Many happy greetings to you all! Welcome to another installment in this month of May focus on self-image. So far we’ve talked about the way your past has impacted your self-image, what that means for your present, and some steps you can take if you are unsatisfied with the way you currently see yourself. This week it’s only natural that we move forward and talk about the concept of your view of yourself for the future.
This link between present and future self-image is an interesting and fluid one. Negative beliefs about your character, ability and interests have created a limited scope for your future. When you started trading negative beliefs for truth, your vision of the future changes drastically and your believed potential will grow. When “I’m too lazy to workout” morphs into “Most exercises look too challenging or boring for me to want to participate”, the problem changes and your entire trajectory will change with it. By believing that you are powerful/smart/capable you enable yourself to be powerful, smart and capable.
As challenging as it is to be completely honest with yourself about your identity and the tangible actions that could be taken to change the things that you previously claimed were innate, it is usually a much easier step than the work that comes next. You may need to remind yourself of the fallacy of your previous beliefs from time to time, and continue to speak aloud the truth of your identity. Living your life in light of these truths is a constant and daily work in progress. It took ten minutes for me to recognize that my fear of what others may think of me was more important to me than my own goals, two minutes for me to decide that my ambition was infinitely more important and literally walking across fire for me to start to live in that truth. Sure the whole walking on fire thing really helped kick out that negative belief, but it’s a moment by moment process to live like I was right.
There are a couple of theories to the whole making changes thing as it relates to self-image. Some people wholly advocate for affirmations, teaching that the best way to become the person you want to be is to remind yourself of what you are doing and work to convince your mind of that reality. “I am successful in relationships”, “I am strong and fit”, “I have all the money that I need”. Others encourage the kind of self-image work that I have been talking about, re-framing your current situation and using that more honest statement as a plan of action. “I am not as fit as I would like to be. I tend to eat too much poor quality food when I am stressed or want a quick burst of pleasure. I am able to change my health by changing what I eat.” The most successful method for permanent change is a combination of these two ideas. Claiming that x is true when you can easily observe your life and see that x is very much NOT TRUE is a painful journey on the merry-go-round of self-criticism. Acknowledging the things that you could change to achieve your goals is an excellent start, but without telling yourself where you are going and holding that image in your mind it’s much harder to keep moving forward. Instead of firmly placing your personal development work in one of these camps, I encourage you to take a hybrid approach.
Master the skill of holding two images of yourself, and reflect on them with honesty.
We are all deficient in some areas which makes us frustrated, depressed, self-conscious, embarrassed. We all have capacity to change those things through our mindset and dedicated action. Our progress will not be immediate, and will most likely take years, if not the rest of our lives. The only way to continue on this journey as the days of committed work turn into months and years, is to acknowledge ourselves as they are, remind ourselves of what brought us there and how far we have come, and continue to focus on the beautiful goal ahead. Tell it to yourself. Remind yourself that you are a boss, you are making progress, you are mighty and becoming mightier. You are a fit mamma-jamma who can take on anything. You are confident, and people want to hear what you have to say. You are a leader, at work, at home and in the community. You are brilliant and learning more every day. Say it, believe it, and back it up with action.
A few notes before you go boldly into your rapidly broadening horizons…
Be prepared to run into challenge in the form of people who see the horizon as you once did. As life goes on we naturally seek out and build relationships with people who see the world much as we do. You may have a few friends who are outside of the norm, but for the most part we gravitate to the people who are like us; the friends who will join you in skipping the gym and going to a movie, people who used to complain about being “broke” right along with you, the girls who would commiserate about failing their driving tests for the second time because “girls just aren’t good drivers”.
These insular relationships are helpful for maintaining status quo but they can get a bit uncomfortable when you begin expanding your perceptions and using that to grow. When you start moving away from your shared negative labels and naming those challenges for what they are you force others to face the same elements of their personalities, and if they aren’t in the same place, be prepared for resistance.
This resistance can be painful, isolating and challenging to your newly realized truth, and it can be an excellent way to refine your self-image. When others challenge you the natural reaction is to revert to your previously held belief, the comfortable one that everyone else holds. It takes considerable fortitude and continued work to hold your new belief in the face of the contradictions of the people who know you best. Your newly realized truth that “it’s easy to place a higher value on the immediate pleasure of food than physical health” won’t be popular. Neither will your progress as you make changes in your lifestyle to reflect this truth. That’s when you must hold even more strongly to your new view of yourself, and the new future you are creating.
If your closest circle doesn’t go out of their way to make your progress challenging, or turn their backs on your revolutionary ways, your own mind has a delightful propensity to try to do this anyway. As with your friends, the status quo is more comfortable for your brain. It knows what to expect. It has a narrative already prepared. It’s been conditioning you for “the usual” for the last 10 years.
If you’ve ever gotten close to a goal only to find your motivation slipping, come within five pounds of your goal weight only to give up and gain back 20, written the first 10 chapters of a book and found yourself incapable of ending it, or spent 5 years dating someone only to break up with them a week before your wedding, you have an intimate understanding of the mind’s ability to self-sabotage. I have worked my booty off in the first 3/4 of at least 6 different workout programs only to completely lose it in the last two weeks.
When you have developed an image of success in your mind and worked toward it consistently, achieving it is an intimidating prospect. Success and new identity are unknown, seemingly impossible, something you aren’t sure that worthy of, painful, alienating, and threatening to your current state. That new positive and truthful self-image is a scary proposition. As I’ve said, living in that new image takes work that your mind would rather not do.
As such you have to be prepared to fight for what you know is possible and what you are creating. That might mean finding more supportive people to round out your circle of friends. You will have to invest your time and energy in your new habits. Your mindset starts this domino effect of changes including your habits and pursuits and coming to crescendo with your outcomes. You’re going to have to remind yourself of where you have been, where you are now and where you are going. Affirm your goals and progress toward these every day. Remind yourself constantly of your new identity. Make steps in that direction. Be honest in the journey. And most importantly love yourself for who you are, every step of the way.