What is a Self-Ideal? Why is it Important to Pursue Your Ideal Self?

Cary Grant

I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.

This article is part of an 8 part series to help you develop more confidence in the pursuit of your goals. Here is a list of all articles within this series:

  1. Improving Self-Esteem
  2. Transform Your Self-Concept
  3. Boosting Self-Confidence
  4. Developing Self-Worth
  5. Building a Healthy Self-Image
  6. Pursuing the Ideal Self
  7. Fake it ‘Til You Make it!
  8. Developing Superhero Courage

What Exactly is a Self-Ideal?

A self-ideal is essentially an ideal future version of “you” that encompasses your personality, beliefs, values, and behavior under various conditions. In can be summarized in the following way:

My ideal self is who I am wanting to become…

My ideal self is the best version of myself in every situation…

The “ideal you” is therefore “you”, however it is not the person you are today, but rather the person you are striving to become tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and so on. And yet this ideal self is not a state of perfection; it is not a fixed destination or a finished product. In fact, it’s far from it. This ideal self is constantly evolving and changing, and as such it has somewhat of an elusive nature.

Your ideal self should always be several steps ahead of you. In fact, even if you do become that ideal version of yourself at some point in the future, by that stage this ideal version of “you” will have changed, and you will therefore still be in pursuit of this ideal self. This is of course an important progression because it naturally leads to healthy growth and development.

If one day you were to catch up to your self-ideal, then that is possibly the day when life would lose all meaning. With nothing greater to strive for, and with no new challenge on the horizon you would naturally end up in a state of perpetual stagnation. There would be no motivation to grow or to improve yourself and as a result life would become perfect. That of course doesn’t sound so bad, right? But it’s not so good either. It’s not good because reaching a state of perfection leads to boredom, restlessness, and a less than satisfying life.

All this of course sounds quite counter-intuitive. Becoming everything you have ever wanted to be sounds like bliss. And yes you would be right. It would be as if all your dreams had suddenly come true. But that’s because you are not that person today, and it’s the journey towards becoming that person that will bring you fulfillment. It’s therefore not the destination but rather the steps you take to get to that destination that make life incredibly fulfilling, enjoyable and fun. Moreover, it’s the process of learning, growth and development along that journey that makes life truly worth living.

Given all this, it’s quite clear to see why our self-ideal must be elusive in nature. It typically changes over time because you are effectively recreating yourself daily through your choices, decisions and actions. Every thought you indulge in leads to a decision, which leads to an action. These actions form the habits and rules you live by that shape your future life and behavior. In fact, every experience you have changes you in some way. These changes might be slight, however they always impact the kind of person you are striving to become (your self-ideal). And many small changes over a period of time will lead to big changes to the vision you have of your future self.

Your self-ideal of course encompasses the many roles you play. For instance you might be a mother, a father, a sister or brother. You might be a parent, teacher, coach, leader, employee or employer. Within every one of these roles there exists an “ideal you”. You might for instance be striving to become a better father. As a result you are working towards this ideal version of the father that you would like to one day become, and this helps keep you growing and developing yourself in the role of a father. And the same is true for any other role you play.

Your growth and development in each role is the fuel that keeps pushing you forward through every decision you make and action you take. And as long as these ideal versions of you are somewhat out of reach, you will keep striving and pushing forward. Therefore this ideal version of you is what effectively fuels your motivation.

This is all well and good, however at times we end up walking along the wrong path because we succumb to other people’s expectations. These people shape how they would like us to be within the specific roles we play. This of course might not be such a bad thing. Sometimes we just don’t have enough clarity to understand how we can grow and develop ourselves within a specific role. However, at other times giving into other people’s expectations can lead us astray down a less than optimal path.

The key is to take on board what is helpful and allow that to shape your self-ideal. However, everything you take on board you must make it your own. Only in this way will you fully accept what you need to do to bridge the gap between where you are and were you desire to be.

Take a moment to acknowledge:

I know exactly who I am…

I accept who I am right now…

I seek to become a better version of myself…

I commit myself to growth and development…

When you know who you are today (your self-image), and when you fully accept this person, that is when you can commit yourself to becoming a better version of yourself, which of course comes through the process of growth and development.

That in a nutshell is what a self-ideal is all about. It’s about striving to become the very best version of yourself within every role you play. But what if you’re not sure? What if you don’t quite have the clarity you need to bring that self-ideal to life? Well, that’s what we’ll look at next by breaking down a four step process to help you consciously begin shaping your self-ideal starting today.

What is a Self-Ideal?

