Self-Identity Goal Setting And Cognitive Mirroring

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
Jaymes Gleeson


Apr 18, 2024

A feeling that “all is as it should be” characterises the feeling of cognitive harmony. That is, a state where our actions and experiences mirror our beliefs and expectations. There is harmony between what we believe about ourselves and our experience.

Whether we realise it or not, we all default to acting in harmony with our beliefs, sooner or later.

Living in a state of cognitive dissonance, that is, a state where our beliefs and expectations do not mirror our experience, is not sustainable.

Eventually, you get what you believe. And what you believe about yourself forms the foundation of your self-image. As such, cognitive mirroring, where action and experience mirror your mental landscape, can be a good or bad thing.

Let’s apply this to the domain of fat loss.

fat loss exercise
Exercise will help improve your self image

If you believe you are worthless and that nothing good will ever happen to you, your actions and your experience will tend to mirror that internal configuration. Eventually, it becomes subconsciously self-fulfilling.

Even if, in spite of negative core beliefs, one starts to lose weight through sheer willpower, because of the disjuncture between belief and experience, progress will be virtually impossible to maintain. At a visceral level such a person believes ‘good things don’t happen to me’, and with such a mindset, it’s just a matter of time until ‘good things’ stop happening, and the return to bad habits resumes.

I had a client, let’s call her Sue, who after years of being very overweight, lost a lot of weight over a period of eight weeks. You might think this would be an unconditionally positive development, as did I. However, her undeniably impressive new body became the source of intense cognitive dissonance. Her negative core belief, ‘I am fat and worthless’, simply did not accord with her new reality of ‘looking good.’

Add a constant stream of heartfelt congratulatory messages from other gym goers, and you have the perfect recipe for the deepening of her cognitive dissonance. That is, looking good and being revered doesn’t gel with believing yourself to be fat and worthless. It’s like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole.

Our default position, what “feels right”, whether we understand these principles or not, is cognitive harmony, where our external experience matches our self-image. Again, our self-image springs from our beliefs and expectations about who we are.

In the above example, self-sabotage followed, such was the shock of being yanked away from the comfort of cognitive harmony. That is,there was a certain ‘peace of mind’ to be foundin her negative self-image matching well with her negative physical image. Hence the self-sabotage to return to this state.

You see, cognitive harmony can be positive: healthy self-image matching healthy actions and physical image, or as in the above example, negative and damaging: negative self-image matching negative actions and physical image. Either way, it’s cognitive harmony.

When I spoke to Sue about the reasons for her self-sabotage, she said her new body and the external praise “freaked her out.” She was filled with a feeling of “things not being right.” She thought that “good things like this don’t happen to me, and I don’t deserve all this praise.” Her new body and avalanche of praise, led to something hitherto she had never felt in her life: feelings of self-worth. This brought into sharp focus the mismatch between such a feeling and her internal belief system characterised by intense self-loathing and feelings of unworthiness.

Although she didn’t understand what cognitive dissonance was, she experienced it in an intense way: what she believed herself to be was sharply at odds with her external reality. Self-sabotage was a way for her to get back to cognitive harmony, albeit not a harmony one would consider desirable: to look fat again would match nicely with her negative self-image. Square peg in square hole.

Whether it’s being fat, missing out on a job opportunity, being rejected by a possible romantic partner, or any other type of misfortune, they all harmonise perfectly well with the belief of worthlessness.

So, rather than forcing a change in your actions in the hope of this filtering back upstream to a permanent change in who you are, start with your own beliefs about yourself and resulting self-image. This is your foundation stone for sustainable change.

If your self-image is negative, any change you make in your actions will only, and could only ever, be ephemeral. Eventually your actions will slide into concordance with your self-image. And self-image is constructed by your beliefs about yourself.

You must start with an honest examination of your beliefs, drilling down to the core. It is often difficult because your beliefs about yourself can be buried so deeply that you don’t even see them as beliefs at all; you see them simply as the way you are, and as such, are invisible and intractable.

It is very empowering to realise core beliefs, like any belief, can be changed instantly. To repeat a simple mantra such as “I’m worth the effort” will help you replace that damaging core belief with its opposite. If you’re thinking ‘oh I could never change this belief’, that too is only a belief, which also can be changed.

The top sports psychologists talk about the importance of a winning mindset, which is a belief system geared for success. Without it, you’ll feel the odds are stacked against you, like the character Sisyphus from Greek mythology who was condemned to roll a huge boulder up an unending hill for all eternity.

If you want sustained success, you’ve got to believe it’s possible, and that you deserve it. So, you are not a victim in an uncaring universe; you have intimate control over how your life will turn out.

Ask yourself this question: What do I think of myself? 

Make a list of the good things and the bad things. Be brutally honest. Take your time and boil down your observations into a single core assessment. One of two trajectories will emerge:

1. I’m a good person and good things will happen to me because I deserve it

2. No matter how much effort I put in, things won’t ever turn out well for me, and they shouldn’t, because I don’t deserve it

If you’ve arrived at the second conclusion, this may explain a good deal about your present health situation. What is liberating about this realisation is that it provides the key to a lock that has kept you from living the life you want to live, and being the person you want to be.

Once the foundations of your beliefs have been reconfigured, expect your actions to follow suit. The belief, ‘I’m a healthy person who deserves good outcomes’ will naturally perpetuate habits that match the belief.

Why Use A Life Coach? Conquer Your Goals & Challenges

Working from the inside out, the formula is:

beliefs and expectation (self-identity) → process (action) → goal achievement (outcome)

Belief (self-identity): I’m a healthy person

Expectation: Healthy people go to early morning exercise classes

Process (action): Attend early exercise classes 3 times per week

Goal (outcome): lean and healthy

When you arrive at the crossroads of temptation: Ask yourself the question “what would a healthy person do?”

– order a pizza and beer OR prepare Moroccan chicken and green vegetables?

– sleep in OR get up early and go to spin?

– have dessert OR have a cup of tea and go to bed

Set self-identity-based goals, not outcome-based goals.

NOT, i want to lose 10kgs, but rather, I want to be a lean and heathy person.

NOT, I want to read 10 books this year, but rather, I want to be a reader.

NOT, I want to meditate 30 minutes per day, but rather, I want to be a meditator.

Initiate change from the inside out. Imagine the person you want to be, start doing the things such a person would do, habituate those actions, evolve into that person. That’s the cognitive harmony you want. Square peg in a square hole.

The point of power is the present moment.


By Jaymes Gleeson


J. A Gleeson is a health writer for The Carousel and Personal Trainer at Tribe Social Fitness, in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney. He has over 25 years experience as an athlete, athletics coach, consultant, personal trainer, educator and independent researcher. Jaymes won an Athletics Scholarship and studied in the United States in 1991. - San Francisco State University (Psychology, Nutrition, Athletics) - American Collage of Sports Medicine (Personal Training) Throughout the 90s he worked as athletics coach and personal trainer in the US. In the early 2000s, he worked in Snow Sports throughout Japan and returned to Australia in 2008 to continue wellness research and personal training in high end health clubs in Sydney.



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