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Last Updated on April 8, 2020

What Is Self-Image (And How to Change It for a Happier Life)

What Is Self-Image (And How to Change It for a Happier Life)

We all have different ways of looking at ourselves. Some of us are confident and perceive ourselves as being highly capable while others may be less-confident and unsure of their abilities. Some people look into the mirror and see positive things while others may see less positive things. All of these intertwining factors that make up how we view ourselves make up what is called our self-image.

Our self-image is the personal viewpoint we adopt towards ourselves which describes characteristics such as intelligence, attractiveness, talents, kindness, and many other traits.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at what self-image is and how you can change it for a happier life.

What Is Self-Image?

Put very simply, your self-image relates to how you see yourself both internally and externally.

This idea is exaggerated upon by Random House Dictionary who defines self-image as:

“the idea, conception, or mental image one has of oneself.”

So, why is self-image important?

Well, self-image influences how we view ourselves, how we interact with others, and even how we feel about our surroundings. Thus, it has pretty broad influence over our lives.

A positive self-image has the ability and potential to boost our physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. On the other hand, a negative self-image can decrease our well-being in each of these areas as well as our overall life satisfaction and functioning.

Self-Image vs. Self-Concept

A lot of people tend to get self-image confused with self-concept. The two terms are very similar, so the confusion is understandable. However, there is an important difference:

Self-concept is a much broader term relating to how you see, think, and feel about yourself.

Thus, self-image is a portion of what makes up our much broader self-concept. Self-image is strictly how we view ourselves, not how we think or feel about ourselves.

Self-Image vs. Self-Identity

Again, as was the case with self-concept, self-identity is a broader and more comprehensive term than self-image.

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The best way to distinguish between these two closely related terms is to say that self-image is specific. It relates to different aspects of our view of ourselves. All of these different snapshots that you feel when you look in the mirror then combine to produce your self-identity.[1]

Our self-identity is the whole image of who we believe we are, and how we would describe ourselves to the other people who are around us.

Examples of Self-Image

Just to make sure that we’re on the same page, we should run through a few quick examples of self-image.

As I’ve already hinted to, you can have both positive and negative self-images. You can even have both types and they can vary in regards to different aspects of your self-image.

What this often boils down to is that with a positive self-image, we recognize our assets, qualities, and overall potential. Additionally, a positive self-image allows us to be comfortable with and accepting of our weaknesses, flaws, and limitations.

Contrastingly, with a negative self-image, we tend to focus much more greatly on our flaws and weaknesses; we are less accepting of them, and we distort these imperfections as well as our failures.

So let’s start by running through a few negative examples of self-image, and then work ourselves towards the more positive examples.

Negative Examples of Self-Image

Typically, a negative self-image refers to when you have a poor view of yourself.

For example, people may feel as though they are unattractive, undesirable, unintelligent, or unhappy.

A negative self-image relates to our view that we are somehow falling short of the ideal version of ourselves. This normally results in us feeling negative towards ourselves when we see our reflection in the mirror.

This can be problematic as low self-image can lead to illnesses such as depression.

Positive Examples of Self-Image

Now, a positive self-image should be quite easy for you to imagine. A positive self-image would simply be the opposite of the examples that I provided you with above.

So viewing yourself as an attractive, desirable, intelligent, or happy individual would all indicate that you are embodying a positive self-image.

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Even if in some way, you feel that you are falling short of the ideal version of yourself, you don’t feel overly negative about it because you have all of these positive feelings towards yourself.

Put very simply, when you look in the mirror at your reflection, you experience positive feelings.

How Do We Develop Self-Image?

Our self-image is like us in the way that it is by no means fixed. It adapts and evolves as we grow as individuals and through our interactions with others.

For instance, as we practice certain skills and abilities, and as we learn and grow, we are much more likely to view ourselves as capable and competent individuals. Our self-image is continually assessing this type of information and the attitudes that we hold towards ourselves.

Another example might be related to our physical appearance. Imagine that you put on a few pounds over winter. I’m willing to bet that would negatively influence your self-image.

Contrastingly, imagine now that you stuck to a regular gym routine and got into the best physical shape of your life! This is a good example of our self-image likely changing in a positive direction as a result of our commitment.

However, it’s not just the things we do to ourselves that influence our self-image. It can also be influenced by our interactions and relationships with others.

