We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done. – Henry Longfellow
What Exactly is a Self-Concept?
A self-concept is an understanding we have of ourself that is based on our personal experiences, body image, our thoughts, and how we tend to label ourself in various situations.
A self-concept can also be defined as an all-encompassing awareness we had of ourself in the past; the awareness we have of ourself in the present, and the expectations we have of ourself at a future time.
Our self-concept is built upon how we perceive ourself based on the knowledge we have gained over a lifetime of experiences.
A self-concept is a perception we have of our image, abilities, and [in some ways] of our own individual uniqueness.
This perception we have of ourself is based on the information we have gathered about our values, life roles, goals, skills, and abilities over time.
Our self-concept is a collection of beliefs we have about our own nature, qualities, and behaviour. It is about how we think and evaluate ourself at any given moment in time.
To truly understand what a self-concept is and its impact on our life, we first need to break down the three components of a self-concept. These three components are based on the work of Humanist Psychologist Carl Rogers.
Our Self Image
Our self-image comes down to how we see ourself in the present moment. This includes the labels we give ourself about our personality and the beliefs we have about how the external world perceives we.
It is, however, important to note that our self-image is not necessarily based on reality. For example, a person with anorexia may have a self-image that makes them believe they are obese, however, in reality, that is far from the truth.
Given this, it is crucial to recognize that a self-image is only our own perception of ourself and has no real basis in reality.
Our self-ideal is how we wish we could be at a future time. This is our ideal self or the ideal person we envision of being and becoming. Often times, how people see themselves and how they would like to see themselves does not quite match up. This is precisely what causes problems and often leads to self-sabotaging behaviour patterns and emotional struggles.
Our self-esteem encompasses our current emotional experiences. It refers to the extent to which we like or approve of ourself or the extent to which we value ourself. We might, for example, have a positive or negative view of ourself. When we have a unfavourable view of ourself, we are seen as having low self-esteem. This often manifests in a lack of confidence and pessimism.
On the other hand, when we have a favourable view of ourself we are seen as having high self-esteem. This often manifests in a confident disposition, self-acceptance, and optimism.
A healthy self-concept will help us to get ahead in life. It will allow us to maximize our potential and get the most from our strengths, talents, and abilities. A weak self-concept on the other hand, will hinder our progress. In fact, a fragile self-concept will most likely lead to self-sabotaging behaviour. As a result, we will struggle to follow through with our actions. Subsequently, we will fail to achieve the goals and objectives we set for ourself.
The Value of a Healthy Self-Concept
The value of having a healthy self-concept becomes more evident when we recognize how much it influences our ability to manage our emotional experiences. However, it does not stop there. A healthy self-concept also determines how far we will step outside our comfort zone to solve a problem or achieve a goal. It also influences how we utilize our physiology while confronting challenges, obstacles, and problems.
A healthy self-concept impacts the questions we typically ask ourself each day. It also affects how we interact with people, how we think about ourself, others, and circumstances.
When we put all this together, our self-concept effectively determines what we will do or choose not to do at any given moment in time. It, therefore, influences our inherent potential to do, be, have and achieve our desired objectives.
The Forces Influencing Our Self-Concept
There are a number of forces that shape our self-concept and, therefore, impact its health and vitality over time.
Some of these forces come from internal sources, while other forces come from external sources.
Internal sources include what we think about ourself and/or others, what we pay attention to, how we interpret the events and circumstances of our life, and how we reframe both failure and success.
External sources include the environment we spend most of our time in, our interactions with others, and how other people tend to label us.
The most important thing to note here is the impact that other people have on our self-concept.
Through rejection, judgment, ridicule, and criticism, other people often influence how we feel about ourself, the labels we give ourself, and fundamentally what we believe about ourself, about our own abilities, and the world around us.
In many ways, our self-worth is tied to the people in our life. Therefore, if we are struggling with an unhealthy self-concept, then it could very well be a direct result of the interactions we have with other people.
The bad news is that all of these internal and external sources have a profound impact on our self-concept. The good news is that starting today, we can begin taking affirmative and proactive action to improve our self-concept and optimize how we live our life.
