Self-concept refers to the beliefs, opinions and attitudes that each person believes is true about his existence. Problems arise when a person holds beliefs about himself that are negative. The result can be underachievement, self-destructive decisions and in the worse case scenario, even harm to others. Improving your self-image has the potential to change all aspects of your life for the better.
Self-affirmation exercises can boost self-esteem, according to clinical psychologist Guy Winch in the Huffington Post article "A Simple Self-Esteem Boost That Improves Emotional Strength." Choose a few of your positive characteristics and write them down. For example, you might be creative, insightful, intelligent and giving. Then write a paragraph describing how these traits are meaningful, how you have benefited from them in the past and how you see them benefiting you in the future. You may also choose to use verbal affirmations such as, "I am a creative person who will go far in life." When you do so, your brain hears the message as truth and can't help but respond positively by reshaping your self-perception.
Adopt a Realistic Set of Expectations
Setting realistic expectations can help to protect your self-esteem, asserts psychologist John Grohol, Ph.D. in the Psych Central article "6 Tips to Improve Your Self-Esteem." For example, if you set an expectation that you are going to learn to speak French by the end of the year, you may find yourself quite disappointed when the end of December arrives and you are still struggling to master past tense. As a result, you may label yourself "stupid" or "slow" -- an action that will hurt your self-concept. Instead, reframe your self-talk to focus on the positive things you have accomplished, such as learning an additional 250 French words in the past three months.
Avoid Unflattering Comparisons
Grohol also advises people to avoid comparing themselves to others. Your self-concept is battered every time you think thoughts such as, "I'll never be as thin as her," or "I'll never be able to write as well as he can." The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. Everyone is on this journey of being human to learn and grow -- simply working to become an even better version of you is enough. When you learn to value yourself for who you are, including your squinty right eye and tendency to forget the answer to 8 x 7, your self-concept will improve immeasurably.
Tap Into Joy
Find your joy, suggests Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff in the article "How to Love That Woman in the Mirror," published on Oprah.com. Instead of basing your self-worth on a large house or a size four designer wardrobe, find out what you are good at and what is meaningful to you. You may find that volunteering to foster kitties for a no-kill shelter is just the thing that makes you feel amazing about yourself. Or perhaps it's time to finally put aside the time to create the paintings you've had floating around in your head for the past year. When you tap into life's joy, the negative thoughts that lower self-concept recede and you attain a healthy perspective.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.