Image: The Ultimate Test of Self Control

Today Mark Swain discusses Image (self image and projected image), which is crucial to happiness, and mostly in our control.
Image: The ultimate test of self control – now there’s a strange way to start a blog. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that I’ll be talking here about anger management or relaxation techniques. But this blog’s nothing of the sort. I’m referring to your image, something that’s vital to your happiness, and (mostly) in your control. That’s why I’m referring to self-control. Please allow me to explain.
First, an apology. The trouble with blogs is that they are short and sweet, designed for a quick burst of information or entertainment. They are the package holiday equivalent of the kids’ pool – safe and warm and shallow. And the topic of image needs us to dive headfirst into the deep end of an Olympic-sized pool the professionals use. All I can hope to do here is start you thinking, using a simple structure to help you control your image. Here goes…
Let’s define image as your personality, ability and appearance. There are three ways to view it:

1.   Self 

Your own perception (what’s in your head).  It’s closely connected with your self-esteem


2.   Shown

What you put on view to other people (out of choice or unintentionally, i.e. consciously or sub-consciously)


3.   Seen

What other people actually see (the way you are regarded, understood and interpreted – i.e. their perception of you)

Clearly no.1 influences no.2, and no.2 influences no.3.  But no.3 is a more complex phenomenon, and a wild beast to tame. What you have to accept (reluctantly in my case) is that people have made their mind up (or at least formed an opinion about you) before you’ve even met; even if they won’t admit it. That opinion comes from their own upbringing, view of the world, prejudices, foibles, experiences and motivators.** Here’s an example – my wife is a primary school headteacher. She often remarks that, before even crossing the threshold at her amazing school, people have judged what she’s like. For example, they seem to expect her to be very prim and proper (she isn’t), and mumsy (because she runs a primary school). This headmistress is nobody’s mistress (her expression). She’s a professional headteacher, directing a decent sized business.

** We’re all guilty of being quick to judge, even if it’s subconsciously, and there are ways to manage your own prejudice. For example, I don’t look at anyone’s LinkedIn profile before I meet them. Otherwise I’ve made (often wrong) assumptions about them, because of what they think they should say in their profile. Remember LinkedIn is more dating site than history book.

What I’m steering you towards is being more aware of your image. Your self-image and self-esteem is probably something you’ve been taught about or thought about, which is why I’ve focused less time on those in this blog. If you have a good (or at least decent) self-image, then you’re in good shape to face the world. If you’ve a bad self-image, you’re in poor shape for the challenges ahead. Fortunately life isn’t as simple as that. We can’t all be handsome, beautiful, intelligent and smart. And frankly, I can’t do much about your body image, even though I can help you look your best, or present yourself properly (probably another blog there?). Instead I can help you celebrate the strengths you already have, or those you don’t yet recognise. They’re real and they’re valid and they’re powerful. Everyone has a super-self, lest we forget!  One simple activity, shown to improve your perception of yourself, is to write down three good things (that you can be thankful for, or positive about) at the end of each day for a five-day period.
Your shown-image is what you project, and I’d recommend you become more aware of what you are sharing and what you are hiding. Projection and first impressions is a huge topic – and not something that’s fixed simply by teaching sixth-form pupils to have a firmer handshake (a real example I’ve seen many times). It’s about making the real you visible, in a controlled way to suit the situation.

Make the best impression -wb

I’m a massive advocate for people being distinctive and different, and having their own style and substance. But you need to learn when to conform, and when to stand-out. This takes discipline and self-control. Start by looking in the mirror. How does the person reflected back at you come across to others? How do you react in good and bad situations? What would friends and family see, and how would that differ to the impressions of people who meet you for the first time? What do you need to change?
Another day I’ll blog about how you begin to manage the seen-image, and modify other people’s perceptions of you. For now, I’d suggest you become mindful of your ‘self’ and ‘shown’. This means developing the self-awareness to understand your own image, and the self-control to keep with that image (even under intense provocation and stress). It’s the ultimate test of self-control, but one that’s always worth the effort. Personally, I’ve always found deciding on my own image better than people telling me who I am, even if my version is unconventional, unorthodox – and probably just a little bit quirky…

Read Mark’s next Happiness blog tomorrow:

PRIME: Mindset


See more from Mark Swain:

PRIME: Personality: The Way to Find the Work You Love
How to get to know your personality, what really makes you tick, and how to use that self-awareness to find work you’ll really enjoy


PRIME: Resilience: It’s More Than Just ‘Bouncing Back’ 
Resilience is multi-dimensional.  Find out how to build resilience to help achieve your goals


For Those Shrinking Violets
Top tips for introverts, and for extroverts who want to better understand the introverts you know


Mark Swain

Mark Swain

Director of Partnerships at Henley Business School


About Mark Swain

Mark Swain will be one of our regular contributors at Hello Grads.
 As Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School, he delivers high-end learning and leadership development to senior business executives – through training, events and networking.

Mark has enjoyed a career across sales, marketing and many aspects of HR, and he will be talking and writing about some pressing issues for graduates – choosing career direction, recognising what you have to offer, and making yourself stand out in a competitive jobs market.

Contact: or and @meritology


Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School
FInstSMM – Fellow of the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management
Fellow at The Learning & Performance Institute
Lead consultant at The Chemistry Group

Education:  University of Portsmouth – Economics