Image Work

A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus once said, “The only constant in life is change.”

Sometimes, change happens to us. And sometimes, a feeling rises up from somewhere deep inside of us and says, “Enough is enough.”

But as constant as change is, it doesn’t always come easy.

Sometimes, it can feel like we’re stuck in a rut, repeating the same old stories over and over, and it can be hard to imagine doing anything different. Or maybe we desperately want things to change, but we just don’t know where to begin.

Fortunately, there’s a simple thing you can do to help transform old stories and make room for new ideas and opportunities. It’s called “Image Work” (or at least that’s how I remember it). This simple writing exercise was taught to me by my beloved Aunt Irene, who also introduced me to the healing power of forgiveness (among many other things).

The focus of this exercise isn’t about changing our circumstances but rather changing the image that we have about ourselves in those circumstances. And when we create a new self-image, anything is possible.

Here’s how it goes if you’d like to give it a try.

Day 1

  1. Create a headline: Focus on ONE area of your life that you’re struggling with, such as relationships, money, parenting, work, etc. What is your current image in this aspect of life? For example, your headline may be “My Image as a Mother,” “My Image in Financial Management,” or “My Image as a Partner.”  This can be applied to anything.
  2. Brain dump: Set a timer for 20 minutes and write down everything you can think of about the image you’ve chosen to focus on. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or even using complete sentences. The most important thing is that you keep writing. When you’re finished, do not read what you’ve written (yet). I recommend doing this part on a piece of scrap paper rather than a nice journal in case you decide to toss it later.
  3. Set it aside: Put your writing aside for 24 hours (again, no peeking!). Schedule a time to complete the exercise the next day. Make this a priority, and don’t dilly-dally. Our goal is to transform our image, not reinforce it.

Day 2

  1. Read and observe: Take on the role of a curious observer while reading what you wrote the day before. Be as objective as you can—as if you’re reading something someone else wrote. Without judgment, notice what stands out to you the most. Are there recurring statements, words, or distinct emotions? What is this person saying about themselves?
  2. Sum it up in a sentence: Write a sentence that sums up what this person is saying about themselves.
  3. Sum it up in 5 words: Choose 5 individual words that end with “ing,” which describe or relate to this self-image (e.g., hiding, shaming, blaming, shrinking, etc.).
  4. Sum it up in 1 word: Pause for a moment and come up with one word that gets straight to the core of this old image (no need to end in “ing). This usually isn’t the most flattering word, and it can even be downright ugly. Again, no judgments. This is just an old idea we’ve picked up along the way, and we don’t need to hold onto it anymore.

    The beautiful thing about images is that they can change in a heartbeat! And that’s what we’re about to do next…

  5. Choose a NEW word: Now that we’ve shined a light on that old image that may not be serving you anymore, it’s time to ponder what kind of image you do want. On a fresh sheet of paper (or journal), choose ONE word that best sums up the image you’d like to embody in this same aspect of life (e.g., relationships, money, partnership, etc.).
  6. Choose 5 NEW words: Write down 5 that end these words with “ing,” which describe or relate to your new image word (e.g., freeing, expanding, supporting, loving, creating, etc.).
  7. Write a NEW sentence: Write a new sentence that sums up your new image in this aspect of your life that you’re focusing on. Optional: I like to arrange my new image word and the supportive “ing” words in a circle but do whatever feels good to you.

    One of my own image exercises—straight out of a journal from 2016.
  8. Write a paragraph: Next, write a paragraph about what life would be like when you take on this new upgraded image. How would this area of your life be different? Write as many details as you can, including how you would feel, what your day would look like, how your relationships would change, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t believe it yet. Just write whatever comes to your mind and heart as you consciously create your new image.
  9. Read and repeat: Read this paragraph every day for 30 days. This is such an important step. The more we focus on minds on what we DO want, the more likely we are to experience it.

Know someone who’d like this post?

Share it the “old fashioned” way…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *