What Exactly is a Self-Concept and How Does it Impact Your Life?

Henry Longfellow

We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.


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 in 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-Concept?

A self-concept is an understanding you have of yourself that’s based on your personal experiences, body image, your thoughts, and how you tend to label yourself in various situations.

A self-concept can also be defined as an all-encompassing awareness you had of yourself in the past; the awareness you have of yourself in the present, and the expectations you have of yourself at a future time.

Your self-concept is built upon perception — upon how you perceive yourself based on the knowledge you have gained over a lifetime of experience.

When it comes down to it, a self-concept is a perception you have of your image, abilities, and in some ways a perception of your own individual uniqueness.

This perception you have of yourself is based on the information you have gathered about your values, life roles, goals, skills, and abilities over time.

Your self-concept is somewhat a collection of beliefs you have about your own nature, qualities, and behavior. It’s about how you think and evaluate yourself at any given moment in time.

But to truly understand what a self-concept is and its impact on your life, we first need to break down the three components of a self-concept. These three components are based on the work of Humanist Psychologist Carl Rogers.

Your Self Image

Your self-image comes down to how you see yourself in the present moment. This includes the labels you give yourself about your personality and the beliefs you have about how the external world perceives you.

It’s, however, important to note that your self-image isn’t necessarily based on reality. For instance, a person with anorexia may have a self-image that makes them believe they are obese, however, in reality, that is far from the truth.

Given this, it’s crucial to recognize that a self-image is only your own perception of yourself and has no real basis in reality.

Your Self-Ideal

Your self-ideal is how you wish you could be at a future time. This is your ideal self or the ideal person you envision of being and becoming.

Many times, how people see themselves and how they would like to see themselves doesn’t quite match up. And this is precisely what causes problems and often leads to self-sabotaging behavior patterns and emotional struggles.

Your Self-Esteem

Your self-esteem encompasses your current emotional experiences. Moreover, it refers to the extent to which you like or approve of yourself or the extent to which you value yourself.

You might, for instance, have a positive or negative view of yourself. When you have a negative picture of yourself, you are seen as having low self-esteem. This often manifests in a lack of confidence and pessimism.

On the other hand, when you have a favourable view of yourself you are seen as having high self-esteem. This often manifests in a confident disposition, self-acceptance, and optimism.


A healthy self-concept will help you to get ahead in life. It will allow you to maximize your potential and get the most from your strengths, talents, and abilities.

On the other hand, a weak self-concept will hinder your progress. In fact, a fragile self-concept will most likely lead to self-sabotaging behavior. As a result, you will struggle to follow through with your actions. Subsequently, you will fail to achieve the goals and objectives you set for yourself.

What is a Self-Concept


The Value of a Healthy Self-Concept

The value of having a healthy self-concept becomes more evident when we recognize how much it influences our ability to manage our emotional experiences. However, it doesn’t stop there.

A healthy self-concept also determines how far you will step outside your comfort zone to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Moreover, it influences how you utilize your physiology while confronting challenges, obstacles, and problems.

A healthy self-concept impacts the questions you typically ask yourself each day, and it affects how you interact with people, how you think about yourself, others, and circumstances.

Putting all this together, your self-concept effectively determines what you will do or choose not to do at any given moment in time. It, therefore, influences your inherent potential to do, be, have and achieve your desired objectives.


The Forces Influencing Your Self-Concept

There are a number of forces that shape your self-concept and, therefore, impact its health and vitality over time.

Some of these forces come from internal sources, while other forces come from external sources.

Internal sources include what you think about yourself and/or others, what you pay attention to, how you interpret the events and circumstances of your life, and how you reframe both failure and success.

External sources include the environment you spend most of your time in, your interactions with others, and how other people tend to label you.

The most important thing to note here is the impact that other people have on your self-concept.

Through rejection, judgment, ridicule, and criticism, other people often influence how you feel about yourself, the labels you give yourself, and fundamentally what you believe about yourself, about your own abilities, and the world around you.

In many ways, your self-worth is tied to the people in your life. Therefore, if you’re struggling with an unhealthy self-concept, then it could very well be a direct result of the interactions you have with other people.

