Self improvement and motivation pitfall #4 is one that we all fall for to one degree or another. Instead of focusing on the self in self-improvement or on the personal in personal development, we get sucked into the game of playing to an image - a shadow of the real thing. It takes awareness, practice and character to reduce our concern with appearances. Yet, to grow and evolve we need to reclaim this straying energy and bring it back to ourselves.
“When you’re 18, you worry what others think about you. When you’re 40, you don’t give a darn what others think about you. When you’re 60, you realize that nobody has been thinking about you all along."
Worrying too much about self-image is to worry too much about how we appear. We have a strong tendency to be concerned with how we appear - to both ourselves and to others. We want to be respected, accepted and loved so we project an image that we think will get us what we want.
This tendency makes us overly self-conscious. We constantly monitor ourselves through other people’s eyes. The problem is this: we can never really control what others think or perceive. Everybody has their own way of seeing things and they may perceive something entirely different from what we are trying to convey.
It’s a bit like being in a dark room and putting on sun glasses in order to come across as looking cool. Nobody sees us anyway, because everyone is busy worrying about how they are coming across. Trying to adjust ourselves or ‘play to’ how other people may perceive or think of us is a fool’s game. We are all just groping in the dark.
Everyone wants to look cool; no-one wants to come across looking like a chump. Yet, by worrying excessively about our ‘image’, our ‘appearance’ or how we ‘come across’, we take our attention off of what truly matters - our self. We end up betraying ourselves in the name of the image we are trying to portray. After all, how can we be true to ourselves while we are so busy worrying about what others may be thinking? We can't. No-one can.
"What other people think about you is none of your business."
This is how the self improvement locomotive we think we are on gets hijacked. Instead of riding the real track of self-actualization and self realization, we find ourselves on a mental-track that is called self-image actualization.
I first remember reading this distinction in one of Bruce Lee’s books and it left quite an impression on me. The path of self-actualization and the path of self-image actualization are two very different tracks, leading to two very different destinations. We do well to know when we might be travelling one as opposed to the other.
A martial arts master was once asked by an eager potential student, "How long will it take me to master the art if I train every day?" "Ten years", answered the master. "What if I trained twice a day...how long will it take me then?" Twenty years", answered the master. The student was perplexed, "Why will it take me twice as long if I train twice as hard?" he wanted to know.
"If you have one eye constantly trained on your goal, you only have one eye left to focus on the place you are standing", answered the master.
When it comes to self-image and self-improvement it is important never to forget the self side of the equation. When we forsake the self for the image we have forgotten ourselves. To make steady progress towards our goal of genuine personal growth and self-improvement we need to train to bring our attention back to where it belongs - back to ourselves. In this way we will be present to the challenging road ahead.
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