Playing/Working with Your Self Concept.

One of my major interests (besides eating and obsessively reblogging Supernatural GIFS) is the concept or self. Who we are, or better said: Who we think we are. And how that affects how we really are in the real world. Selves are fascinating.

I was there when I was calm as a Buddhist cucumber when I had to take one of my friends to the emergency room with a pretty serious allergic reaction. I can be all over the place, but in emergencies I have laserbeam-focus on what is important. I was also there when I watched an entire season (okay two) of the Walking Dead in one weekend (and turned into a zombie myself basically). I used to think of myself as squeamish, but after the Walking Dead, I KNOW I can deal with gore.

Whatever I do, I’m always there. When I do good stuff, when I do bad stuff, when I do weird stuff. I know everything. You are with yourself ALL the time. You see everything you do; you should have the most elaborate and objective database of information about yourself.

Elaborate, yes. Objective? Not so much. Knowledge about yourself should be put to good use, but we don’t always do that.

Because sometimes we do one stupid thing and instead of valuing it as a lesson, we take it superhard. It takes up our entire mind and weighs in heavily in the internal process of identity. Or we have a string of bad days, bad experiences or bad decisions and the flaws we have become so big that we lose sight of our strengths.

We continuously reshape our identity. How we think about ourselves changes constantly based on what feedback we give ourselves and the feedback we get from our environment. In some situations we skew our self-image to the wrong side. This can have an unnecessary bad effect on the way we feel and behave.

I mean…One day of Dirty Eating ™ and you’re an unhealthy whale in your own mind? A week of not working out and you now think of yourself as an unfit couch potato? Pssh.

These radical changes based on recent experiences aren’t necessarily true, and even if they were…They don’t have to be forever. Even if you were doing these things for days/weeks/months, it STILL doesn’t have to define who you are. It doesn’t have to define you.

But our sense of identity is strong. Our self-image has huge power over us. The way you think about who you are determines so much in your life. How you act, what you say, how (you let) people treat you, the things you think. I personally think it pays to pay attention to it and that it pays to put a little work into it. So obviously I am writing an unnecessarily lengthy article to harass you about it. Observe.

You have to see it like a two-way street. What we think about ourselves and what we do interact with eachother. Our self concept and our habits influence eachother. Habits <–> Self concept.

To illustrate. “I’m a health nut” results in less cookies, more veggies, less sitting, more running. Why? We like our behavior to match our internal image of ourselves. Self concept –> Behavior.

Vice versa, drinking green juice, eating salads, saying ‘no’ to cupcakes (you crazy person) results in thinking “Oh wow, I AM a healthy assbutt.” Behavior –> Self concept.

Your behavior sends information about yourself up to the self-concept department of your brain – it likes our ideas of ourselves to be accurate and up-to-date. But the things we do wrong somehow hit our identity harder, and keeping things up-to-date may not always be ideal.

After a few weeks of an injury or just general fatigue, years of exercising regularly go to the back of your mind. Based on this relatively-short and recent periods you start beating yourself up and suddenly think of yourself like the Laziest Person Alive. Similarly, you might have been a great friend for years, but forgetting one birthday makes you give yourself shit and giving yourself the award for World’s Worst Friend.

Our self concept and esteem easily take hits. We have to work pretty hard to create this positive idea about ourselves, and our hard work is easily blown to bits by a bad experience or comment. We focus a lot on what we didn’t do, what we are unable to do, or what we did wrong.

I’m not telling you to false inflate your ego with feats that you simply don’t possess. But I want you to stop falsely or prematurely deflating your ego!

And if you are doing something right, or if a beautiful quality IS actually yours, I want you to claim that as part of who you are so you can feel positive about who you are.

There is nothing wrong with pushing the ideas you have about yourself into the right direction. If it helps your life and if we exclude extremities, this is actually something useful.