The bad news is that all of these internal and external sources have a profound impact on your self-concept. The good news is that starting today, you can begin taking affirmative and proactive action to improve your self-concept and optimize how you live your life.

Self-Concept Definition


Telltale Signs that You Have an Unhealthy Self-Concept

An unhealthy self-concept is something that often drags us down in life. It’s something that limits your opportunities, denies you access to essential resources, and undermines your potential.

An unhealthy self-concept implies that you have a low value of yourself. And when we have a low value of ourselves we typically lack the confidence needed to move boldly in the direction of our goals.

Without self-confidence, we lack the resourcefulness needed to overcome uncertainty, to solve problems, and to effectively manage change.

Life rapidly gets overwhelming and difficult to bear. You struggle with your emotions and make poor decisions. Everything essentially becomes a struggle. And things really shouldn’t be this way.

Your unhealthy self-concept is getting in the way of living your life to your best potential. It’s filtering out the reality of how life is and creating an alternate reality that you have unfortunately accepted as the truth.

What’s more, is that we become so caught up in our own lives, that it’s difficult to pinpoint whether or not we’re actually struggling with a weak self-concept.

There are, however, specific signs to look out for that can help you identify whether or not you’re struggling with a weak self-concept. For instance, you likely have a weak self-concept when you…

  • Fail to give affection.
  • Always compare yourself to other people.
  • Succumb to jealousy.
  • Consistently reject compliments.
  • Perpetually criticise yourself and others.
  • Indulge in negative self-talk that manifests and pessimism.
  • Persistently suffer from guilt about what you could, should, or would’ve done.
  • Undermine your own personal needs in favor of other people’s needs.
  • Suffer from poor emotional and physical health.

Taken individually these symptoms don’t signify that you have a poor self-concept. However, if you’ve ticked 3 or 4 items off this list, then that’s probably a clear indication that your self-concept has taken a hit.

If you have a low self-concept, then it’s time to commit yourself to upgrading your thoughts, beliefs, decisions, and actions moving forward. Only in this way will you transform your self-concept and optimize how you live your life.

Given all this, it’s, however, important to note that all these signs are nothing more than defensive mechanisms that protect you from emotional harm.

Your body and mind are doing their best to cope with life, events, and circumstances. However, frequently these coping strategies don’t quite work to your advantage.

What’s worse is that you might succumb to indulging in limiting behaviors in a feeble attempt to feel better about yourself. You might for instance:

  • Shift into “denial mode” and deny that anything is wrong despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Make assumptions and/or justifications that aren’t based on fact but rather on your biased “rose-colored” view of reality.
  • Launch into a verbal barrage where you attack yourself and others based on false perceptions of how you see things.
  • Choose to bask in negativity. Life sucks as it is, so why not just wallow in self-pity and experience the full brunt of your negative feelings?
  • Try and avoid people and circumstances by distracting yourself with addictions and other unhealthy habitual behaviors.

All of these semi-coping strategies might provide you with some semblance of control. They may even provide you with some relief and temporary satisfaction. However, in the long-run, they will only hurt you. You will hurt because you struggle to face the reality of your situation.

You’re incapable of facing the truth. And without the truth, you won’t make the necessary changes that will transform your self-concept and help you take charge of your life.

The Symptoms of a Low Self-Concept


How to Improve Your Self-Concept

Transforming your self-concept won’t be easy. In fact, it will take a great deal of patience, time, and effort.

Along this journey, you will likely need to release old habits, limiting beliefs, and unhelpful thoughts. You will essentially need to question the value of how you’ve been living your life, which includes the choices and decisions you’ve been making.

If the choices you make are not stretching your comfort zone and pushing you toward your goals then change is something that needs to be on the horizon.

Even though this journey and the inevitable transformation will not be easy, it will, however, be worth your while.

No longer will you be at the mercy of your rose-colored view of reality. Instead, you will have taken control. And with control comes confidence. And with confidence comes personal power — the power to transform your life with purpose.

Before moving on, it’s important to note that the quality of your life is a direct reflection of your emotional state of mind. What this means is that when your emotions are healthy and serving your greater good, then the quality of your life will likewise improve.

Your life improves because life always comes down to the emotional experiences we choose to indulge in.

