In my last post, we learned that you usually act consistently with your self-concept. That your self-concept has three aspects:

  1. Self-ideal
  2. Self-image
  3. Self-worth

Your Self-Ideal

The first element of your self-concept is called your self-ideal, which is the picture you have of yourself. It is your best-case scenario of the person that you can become. It is not necessarily accurate; rather, it reflects what you believe is ultimately possible for you to become and do. It is what you now consider to be your best future. Your self-ideal is what your life would be like if everything was perfect for you. It is a composite of all your goals, dreams, aspirations, and role models combined into a singular vision that is best thought of as your future picture.

Though everyone has a self-ideal, only a few are consciously aware of it. The self-ideal provides feedback for you as you trek through life. Like a personal GPS device, your self-ideal prompts you unconsciously to “turn here, turn there” as you navigate your way to your future destination. Because your self-ideal unites your past experiences with your hopes for the future, it can serve to restrict you. Like the circus elephants, you may be chained to an outdated self-ideal that should have expired years ago.

Most people have not consciously created their self-ideal, and therefore it has developed haphazardly. If it lacks intentionality, it will be vague and unclear. And if it’s unclear, your brain won’t work to make it happen. Up to this point in your life, has your self-ideal been developed by design or by default?

The self-ideal is an intangible concept. It’s a mental construct. One of the ways to make the self-ideal both more concrete and more positive is to develop a detailed personal mission statement. This is a conscious, written articulation of your full potential as God sees it. With a mission statement, you take the intangible construct of your self-ideal and turn it into something concrete. Your mission statement, along with your life-time goals, becomes a physical tool you can use to fine-tune the image that you have of yourself in the future. Like your self-concept as a whole, you were not born with a self-ideal – which means you can transform it.

Your Self-Image

Formed primarily from your environmental influences, your current self-image is the subconscious mechanism responsible for guiding your behavior. From the PiP examples, it is the game that’s going on now, based primarily on your interactions with others. It develops from what you say to yourself and what others – particularly your parents and spouse – say to you. You have an overall self-image, but you have subsidiary self-images that influence your marriage, your parenting, your fitness, your faith.

Our self-image is critical because we almost act consistently with the internal image we have of ourselves. In fact,  you cannot expect to behave differently from your self-image programming any more than you could expect to put chocolate cake batter in the oven and an hour later take out apple pie. You get out only what you put in. You can override it, but it takes a conscious deliberation to do so.

Your mental image of yourself acts like a performance thermostat, regulating your behaviour just as a thermostat controls the room temperature. It sets the upper and lower limits on the quality of your performance within each area of your life as well as your life as a whole. You can walk over to the wall and change the thermostat anytime you want – if you are willing to do it. If you do not change your performance thermostat, you are very likely to keep repeating what you have always done.

Your self-image feeds you repetitive rationalizations that keep you entrenched in your current circumstances. You will hear things such as these:

  • Just start the diet tomorrow
  • She should apologize to you first.
  • You can catch up next week.
  • You’re an impostor.

Because your self-image is wired to your short-term emotional appetite, you will hardly ever feel like acting in a manner inconsistent with this self-image set point. However, there is a solution: You can override past negative programming by deliberately choosing new behaviors that line up with your God-given potential, whether or not you feel like it.

Your self-image, or inner mirror, determines how you use to your time, talents, knowledge, skills, and experiences.

RELATED: The Cure for an Identity Crisis

Your Self-Worth

We’ve already looked at the future picture (self-ideal) and the current picture (self-image). I call the third component of your self-concept your self-worth. In the earlier TV example, I said your self-worth determines what programs you give yourself permission to watch in the first place. This is just another way of saying that in this world, you will receive only what you are willing to let in. If you feel insecure and think of yourself as inadequate and undeserving, then those very thoughts will get in the way of your full potential. Your self-worth demonstrates how spiritually fit and ready to do God’s work you really are. It also reveals how receptive you are to God’s blessing and favor. Self-worth is authentic self-esteem rooted in your uniqueness as a child of God. You recognize that you are a special, unrepeatable miracle, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). You accept that God has great plans for your life. You trust God’s Word more than the words of others to appraise your value as a person.

Self-worth is not based on achievement but on the significance you place on your life outside of your performance – on your identity as one created and loved by God.

Oddly enough, when you see yourself as worthwhile and valuable outside of any accomplishments, you are better positioned to excel.

Typically, the strongest self-worth develops in childhood with kids who perceive unconditional love from their parents. This unconditional love imitates God’s love and grace and is expressed to kids most straightforwardly through concepts like the following:

  • Absolute truth instead of relative truth
    • Emphasize the Word of God
    • Unambiguously communicate right and wrong
    • De-emphasize political correctness
  • Positive affirmation instead of destructive criticism
    • “You have what it takes!”
    • “Mom and Dad are very proud of you!”
    • “No matter what you do, we still love you.”
  • Wise limits instead of trendy boundaries
    • This is allowable; this is not
    • Character building matters most.
    • Inspect what you expect. Accountability is critical.

Children who grow up with absolute truth, positive affirmation, and wise limits tend to become authentic adults who are comfortable in their own skin.

The most well-adjusted mature individuals have a high sense of self-worth, which means they say yes only to things they feel terrific about. They do what they love for living. They have fun at it. And they succeed more often than not because they are so relaxed and comfortable with themselves. They don’t need to prove anything.

The post is adapted from an excerpt of The 4:8 Principle by Tommy Newberry

Paul Sohn is a leadership coach, best-selling author and speaker. Paul is the founder and CEO of QARA. Paul is a best-selling author of Quarter-Life Calling: Finding Your God-Given Purpose in Your Twenties. Paul was named one of the Top 33 under 33 Christian Millennials to Follow by Christianity Today.