Ideal You Vs. Actual You


From experience, one of the main things that seems to hold us back from getting what we want is low self-esteem.

Often referred to as how we feel about ourselves, self-esteem can be measured as a discrepancy between the ideal you and the actual you i.e. the person you’d like to be versus the actual person you think you are.

Self-esteem exercise

Try this exercise and see how your level of self-esteem measures up.

Get a piece of paper and write down the following ten self-attributes. Feel free to change any of them to other traits that are more important to you.

  • Sensitive
  • Open-Minded
  • Stubborn
  • Lazy
  • Disorganised
  • Shy
  • Thoughtful
  • Moody
  • Reliable
  • Friendly

To the left of this list, create a column and label it IY (Ideal You). In this column, rank each attribute in order from 1 to 10 to describe your Ideal You (the sort of person you’d most like to be), 1 being the most valuable trait and 10 the least important.

Now cover up this column so you can’t see your rankings. Create a new column to the right of the attribute list and call this AY (Actual You). In this column, rank the attributes again from 1 to 10 to describe the kind of person you think you currently are.

In a third column, calculate the difference between your two rankings e.g. if you ranked sensitive as 1 in column IY and 4 in AY then you’d put 3 in the third column.

Total up these score differences and you get an idea of your self-esteem level. The less the total, the higher your self-esteem.

So if your score is quite high, what can you do to increase your self-esteem and feel better about yourself?

My coaching sessions often use one of the following approaches to help minimise the gap between how you’d like to be and who you are. The one to use is the one you feel least resistance towards and that feels liberating and relaxing to consider.

Bring the Ideal You back to earth: Lower your high expectations, make them a little more realistic for you.

Motivating the Actual You: If you have expectations then that’s brilliant! Let’s set some goals and get you there.

Who are You?: Let’s explore where the image of the Ideal You has come from. Is it actually someone else’s Ideal You? Let’s create a You based on your values and ideals and appreciate You as you are.

You’re OK just as you are: Who cares what the Ideal You or the Actual You is. Let’s just accept who you are now and love life as it is.

I hope you find some of these suggestions useful. Do get in touch if you’d like to start putting some of them into practice.

Based on the work of Tatiana Bachkirova (2004).

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.