Self-concept versus self-image: They may sound like the same thing, but they are worlds apart. Self-concept is an internal perception of ourselves, how we feel about our capabilities, mindset and emotions. Self-image is an external perception of ourselves, how we feel about our body, status and possessions.
The common aim of each human being is to feel good. But here's the paradox: Most people are seeking satisfaction from the wrong source. They think that if they fine-tune their external circumstances - such as by obtaining a certain title, buying more material possessions or enhancing their face and body - then they will become content. But true happiness does not come from anything outside of one's Being.
The happiness we derive from driving around in a new car, becoming the president of a company or having plastic surgery has its own life span. Before we realize it, we are seeking the next model car, higher prestige, and more nips and tucks. True joy, in contrast, comes from strengthening your connection to your life's purpose, 'giving back' and following your passions.
The closer you live to your authenticity, the less you will worry about what others think of you. You will become so comfortable in your own skin that you stop seeking the validation of others. Why? Because authenticity naturally brings forth validation from others, and naturally increases self-confidence. Allowing yourself to be guided by your heart and intuition brings great power.
Unfortunately, most people don't follow their gut. They question it too much. They try to do what looks right instead of what feels right. When we break this down, doing what looks right is to emphasize self-image, which does not lead to lasting happiness. And if most people in our society are living with this same false veil, then living through your self-image is similar to asking for validation from people who cannot grant you truth. It all becomes an illusion.
To seek validation solely from others holds no lasting value; to seek it from people who are themselves already lost diminishes the concept even further. The whole idea of validation negates itself. And this is what happens when individuals - or societies - put too much emphasis on self-image instead of self-concept.
Carving your path to truth, no matter what others may think, will lead you to fulfill your life's mission. People will always question your decisions. But instead of allowing those questions to fill you with insecurity, you can use them as a gauge. Questions are not bad. They can help show you if you are where you want to be, or if you need to fine-tune your course. As such, they can be used as tools to strengthen your resolve.
The surest way to live an ordinary life is to worry about your self-image, because to do so is to put yourself in the category of 'most people.' To stand out is to strengthen your self-concept. And self-concept is naturally strengthened when we honor our feelings and life situations. For example, if a person is in debt and after a hard day decides to go shopping for some 'retail therapy,' what do you think their feelings will be once they receive the bill? Their despair will rise, because they ignored the truth of their life situation.
On the flip side, if they were to skip the mall and instead go for a long walk, most likely peace and clarity would be reached. The first scenario focused on self-image, while the second focused on self-concept. To truly feel good, we need to work from the inside out.
So if you feel an uneasiness, a restlessness, a feeling that there is more to this life than what you are experiencing, make a list of all the things that bring joy to your heart - be it volunteering, cooking, writing or exercising. Each day, make a point of doing one of these activities, even if it's only for ten minutes. And over the course of weeks and months, take notice of how you are attracting more joy and abundance into your life.
The formula is simple: When you feel rich and fulfilled on the inside, your positive self-concept will naturally attract circumstances into your life that make your self-image shine.