Written by: Lindsey Rogers, LCPC
Taking a good “selfie” has become a real art form these days. You have to get the right angle (perhaps using a Selfie-Stick), make sure the lighting is good, and if all else fails, take multiple shots and use countless filters to make that picture your very best. Regardless of what masterpieces are filling up your photo gallery, the mental picture of who we are has a lot of weight in our day-to-day thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. What I am talking about is our self-concept: Our individual perception of our behavior, abilities, and unique characteristics. There are a lot of ways to conceptualize this idea. Some theorists think self-concept is two parts—our personal identity and our social identity, or how we are with ourselves vs. how we are with others. Self-concept is more changeable when we are younger and still going through the process of self-discovery and identity formation. As we age and mature, self-concept become much more detailed and organized as we form a better picture of who we are and what is important to us.
Just like when you are taking a “selfie,” you have to get the right angle; it is important to know your strengths in order to get the most accurate version of your self-concept. The best way to identify your strengths is to be mindful of what you are good at. Think about your day-to-day life, from the time you get up until the time you go to sleep—what is it that comes easily for you? What feels like a natural part of you? Maybe it is that you are a good friend, or a hard worker; maybe you are really great with numbers or a great parent. Paying attention to what comes easily is a good way to work toward identifying your strengths. As you identify those qualities or abilities that come easily but also make you feel proud or experience other positive emotions, that means you are getting a lot closer to tracking down your strengths.
If we think about a “selfie,” often times we think about what is wrong in the photo or why it isn’t quite right. We can be pretty great at our finding flaws. So with a task like coming up with strengths, it can be much easier to focus on your limitations. Or, in the same way, it can be easy to qualify a strength and thereby weaken it. Imagine that internal dialog: “Well, I’m pretty smart…but I really don’t read as much as I used to and argh, some days I just don’t feel that ‘with it,’ so maybe I am not really that smart? Maybe that isn’t a strength of mine.” It is important to notice if you challenge or limit your acceptance of your strengths. More is actually more in this case so try not to downplay or minimize what is truly you!
A lot of times, we form our self-concept based on how other people feel about us. It can be hard to give yourself that compliment or see those strengths. But being happy with ourselves and being mindful of our own strengths is the most important. You can’t be nice to others if you aren’t nice to yourself first. You know on the airplane, they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others? This is what I am talking about! Positive self-talk is a good way to work on being nice to yourself. Self-talk is the conversation we have with ourselves. Most of the time this conversation is not audible. But think about if you had to give a big presentation or a huge performance, what would you be saying to yourself beforehand? Think about the cast of Hamilton or one of the basketball players during the NBA Finals. The dialog in their heads before the curtain lifts or they shoot a free throw has to be positive and inspired. We don’t do well if we tell ourselves to fail.
Keep in mind that positive self-talk is not self-deception. It is not telling yourself lies. It is not looking at a situation with eyes that see only what you want to see. Actually, positive self-talk is about recognizing the truth—in situations and in yourself—and pushing yourself forward versus holding yourself back. It is possible you already have a mantra or something you say to yourself that makes you feel positive and confident. Maybe it is “I’m okay” or “I’m good.” That mental “selfie” can look even better if you keep that positive self-talk going on a regular basis. Remember The Little Engine That Could? What helped him get over the hill? “I think I can, I think I can….” Let’s be real, that train would not have kept going if he were thinking about how terrible he was and giving himself some negative self-talk!
In being kind to ourselves, we really need to adopt the “Inverse Golden Rule.” Children have to learn the Golden Rule as soon as they start interacting with others—treat others the way you would like to be treated. But the inverse is applicable here—treat yourself the way you would treat others. Oftentimes we are way better friends to others than we are to ourselves. It is important to take care of yourself, comfort yourself, value yourself. Just like you would treat someone who is important to you like a friend or family member: If they are having a bad day you would listen, tell them it will be okay, remind them how great they are. Well, we need to do this for ourselves too.
A great routine to get into is to spend some time each day noticing something positive that happened. Or use the notes app on your phone to write down three things you did well that day. What are you proud of? What made you feel happy? What went well? What are you grteful for? Paying attention to the positive aspects of yourself and your life in a deliberate way will foster more positivity. The mental photo gallery that you have of yourself will soon be filled with feelings and thoughts about yourself that are positive and motivating. Before you know it, how you see yourself will change from what needs to be deleted to what needs to be shared.