I was thinking about my looks and my personal image lately. Just yesterday, I was struggling with my self-image – much of it was how I think of myself as a person, and my worth in this world. A great thing I did was change my environment, my behavior, and in essence, my thoughts.
I did something really simple: I took a quick walk, which turned into some dinner, and finally ended in more walking. It helped clear my head, and it got me thinking about this topic of self-esteem/self-image, and the collections of thoughts, ideas, experiences, etc. that lead us to develop our own self-image and what that means.
We have to realize that the self-image we have build up over time involves a lot of bias and personal subjectivity. Take something like the confirmation bias that states you look for evidence to back up your preconceived notions while discounting evidence that may reinforce the contrary. So, in the end, you do yourself more damage, and strengthen your biased, flawed perceptions of yourself.
Take something subjective like attractiveness. What you think is beautiful in someone is probably different than what I define as beautiful in someone else. It’s like the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Most of what we believe to be physically attractive is something that the media has bombarded with us. The young, hairless, in-excellent-physical-shape individual with perfect curves and jaw lines, etc. It’s a rigid, uniform, and ideal way of physical standards. It leads to things like eating disorders, depression, and a broken self-image. The standards that are set in fashion magazines involve unrealistic expectations (they are Photoshopped for a reason – because, hey, sex sells).
The reality is that the comparison to this idealized standard leads to many negative ways of thinking, behaving, and acting toward one's self-image. The first thing to realize is that this is an unrealistic standard. Makeup, working out, and eating right aside; the end result is a computer-enhanced photo-doctored image.
(Check out the video on the evolution of a model before and after computer enhancement. The results are striking.)
My point? The first thing to avoid is not looking at glossy, touched-up magazine image as something to strive for (or be like). I’m sorry to say, that will never happen. Call it being realistic, or whatever. I just call it “the truth.”
The first step is to work with what you have as an individual.
The second step is to realize you are more than your physical body. (I don’t necessarily mean that in a religious or spiritual sense, it's more to the point that you're not just your physical body. You have a personality, you have an inquisitive mind, and you have your voice – all things that are much more than just your looks.
Another thing is the internal dialogue you speak with yourself. Do you often tell yourself you are ugly, unworthy, unattractive? If you do, you probably repeat this cycle daily, using the confirmation bias to find evidence to reinforce this flawed form of thinking. The nasty part is the more you do it, the more you believe it is the “truth.” I put truth in quotes because “truth” is something we form from our daily experiences, encounters, and outcomes, followed up with the meaning we place on them after they are said and done.
But, enough of my philosophizing. Let’s get to the point of this article. Are you struggling with your physical self-image? If so, the 3 items below are ways you can do to diminish your negative, hurtful thoughts, and increase the way you look at yourself toward a more positive light.
The benefits of exercise should be obvious. Not only will exercising make you look and feel healthier, it helps you feel better as well. It can diminish anxiety and stress, and it may even enhance self-control of all things. While exercise really doesn’t have any downsides (well, if you don’t overdo it, that is), it is beneficial to people of all ages, including the elderly.
A Google search will bring up tons of articles that discuss the benefits of exercise, which include:
Those are just some of the benefits. But, to me, you should choose exercise over a more sedentary lifestyle. Check this link out to see the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle.
For you elderly folks, think about these three forms of exercise to get into:
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
Think you are ugly? Reframe it. Challenge it. And, replace it with a new thought or idea, and search for evidence to back up that new form of thought.
Psychology Today discusses building confidence and self-esteem and the point of thinking positively about yourself. Challenge thoughts that make you think you are ugly or unattractive (or even thoughts of worthlessness). In the article it makes the point that “despite your problems, you are a unique, special, and valuable person, and that you deserve to feel good about yourself.” In a sense this is a reframe; it’s a different way of thinking about yourself, and a way to remind yourself that there’s more than just the typical, repeating, negative patterns of thinking you usually have.
Try things like positive affirmations. Tell yourself that you are worthwhile, that you are special, and that you matter. You are a strong, solid, capable individual. It sounds kinda corny, but hey, you tell yourself that you are worthless all the time, or ugly, right? So why not say the opposite and see what happens?
Want some more resources to work with? Discover how to use Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to reframe things.
Get into the routine of noticing when your negative, self-destructive thoughts take a hold of you and pull you in a direction. When you practice this, you can cut it off and challenge the negative thoughts before they take you on a ride.
Remember, thoughts are not necessarily facts, they are just your thoughts. And, even though something like the confirmation bias may reinforce these thoughts, by understanding something like the confirmation bias, you can counteract it.
While seeing a therapist can be its own step, I think it goes great in the self-awareness section. A therapist can help you see yourself in a different light and provide you with “tools” to fight against your negative thought patterns, use reframing, and other techniques that they have spent a lot of time refining. So, go find and talk with a therapist. It’s never a bad thing to get professional help, in fact, it’s one of the most useful things you can do because it takes you out of the equation and brings an objective party into the mix.
There are plenty of other things you can use to help build a stronger, healthier, and more positive self-image, but these three are a solid start. I don’t want to overwhelm you with options, and while articles with lists of 10-100 things are more popular, I don’t care about that. I care about providing you with information that you can use that isn’t too much, or that leads to analysis paralysis.
Let me know how these helped you or if you think other techniques and ideas are more helpful than the above. I want to know your thoughts.
After the Session is an supplemental educational blog dealing with various psychology, counseling, and self-development topics.
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