Awareness – Self Awareness – Private Self Image

Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

Self Awareness is a much deeper topic than just self consciousness. Self awareness is about more than just understanding that you exist, and being able to perceive how you feel. As a complicated human mind, you are constantly building a model of your world in your head. Trying to learn to understand the sensations and feelings you’re receiving.

As you look out into the world you do not just see colours and shapes, you see buildings, and clouds, and sky, and bookshelves, and grass, and animals and dogs and cats and Shep and Garfield and Garfield’s Lasagne and the cheese on top of Garfield’s Lasagne and the hunger on Garfield’s face as he licks his lips looking at that Lasagne.

As surely as you are learning about and categorising your world, you’re also learning about and catagorising yourself, one of the few things which has been in your environment for the whole of your existence.

This, then, is Self Image.

Self image comes in two parts. The first, private self image, is the model you build of yourself in your mind. If you ask yourself “Am I smart?” or “Am I flexible?” or “Am I purple?” you’re querying your private self image.How do you build that private self-image? Self Perception Theory suggests that just as you attribute qualities to other people by observing them, you also observe your own behaviour and use that as evidence to attribute qualities to yourself which explain that behaviour. You use the same mechanism for determining if you are healthy, wealthy or wise as you do when you determine if someone else has these qualities. Though perhaps with rather more evidence to hand.

This abundance of evidence can be unhelpful though. You see the worst of yourself. The low-points and degradations that you rarely see in others. You are almost infinitely more likely to see your failures and your moments of weakness as you are those similar moments in others.

Also, once formed, people tend to assume that their self-image is fixed. Some even think that “stability” is a good thing and that they are better off for having a “stable personality” meaning that they can’t change. They think “I am bad at maths” or “I am pathetic at drawing” or “I am ugly” or “I am shy” which is a natural, though false, way to think. More accurate would be to say “I failed at that maths problem” or “I haven’t learned to draw yet” or “I was shy on that occasion“. In short, we have a tendency to assume universality of our personality traits, when in fact all people behave differently in different circumstances and with different mindsets.

The truth is that you can change your self image, most simply by changing the evidence presented to your consciousness.

Most of the ‘input’ to your sense of self-image comes not from actual events, but from recollections and reviews of that original event. From cogitation and reconsideration rather than direct experience. Factors considered ‘important’ are those which you spend more time pondering.

This shows an obvious way to change your self image: decide on a self-image you’d like, look for evidence of you showing that trait, or heading towards that trait, and then concentrate on that instead of your failures

Unlike some, we at the Transcendence Institute favour a realistic self image over a positive self image, however we also note that sometimes an overly-positive self-image will be useful and that this is likely to be the case an overwhelmingly large fraction of the time compared to the very rare occasion when an overly critical self image will be useful.

The Meditation

When you start listening to this month’s guided meditation, you’ll be asked to think of a positive trait which you would like to increase the importance of in your self-image, and an example of you either showing that trait or else geting closer to that trait, growing towards showing it. You’ll be asked to replay that example over and over in your mind, large and loud and colourful. You’ll also be given suggestions that you’ll remind yourself over and over of that example throughout the next day.

Of course, human beings are social and linguistic creatures, and their self-image reflects more than just an assessment of their own characteristics. We are also constantly ask ourselves and are often even told what others think of us and we usually internalize that to some degree. This is the second part of Self Image, Public self image. We’ll discuss that in detail next week.