What image comes to mind when you think of yourself? Perhaps you think of a confident, capable person, ready for whatever life throws at them.

If we think of someone less confident, or not so capable, then we may wish to revise our self-image. This image acts as a blueprint for how we live our life. We can act differently of course, but the default is to behave according to our self-image.

“Beauty begins the moment you decided to be yourself.” 

Coco Chanel

Self-image can even include what we feel the future will hold – will we succeed or fail, pass that exam, or not, get a good job, or not….

Self-image can also be influenced by what has happened in the past. Life events can affect our self-image, either positively or negatively, e.g., relationship with our parents or caregivers, whether we have enough social interaction, positive and negative past events, and our environment. Krauss and colleagues (2020) did research in Mexican American children (10 – 16 years old) which showed that if parents had economic security, treated their child positively, and monitored their child, that the children were more likely to have high self-esteem. Children whose Mothers had depression and whose Fathers were absent were more likely to have a lower self-esteem.

Healthy self-esteem is good for our physical and mental health. German research in secondary school students (Schwager and colleagues. 2020) showed significant impact of social integration and self-esteem on mental and physical well-being. 163 students aged 9–17 years, were studied. Results revealed that self-esteem mediated the effect of social integration on mental and physical well-being. This finding elucidates one pathway from social integration to well-being and points to the importance of improving both self-esteem and social integration for the promotion of well-being among adolescents.

Ways to revamp self-image

The good news is that self-image can be changed by changing our thinking, and how we feel about ourselves. Here’s how:-

1. Think about self-talk

Our self-talk is much more powerful than we may think.

Oles and colleagues (2020) stated that using third-person self talk (referring to oneself as he / she / they) or by one’s name (rather than “I”) appears to promote coping with stressful experiences and is associated with judging future stresses as challenges rather than threats. This kind of self-talk is also connected to self-control, emotion regulation, coping with painful experiences, and taking various perspectives.

“Be very careful what you say to yourself because someone very important is listening – YOU”

Fritsch and colleagues (2020) studied self-talk in tennis players. They found that many tennis players talk to themselves during a match, and this talk is related to the emotions they feel, and the emotions that they display on the outside to other people. They found that goal-oriented type of self-talk is related to less intense emotions.

It is easy to pick up negative ideas about ourselves from our environment, and from what other people may say. Why not speak to yourself in the same way that you’d speak to your mates. Be positive and congratulate yourself when you do something well.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

When we compare ourselves to others, we are actually comparing ourselves to what we think others are like. Some people would not admit to the negative aspects of their life.

This can start in childhood, as of course we are compared with each other at school – “Who had the highest marks in the class?” Perhaps parents and relatives want us to perform well in exams art school, and this fuels the anxiety.

As an example, when I was at university, I was envious of a fellow student’s apartment. It was in a great part of town, and she shared her accommodation with interesting people. Only after we both left university did I hear that it was so dark that they had to keep the lights on during the day, and that several nights a week an amateur rock band practiced in the apartment above! She didn’t tell me those facts, so I didn’t have the full picture of what the apartment life was like.

Small wins can keep us motivated. In their article in the Harvard Business Review, Amabile, and Kramer state that

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. 

Amabile, T. and Kramer, S. (2011). The Power of Small Wins, Harvard Business Review. May 2011

This happens even to the best of us! Amabile, and Kramer describe how James Watson and Francis Crick had plenty of examples of progress and setbacks on their journey to discover the structure of DNA (which won them a Nobel Prize). According to Watson’s memoirs, their progress or lack of it determined how they felt emotionally, describing “dark days of doubt and ebbing motivation” and “morale skyrocketing, and practically living in the lab”.

The best comparison we can make is to chart our progress, e.g., increases in physical activity, progress towards a qualification or mastery of a skill. Noticing these improvements will encourage us to greater effort and better self-image. At the end of each day, why not make a note of what we have achieved towards our goals.

3. Examine core beliefs

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

Henry Ford

Core beliefs are ideas which we use as a benchmark to judge ourselves and those around us. We see the world, our own behaviour and the behaviour of other people through the ‘lens’ of the core beliefs.  We are generally not aware of them unless we stop and really think about the messages that we are giving ourselves, every day. 

Our self-image can be affected by our belief system. By limiting your beliefs, you limit your potential.

Negative core beliefs can be changed by examining them and testing them in the real world by acting contrary to the core belief (e.g. studying a foreign language even if you have a belief that you are not talented at learning languages). You can then see if  the result is as you anticipated – and it usually is not! This does take some work, but the results are well worth it!

For more information on negative core beliefs and how to change them, please see this blogpost on core beliefs

4. Add value to others

“If your presence doesn’t add value, your absence won’t make a difference.”

Zero Dean

We are social creatures (even people who prefer to be on their own generally value living in a society rather than being isolated). We used to rely on the group for protection from wild animals, and also for food, companionship, etc.

If we focus on improving the life of others, we also have less time to focus on our own problems, and we will also feel better about ourselves too!

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

C.S. Lewis

By doing the “right thing” even if its hard to do, we build a great self-image as we know we are acting with integrity. Other people can see this too.

5. Nobody’s perfect – focus on what you can change

This is linked to #1 – Think about self-talk. We have all made mistakes, but the positive way to react is to think of how we can avoid doing the same thing again, and also how we can improve. If you’re not happy with your performance when e.g. giving a speech, instead of thinking “I’m hopeless – I should never have tried to give a speech” instead think “What do I need to improve? My planning is pretty good, but I need to improve in answering questions from the audience.”

If we are stuck for ideas, we can think of how someone we admire (e.g. a friend or colleague) would deal with the situation

6. Focus on things (and people) that you like

Spending time on tasks that we like helps us stay happy. Of course, boring tasks (e.g. household chores) may need to be done, but we don’t need to focus on them. Scheduling some time every day just for ourselves makes us happier, and can improve our self-image.

It is also worthwhile spending our time with people who generally support us, are positive thinkers and see the bright side of a situation. The perspective that these people have of us will reinforce a healthy self-image. They treat us as a person of worth, and we feel that we are worthy of respect!

There is a phenomenon called the Michelangelo effect, which is when we become more like our ideal self-image when we are with a partner who views us as we would like to be. We “live up” to their expectations. This can also happen with close friends, who will therefore help us become more like our ideal self.


I hope this blogpost has given you some ideas on how we can improve our own self-image. The responsibility to ensure we think highly of ourselves is ours!


If you would like to find out more about my work in helping people with self development please contact me, Lisa Billingham, for an appointment or a free confidential chat.


© Lisa Billingham, 2020

References

Amabile, T. and Kramer, S. (2011). The Power of Small Wins, Harvard Business Review. May 2011, https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins

Fritsch, J., Jekauc, D., Elsborg, P., Latinjak, A., Reichert, M. & Hatzigeorgiadis, A. (2020) Self-talk and emotions in tennis players during competitive matches, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2020.1821406

Krauss, S., Orth, U., & Robins, R. W. (2020). Family environment and self-esteem development: A longitudinal study from age 10 to 16. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(2), 457–478. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000263

Oleś P., Brinthaupt T., Dier R., & Polak D. (2020). Types of Inner Dialogues and Functions of Self-Talk: Comparisons and Implications. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 227. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00227

Schwager, S., Wick, K., Glaeser, A., Schoenherr, D., Strauss, B., & Berger, U. (2020). Self-Esteem as a Potential Mediator of the Association Between Social Integration, Mental Well-Being, and Physical Well-Being. Psychological reports123(4), 1160–1175. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033294119849015

Wikipedia. (2020) Michelangelo phenomenon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelangelo_phenomenon

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