Self-Improvement from the Outside In

We all get too comfortable, complacent in our ruts. We get into a routine, slog through it, just to get home, veg out in from of the TV for a while, and then do it all over again the next day. But deep down, don’t we want more? Don’t we all wish we were more? More outgoing, more confident, more social, more successful... more, more, more?

This resignation to wishing for, craving for, more in our lives can lead to depression. We feel like we always want more and yet never attain it. We don’t even know where to begin. We are stuck in a rut, and we lack the motivation to do anything about it.

But what if re-charging your life didn’t have to be hard or painful? What if it was pretty easy and enjoyable? If making yourself a better person was fun, why wouldn’t you do it? Well, it can be simple to start change in your life, because change starts with how you view yourself. And how can you change how you see yourself? Simple. Begin by changing what you wear.

We’ve all heard the adage, “The clothes make the man.” But have you ever stopped to wonder how true that is? Every wondered why it might be true? Clothes make the man, or woman, not just because they are part of what other people see, but also because our clothing can affect how we see ourselves.

The work of Dr. V.S. Ramachandran (google him, his work is astounding) has shown that what we see has power over our perception and experience. Ramachandran is a neurologist who is best known for his work with amputees. He discovered that if you showed an amputee a mirror image of his existing limb where his missing limb should have been, this image tricked his brain into believing the missing limb had been restored. Even though the amputee knew cognitively that his limb was gone, seeing the limb “restored” relieved the patient of his “missing limb syndrome” and the pain and discomfort associated with it.

This science is applicable to our everyday lives in numerous ways, but let’s consider our desire for self-improvement. If we can see ourselves how we want to be, we can trick ourselves into becoming that which we see. We can’t help but believe what we see. We are hardwired to do so. And this rule can work for you or against you.

If you see yourself in the mirror and you look frumpy, unkempt, dumpy, wrinkled, threadbare, shabby, ill-fitted, et cetera, you will internalize these attributes and believe that about yourself. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You believe it, and so does everyone else.

Luckily, the converse is also true. If you see yourself in the mirror and you look like a million bucks: smart, sharp, classy, powerful, confident, affluent, et cetera, you will internalize those attributes as well. And when you see yourself with all of those positive attributes, so will everyone else. This too can be a self- fulfilling prophecy.
So we want to use our neurology to better our lives, to get us more out of our lives, and to become the people we ultimately want to be. Where do we begin? We take it one step at a time. Start by setting aside a portion of your monthly income to this new self-improvement project. Set aside a portion that you can afford. Ten percent of net is a figure that works for most people, but if you can afford to set more aside, do so and you will get to your goal sooner.

With this portion of your income, use it to make incremental improvements to your appearance and wardrobe. Get a stylish haircut, take a class on makeup, invest in new glasses or contact lenses, and start improving your wardrobe. But don’t just head out to the mall and buy something new. Do some research. These new wardrobe items will be with you for many years to come. You want to purchase items that are classically stylish and professional. Items like that will always be in style, and buying quality will ensure that they stay in good condition over the years. This new wardrobe is an investment. Invest wisely and it will serve you for the rest of your life. Invest in cheap material and trendy style and you will be back to buying all new outfits every season. Each small step you take to look your best will be a brick in the wall of your new well-being.

When choosing new items for your wardrobe, carefully consider the quality of the materials, the quality of the manufacturing, and the timelessness of the cut, color and style. Try on a lot of different styles and cuts to help you determine what looks best on you. Be sure to get the truthful opinions of friends and family to be sure you are making the right choices. As you add a new item to your wardrobe, get rid of an old analogous item. Bought a new dress shirt? Toss out one of your older similar items. This will keep your closet manageable and keep you from reverting to your old ways.

Be sure to increase the formality of your ensembles. Being the most formally dressed person in a crowd never reflects poorly on you, but being the most casually dressed person in the room gives people the impression that you care less about the event, that you are unprepared, unprofessional, et cetera.

Pay attention to the details. It’s the accessories that will help you stand out and make a good impression. Select high quality, not too flashy ties. Always wear a tie bar or tie pin to keep your tie in place and your suit looking sharp. Invest in a few sets of classy cuff links to go with your new French-cuffed dress shirts. Simple accessories like these lend a sense of individuality and class to any ensemble. They are timeless, yet eye catching and will help people remember you.

Lastly, don’t forget to journal this adventure. Take stock in how you are feeling, what you are doing each month with your self-improvement budget, and what others are saying about your appearance. This exercise may seem like a waste of time at first, but the journal will serve as evidence of your rise to your goal. Whenever you start to feel low again, or feel like you are not improving, take a look at your journal. You will see how, through small steps, you have indeed improved how you see yourself and how others see and treat you. You will have evidence of your improved confidence, your professional acceleration, and your social circle expansion.

This program is not a quick fix. It is not meant to be a shocking, “extreme makeover” type of self-improvement. Instead, it works organically. You have time to evolve your look, and others have a chance to slowly adjust their preconceptions of you. The new you might not be “just around the corner”, but it isn’t far away, and you can get there one step, one haircut, one quality purchase at a time.

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