For example, if you regularly interact with people who are supportive and encouraging towards you, then you’re much more likely to develop a positive self-image than if you’re regularly interacting with people who are negative and unsupportive. These relationships can reinforce the things that we see when we look in the mirror, regardless of whether the view we have of ourselves is completely distorted or not.

How to Create a Positive Self-Image

So now we know that our self-image isn’t fixed, and is influenced by many different aspects of our life, let’s talk about how we can work towards creating a positive self-image.

As with many of the changes we try to make in our lives, there isn’t a quick fix that will work for everyone and help them improve their self-image.

The first step is always about learning to accept and love ourselves.

You might start by making a list of your positive qualities and posting that somewhere you can regularly view it and be reminded of them. From here, you may identify things that you want to improve, making reasonable and actionable goals, and then working towards achieving them. As you develop these strengths, provide yourself with a lot of positive affirmations. Focus on the good things. Throughout this process, you want to refrain from comparing yourself to others.[2]

Remember, learning to love yourself is a long process. You are a unique individual with unique strengths and weaknesses. You’ve come a long way from where you’ve started. Appreciate that and use it to motivate you to go even further!

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Once you’re on this path, you may feel as though you want to invest more into improving your self-image. If you’re at this point, there are exercises that you can engage in to boost your self-image:

1. Make a List of the Things You Like About Yourself

This is a simple but effective exercise that you can engage in. You may find it difficult at first but as you get into the flow of things, it will get easier and easier.

This list of things you like about yourself can include some of your favorite qualities. Maybe you think you’re smart or attractive or funny!

It can extend beyond your qualities as well. Maybe you want to include some of your favorite personal skills. Some examples might include things like being athletic or artistic.

Making this list of positive traits and skills will help you focus more on the positive aspects of your self-image. Learning to focus on and appreciate these things more will help you to improve your self-image.

2. Make a list of the Life Moments You’re Proudest Of

This is another great exercise for you to engage in to help you focus more on the things you’ve been able to achieve in your life.

Sometimes, we forget how amazing we are as individuals. This list will help you to remember those things.

This list can include things that are as large as winning big competitions, getting recognized for a major contribution, or achieving some high-level accomplishment that you’ve been working towards for a long time. They can also be smaller things like learning to be more sociable or completing a task.

You also might want to consider how you’ve confronted challenges and barriers in your life and how your skills have allowed you to overcome those things.

Note how you worked towards the goal against this adversity and then were rewarded for the fruits of your labor. Just make sure that these achievements and proud life moments remind you what YOU have to offer this world, and what you are capable of doing when you set your mind to it!

3. Make a Life-Appreciation Bank

This is the last exercise that I have to share with you. And it’s a good one.

You see a lot of similar exercises out there now in things such as gratitude journals which have you reflect on a few things each day that you’re grateful for.

Basically, in this exercise, you’re going to create a list again. But this list will be a lot bigger than the last two. So make sure you have a bit of time to complete this exercise.

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Your goal here is to create a comprehensive and exhaustive list of all of the things you’re thankful for in your life right now.

Everyone will generate a unique list because everyone has a different life and different things that they’re thankful for.

Once you’re done the list, cut up each item and place them in a container of some sort.

Now, whenever you feel as though you need a little self-image boost, you will go grab and read one of these things from your life-appreciation bank.

You can choose how the rules work. Maybe after you read an item from the bank, you remove it or, maybe you’d prefer to throw it back in the mix. Maybe you want to read one or two things a day. Or, maybe you’d rather simply reach over and grab one as needed.

The rules are flexible and it’s up to you to create them. It’s your bank after all!

All that matters is that you end up with a pool of gratitude-bites that can help give you a little self-image boost as you desire.

Final Thoughts

This has been a fairly long talk on self-image so I’m going to wrap things up.

If you only take one main message away from this article, this is what I want it to be:

Your self-image is not permanent. It is a dynamic concept that will vary as you grow, evolve, and as the way you view yourself changes.

So don’t allow yourself to get stuck living with a negative self-image. You now have the tools to change your self-image for the better!

You owe that to yourself!

More Tips About Building Self-Worth

Featured photo credit: Jakub Gorajek via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Positive Psychology: What is Self-image and How Do We Improve It?
[2] Cleveland Clinic: Fostering a Positive Self-Image

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Mark Lynch

Featured Life-Balance, & Personal Development Author

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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