Tell-tale Signs that We Have an Unhealthy Self-Concept
An unhealthy self-concept is something that often drags us down in life. It’s something that limits our opportunities, denies we access to essential resources, and undermines our potential.
An unhealthy self-concept implies that we have a low value of ourself. When we have a low value of ourselves we typically lack the confidence needed to move boldly in the direction of our goals. Without self-confidence, we lack the resourcefulness needed to overcome uncertainty, to solve problems, and to effectively manage change.
Life rapidly gets overwhelming and difficult to bear. We struggle with our emotions and make poor decisions. Everything essentially becomes a struggle and things really should not be this way.
Our unhealthy self-concept is getting in the way of living our life to our best potential. It is filtering out the reality of how life is and creating an alternate reality that we have unfortunately accepted as the truth.
What is more is that we become so caught up in our own lives, that it is difficult to pinpoint whether or not we are actually struggling with a weak self-concept.
There are, however, specific signs to look out for that can help us identify whether or not we are struggling with a weak self-concept.
We likely have a weak self-concept when we…
- Fail to give affection.
- Always compare ourself to other people.
- Succumb to jealousy.
- Consistently reject compliments.
- Perpetually criticise ourself and others.
- Indulge in negative self-talk that manifests in pessimism.
- Persistently suffer from guilt about what we could, should, or would have done.
- Undermine our own personal needs in favour of other people’s needs.
- Suffer from poor emotional and physical health.
Taken individually these symptoms do not signify that we have a poor self-concept. However, if you have ticked 3 or 4 items off this list, then it is probably a clear indication that your self-concept has taken a hit.
If we have a low self-concept, then it is time to commit yourself to upgrading your thoughts, beliefs, decisions, and actions moving forward. Only in this way will you transform your self-concept and optimize how you live your life.
Given all this, it is important to note that all these signs are nothing more than defensive mechanisms that protect us from emotional harm.
Our body and mind are doing their best to cope with life, events, and circumstances. However, frequently these coping strategies do not quite work to our advantage.
What is worse is that we might succumb to indulging in limiting behaviours in a feeble attempt to feel better about ourself.
- Shift into “denial mode” and deny that anything is wrong despite evidence to the contrary.
- Make assumptions and/or justifications that are not based on fact but rather on our biased “rose-coloured” view of reality.
- Launch into a verbal barrage where we attack ourself and others based on false perceptions of how we see things.
- Choose to bask in negativity. Life sucks as it is, so why not just wallow in self-pity and experience the full brunt of our negative feelings?
- Try and avoid people and circumstances by distracting ourself with addictions and other unhealthy habitual behaviours.
All of these semi-coping strategies might provide us with some semblance of control. They may even provide us with some relief and temporary satisfaction. However, in the long-run, they will only hurt us. We will hurt because we struggle to face the reality of our situation.
We are incapable of facing the truth and without the truth, we won’t make the necessary changes that will transform our self-concept and help us take charge of our life.
How to Improve Our Self-Concept
Transforming our self-concept won’t be easy. In fact, it will take a great deal of patience, time, and effort.
Along this journey, we will likely need to release old habits, limiting beliefs, and unhelpful thoughts. We will essentially need to question the value of how we have been living our life, which includes the choices and decisions we have been making.
If the choices we make are not stretching our comfort zone and pushing us toward our goals then change is something that needs to be on the horizon.
Even though this journey and the inevitable transformation will not be easy, it will, however, be worth your while.
No longer will we be at the mercy of our rose-coloured view of reality. Instead, we will have taken control. With control comes confidence and with confidence comes potential to transform our life with purpose.
It is important to note that the quality of our life is a direct reflection of our emotional state of mind. What this means is that when our emotions are healthy and serving our greater good, then the quality of our life will likewise improve.
Our life improves because life always comes down to the emotional experiences we choose to indulge in. When our emotional experiences are of a healthy and positive nature, this improves the quality of our thoughts. As our thoughts improve so do our choices, decisions, and actions. When we make better choices, we get better results. With improved outcomes, we feel immeasurably better about ourself and when we feel better about ourself, our self-concept grows stronger.