Four Steps for Shaping Your Self-Ideal

Often we desire to be better within certain roles and/or areas of our lives, however we never quite take the time to clarify what “being better” actually means to us. And because we are somewhat “wishy-washy” about the things we would like to improve upon, we never truly build enough momentum to carry us forward to this desired destination.

Let’s avoid falling into this trap by going through a four step process that will help you shape your self-ideal with purposeful intention. These steps are designed to help you lay down a path from where you are (your current self) to where you desire to be (your ideal self), thereby effectively bridging the gap between the two.

Step 1: Analysis of Your Current and Ideal Self

Your first task is to get to know yourself at a deeper level. Yes, this means warts and all. It means acknowledging parts of yourself that you are pleased with and being honest about parts of yourself that tend not to live up to your personal standards and/or expectations. Ask yourself the following questions:

What do I value most about myself?

What would I like to leave unchanged moving forward?

What don’t I like about my current behavior?

What aspects of myself would I like to ideally alter?

There will naturally be parts of yourself that you are quite happy with and would not want to change, however there will be other parts where you will see room for growth and improvement.

For instance, have a think about specific situations where you face adversity, conflict, making mistakes and dealing with difficult emotions. These are no doubt challenging situations that may or may not bring out the best in you. Consider these situation and ask yourself:

How do I typically handle adversity?

How do I respond when I make mistakes?

How do I tend to handle conflict?

How do I deal with difficult emotions?

Reflect on “how you are” in these situations and consider how you might be able to improve in these areas. Your answers to these questions will effectively lay down the foundations for your self-ideal.

Now, let’s take a look at that self-ideal by exploring the kind of person that you would ideally like to become. Take into consideration all your answers to the previous questions, and ask yourself:

What kind of person would I ideally like to be?

What standards would I like to uphold?

What would I like to believe about myself?

Here you are building a picture of “you”. This isn’t who you are now, but rather someone who you would ideally like to become in the future.

Now consider breaking this down even further by completing the following statements:

I want to be a person who is…

I want to be a person who keeps…

I want to be a person who lives…

I want to be a person who doesn’t…

I want to be a person who solves…

Going through each of these statements will provide you with a much clearer picture of the kind of person you envision of becoming in the future. Now your task is to simply follow through with making these positive changes, however this might not be as easy as it seems.

For the most part, it’s very possible that you have been wanting to make these changes for some time now. If that’s the case, then what’s stopped you? What has held you back all this time? Identifying what has held you back can help you to better pinpoint what you need to now do to move yourself forward.

However, there is still one missing ingredient. That ingredient comes with a “why”. Ask yourself:

Why is it important to make these changes?

In order to make change stick, you must have a “reason” to make this change in the first place. There must be enough motivation for you to change, or otherwise your efforts will be fleeting.

For this to take place you must thoroughly understand how to utilize the principles behind pain and pleasure. Both pain and pleasure are natural motivators that you must bring here into this process in order to make positive long-term changes stick.

Step 2: Identify Positive Role Models

If you are still lacking a little clarity as to the kind of person you would like to become, then let’s take a brief look at some of your role models. These are the people who inspire you through their behavior, words and actions. Your task here is to use these role models as the catalyst to help define your ideal self. Ask yourself:

Whom do I admire?

Why do I admire this particular person?

What about them do I admire most?

What qualities, behaviors, habits and actions would I like to adopt as my own?

This of course isn’t about becoming this other person. It’s rather about modeling what you admire most about this person to help shape your ideal self. You already do this unconsciously each and every day. When you hang around with your friends or coworkers you progressively develop certain habits that they have that you take as your own — for better or worse. So why not consciously choose the kinds of qualities and habits you would like to develop rather than allowing them to unconsciously become a part of you?

It’s important that the qualities, behaviors and habits you choose help challenge and inspire you to become a better person. Therein lies the key to successful long-term change.

Step 3: Describe Your Ideal Self in Specific Situations

Let’s now break down this ideal version of yourself you have been building within the first two steps a little further. Your task here is to create a detailed picture/description of the “ideal you”. This includes your beliefs, qualities, and behaviors. This also includes the personal standards you will uphold and the values you will live by. Likewise, this also includes the specific actions you will take in certain situations.

For instance, you might list down patience as a quality that you would like to develop. Listing down this attribute is a good starting point, however making it a part of your life is something that will require a lot of work and effort on your part. You might therefore start this process by listing down:

I am a patient person…

You will however now need to expand on this statement in the follow way:

A patient person believes…

A patient person values…

A patient person shows patience when… (specific situations)

A patient person responds to mistakes by…

A patient person deals with adversity by…

A patient person handles conflict by…

A patient person responds to difficult emotions by…

A patient person never allows themselves to…

As you take time to complete these statements, you’re now starting to develop a clearer picture of the kind of person you need to become in order to develop patience. Nothing is left to chance here. You are thoroughly exploring what it truly takes to live with patience each and every day. And you can of course rinse-and-repeat this process for courage, determination, love, integrity, humility, calmness, ambition, and many other attributes and qualities that you would like to grow into. The path you choose is of course completely up to you.

