He stares in the mirror and sees three things. First, the sweat which trickles down his forehead, dotting the mat underneath. Second, the pair of dumbbells that lay at the foot of the mat. The third is himself. Wearing a half-sleeved shirt, his arms and shoulders are pumped with blood from the workout. The sight of them draws a smile out of him. But that smile wavers and drops away like the pair of dumbbells dropping on the rubber mats. The thudding sound anchored his smile as he felt his midsection through the shirt. Grabbing at the loose skin and pockets of fat which still lingered.
The mirror only reflected one thing now.
Self-image is an individual’s perception of themselves, including their physical appearance, personality, and characteristics. The way we perceive ourselves influences things like self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence.
In our current day and age, I believe that our self-image is under a microscope more than ever before. Meaning, because we have so many outlets to compare ourselves with other people (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), and because there are so many self-help gurus on various platforms and media talking about constant productivity and improvement, it has resulted in a constant bombardment of our self-image.
Everywhere you look, you can see what you’re doing wrong, what you’re not doing enough of, how you should be acting, what you need to do, why the way you are isn’t enough, and how you can change yourself.
Of course, there are benefits to this type of input. We do want to learn and grow and improve. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a better version of ourselves. However, the difficulty lies in stopping all of this input from creating a negative self-image and along with it a negative self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
Part of the problem lies in what we choose to focus on. With all of these different inputs, it is easy to focus on what we haven’t done or what we have done poorly. This results in a negative self-image.
Khalil Gibran touched on this subject in his incredibly thoughtful book, The Prophet. Gibran’s advice boils down to our perception. Instead of constantly highlighting the lows and the mistakes we make as we continue to march through life, we should take the time to remind ourselves of all the good things we have done. All the positive things we have accomplished.
You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link.
This is but half the truth. You are also as strong as your strongest link.
To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of ocean by the frailty of its foam.
To judge you by your failures is to cast blame upon the seasons for their inconstancy.
An agreement we sign with life is that it will be difficult, challenging, and we’ll face many failures. But along with this, we also get to overcome obstacles, change our habits for the better, and accomplish our goals.
But the mirror of life tends to reflect only those things our mind is trained to perceive. Just as someone who is dedicated to exercising and yet can only spot the deficiencies in their physique, we too end up focusing overwhelmingly on the failures and missteps.
However, if our perception changed just one or two degrees, so the aforementioned individual can see the progress he or she has made to their arms or how much their strength has increased, their self-image will bolster. In the same way, a degree of change in our perception can reveal all the mini-wins we have had prior to a failure or mistake.
Retired Navy Seal and ultra-athlete, David Goggins has a concept that he likes to call the cookie jar. The cookie jar is a list of your accomplishments which you can fall back on when you need them. And because these are your personal accomplishments, they can be whatever you like. For someone who reads all the time, finishing a book might not qualify for the cookie jar. But for someone who hasn’t read a book in years, that is something you can deposit in your cookie jar to pull out at some later point in your life when you’re feeling negativity seeping into your self-image. While for the reader, maybe they haven’t run in a while, so running one mile can qualify for the cookie jar.
The cookie jar concept by David Goggins is a good way to combat the negative influx and reaffirm your self-image by reminding yourself of all the strong links you have built.
So that our self-image can be built on a foundation of wins and challenges faced, rather than focusing on the occasional crack in the foundation when we mess up. Because in due time, that crack will be plastered over as we continue to strengthen our strongest link.