Advice regarding the importance of clarifying your life goals seems to be as ubiquitous as Netflix binges. We all accept the need to determine some meaningful end destination, so that we can navigate how the hell to get there. Wise advice from Yogi Berra quotes, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else.”
Seems simple enough. Why is it then, that we so often feel utterly uncomfortable in our skins as we walk through life? That so many people experience painful emotions along the journey? The culprits of self-doubt, inadequacy, and insecurity often leave us feeling afraid, shameful, and anxious.
Hacking Berra’s words, I say, “If you don’t know who you are, you might become somebody else by the time you get there.” I'm talking about a little something mental health advocates like to call self-concept clarity (SCC).
SCC is the ability to confidently and clearly define a specific set of self-knowledge: your self-beliefs, self-values, and self-traits (Ritchie, Sedikides, Wildschut, and Gidrun, 2011). It is the process of regulating the comparison between your current self and future goal self. More than that, it provides you with a stable framework for how to act with people and things in the world and can let you do this with intention and a greater sense of control (Ritchie, Sedikides, Wildschut, and Gidrun, 2011).
SCC is important because as it increases, so do other fun things, like:
- meaningfulness in life
- life satisfaction
- capacity for positive emotions, such as joy (Ritchie, Sedikides, Wildschut, and Gidrun, 2011; Shin, Steger, and Henry, 2016).
Ritchie, Sedikides, and Wildschut (2011) conducted a study that concluded SCC also mediates the relationship between stress and subjective well-being. This means that with certainty of identity comes a stronger base of support for your mind and spirit. You'll become less vulnerable to the mean-spirited back-handed remarks of those around you. Like a Marvel superhero, the stronger your SCC, the more impervious you'll be to life's stresses.
People naturally grow and change as they accumulate different experiences and are affected by them. So, take some time to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Take some time to figure out what matters most to you. Repeat. You likely have different values today than you had two years ago. This is a periodic and lifelong process of intentional reflection.
You might be thinking, “Sounds quite excellent. Got any quick tips?” Indeed, my friends, I’m so glad you asked. Here are two of my favourite tactics for intentionally generating some SCC, with a little TLC* on the side.
*Tender love and care, not the band. Please do not go chasing any waterfalls.
1. Three to be
We all have multiple versions of ourselves that steal the spotlight at different times and contexts. Scroll through your inner rolodex and think of a favourite version of yourself from the past, consider your current character strengths, and imagine your best future self.
Looking at these versions of you, pick three traits that you want to be at the heart of your personality. Let these three words become your clarity checkpoint.
Consider these traits before choosing your actions as well as using them to reflect upon how you navigated through the day. This enables you to step into your best self with intention, so that you can figure out how you want to engage with others and respond to different situations (Burchard, 2017).
My current 'three to be' are calm, kind and smart. I find it helpful to use a timed reminder with these traits listed on my phone to refocus myself throughout the day.
2. Invoke your integrity
When life’s challenges cause you to feel insecure, take a minute to affirm your values. Don’t let Sally Sassy-Pants make you feel stupid when she speaks to you with holier than thou condescension.
Remind yourself of who you are and of the things that are important to you. With them in mind, think of a time when your actions reflected those values (Hendrikson, 2018).
These are moments of integrity that you are proud of, and these memories will help ground your best character in the present so that you can determine the action or response that is right for you (Hendrickson, 2018).
Understanding who you are, what the world is like, and how you fit in the world and interact with it is invaluable (Shin, Steger and Henry, 2016). Listen, it’s great that you have some life direction and that you want to be somebody. Let’s just make the ‘who’ of that equation more specific, so that the ‘how’ of getting there matches your insides.
Blog by Kayla Noodelman: inward investigator, nimble navigator, full-time therapist.
Edited by Robin Noodelman: clarity chaser, grounded gamer, part-time editor.
Burchard, B. (2017). High performance habits. Hay House.
Hendrikson, E. (2018, March 16). What to do (and Not Do) When You Feel Insecure. Retrieved from http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/mental-health/what-to-do-and-not-do-when-you-feel-insecure?page=1
Kusec, A., Tallon, K., & Koerner, N. (2016). Intolerance of uncertainty, causal uncertainty, causal importance, self-concept clarity, and their relations to generalized anxiety disorder. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 45(4), 307-323.
Ritchie, T. D., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Gidron, Y. (2011). Self-concept Clarity Mediates the Relation between Stress and Subjective Well-being. Self & Identity, 10(4), 493-508).
Shin, J. Y., Steger, M. F., & Henry, K. L. (2016). Self-concept clarity’s role in meaning in life among American
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