Step 4: Act As If…

The final step of this process is to ACT AS IF. Act as if you are already the ideal version of yourself in specific situations. Act as if you already embody your ideal qualities, beliefs and behaviors until all these things become a part of who you are.

Consistency is of course the key here. “Act as if” consistently over time and you will eventually develop the habits that will move you in the direction of your ideal self. You will progressively bridge that gap and move yourself forward in an optimal way.

Shaping Your Self-Ideal

Gaining Further Clarity About Your Ideal Self

The four step process outlined above gives us a good starting point to help build an empowering self-ideal. However, I would like to add a couple of additional activities that you might also like to try. These activities are designed to provide you with further insights into the kind of person you ideally would like to become. Use them to help build a clearer image of your ideal self.

The Ideal Day Activity

The ideal day activity is a simple visualization process that encourages you to imagine an ideal day at some point in the future.

Take a moment to sit in a quiet place where you can be alone for 15 to 20 minutes without any distractions. Once there, begin visualizing your ideal day starting from the moment you wake up first thing in the morning. Ask yourself:

Where am I?

Who is with me?

What are my surroundings like?

What do I do specifically on this day?

What goals am I working towards?

What kind of people do I interact with?

What am I like as a person on this day?

What specifically catches my eye about “how I am” on this day?

How do I handle myself in various situations?

Visualizing the answers to these questions will help you to get a better idea of the person you see yourself becoming at some point in the future. This then essentially becomes your self-ideal, or in other words the person you are striving to become.

You can of course expand on this visualization by also projecting forward and imagining your ideal week, month and/or year. The more areas of your life you encompass through this activity, the better sense you will get of the kind of person you see yourself in the future.

The Future Projection Activity

Another activity that’s worth going through encourages you to project yourself forward into very specific situations in your future where you are dealing with adversity and failurehandling mistakes and conflict; and/or trying to manage difficult emotions such as stress, worry, overwhelm, anxietyfear and so on. Posing scenarios such as these and imagining your future self successfully handling them will provide you with greater insights into the make-up of your ideal self.

Here are some questions to help stimulate your thinking:

How does the future me face life’s toughest challenges?

How do I deal with making mistakes?

How do I deal with failure?

How do I tend to manage difficult emotions? (be specific)

How do I handle conflict?

How do I deal with stressful situations?

Now take all your answers into account and identify how you are as a person in all these scenarios. Ask yourself:

What am I like as a person in all these scenarios?

What specific qualities and/or habits are on display?

What strengths are evident?

What knowledge do I have that is of value?

What skills do I tend to put into practice?

As a final step, take some time now to collate all the information you have collected about this “future you”. You can do this by listing down all the things that resonate with you at a deep level on a sheet of paper. Whatever you decide to list on this page effectively becomes your self-ideal; which is the person you would ideally like to be at some point in time. Your goal is of course now to bridge that gap between your current self and your ideal self. That gap will of course rarely if ever be fully bridged, however the point here is that it encourages you to grow and develop yourself over the years in a positive way. This then effectively becomes your path to self-actualization.

Understanding the Ideal Self

The Path to Self-Actualization

The idea of self-actualization comes from Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs. Along this hierarchy Maslow lists various human needs that we strive to fulfill. From the bottom-up, the needs are as follows: Physiological, Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. Each lower need has to be satisfied first before we can progress towards satisfying a higher level need. And of course at the top of the pyramid sits the act of self-actualization.

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s talk more about self-actualization and what this actually means. However, this entire concept of the Hierarchy of Needs is a very fascinating topic, one that I have explored in depth within the Six Human Needs article. It’s a highly recommended read if you would like to learn more about what Human Needs are and how you can use them to help optimize your life.

What is Self-Actualization?

Self-actualization in it’s simplest form is a desire for self-fulfillment. It’s an internal drive where you strive to reach your full potential as a human being. In other words, it’s a desire to become everything you are possibly capable of becoming over a lifetime.

The actual state where you “self-actualize” is that moment when your self-ideal is very much congruent and aligned with your self-image; or in other words aligned with your actual behavior. Therefore it is the moment where your current self is very much on the same level as your ideal self. Therefore, everything you visualized about your future self has very much manifested in your life; or it’s well on its way to coming to fruition.