When our emotional experiences are of a healthy and positive nature, this improves the quality of our thoughts. And as our thoughts improve so do our choices, decisions, and actions.

When you make better choices, you get better results. And with improved outcomes, you feel immeasurably better about yourself. And when you feel better about yourself, your self-concept grows stronger.

That is, in essence, the key that will help transform a poor self-concept into something that can help optimize how you live the rest of your life.

Step 1: Make a Personal Contract

Before you begin working through these suggestions, it’s imperative that the very first thing you do is make a personal contract.

Write up a contract that gives you the green light to initiate the process of change. Acknowledge that:

Things must change…

I am responsible for this change…

I am committed to making this change…

If for any reason you’re unable to tick-off all three boxes, then you’re just not ready yet to instigate change. Let’s look at this in a little more detail.

Your first step is to acknowledge that changes need to be made. If you’re unable to admit that there is something wrong, then there’s no point moving forward with this process.

Secondly, you need to take responsibility for making these changes. Nobody is responsible for your life but YOU. Without YOU this can’t be done.

You must, therefore, take the responsibility on your shoulders that you, and you alone, are responsible for making these changes.

Thirdly, you must be committed to making the necessary changes to improve your life.

Without commitment, there is no motivation. And without motivation, there just aren’t enough reasons for you to instigate change — which is mostly where things fall apart.

You, therefore, need to acknowledge that things must change, you need to take responsibility for this change, and you need to commit yourself to follow through with the change.

Once you’ve ticked all three of these boxes, you’ll be ready to take the first step along your journey toward a healthier self-concept.

Step 2: Discover Who You Are then Bridge the Gap!

Your next step to transforming your self-concept is to discover who you are.

Now, on the surface, this might seem kind of silly. You already know who you are, right? You’re YOU! You’re a physical being living a life that’s uniquely yours. However, below the surface, you are in reality so much more than that.

So, my question is, do you honestly know who you really are?

What you’re going to try and do here is identify the gap between “who you are” and “who you’re seeking to become.”

To strengthen your self-concept, you must figure out how to bridge this gap successfully.

You must essentially merge the YOU in the NOW together with the YOU in the FUTURE.

This, of course, ain’t going to be easy. In fact, there will always be some kind of discrepancy. And this is important to understand because without a discrepancy there is no motivation to grow and develop yourself over time.

However, if this discrepancy is too significant between the YOU of today and the YOU you desire to become in the future, then your self-concept will never bloom into its full potential. There must, therefore, be congruence, or otherwise, self-actualization is impossible.

With this in mind, take time to answer the following questions:

Who am I?

Who am I really?

Who am I physically?

Who am I socially?

Who am I emotionally?

Who am I spiritually?

Who am I in terms of my accomplishments?

Who am I in terms of my failures and mistakes?

Who am I in terms of my goals?

Who am I in terms of my social roles?

Who am I really? Why?

Who am I not? Why not?

The purpose of these questions is to identify how you see yourself in the present moment and then compare that against the final set of questions laid out below. The final set of questions focuses on what kind of person you’re seeking to become.

As you go through each question, you will gain various insights and perspectives into who you are. And that’s perfectly okay. Embrace these differences, because this is in essence how you see yourself each day.

It’s also important to note that there are no incorrect answers. Things are the way they are.

What’s most relevant here is whether or not these answers are congruent with the answers you give to the following set of questions:

Who am I ideally seeking to become?

How do I see myself in the future?

What kind of person is this person? What’s this person like?

What kinds of qualities does this person have?

How does this person think?

How does this person talk to themselves?

What kind of questions does this person ask themselves?

What kind of emotions does this person experience?

What kind of habits does this person indulge in?

What experiences does this person have each day?

What kind of goals is this person working towards?

What kind of person is this person really?

Your ideal self must be congruent with your perceived self in the present moment.

If there is a significant difference between the two, then you must work on bridging that gap — thereby strengthening your self-concept.

Let’s now take a closer look at that gap. Ask yourself:

What’s the gap between my perceived self and my ideal self?

Where is the gap most significant?

Where is the gap not so significant?

Is the distance between the gap realistic?

