At this point in our lives as college students, most of us believe that we are fairly confident in knowing who we are. We know what our personalities are like, what our friends and family think we are like, and what makes us happy and annoyed and sad. We also may have an idea of what we want to change about ourselves. At this point however, I am going to allude to the very clichéd notion that, this is (almost always) easier said than done. In other words, how possible is it for us to really change something about ourselves that we see as less than appealing once we have already formed a basis of self-knowledge and self-understanding?
In my psychology class this semester, the focus has been on the self concepts we have of ourselves, our need for self-verification, our possible or ideal selves and how they compare to our actual selves, and the implications for self change. The self-concept we have of ourselves is a compilation of many thoughts about the self that are organized into specific categories based on situations and interactions. They can include several aspects of one's life such as social responsibilities, personality, relationships, interests, and activities. Our need for self-verification includes the desire to surround ourselves with people and situations that are congruent with our self-concepts and that continuously verify who we are. Through our formation of self-concepts we are able to see where we are now and who we would like to be in our future. The larger the discrepancies between our current actual selves and our possible future selves, the more conflict and drastic need for change will exist.
As humans, we are so set in our ways, we even go as far as forming our memories based on who we think we are. If we receive information that is inconsistent with our self-concepts, we are much more likely to either pretend it never happened (denial) or try and explain why it's not true (rationalization). The things that happen in our lives that are consistent with who we believe we are tend to be much more detailed and elaborate in our minds. So when we realize we want to, or even need to, change something about ourselves that has been completely consistent so far in our lives, what exactly does that process look like?
Once we realize that change is needed and when we consciously try to change something we view as negative about ourselves, resistance and relapse will most likely occur. The process of behavioral change is so hard because we are challenging an aspect of ourselves that we thought was previously doing us good. Because behavior change is trying to change someone's personal views on themselves, it makes sense that there will be some natural and even unconscious resistance to this from both ourselves and others.
Recognizing that changing an unwanted aspect about ourselves is neither easy or blasé, but is the first step to making that change. Understanding that setbacks and challenges will occur not only helps us to be more realistic about the process, but will also help us appreciate it that much more when we do succeed in reaching our goals. Changing an aspect of ourselves that we have been living with for 20 or more years is a difficult process, but there is hope that it can happen if we stick with it and don't let our assumptions of ourselves and the inconsistent feedback from others interfere.