Thought experiment: Your ideal self

Everyone has an ideal version of themselves. A version of yourself with fewer of your bad habits.
A version where you do use your fitness subscription, where you can make a schedule and stick to it. We all have an image of ourselves where we ‘have our affairs in order’. But where does this idea come from and how does it manifest itself in our daily lives? Is this idea actually useful to cherish? Or is there a better way to conceptualize this ‘ideal self’? This is what I’m going to cover in this thought experiment.

Your ideal self:

Your ideal self. What do you think about it when you hear that? A version of yourself in which you might be a little more patient? Perhaps a version of yourself in which you have your ‘dream job’ and possess those character traits that you value in others. It’s a version of who you eventually want to be. This perception of an ideal ‘you’ is based on all the expectations and goals that you embody. In many ways, it is what keeps you moving forward. Because why would we keep moving forward if we can’t do better? If you can’t be better?

But often enough, our ‘real selves’ don’t match this ideal version. I assume you’ve also experienced this often enough? It’s only human. Our ‘real self’ is imperfect, hits the snooze button in the morning, eats too much junk food, and lives out of balance.

It is true that this image of your ideal self can be motivating. But it can also cause feelings of disappointment, especially if we don’t live up to this ideal image. And let’s be honest with each other, who really meets his ideal?


People strive for self-actualization. There is potential in us and we want to realize this potential. This has been an accepted idea by individuals in humanistic psychology* for decades. From their perspective, there is an understanding within us that sees self-actualization as innate and as a natural urge. The same urge you have for love, comfort, and satiety. Something we accept as present from an early age, this drive for self-improvement belongs to us in the same way. Self-actualization is a need

The ideal self is that version of ourselves that we would most like to be. It is whom we are meant to be, our potential fulfilled. If the difference between our ‘real self’ and our ‘ideal self’ is too great, it can cause feelings of doubt, fear, and hopelessness. Carl Rogers** argued that this difference between the real self and the ideal self can lead to incongruence. With congruence, you must think about matching your actions, feelings, and thoughts. If there is too much of a difference between this agreement (or lack thereof) in terms of where we are going and who we want to be. We experience this as a feeling of ‘something is not right’ (a feeling of incongruence). A feeling we are probably all very familiar with.

The term ‘ideal self’ has bounced around in my mind quite a bit. I often think about what I want to be, whom I want to be, and how I want to behave in the world. I think of a version of myself that is disciplined and dresses a certain way. Someone who is optimistic and does not get carried away with the course of our current chaotic and fast-paced society. But instead set its own course. I fantasize about this version of myself. About the smallest and most unusual things this older more complete version of myself does. How he organizes his morning routine, how he treats his clients and customers, and how he treats his wife, family, and children. I’m so invested in this mental avatar, this ideal version of myself, that sometimes I forget that he isn’t me.

Did you ever experience this? Having this image and feeling of who you are and then seeing a photo or video of yourself and realizing that this image and feeling are wrong? A very peculiar experience.  

But, I’ve also experienced this. Having an image of myself from when I was a teenager. An image of how I wanted to behave and look in the near future. And then 5 years later looking pretty much exactly like that image at the time. That brought me to a specific question. How do I ensure that I am getting closer to this (ultimate) ideal version of myself in the next 5 years? This led me to the idea of the proximal ideal.

The proximal ideal:

The idea of the proximal ideal is similar to the ‘ideal self’ proposed by Rogers. There is one difference and that is the time frame. The proximal ideal is that version of yourself that is 6 months, 9 months, or 12 months away from who you are now. It takes this huge concept of self-actualization and ‘all that you can be’ and puts it into a timeframe where you can actually do something with this idea in the present.

Becoming your proximal ideal is not about actualizing ‘all’ your potential. And what you can do and be in life. It’s about being a better version of yourself in 6 to 12 months. It brings self-actualization closer. Instead of making it something that seems unattainable. It means that you accept your starting point, and accept where you are now. And that you map out where you want to be in a manageable amount of time.

The concept of the proximal ideal has enabled me to make concrete steps toward a version of myself that is more congruent with the ‘self’ I want to be later on. This also means addressing the smaller and simpler things. Drinking less alcohol, eating better food, sleeping better, you name it. These are things that we can skip too quickly in our course of self-improvement. We think about all the big things we’re going to do, all the ways we’re going to make the world a better place. But over time we become disillusioned with this image. In short, it seems too far away. Too impossible to reach.

By limiting this big picture to a shorter time frame, we are more likely to gain momentum toward the role we want to play and the life we want to live. The proximal ideal acts as a buffer between your real self (who you are right now) and your ideal self (the person you want to be). It increases the likelihood that you will be a better version of yourself in 6 months. At least according to this thought experiment.

*[Humanistic psychology: a psychological perspective that focuses on the subjective experience and the unique qualities that make us human].
**[Carl Rogers: was a humanistic psychologist and an important figure in this way of thinking and acting]