beliefs are in a dark place, it would not be surprising to find a poor self-image. The longer you allow yourself to reside in dark places, the more deeply rooted the self-image might be. The great news is that this is entirely changeable. Even neuroscientists have discovered that our brains actually physically re-wire themselves when we encourage change in our lives. Our individual synapses will disconnect from one connection point inside the brain and will float around until re-attaching in a different configuration inside our brain.
Surround yourself with positive people, the warmth of the sun, the wonderful smell of fresh flowers, or whatever else you find positive and uplifting. Stand guard at the gate to your mind and supervise what you allow in. If you put these steps into use and practice them, it won’t take long for you to find the beauty in everything, including yourself and a restful peace in your heart and mind. This is the fertile ground to plant and grow a new self-image.