That is, in essence, the key that will help transform a poor self-concept into something that can help optimize how we live the rest of our life.
Lets have a look at the steps we can take to Improve our Self-Concept
Step 1: Make a Personal Contract
Before we begin working through these suggestions, it’s imperative that the very first thing we do is make a personal contract.
Write up a contract with yourself that gives You the green light to initiate the process of change.
Things must change…
I am responsible for this change…
I am committed to making this change…
If for any reason you are unable to tick-off all three boxes, then you are just not ready to instigate change yet.
Let us look at this in a little more detail.
Firstly, acknowledge that changes need to be made. If you are unable to admit that there is something wrong, then there is no point moving forward with this process.
Secondly, you need to take responsibility for making these changes. Nobody is responsible for your life but YOU. Without YOU this can not be done. Only You can make this decision. If at any point you feel or believe or think that someone else is going to or should be involved in this process for you or with you – You are not ready to initiate changes yet.
Thirdly, you must be committed to making the necessary changes to improve our life. Without commitment, there is no motivation and without motivation, there just are just not enough reasons for you to initiate change. You need to know WHY you need to and want to make the changes. Without a solid WHY to keep you motivated things will fall apart.
You therefore, need to acknowledge that things must change, You need to take responsibility for this change, and You need to commit yourself to follow through with the change.
Once you have ticked all three of these boxes, you will be ready to take the first step along your journey toward a healthier self-concept.
Step 2: Discover Who We Are then Bridge the Gap!
Your next step to transforming your self-concept is to discover who you are.
Now, on the surface, this might seem kind of silly. We already know who we are, right? I am me and yo are you! We are a physical beings living a life that is uniquely ours. However, below the surface, we are in reality so much more than that.
So, my question is, do you honestly know who you really are?
What we are going to try and do here is identify the gap between “who we are” and “who we are seeking to become.”
To strengthen our self-concept, we must figure out how to bridge this gap successfully. We must essentially merge the ME [YOU] in the NOW together with the ME[YOU] in the FUTURE.
This, of course, is not going to be easy. In fact, there will always be some kind of discrepancy. This is important to understand because without a discrepancy there is no motivation to grow and develop ourselves over time.
However, if this discrepancy is too significant between the YOU of today and the YOU that you desire to become in the future then your self-concept will never bloom into its full potential. There must, therefore, be congruence, or otherwise, self-actualization is impossible.
With this in mind, take time to answer the following questions:
Who am I?
Who am I really?
Who am I physically?
Who am I socially?
Who am I emotionally?
Who am I spiritually?
Who am I in terms of my accomplishments?
Who am I in terms of my failures and mistakes?
Who am I in terms of my goals?
Who am I in terms of my social roles?
Who am I really? Why?
Who am I not? Why not?
The purpose of these questions is to identify how we see ourself in the present moment and then compare that against the final set of questions laid out below. The final set of questions focuses on what kind of person we are seeking to become.
As we go through each question, we will gain various insights and perspectives into who we are. And that is perfectly okay. Embrace these differences, because this is in essence how we see ourself each day.
It is also important to note that there are no incorrect answers. Things are the way they are.
What is most relevant here is whether or not these answers are congruent with the answers we give to the following set of questions:
Who am I ideally seeking to become?
How do I see myself in the future?
What kind of person is this person? What is this person like?
What kinds of qualities does this person have?
How does this person think?
How does this person talk to themselves?
What kind of questions does this person ask themselves?
What kind of emotions does this person experience?
What kind of habits does this person indulge in?
What experiences does this person have each day?
What kind of goals is this person working towards?
What kind of person is this person really?
Our ideal self must be congruent with our perceived self in the present moment.
If there is a significant difference between the two, then we must work on bridging that gap thereby strengthening our self-concept.
Let’s take a closer look at that gap.
What is the gap between my perceived self and my ideal self?
Where is the gap most significant?
Where is the gap not so significant?
Is the distance between the gap realistic?
How could I begin bridging this gap starting today?
Our objective for the remainder of this journey is to begin bridging that gap between our ideal self and the self we are experiencing at this very moment.
The more congruent both of these “selves” are, the stronger and healthier our self-concept will become.
