Social Anxiety and Self Image...

In 1960 a cosmetic surgeon called Maxwell Maltz wrote a now well known personal development book called psycho-cybernetics. In it he describes his fascination about a strange phenomenon he experienced time and time again throughout his career...

After performing cosmetic surgery to patients over several decades he found that some people experienced a radical shift in the way that they felt about themselves as a result of the plastic surgery. Amazing changes would often occur quite suddenly and dramatically in a person's personality when they changed their face...

What he found even more interesting was that this wasn't always the case. That many of the people experienced no difference in the way they felt about themselves after plastic surgery. No matter what they changed on the outside they still felt ugly, in-secure and inferior...

He concluded that there must be something else that decides the opinion a person has about themselves out with looks...A hidden, internal element that shapes and moulds our personality...In other words...a person's internal 'Self Image'...

A person's self image is the opinion they have of themselves. How they perceive themselves and their capabilities in their mind's eye. Our self image governs most of what we do in the world. Our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, even our skills and capabilities are largely dictated by our self image. The self-image is key to human personality. You make a change to your self-image you'll begin to experience shifts in your personality and behaviour. On a greater level a person's self image sets the boundaries as to what they believe is possible. As Maxwell Maltz states in his excellent book, "Expand the self image and you expand the 'area of the possible'".

So what does this have to do with social anxiety and social confidence?

It has everything to do with it...

You weren't born socially anxious, you learned to do it which means you can un-learn and learn to do something more productive. The key to this is to start expanding your self image...

Before we go into that however lets take a look in a bit more depth at a person's self-image...The following diagram, while being an over simplification, will give you a better understanding:

A Person's Identity
|
Beliefs & Values
|
Mental images, thoughts & feelings
|
Capabilities & Behaviours

First of all we have a person's sense of identity. Then within this identity we have beliefs and values. These are the codes of conduct they we live by and the things we place importance on. These beliefs and values decide what we believe to be true about ourselves & the world and heavily influence what we spend most of our time on.

These beliefs and values also decide how we interpret the experiences we have in the world and have a huge say in the mental images, thoughts and feelings that we experience on a day to day basis...
All these factors then place an important role in deciding how we behave in the world and the capabilities that we develop and believe we can develop...

While a person's self-image is usually described as the mental image/images, thoughts and feelings you hold inside your mind when you think about yourself, it's important to realise that there is a lot more to it, behind the scenes so to speak, than just that...

Imagination, Neural Pathways & Self Image

In the 1960's psychologist R A Vandell conducted an experiment into the effects of mental practice on improving skill in shooting baskets in basketball. One group of students actually practiced throwing the ball every day for 20 days and were scored on the first and last days...

A second group was scored on the first and last days and engaged in no practice whatsoever..

A third group was scored on the first day then spent 20 minutes a day, imagining that they were throwing the ball at the goal. When they missed inside their mind they would imagine correcting it until they scored...

The first group, which actually practiced, improved their score by 24 percent...

The second group, which did nothing, showed no improvement...

The third group, which practiced in their imagination improved by 23 percent...

This is only one of numerous experiments that pretty much proves that what we do in our imagination affects how we perform on the outside...

The science behind this phenomenon also adds weight to this claim...When we actively imagine something inside our minds we create what is known as a neural pathway inside our brain...

A neural pathway connects regions within the brain to one another or conveys information from the peripheral nervous system to the brain. Two major classes of neural pathways relay sensation to the brain or carry signals for movement to the body from it...

They both consist of long, insulated nerve fibers that communicate electrically or by a chemical neurotransmitter. Spinal reflex pathways are local pathways that provide quick responses to sudden stimuli without feedback from the brain.

While this seems complex it's actually a simplified version of what neural pathways are and how they work in our brain...

To put in a way that most people can understand, a neural pathway is what our brain uses to connect new information, concepts, and ideas to each other. For example, say a young child crawls into the kitchen, stands up and puts their hand on a hot stove. Up until that point they had no system (or no neural pathway) that linked 'touching the hot stove' with 'pain'.

However, as soon as they do so and feel the pain their brain almost instantly looks for the source of the pain they are experiencing and creates an association, a link, a neural pathway between that external stimuli (the hot stove) and the feeling of pain the child is experiencing...From this point on they now have some basis or some 'stored memory' that can protect them from doing something similar in the future...

So essentially neural pathways are the physical bridges that are created in the brain as we learn, develop new ideas and attach meaning to our experiences...

The Amazing Arm Stretch Demo...

Stop for a minute and do a quick experiment...this experiment will expand what you thought was possible within a few minutes...

Stand up, point your feet in front of you, and hold your right arm directly out in front of you as if you were pointing at someone...

Now stretch your arm all the way round to the right keeping your feet stationary...Stretch as far as you can go physically and make an imaginary chalk mark on the wall where your limit is...

Now imagine what you just did in your minds eye...See what you saw, hear what you heard and feel what it felt like...Only this time imagine what it would look, sound and feel like if you were to stretch way past the mark. Go at least a foot...then two feet, then three feet past the mark...

Once you've imagined this as vividly as you can come back, open your eyes and then physically do the arm stretch again...

I'll bet you went a lot further this time...

Virtually everyone does and that's because every time you vividly imagine something you create new neural pathways, expanding your neural networks in such a way that it increases your chances of being able to do the thing that you just imagined...

Pretty cool eh?

Well just stop for a minute and think what it would be like if you were to start imagining yourself being and feeling calm, relaxed and confident around people?

What would it be like if you repeated this each day, strengthening those neural pathways so that they become a reality in the same way as the arm stretch demonstration?

That'd be pretty amazing wouldn't it?

And the great thing is, barring those with serious brain defects, anyone can do it...irrespective of their situation...

The two keys - Repetition & Intensity of feeling.

In his book 'psyco-cybernetics' Maxwell Maltz talks about 'The 21 day rule'. This is the number of days he believed was required to change your self image through imagination...

While undoubtedly repetition is key to making this stuff stick, 21 days of repetition isn't always necessary. In fact if you're taking this long to experience the changes then it's probably because you're lacking the second key...and that is intensity of feeling...

The more intense the feelings you get when you imagine something, generally speaking, the less time you have to spend repeating the visualisation...

To go back to our example about the child who put their hand on the hot stove...This is an intensely painful experience (both physically and emotionally) for the child so the brain generalises very quickly...in fact almost instantly a strong neural pathway is created that links the hot stove and pain together. Now while this is not imagined we've already established that our brain responds in a similar way to imagined events as it does to actual ones...

So while repetition is certainly useful and recommended, bare in mind that the more emotionally intense you can make the visualisation the more impact it will have and the less work it will take to create the change...

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