Interview with Ashley Nixon, Ph.D., SPHR: Tips for finding your ideal self

What are the challenges people face when attempted to identify their
ideal selves?

Biggest challenge – Making themselves do it. Most students tell me they resented having to go through the analysis, dreaded it, avoided it, but then were appreciative for the insights after they had finished. It is not necessarily natural or comfortable to be that introspective.  

What are some tools that can be used to help someone track their
progress towards this ideal self (e.g. vision boards, flow charts,

Whatever tools work! I’m a big advocate for doing something, and incrementally improving until you have a plan that works for you. Also, Re-doing the analysis every few years can help you identify and incorporate changes. 

I imagine there are some folks who would argue, “why do I need to find
my ideal self, I know who I am!”  How would you address an individual
in this category to help them see the importance of the exercise?

If you know who you are, then this should be an easy exercise! I tend to see more half-hearted analyses than verbal complaints about the exercise. That’s a bummer, I’d rather have the opportunity to help someone find a way to make the exercise valuable than to see it become a missed opportunity.  

Have you ever written about your ideal self?  Did it change the
direction you were headed?  Be that career changes, personal changes,
and/or any effect on interpersonal relationships?

Yes! I did mine several years (I should probably update it at some point, but I do reflect on it every time I teach LEAD). I found some of the exercises very challenging, others unexpectedly insightful. Completing it had a very positive impact on my career confidence. Particularly as a young faculty member, it was great to see results that supported my career choices. It has also been helpful when new opportunities arise – does this align with my ideal self? Does is augment what I’m currently doing, or does it detrack? 

Is it ever too late to find your ideal self?

No – and it evolves as we do, so the joy and reward can be in the pursuit.  

Supposing there are long term goals that need to be worked towards,
how do you stay motivated in attaining your ideal self, are there any
tricks you can share?

One, long term goals always require short term goals so we can team an exciting visions with regular victories. Things that I try to do regularly: acknowledge and celebrate what I have accomplished (even if it’s not as much as I would have liked), be kind to myself when I fail to live up to my expectations (berating myself accomplishing nothing – concentrate on what to do differently next time), be okay with revisions (hopefully, we find new things in life to be passionate about as we experience it), and think about what I am grateful for and excited about everyday (you be surprise how much energy and joy this can create).

Lastly, any general advice you would share to those engaging, or
thinking of engaging, in an Ideal Self exercise?

Develop a purpose that is uniquely your own! Do the exercises, integrate them, and be accountable to someone for the analysis – the real rewards are in integrating those results into a full picture. Use that to come up with a development plan, so you can start taking small steps to get to where you want to be.

Ashley Nixon is an Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior at Atkinson Graduate School of Management. She teaches courses in human resources and organizational dynamics, HR principles and practices, training and development, and compensation and rewards.