How to change your life?
A couple of years ago,
I would always feel embarrassed whenever I entered a fancy restaurant.
Rarely did I go to these kinds of places and I often felt like an outsider, a total misfit.
I wouldn’t even dare looking at the doorman or the receptionist.
However, when I went to the same place a few years later, as I grew more confident and wearing a nice suit, the atmosphere completely changed.
I surprisingly received a “Good morning Sir, how can I help you?”
The same person would’ve ignored me in the past but now, they respect me? I was confused.
That experience led me to think:
Why do some people receive more attention and respect than others?
I realized that these people project confidence and they receive admiration. Other people don’t do that and they get a different treatment.
Most of the time, people would respect us if we first respect ourselves.
We will project onto others how we see ourselves.
How we act determines how other people react to us.
This is why self-image is so important.
If we feel important, people would sense it and they would consider us as important.
Dress in a way you want to be perceived because when you look important, you feel important. Simply put, your physical appearance affects your inner self. Your external look affects how you feel about yourself.
How to change your life: understanding self-image
Imagine that you wake up in the morning. You go to the bathroom and you look into the mirror. What do you see? What you see there is what we call “reflection”
Reflection is not self-image, it goes deeper than that. Self-image is how we perceive ourselves.
Self-image refers to how we see ourselves both internally and externally. By definition, it is the “idea, the conception or the mental image one has of oneself”.
As a perception, our self-image can be biased and distorted. Therefore, we can have a positive or a negative self-image which doesn’t always reflect reality.
When it is positive, we love ourselves more and we feel confident. When it is however negative, self-image can cause self-hate, leading to negative self-talks, deprecating self-doubts and finally self-fulfilling prophecy.
Suzaan Oltmann proposes the following 3 elements to understand self-image.
– How a person perceives and thinks of him/herself
– How a person interprets other’s perceptions of him/herself (what are other people thinking of me?)
– The way a person would like to be (the ideal self)
To change your life for the better, realize that there are also six dimensions of a person’s self-image: physical, intellectual, psychological, skills, moral and sexual.
Self-image and self-esteem
Nathaniel Branden in his book the “Six pillars of self-esteem” defines self-esteem as:
- Our confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life; and
- Our confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our efforts.
Self-image is largely associated with self-esteem. How we perceive ourselves contributes to our self-efficacy and to our self-esteem as well.
A positive self-image uplifts oneself and influences positively one’s self-esteem. On the contrary, a negative self-image lowers the person’s self-esteem.
Self-esteem and success
Ulrich Orth and his team of researchers from the University of Basel demonstrated that a healthy self-esteem positively impacts one’s work, health and relationships.
For more than twelve years, they evaluated and collected different answers from a panel of 1824 people aged between 16 and 97 years old.
The conclusion of the study reveals that self-esteem indeed influences more success than the opposite.
We can also say that our self-image goes hand in hand with our success. To achieve success and change your life, work on your self-image first.
Self-image and depression
A poor self-image and a low self-esteem can lead to serious problems; including depression. Our mental health will be at risk if we see ourselves as incompetent and unworthy of happiness.
A person with negative self-image can even withdraw from society to avoid any contact with other people, leading to even more isolation and more depression.
I used to think that I was unlucky. In my mind, I thought that God chooses the successful and unsuccessful people. Worse, I was persuaded that I couldn’t do anything about it.
For instance I would never think of applying for a fellowship; simply because, to me, trying doesn’t even matter. Yet, many opportunities existed but I just ignored them, my reality was already set on scarcity and negative.
Deep down, my self-image was of an inferior, unworthy and unlucky guy who would never succeed in life.
One thing I know for sure is that I excluded other possibilities and never asked: “what if I can change how I think about myself’.
I never applied to any scholarships and didn’t even try because I believed I was doomed. I didn’t even know that we can change our life! What I thought in my mind became true on the outside. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The self-image can be changed
We all have different versions of who we think we are and there might be slight variations in our perception. But when that perception is greatly detached from reality, we experience a lack of efficacy.
A person with a healthy self-image will see herself as attractive and desirable. They easily agree that they can be smart or intelligent.
On the contrary, a negative self-image ends up with negative judgments. We think we are unattractive and undesirable. In other people’s eyes, we think we are worthless, unintelligent and unhappy.
The good news is that we can change ourselves by changing our self-image.
If you understand it, your life will never be the same again. Self-image becomes a golden key to living a better life because of two important discoveries:
- All your actions, feelings, behaviors—even your abilities—are always consistent with this self-image.
- The self-image can be changed.
How to change your life: you have a dormant power
A person’s self-image will remain stable unless she deliberately changes it. It won’t change much within a year, five years or even ten years.
A person who expects to succeed is more likely to achieve success than he who expects to fail. Our expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy because we act in accordance with what we expect and think.
But we all possess a dormant power that will unlock our true potential. That power is our self-image.
We just saw that all of our thoughts, feelings and habits are direct consequences of our self-image. It’s simple: we always act like the person we think we are.
We can use the power of our self-image and visualization to greatly enhance the quality of our life.
Understanding it on a deeper level: our subconscious mind
Our subconscious mind doesn’t make the difference between real experience and mental image.
If we move our left hand and make a circle two times, the corresponding areas of the brain will be activated. Surprisingly, if we imagine doing the same gesture in our mind, the same areas will light up as if we actually used our left hand.
Imagining ourselves as successful will create neurological associations in our mind. We will act according to that image. Our self-image also determines our expectations for ourselves.
Henry Ford once said “He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right”. It’s in your power to choose a positive or negative self-image; but realize first that you can change and mold it.
How to develop a positive self-image?
Dr Maxwell Maltz suggests two things in his book “Psycho-cybernetics”:
– We should design a new self-image of ourselves
– We must practice mentally and imagine ourselves as that new person.
It is possible to change our life by changing our self-image but we have to practice day by day, every day.
Athletes and top performers are using the same techniques to reach their high-levels.
Concretely, you can develop a new version of yourself by spending at least 5 minutes every day imagining yourself to be a new person of your design.
As you do this, try to mix that visualization with emotions and do as if it’s reality. Once again, our brain doesn’t make any difference between an imagined and a real experience.
If you do this for a month, you will be agreeably surprised by the results! It works and you are the creator of your reality.