How to Change Your Self-Perception and Untap Your Hidden Potential

If your current self-perception is not serving you in ways that allow you to be your best self and achieve the goals you’re aiming for, it’s time to transform it into a force for good.

Those harsh evaluations from your inner critic speaking sourly of unworthiness have had enough airplay. You no longer want to allow features of imposter syndrome immobilize you nor deflate any balloon of excitement and hope you had toward achieving your goals:

“Who are you to think you can do this? Who are you to think you even deserve this?”

Your self-perception is about the relationship you have with yourself. The great news is that because you hold this self-perception, you are the best and most powerful agent capable of transforming it.

Here are 7 tips on how to change your self-perception and unleash your potential.

1. Learn to Detach From Others’ Projections

Simply cutting ties with anyone who drops negative criticisms that leave you feeling you are a lesser human being would lead to an incredibly lonely existence. What can better serve you is recognizing when someone might actually be projecting their self-image upon you.

Projections are often an unconscious way we defend ourselves to feel better emotionally and mentally about those aspects of ourselves we consider to be flawed.[1] We attribute the things we don’t like about ourselves to someone else because the pain and discomfort of confessing our own inadequacies are just too great.

Think of the friend at dinner who dominates the conversation and commonly speaks over others yet tells you you’re rude when you interrupt them. Think of the associate who claims to be a perfectionist and always struggles to meet deadlines but says your work will never be as good because you prioritize meeting targets over doing better quality work.

When you are on the receiving end of sharp, unsavory criticism, there’s a high chance that another person may be projecting. They are unwittingly showing you how they see the world and the flaws they see.

However, this does not mean their assertions are true or valid. If anything, it’s simply a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled to that.

2. Recognize How Others Have Shaped Your Self-Perception

During her earlier research, Carol Dweck discovered children’s motivation and performance was highly influenced by how parents and authority figures encouraged them.

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Her research offers guidance that could also influence a child’s esteem, self-efficacy, and self-perception as they grew through adolescence and into adulthood.[2]

  • Teach children how their effort can influence outcomes and their performance as opposed to labeling them according to the results they might achieve (i.e. a good artist, a genius, gifted).
  • As opposed to telling children they were good or bad, loved or not loved depending upon their behavior and results of performance, praise their efforts despite the results
  • Make space for children’s positive and negative emotions as opposed to only being loving, affectionate, and supportive when they are well-behaved or performing to a certain level.

Dweck’s research has shone a light on likely sources of many imprisoning self-perceptions we develop as adults. As adults, we can see how and why we came to think about ourselves in the ways we do.

Now, this is not a green light to unleash all blame on your parents and teachers but rather to recognize that you might be carrying the full weight of unhelpful self-perceptions you aren’t fully accounted for. You can also recognize and choose to do something about those self-perceptions that don’t benefit you.

Ask yourself:

“Does how I see myself make me feel better or worse about myself?”

“Does how I see myself create obstacles between where I am, what I am feeling, where I want to be, and how I want to feel?”

Continue to practice your awareness of how you see yourself in the present, consider how this impacts you, and start exploring how to put yourself in the greatest position of power to change this.

3. Learn How Even Negative Self-Perceptions Serve a Purpose

World-renowned psychotherapist Richard Schwartz coined an incredible therapeutic framework called Internal Family Systems through hearing how clients would talk about inner ‘parts’ of themselves.[3]

Similar to how different members of our families have different roles by birthright, different personality traits, and characteristics, Schwartz proposes that we all have an internal system consisting of sub-personas or ‘parts’ within our psyche.

Have you ever thought that you should decide one way but another voice inside you says to do the opposite? An inner critic? If so, this framework can help you not only tame the unhelpful voices and self-perceptions but also discover others that can help you untap your hidden potential.

Schwartz coined three main types of sub-personas:

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  • Exiles are those who often hold the emotional pain from abandonment, rejection, being exploited, and negatively judged by other individuals or other parts within our internal system.
  • Managers are those who are directive and controlling to help us avoid situations and interactions which might further hurt the exile part/s. These parts of us are often highly intellectual and good at problem-solving but push emotions away. In women, the manager-like parts often believe ‘she’ must be perfect and please everyone, otherwise she will be abandoned and hurt. In men, manager parts often possess competitive and entitled features, encouraging him to get or do whatever he wants regardless of who gets hurt
  • Firefighters are those parts of us that spring into action in emergencies when we’re caught off guard. When the exile parts of us have been triggered, these firefighting parts can jump into soothing and placate their emotional expression. Emotional eating or splurging our savings on clothes to make ourselves feel better are examples of ways we look to put out the emotional fire that is blazing.

Regardless of the different characteristics of these parts we have within us, they all serve a primary purpose but in different ways: to protect us and keep us safe.

When we learn to see how they do and why they do this, we dissolve our need to fight our self-perceptions.

We no longer have to fight against the negative voices in our heads. We can now guide and use them to our advantage to help us get to where we now want to go.

4. Reframe Your Language to Practice Healthy Detachment

You don’t need to undergo intensive therapy to benefit from some simple language re-framing techniques. When you change a few words in your self-labeling narrative, you can drastically change the impact that narrative can have on you.

