I saw a video about an inspiring woman, Lizzie Velasquez. Check it out, and then read the rest of my post.
Lizzie asks a great question: “How do you see yourself?” Your self-image is what defines you. Regardless of what others think, say, or do, your self-image drives your actions to conform to what it sees as the real you. Thus, your personal evaluation of who you are is a powerful commodity in achieving all your goals.
There’s a caveat, however. While your self-image governs your belief in yourself and what you can accomplish, that doesn’t mean it’s immune to outside influence. Granted, if your self-image is positive and strong, nay-sayers don’t have a prayer of stopping you. However, if you’re not careful, those very same nay-sayers can poison you against yourself over time. So how can you bolster this positive self-image and reject any negative ideas others may sling your way?
What Defines You?
In her TEDx Austin Women presentation, Lizzie said:
“Am I going to let the people who called me a monster define me?…No. I’m going to let my goals and my success and my accomplishments be the things that define me.” – Lizzie Velasquez
This strikes close to the heart of the matter. We should let the good we’ve done and the things we’ve accomplished define us. However, we need more.
We need to perceive the good as just that: something good. Jeff Haden, a columnist for Inc. Magazine, wrote an article showing that athletes who win the silver medal at sporting events are often less happy than those who won the bronze. This highlights that the way we view an event has a greater impact than the event itself. After all, a silver medalist should feel a greater sense of accomplishment than a bronze medalist if you base the reactions on their respective performances. Yet studies show the opposite is true. Why is that? Likely it’s because the athletes who win silver perceive the win as a loss, often reasoning “if I tried a little harder…” On the other hand, those that won the bronze are simply happy they medaled.
Since perception is at the heart of the matter, we need to train ourselves to perceive things in a more positive light. The Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions that can help improve our self-image (the way we perceive ourselves):
- Identify troubling conditions or situations. Examine the situations in which you find yourself. Which ones cause self-doubt and deflate your self-esteem? List them, and then use that list in the following step.
- Become aware of thoughts and beliefs. Looking at the list you created above, focus on how those situations or events make you feel, and what you say about yourself when in those situations.
- Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking. Your initial reactions may not be accurate. Often, we fall into patterns of thinking that aren’t based on facts, and are detrimental to our self-esteem. An example is all-or-nothing reasoning like, “If I don’t hit this sales quota by tomorrow, I’m a failure.” Even if you don’t hit the quota, are you really a failure? Probably not. Therefore don’t fall into that mental trap.
- Adjust your thoughts and beliefs. Here you can have some fun and create positives where negatives exist. Knowing the errors in your thinking revealed in the previous step, you can channel any negativity into positive thoughts. If we use the example above, instead of feeling like a failure because of missing a sales quota, think of how much you improved over your previous performance. Such adjustments in the way you view events results in a different belief system, one where you think approvingly of yourself and your accomplishments.
If you change how you perceive yourself and the world around you, then both you and your world will change in response. Now you need to safeguard your new world view. What can you do in this regard?
Set Your Defenses
If you have something valuable, you want to protect it. Your self-image is very valuable! Therefore, protect it vigorously from that which threatens its destruction: self-doubt. To stave off this destructive influence, two steps are necessary. First, you need to feed your mind on positive things. Second, you must avoid negative influences. Plus…there is a bonus round of activity you can use to help bolster your defenses, so keep reading!
Feed on Positivity
Lizzie had great influences in her life. Her parents emphasized a fundamental truth, that there is nothing wrong with her. She just happens to be smaller than most people. She took that and ran with it! She decided to become the best person she could be and let her successes speak for her. Additionally, she focused on positive things she could do. When she set her sights on becoming a motivational speaker, she Googled “how to be a motivational speaker” and filled her mind with the wisdom of those who accomplished what she desired. There’s a lesson in her experiences. In order to fortify ourselves against negativity, we need to surround ourselves with positive people and take in positive thoughts. Essentially, we need to watch what we read, monitor what we listen to, and guard our associations. This is time-tested wisdom that works in any age.
Equally important is avoiding negative influences in all their forms. Why so? Because taking in positivity isn’t enough. If we don’t do our best to shut out negativity, it’s a lot like pouring water into a bucket with a large hole in the bottom. You don’t get very far, because the negativity is working against your efforts. Granted, we can’t completely avoid negative influences in life. They’re as pervasive as the air we breathe, and are always ready to punch a new hole in our proverbial bucket. Yet, if the holes are small, positive influences easily overcome such negative influences. On the other hand, if we let in the negatives, it’s like taking a shotgun and blowing a hole in our own rowboat…while on the water. What are some of these negative influences? Things like:
- Social media trolls that flame you
- Jealous peers who speak out against you
- Teachers that tell you to “be more realistic” in your expectations
- Well meaning friends and relatives who think you’re overreaching
- Societal standards that say you aren’t “good enough”
The list goes on, but you get the picture. We can lump them all into the category of “haterz” who want to serve up a tall, cool glass of “hater-ade.” Don’t drink it.
Bonus Activity: Transform Negatives into Positives
Here’s the additional thing you can do: Take the negatives around you and turn them into positives. Realistically, as I mentioned above, you can’t avoid every negative influence. For example, social media is a staple in the lives of many today. Sure, you can choose to not establish accounts on the popular platforms. But some of us use them professionally, and therefore can’t afford to ignore them – or the negative comments people may make. So how can you turn invective-laden words, or even well-intentioned but undermining comments, into something good? Take Lizzie as an example once again.
Lizzie probably faced more abuse than most of us. Sometimes it was a knee-jerk reaction to her appearance. At other times it was simply cruel speech intended to hurt. She endured someone posting an 8-second video of her entitled “The world’s ugliest woman.” Imagine reading posts that asked you to do the world a favor and kill yourself. How would you react? Lizzie decided it was up to her to define herself. She could choose to be happy, or to be upset. She chose happiness. Therefore, if anyone looked at her as though she was a monster, she just assumed they were rude and were losing out on meeting a great person. If people made comments like “kill it with fire” (think of people’s reactions to Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein”), she used that as fuel to reach her goals. She describes her mindset nicely:
“You know what? Tell me those negative things, I’m going to turn them around, and I’m going to use them as a ladder to climb up to my goals….I used their negativity to light my fire to keep going.” – Lizzie Velasquez
The question, “Who do you think you are?” isn’t a challenge to justify yourself. It’s a call to examine your self-image and see how to strengthen and improve it. It’s a call to resist the negativity of others and achieve your goals. Lizzie Velasquez did it. You can do the same. To use Lizzie’s words in conclusion, “Use that negativity you have in your life to make yourself better because I guarantee you, guarantee you – you will win.”