– What are some of the aspects of who (you think) you are that aren’t your favorite? Like being lazy, being easily distracted, feeling like a bad friend or partner. Now, you could be right. Something might not be your forte. You may have a bad quality. You are a human being after all. But you’re not completely useless in that department or entirely incapable in the area. So think of this bad trait of yourself, and think back. Let’s see if you can to find evidence to the contrary. Think back to how stable this behavor has been. If it’s been a constant, it’s worth a look-over. If it’s not, don’t take it so hard.

Because nothing is set in stone, irrevocably true or forever the case. Maybe, if you really scan your mind for memories that contradict your idea you have about yourself, you’ll be surprised.

– Sure, some personality stuff is determined to an extent that its best to exhaust yourself trying to radically alter who you are. But I think it’s wise to at least train to minimize the bad effects, and move on. Train yourself* to handle your weak points effectively. The point is not perfect control, but damage control.

For example, I’m the messiest person alive – I just don’t notice that shit. Nor will I ever be someone who finds it satisfying to clean. Sorry. However, for the sake of Manfriend’s my sanity, I try to at least throw my clothes in the laundry basket when I got to bed. I occasionally do a big sweep upstairs to tidy up. And I make sure the kitchen is clean because let’s be honest, that’s truly the only place I care about.

When you are able to effectively deal with your weak points, you’re halfway there and you don’t have to keep beating yourself up over it.

– It’s not just what you do that makes you who you are. It’s also what you value and what you think you should be. Parts of you as well. Those aspirations say something about you, it’s a part of you too that perhaps just needs a little more power. It relates to that post I wrote about that you’re partly the self-sabotaging coach-dwelling girl, you’re also partly the exercise-oriented gym bunny. They’re both you. You sometimes just have to make the conscious choice and the effort to kick the coach-potato you away from the steering wheel and let the sporty-you have a little driving time.

Take an identity-oriented approach. Really think about it: How do you think about yourself? And how do you want to think about yourself? How big is the discrepancy? And how can you bridge it?

Do you want to be (more) patient? Kind? Exercise-minded? Productive? Focused? Giving? Supportive? Intuitive?

Pick a few traits, imagine yourself as being this way and see if you can find a way to incorporate it into your identity.

– On that note, write your ideal self description and act on it. Describe your ideal self, if you will. How you would most like to be.

After you’ve done that, underline one or two of the aspects you don’t identify that strongly with just yet, and take IMMEDIATE action to strengthen them. You wanna make the “I am productive” part of your ideal self stronger? Do some work, now. Patience? Wait in a line and practice being relaxed while you do it. Active? Plan/do a work-out immediately.

The thought/desire to incorporate something in your identity, paired with an action that proves just how serious you are about it? Unbeatable. Do it now.

– You can also work with this with a more behavioral approach: Do things that are in line with how you want to be. The feedback loop behavior-selfconcept will start working in your favor. 

Make juice (behavior) = Health-oriented (self concept). Work out (behavior) = Fit person (self concept). Not freak out over  deadline and instead just take a deep breath before getting to work (behavior) = Organized, calm, put together (self concept).

If you have a minute, write down a list of things you’d like to do more of, a list of things you feel reflect most who you ant to be. And do couple (or a ton) of them.

Just like people who describe themselves as being violent personality don’t get away with murdering people with a chainsaw (extreme examples for the win), you shouldn’t let how you think you are get in the way of becoming what you want to be, or more importantly: being happy.

Sure. We are who we are, but I believe that we work and play around with our self concept in a positive way.

Cheers, babies.

*Other people don’t exist to clean up your messes. One day they might not be there and you’ll find your unable to take care of yourself. So get you’re shit together.

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6 comments

  1. This a pretty awesome article. I never thought about it that way.
    I usually don’t work out and then I go “I’m lazy”, but really I used to be a hyperactive
    kid who talked to about anybody and made friends with everyone. Now I’m quite the opposite.
    Does self concept really changes you that much?

    Anyway it’s an interesting idea and I’m going to test it.
    Thanks!