When you look at the following four sentences, you have a sense of which one feels the most self-deprecating and which one feels the least:

  • “No one loves me. I’m simply not attractive.”
  • “I feel that no one loves me. I don’t feel attractive.”
  • “I often feel that no one loves me. At times I don’t feel attractive.”
  • “Right now, I feel that no one loves me. At the moment, I don’t feel attractive.”

Which statement feels the heaviest? Did you notice the changes in the sentences?

Self-perceptions we make tend to be purely black and white. We also tend to inaccurately and blanketly apply them to cover all contexts and situations, particularly when our emotions are the most intense.

Reframing your self-narrative is easier than trying to eliminate it in one fell swoop. Recognize that your self-perception is but a reflection of transient feelings you are feeling at particular moments in time and you’ll become better at preserving your self-worth.

5. Forget Positive Affirmations and Practice Truthful Self-Perceptions

As a coach and a consultant, I have often had clients come to me wanting to instantly silence any negative self-talk they express toward themselves. It is true our subconscious develops healthier inner dialogue over time with the regular and frequent practice of feeding it better mental nutrition. However, no amount of positive self-talk can transform negative self-perceptions if we don’t believe they could be true.

If you have a poor body image, you can tell yourself until you’re blue in the face that you have nothing to be concerned about when you look in the mirror. You’re still going to be free from the mental and emotional shackles that such self-perception holds.

You’ll be pleased to know the answer isn’t in endless journaling nor writing out positive affirmations hundreds of times a day. There’s a faster and more effective way!

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Develop phrases which you actually believe that guide you to look in the direction of how you want to see yourself:

I’m working towards improving how I see and/or feel about myself.”

“I’m learning and practicing how to adjust this aspect of myself so it better serves me.”

Notice how there is no mention of looking to improve or delete an aspect of your personality in either of these statements?

Also, notice the absence of the word ‘improve’. Using that word ‘improve’ might imply that you’ve bought into accepting there is something wrong with you, to begin with.

You’re changing your self-perception of you. You’re not needing to change you.

Your subconscious will be more on board with you using the phraseology above because you’re emotionally more receptive to it. It feels safe. It feels honest. It feels true.

Practice more language and phrases like these above and you will grow incredible self-perception that will take you beyond what you originally felt you were worthy of aiming for.

6. Combine a Growth Mindset and Imagery to Untap Your Potential

The use of imagery is an incredibly powerful mental tool to help you develop more helpful self-perceptions that will serve you moving toward your initial goals. Combine this with simple growth mindset questions and you’ll be well on your way to unleashing your potential.

Using an example, let’s say you don’t feel you don’t have what it takes to apply for a certain job or pass a particularly difficult exam.

The first part of the exercise is to playfully develop the growth and expansive mindset questions and entertain the answers to them:

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  1. What if I did have enough skill, expertise, knowledge, and confidence?
  2. How would I approach applying for the job? How would I go about preparing for the exam?
  3. How would I be feeling as I applied for the job? How would I feel as I sat the exam?
  4. How would I feel upon submitting my application? What if I got an interview?
  5. What if I took the exam and passed?

The second part now is to bring those potential answers to life. Breathe life into a mini-movie scene of these possibilities you create in your imagination. Imagine the environment you surround yourself in as you prepare your job application.

Can you imagine feeling calm, centered, focused, and ready as you start your exam? Practice being in allowance of feeling excited.

When you engage your five physical senses during imagery, you can ignite physical and emotional responses that signal to your brain what you are focusing on is important. The more you practice the imagery in which you paint a healthier and helpful self-perception, the more your reticular activating system will look for opportunities for this to come to fruition in reality.

7. Deliberately Practice Healthier Self-Perceptions

Our hidden potential remains untapped when we aren’t moving toward clearly defined goals.

From recognizing our unhelpful self-perceptions, we can start to shape those which aren’t just healthier for us but also strategically helpful for us in moving toward what we want to experience, do, and have.

When you next look at a particular goal, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What qualities do I already have that could and would help to meet that goal?
  2. What do I already know that could help me meet this goal?
  3. How can I position myself to gain the skills and knowledge that would help me achieve this goal?
  4. What choice/s along the way would give me opportunities to experience satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment in ways that matter to me?
  5. Even if I don’t meet this goal, will I still feel good about myself throughout the efforts I make to do so?

These questions are not only strengths-based. They also guide you to make choices and create opportunities that help you feel higher and healthier levels of fulfillment which matter to you.

Meeting the goal may or may not happen. Regardless, your self-perception is sure to undergo powerful, positive transformations on many levels.

Final Thoughts

These 7 tips will help you realize your potential and change your self-perception positively.

Through learning how to practice acceptance and compassion toward yourself and how to have a better relationship with yourself, you can develop self-concepts that help you untap your hidden potential.

You’ll be radiating a healthy glow that’s almost palpable and the envy of others with a powerful sense of self that will take you wherever you want to go!

More Tips on Improving Your Self-Perception

Featured photo credit: Vince Fleming via unsplash.com

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