by Sue Weston

Change your self-image to reach your potential

Mar 04, 2019
IT Leadership

As a manager or leader – or even just as a person – are you holding yourself back from reaching your potential? Learn how to change your internal dialogue.

Whenever I’m asked who I am, my answer is to share where I work, the organizations I am affiliated with and my family (I am a mother and a wife).

But in fact, that is not really who I am or what I do.

After I left my corporate career, it was difficult to introduce myself. I began by describing where I used to work, which let an awkward transition to who I had become. Once I learned not to define myself by my position, I began to respect myself as an individual and was more engaging. I discovered that listeners admired my career journey. This became a story I was proud to share.

Why doesn’t my self-image not match what others see? And how do I get past the need for external approval? Your self-image and the expectations are deeply embedded. Changing them requires a conscious effort, but with focus and practice, we can each reach our potential. The key lies in managing the way we see ourselves.

Self-image is our internalized mental picture of ourselves, which answers questions of how do I look, and how am I doing? Our self-image may impose limits on what we do: our internal dialogue might sound like “Because I am _______, I am unable to _______.”

An important caveat is not to allow self-image to hold us back. We can develop behaviors to push our limits by reframing our internal dialogue as a positive, by saying things to ourselves such as “to accomplish _______, I need to do _______.” Keeping action-oriented and positive will produce results that will reinforce a positive self-image.

Our perception of ourselves is based on how others view us. Changing our self-image requires rewriting your internal dialogue.

An unhealthy self-image focuses on flaws, with a constant comparison against others. Using an external measure sets you up for failure. You may see other people as being better. Measure yourself based on what you know and remember that no one is perfect. Adopt a positive self-image, rely on yourself, focus on things that give you pleasure and continue to perfect your ability to do them. We all have different strengths. Follow your passion, and you will shine! Take a risk and learn from your mistakes. The next time it will be easier, and before long you will have achieved mastery.

Women tend to underestimate their ability and performance, falling prey to the impostor syndrome, while men over-estimate both. Although men experience similar self-doubt, they are less likely to let it hold them back. The difference is in their willingness to take a risk and to the belief that they can succeed. We have the opportunity to manage our internal dialogue, using positive self-talk improves outcomes, confidence, and creates an upward spiral to success.

Life can sometimes get in the way of positive self-talk, raising doubts. And there are some situations which make keeping a positive outlook more difficult. Adopting these strategies approaches can change how you process negative emotions:

  • Journal putting your thoughts to paper has been shown to decrease worries and increase your ability to focus. The act of writing helps remove you from a situation and makes it less personal.
  • Shift your focus to include your past successes. Focusing on what you have accomplished provides a wider perspective which can keep the “imposter syndrome” in check.
  • Step back from the problem to give yourself time and space to move past the emotion. Once you can reframe the situation, you can dissect it and figure out what went wrong. Expecting perfection is not realistic. Improvement comes by making mistakes and learning from them, which increases your success in the future.

By separating yourself from your emotion, you can find practical solutions. Step aside and allow yourself to achieve greatness by not worrying about what other people will say or think. It is not important whether they like you What really matters is that you like yourself. Being able to accept your areas of weaknesses and follow your passion is not easy, but it will lead to contentment and self-satisfaction. It may seem like an uphill battle, but it gets easier as you change the way you view yourself and the world.

Try to:

  • Learn to trust yourself. Don’t rely on other people to measure your worth.
  • Figure out what you are passionate about and follow your dreams.
  • Accept things as they are, without judgment. Replace emotion with analysis.
  • Eliminate ‘should’ and focus on what you have done or will do. This removes the pressure to fit someone else’s expectations and permits you to be yourself.
  • Carrying a grudge can weigh you down. Leave the past behind.

We are all unique. Be proud of who you are, find things that give you joy and follow your passion – love yourself for who you are!