A little earlier we discussed how your ideal self is very much elusive, and that reaching a state where your current and ideal “selves” are aligned is dangerous because it leads to stagnation. This is still true, and very much true when it comes to self-actualization.

To self-actualize means that you have reached the peak of your journey. This is the end, and there is nothing more beyond this peak. As such, the moment you reach this peak you experience this glorious and euphoric energy cursing through your body. However, this only lasts a very short time, and then it progressively fades away. It fades as you begin to realize that “this is it”, that “there is nothing more beyond this point”. You have realized your full potential, and now unless there is another step beyond this point, your level of fulfillment will begin to plummet back down the mountain.

There is no doubt that there are some people who actually self-actualize. They reach the summit of their journey, and because their self-image is now fully aligned (or thereabouts) with their self-ideal, they have nowhere else to go… but down. So the questions is, have they reached their full potential? And the short answer to that question is of course “no”; of course they haven’t. It only seems as though they have.

Reaching our full potential by self-actualizing is not possible, at least not within our human form. There is always more room to grow, to improve, to gain more knowledge, insights and skills. Therefore self-actualization isn’t a destination, but rather a journey we travel on.

Yes, euphoria will erupt from inside of you when you realize at some point in the future that your actual behavior (self-image) is very closely intertwined with your self-ideal. This is an incredible place to be at, however it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous if you do not keep the process of self-actualization moving forward. And to do so you cannot see self-actualization as a destination but rather as a journey of progressive milestones.

Yes, we all want to reach a level where we are feeling happy and fulfilled. This is a great place to be, but this feeling only lasts a very short time because happiness and fulfillment comes from the journey of moving from one place to another place; of moving from a lower state to a higher state. This is why you must keep moving forward, and this is why it’s absolutely paramount that your self-ideal stays elusive and remains several steps ahead of where you are in your life.

Yes, of course work to bridge that gap, but as you begin bridging that gap keep pushing it forward. Make sure that your self-ideal is somewhat within reach, but challenging enough to make your journey worthwhile and interesting.

The Journey Towards Self-Actualization

So what does it take to successfully make progress along this journey towards self-actualization? What does it take to progressively make incremental improvements to begin bridging the gap between your self-image and self-ideal?

First of all it requires a realistic appraisal of yourself and of your own abilities. The gap between your current self and your desired self must ultimately be there, however it’s important not to reach for the moon when you haven’t yet began to crawl. Your self-ideal must be challenging and somewhat out of reach, but not too challenging or too far beyond the realm of possibility. Unrealistic expectations will often lead you astray and result in major disappointment. In such scenarios the gap will be too significant for your mind to grasp; and as a result there will be little motivation to pursue this ideal version of yourself.

Yes, you might very well have all these lofty goals of how you see yourself in the future, however it is important to tone down those goals and build smaller milestones along your journey. Then as you reach one of your milestones you lay down another milestone ahead of that, and so on. This will keep you focused, motivated and moving forward towards something that’s seemingly reachable and attainable.

Secondly, the journey towards self-actualization requires a desire to solve problems. And to solve problems you will need a sense of wonder and curiosity. Life is full of problems and a person on the journey towards self-actualization thrives on solving problems that will help them unlock opportunities to move them forward. However, to solve a problem you must first take responsibility for it. Therefore there are no excuses along this journey. You must take full responsibility for your life, choices, decisions and actions, and use your challenges as opportunities to help you express yourself in creative ways.

Yes, you will undoubtedly encounter obstacles along your journey. Every path where you move from one state-of-being to another state-of-being is thwart with challenges. However, these challenges are designed to help you grow stronger and bolder. You must therefore learn from every experience you encounter through the process of self-reflection, and then use that to propel yourself forward in a more optimal way.

The Process of Self-Actualization

Your Self-Ideal and Goal Achievement

The one thing that hasn’t as yet been mentioned is that the journey of becoming the “ideal you” is the one and only key you need to help you accomplish the goals you set for yourself.

So many people strive to accomplish concrete and specific goals, however they too often miss their mark because to get to a goal we need fuel. And that fuel comes from the person you become along your journey towards that goal. And of course who you become is tied to the “ideal you”.

Given all this, when setting goals, don’t just take into account the steps you will need to take to achieve your goal. Consider also the person you will need to become in order to deserve this goal in the first place.

Along this journey towards your goal you will need to develop certain habits, you will need to adopt specific qualities, and you will need to think and act a certain way. All of these things in combination will help you become whom you need to be in order to successfully achieve your goal.

Taking this idea for granted will unfortunately lead you astray because you can only “have” after you have “become”.

First, BECOME, then DO, then HAVE… then you will ACHIEVE! It’s never the other way around.

Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Pursuing the Ideal Self

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Gain More Knowledge…

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