How could I begin bridging this gap starting today?

Your objective for the remainder of this journey is to begin bridging that gap between your ideal self and the self you are experiencing at this very moment. 

The more congruent both of these “selves” are, the stronger and healthier your self-concept will become.

Before moving on, I do have a few words of caution.

Your self-ideal must be realistic and achievable. Otherwise, you will struggle to meet your highest standards of performance. Subsequently, your self-concept will continue to suffer.

The key then is to ensure that your self-ideal is not entirely out of this world — at least not at the beginning.

Given this, be sure to lower your standards and expectations to make them more achievable. Only when you reach these set standards and expectations should you incrementally raise the bar higher.

Remember though that your self-image is often not based on reality. It’s instead based on your interpretation of reality.

Therefore, if your self-image is based on false assumptions or distorted perspectives, then you will first need to work through these issues before moving through the process outlined here.

Our discussion here is more about using this process to help build your self-confidence so that you can then take the necessary action steps to achieve your desired goals and objectives.


Time to Make Some Key Changes to Improve Your Self-Concept

Below you will find numerous suggestions and guidelines to help you transform your self-concept. Some of these suggestions are easy and quick to implement, while others might take a little time.

What’s, however, crucial here is what you focus on while making these changes. This essentially comes down to three fundamental things:

No matter how you proceed, every particular change you desire to make comes down to just these three fundamental things.

Therefore, no matter what ideas you decide to implement, be sure to always keep in mind how these changes can be made in relation to your thoughts, self-talk, and the belief systems that govern your subconscious behavior.

All this will hopefully start making more sense as you work your way through the following ideas.

Transform Your Inner World

Your first objective is to look within and become very consciously aware of your daily thoughts, self-talk, belief systems, psychological rules, and the questions you tend to ask. Ask yourself:

Are my thoughts aligned with my self-image?

What kind of thoughts do I allow myself to dwell upon?

What are these thoughts doing to me?

How do these thoughts make me feel?

What about my self-talk?

How do I tend to talk to myself?

What questions do I tend to ask myself?

What are the consequences of my self-talk and the questions I ask myself?

What do I tend to believe about myself?

What do I tend to believe about my abilities?

Is this congruent with my self-ideal?

How does all this make me feel?

What about the rules that govern my day-to-day decisions?

How do these rules influence my daily undertakings?

Are all these things congruent with my self-ideal?

How can I make the necessary adjustments to match my self-image with my self-ideal?

Your objective is to reach congruence in these areas. Your self-image will never directly align with your self-ideal. However, you can certainly make the necessary adjustments to your mindset to move in the right direction.

To assist you with this transition process, it’s necessary to give yourself time for meditation and visualization.

Meditation will help clear the clutter in your brain. It will encourage you to think and act more mindfully throughout the day. This will subsequently improve your ability to make effective decisions.

Visualization, on the other hand, can provide you with the necessary vision you need to better understand your future direction. This will likewise help you lay down a much clearer path toward your desired outcomes.

Remember, that how you think about things has a lot to do with your perceptions and interpretations of reality.

For instance, interpreting things one way will give you access to a particular set of resources and opportunities. However, interpreting things another way will provide you with access to a different set of resources and opportunities. Ironically, it might even deny you access altogether.

It’s therefore paramount to keep in mind that how you frame and/or reframe your experiences essentially determines what you gain or lose from those experiences.

Therefore, when problems arise, it’s not what happens to you, but how you interpret what happens that makes all the difference.

Transform Your Physiology

When it comes to our physiology, it’s important to remind ourselves that the body and mind are intrinsically connected.

What this essentially means is that how you think and how you emotionalize your experience influences how you use your physiology. Likewise, how you use your physiology influences how you think and emotionalize your experiences. They are both interconnected, and therefore what you do to one directly influences the other.

With that in mind, have a think about your body and how you use it throughout the day. Do you move your body with confidence, or do you tend to move it sluggishly? What about your breath and posture? What’s that like?

By making small adjustments to your physiology, you will indirectly influence your inner world. And as your inner world changes you will begin bridging the gap between where you are today and your ideal self.