Before moving on, I do have a few words of caution.
Our self-ideal must be realistic and achievable otherwise, we will struggle to meet our highest standards of performance. Subsequently, our self-concept will continue to suffer.
The key therefore is to ensure that our self-ideal is not entirely out of this world at least not at the beginning.
Given this, be sure to look at your standards and expectations to make them more achievable. Only when you reach these set standards and expectations should you incrementally raise the bar higher.
Remember though that your self-image is often not based on reality BUT rather based on your interpretation of reality.
Therefore, if your self-image is based on false assumptions or distorted perspectives, then you will first need to work through these issues before moving through the process outlined here.
Our discussion here is more about using this process to help build our self-confidence so that we can then take the necessary action steps to achieve our desired goals and objectives.
Time to Make Some Key Changes to Improve Our Self-Concept
Below you will find numerous suggestions and guidelines to help you transform your self-concept. Some of these suggestions are easy and quick to implement, while others might take a little time.
What is, however, crucial here is what you focus on while making these changes. This essentially comes down to three fundamental things:
- Changing Your habits of thought.
- Changing Your self-talk.
- Changing Your belief systems.
No matter how we proceed, every particular change we desire to make comes down to just these three fundamental things.
No matter what ideas we decide to implement, be sure to always keep in mind how these changes can be made in relation to your thoughts, self-talk, and the belief systems that govern your subconscious behaviour.
Let us work through the following ideas and this will start making more sense.
Our first objective is to look within and become very consciously aware of our daily thoughts, self-talk, belief systems, psychological rules, and the questions we tend to ask.
Are my thoughts aligned with my self-image?
What kind of thoughts do I allow myself to dwell upon?
What are these thoughts doing to me?
How do these thoughts make me feel?
How do I tend to talk to myself?
What questions do I tend to ask myself?
What are the consequences of my self-talk and the questions I ask myself?
What do I tend to believe about myself?
What do I tend to believe about my abilities?
Is this congruent with my self-ideal?
How does all this make me feel?
How do these “rules” influence my daily undertakings?
Are all these things congruent with my self-ideal?
How can I make the necessary adjustments to match my self-image with my self-ideal?
Our objective is to reach congruence in these areas.
Our self-image will never directly align with our self-ideal. However, we can certainly make the necessary adjustments to our mindset to move in the right direction.
To assist you with this transition process, it is necessary to give yourself time for meditation and visualization.
Meditation will help clear the clutter in your brain. It will encourage you to think and act more mindfully throughout the day. This will subsequently improve your ability to make effective decisions. Visualization, can provide you with the necessary vision you need to better understand your future direction. This will likewise help you lay down a much clearer path toward your desired outcomes.
Remember, that how we think about things has a lot to do with our perceptions and interpretations of reality.
Interpreting things one way will give you access to a particular set of resources and opportunities. However, interpreting things another way will provide you with access to a different set of resources and opportunities. Ironically, it might even deny you access altogether.
It is therefore paramount to keep in mind that how we frame and/or reframe our experiences essentially determines what we gain or lose from those experiences.
Therefore, when problems arise, it is not what happens to us, but how we interpret what happens that makes all the difference.
Transforming Our Physiology
When it comes to our physiology, it is important to remind ourselves that the body and mind are intrinsically connected.
What this means is that how we think and how we emotionalize our experience influences how we use our physiology. Likewise, how we use our physiology influences how we think and emotionalize our experiences. These are both interconnected, and therefore what we do to one directly influences the other.
With that in mind, have a think about your body and how you use it throughout the day. Do you move your body with confidence, or do you tend to move it sluggishly? What about your breath and posture? What is that like? How active are you during the day or do you tend to spend your days confined to a specific room or area without much movement?
By making small adjustments to our physiology, we will indirectly influence our inner world. As our inner world changes we will begin bridging the gap between where we are today and our ideal self.
Improve Your Lifestyle Choices
Try this little exercise. Close your eyes and see Your Ideal Self. What do you look like?
When it comes to your lifestyle, you need to start making some choices that will help move you toward your ideal self.
What kind of life does my ideal self live?
