Updated: Feb 17
After almost three years in Switzerland, why do I, sometimes, still feel like I just moved here?
After almost five years of learning to ski, why do I, now and again, feel like a novice?
After more than thirteen years of training, why do I, occasionally, feel like a beginner psychologist?
The fact that I notice these thoughts are of interest to me in the context of my own personal development. They are also important in the context of helping my clients reach their personal development, and performance goals and, maybe more importantly, in helping my clients work through traumatic experiences. In all cases continuously building a healthy and robust self-concept is an important element of our mental health.
Indeed my interest in this particular subject has gained traction through recognising the convergence of threads of work in which I am involved. From the importance of creating a successful self-image in personal development work to the impact that complex traumatic experiences can have on a person's self-concept.
One's self-concept or self-image is a pivotal area for change in overcoming emotional problems, particularly those associated with shame, embarrassment, disgust, and guilt, and stepping forward towards one's potential. "If you can see it in your mind you can hold it in your hand" elite mindset coach, and friend, Danielle Amos would say, and she is very right. Seeing it in your mind equates to creating a self-image that is congruent with the version of you that you desire to become.
The first step to psychological change is usually to visualise yourself reacting in a functional way when out of your comfort zone, and embracing the feeling of being new at something, or new in some environment or performing a particular behaviour, but in a piece of research which looked at how we experience change over time, author's Keys and Ryff (2000), point out that when that newbie feeling stays with us it can be because of the causes of its duration. An important question to ask then is, in those moments when this feels new to me, why is that? Why do I still feel like this? How long do I think I need to adjust to this newer version of myself? What changes in skills or activities would help me to make that adjustment? Keys and Ruff point out that "perceived changes that linger may be detrimental [to personal progress and mental health] because the lingering represents the inability to get used to "newer selves".
This could be linked to our lack of reflection on progress. When might a lingering feeling or thought about being a beginner emerge in our awareness? It's likely that this would occur under perceived threats and our mind takes shortcuts to safety-seeking mode, by pulling us back to where we still believe we belong, in the beginners class. After all, as a novice, failure was fine and we probably didn't perceive such high stakes. Then an anxiety-fuelled struggle emerges between our past, current and future selves. In your moments of reflection seeing your progress is important, seeing a decline in progress is also important, but neither is to be judged. Your observations can lead you to solve pragmatic issues of self-image. You can identify what you need to do in terms of thinking and behaviour so that you FEEL like you're in a state of business as usual.
A good example of this is illustrated by Olympic gymnast Suni Lee in an ESPN article. She talks about her post-Olympic success and getting into a business-as-usual frame of mind in her new USA college team by reminding herself to "be average Suni, nothing more and nothing less" and that she "is good enough" encouraging herself out from a mental state of threat to a state of focus and doing what she would do if she believed she belonged (which, of course, she does). Suni achieves this mindset change through journaling. A useful reflective practice technique can access your subconsciousness, help bring about robust changes in mindset and help you figure out your next best steps.
Of course, it was quite normal for Suni to feel the way she did, given the speed at which her life changed. We can't ever blame her, or anyone's self-image for not keeping up with the crazy pace of modern life. The question is how can we support the development of a self-image that feels "at home" over time. The homeliness of the environment is, of course, pivotal but so are our own efforts to make ourselves feel that way.
How can you keep building your "business as usual" self-image beliefs?
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