Improve Your Lifestyle Choices

When it comes to your lifestyle, you need to start making some better choices that will help move you toward your ideal self. Ask yourself:

What kind of life does my ideal self live?

How often does my ideal self exercise?

What kind of food does my ideal self eat?

In what kind of environment does my ideal self spend the majority of time?

What does my ideal self spend time on?

How does my ideal self tend to work? Where? On what?

What kind of lifestyle choices does my ideal self make?

How can I begin bridging the lifestyle gap between where I am today and my ideal self of tomorrow?

As you go through these questions, you will get a strong sense of the changes you might need to make to bridge the gap between where you are today and your ideal self.

Above all else, keep reminding yourself that it’s all about reaching a state of congruence where your current self (self-image) matches your future self (self-ideal) on as many levels as possible.

How to Change a Self-Concept

Strengthen Your Self-Confidence

When you have an unhealthy self-concept, you will typically struggle with your self-confidence.

When you struggle with self-confidence, you’re often very susceptible to falling prey to rejection, to criticism, to judgment, and to the influence of others.

To strengthen your self-confidence, you need to explore self-love. Before you can feel confident in the external world, you must first find confidence in yourself — which that comes through self-love.

Self-love means fully accepting yourself despite your flaws, despite your weaknesses, and despite your inadequacies. It means feeling comfortable in your own skin no matter what you look like or how you feel.

To find your self-love, spend time with yourself. However, don’t just spend time watching mindless television. Actually, spend time pampering yourself. Get a massage, enjoy a hot sauna, go for a nature walk, etc.

First and foremost, the key is to reconnect with yourself. It’s only when you’ve found that connection with yourself will you then tap into your true sense of confidence.

Gain Relevant Knowledge and Skills

Your ideal self-has certain skills, knowledge, and abilities. Identify what these things are and then go to work acquiring the relevant knowledge and skills you need to help you bridge the gap between your self-image and self-ideal.

You will often find the information you need in books, by taking courses, by volunteering your time to a cause, or by connecting with people who already have the knowledge and skill you desire.

You could, for instance, get a mentor or life coach. Find someone who could guide you along your journey toward your self-ideal.

Build Your Support Network

As you work on developing your knowledge and skills, you will most certainly need support along your journey.

You will need people to help you through the tough times and struggles. You will need people that can be relied upon for emotional support. And you will need people who will accept you unconditionally without the strings. 😉

These people must, of course, be positive, inspiring, creative, passionate, and caring. They must be giving and generous, joyful, and happy souls. These are the kinds of people that should comprise your support network.

Your support network might, for instance, be made up of friends, colleagues, family members, life coaches and/or mentors.

These people will be there to prop you up when you’re facing difficulties. They will be there to help keep you motivated, focused, and inspired as you make progress toward your ideal self.

Use your support network for guidance and direction. However, please don’t give up control of your own life by putting your destiny in other people’s hands. This will never work out well in the long-run. You must be in charge of your own choices and decisions.

To be in charge means not concerning yourself with what others think. It means not worrying about criticism or rejection. And it means not comparing yourself with others.

You are on your own unique path. These people are there to support you, but ultimately you make the final decision that determines the direction you will take.

Set Inspiring Goals

Having inspiring goals means that your life has purpose and meaning. This keeps you motivated and active.

However, you don’t just want to set random goals. You actually want to set goals that match your self-ideal. So ask yourself:

What goals is my ideal self working towards?

What purpose is my ideal self striving for?

What inspires and motivates my ideal self?

Once you have your answers to these questions, set some inspiring goals and lay down a plan of action that will help you bridge the gap between where you are today and where you ideally would like to be in the future.


Concluding Thoughts

Building a healthy and robust self-concept no doubt takes some work and consistent effort. In fact, it takes time.

This isn’t something that you can build or transform overnight. Likewise, it isn’t something that you work through once and then forget about for the rest of your life.

Transforming your self-concept is something that you need to work on consistently over time. It’s something that must continuously change and evolve as you reach new milestones along your life’s journey.

However, this journey certainly doesn’t need to be difficult. There is no need to complete this process in one go.

Take your time. Set small daily objectives, and over many weeks, months and years you will make considerable progress as you sculpt who you are and whom you desire to become.


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam’s story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.