How often does my ideal self exercise?
What kind of food does my ideal self eat?
What kind of environment does my ideal self spend the majority of time in?
What does my ideal self spend time on?
How does my ideal self tend to work? Where? On what?
What kind of lifestyle choices does my ideal self make?
How can I begin bridging the lifestyle gap between where I am today and my ideal self of tomorrow?
As we go through these questions, we will get a strong sense of the changes we might need to make to bridge the gap between where we are today and our ideal self.
Above all else, keep reminding yourself that it is all about reaching a state of congruence where your current self (self-image) matches your future self (self-ideal) on as many levels as possible.
Strengthen Your Self-Confidence
When we have an unhealthy self-concept, we will typically struggle with our self-confidence.
If we struggle with self-confidence, we are often very susceptible to falling prey to rejection, to criticism, to judgment, and to the influence of others.
To strengthen our self-confidence, we need to explore self-love. Before we can feel confident in the external world, we must first find confidence in ourself and that comes through self-love.
Self-love means fully accepting ourself despite your flaws, despite our weaknesses, and despite our inadequacies. It means feeling comfortable in our own skin no matter what we look like or how we feel. To find our self-love, spend time with yourself. However, do not just spend time watching mindless television, actually, spend time pampering ourself. Get a massage, enjoy a hot sauna, go for a nature walk, etc.
First and foremost, the key is to reconnect with yourself. It is only when we have found that connection with yourself that you will tap into your true sense of confidence.
Gain Relevant Knowledge and Skills
Your ideal self-has certain skills, knowledge, and abilities. Identify what these things are and then go to work acquiring the relevant knowledge and skills you need to help bridge the gap between your self-image and your self-ideal.
You will often find the information you need in books, by taking courses, by volunteering your time to a cause, or by connecting with people who already have the knowledge and skill you desire.
You could, get a mentor or life coach. Find someone who could guide you along your journey toward your self-ideal.
Build Your Support Network
As we work on developing our knowledge and skills, we will most certainly need support along our journey. We will need people to help us through the tough times and struggles. We will need people that can be relied upon for emotional support and we will need people who will accept us unconditionally without strings attached. 😉
These people must, be positive, inspiring, creative, passionate, and caring. They must be giving and generous, joyful, and happy souls. These are the kinds of people that should comprise your support network.
Our support network might, be made up of friends, colleagues, family members, life coaches and/or mentors. These people will be there to prop you up when you are facing difficulties. They will be there to help keep you motivated, focused, and inspired as you make progress toward our ideal self. Your support network will be your voice of reason, and your sanity check and most of all these are the people who will hold you accountable.
Use your support network for guidance and direction. However, don’t give up control of your own life by putting your destiny in other people’s hands. This will never work out well in the long-run. You must be in charge of your own choices and decisions. To be in charge means not concerning yourself with what others think. It means not worrying about criticism or rejection and it means not comparing ourself with others.
We are all on our own unique path. Our support network is there to support us, but ultimately we make the final decision that determines the direction we will take.
Set Inspiring Goals
Having inspiring goals means that our life has purpose and meaning. This keeps us motivated and active. However, we don’t just want to set random goals. We actually want to set goals that match our self-ideal.
So ask ourself:
What goals is my ideal self working towards?
What purpose is my ideal self striving for?
What inspires and motivates my ideal self?
Once you have your answers to these questions, set some inspiring goals and lay down a plan of action that will help you bridge the gap between where you are today and where you ideally would like to be in the future.
Building a healthy and robust self-concept no doubt takes some work and consistent effort. In fact, it takes time. This is not something that we can build or transform overnight. Likewise, it is not something that we work through once and then forget about for the rest of our life.
Transforming our self-concept is something that we need to work on consistently over time. It is something that must continuously change and evolve as we reach new milestones along our life’s journey.
This journey certainly does not need to be difficult. There is no need to complete this process in one go, or even set timeframes to it. Take your time. Set small daily objectives, and over many weeks, months and years you will make considerable progress as you sculpt who you are and whom you desire to become.
Was this article helpful? – What skills or techniques have you used to transform your concept? Leave a comment I would love to hear from you.