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So you don't think I can do it? Self-Regulation and Symbolic Self-Completion

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Self-completion theory

In the complex terrain of human behavior, researchers Richard A. Wicklund and Peter M. Gollwitzer have ventured into the realms of self-regulation and symbolic self-completion. It unveils fascinating insights into how individuals shape their identities through self-regulation and symbolic acts. Join us as we delve into the intriguing concepts of self-regulation and symbolic self-completion, exploring the ways in which individuals navigate their quest for completeness.


Understanding Self-Regulation:

Self-regulation refers to the process by which individuals monitor, control, and adjust their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to achieve desired outcomes. Wicklund and Gollwitzer's exploration of self-regulation delves into how individuals actively manage and steer their actions in pursuit of their goals.

  1. Symbolic Self-Completion: Wicklund and Gollwitzer introduced the concept of symbolic self-completion, emphasizing how individuals use symbols, behaviors, or specific actions to signify the completion of a particular self-concept. This symbolic completion becomes a way for individuals to reinforce and solidify their identity.

  • Reference:

  • Wicklund, R. A., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (1982). Symbolic self-completion, attempted influence, and self-deprecation. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 3(2), 101–115.

  1. The Social Reality of Self-Symbolizing: Gollwitzer's work further explores the idea of striving for specific identities through self-symbolizing. Individuals engage in behaviors that reflect their desired self-image, influencing not only their own perception but also the perception of those around them.

  • Reference:

  • Gollwitzer, P. M. (1986). Striving for specific identities: The social reality of self-symbolizing. In R. M. Sorrentino & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition: Foundations of social behavior (Vol. 1, pp. 143–179).


Implications for Identity and Completeness:


  1. Behavior as Identity Reinforcement: Wicklund and Gollwitzer's work suggests that behaviors can serve as powerful tools for reinforcing one's identity. From personal habits to public actions, individuals actively shape and express their sense of self through chosen behaviors.

  2. The Role of Symbols in Self-Concept: Symbols play a crucial role in the process of symbolic self-completion. Whether it's through clothing choices, affiliations, or specific actions, individuals strategically employ symbols to communicate and solidify their identity.

  3. Social Dimension of Self-Symbolizing: Gollwitzer's exploration of self-symbolizing underscores the social aspect of identity formation. The ways in which individuals present themselves not only influence their self-perception but also impact how they are perceived by others, shaping the social reality of their identity.



While not directly tied to Self-Completion Theory, the work of Wicklund and Gollwitzer on self-regulation and symbolic self-completion enriches our understanding of how individuals actively navigate the complex terrain of identity. Their insights emphasize the role of behaviors, symbols, and social interactions in the continuous quest for completeness. As we unravel the intricacies of self-regulation and symbolic self-completion, we gain valuable perspectives on the dynamic nature of human identity and the creative ways individuals strive for a sense of wholeness.


Implications for athletes


For athletes, the concepts of self-regulation and symbolic self-completion can have profound implications, influencing various aspects of their performance, motivation, and overall well-being. Let's explore how these psychological principles might apply to athletes and their athletic pursuits:

  1. Goal Setting and Intrinsic Motivation: Athletes often set performance and achievement goals. Understanding self-regulation can aid in the effective management of these goals. By aligning their objectives with their intrinsic motivations and personal values, athletes can enhance their commitment and resilience, leading to a more fulfilling athletic journey.

  2. Pre-Competition Rituals and Symbolic Self-Completion: Many athletes engage in pre-competition rituals or routines. These rituals can be viewed through the lens of symbolic self-completion, as athletes use these actions to reinforce their identity and prepare mentally for the challenges ahead. Recognizing the symbolic significance of these rituals may contribute to their effectiveness in enhancing confidence and focus.

  3. Uniforms and Equipment as Symbols: The choice of uniforms, equipment, and team affiliations can serve as powerful symbols in an athlete's identity. These choices contribute to the athlete's sense of self and can influence how they are perceived by teammates, coaches, and fans. Understanding the symbolic nature of these elements can help athletes make intentional choices that align with their self-concept.

  4. Self-Image and Performance Confidence: Self-regulation plays a crucial role in managing self-image and confidence. Athletes who actively regulate their thoughts and emotions, focusing on positive self-affirmations and constructive self-talk, are more likely to maintain high levels of confidence. This positive mindset can lead to improved performance outcomes.

  5. Handling Setbacks and Resilience: Self-regulation is essential for dealing with setbacks and failures, which are inevitable in the world of sports. Athletes who can regulate their emotional responses to challenges and setbacks are better equipped to bounce back, learn from experiences, and maintain long-term motivation.

  6. Social Identity and Team Dynamics: Athletes often derive a significant part of their identity from being part of a team. Social identity, a component of symbolic self-completion, highlights the importance of the team as a symbol of identity. Fostering positive team dynamics and a sense of belonging contributes to the athlete's overall well-being and motivation.

  7. Retirement Transition: As athletes transition out of their competitive careers, self-regulation becomes crucial in managing the challenges of retirement. Understanding the symbolic significance of their athletic identity and finding new sources of fulfillment can aid in a smoother transition to post-athletic life.


In conclusion, the principles of self-regulation and symbolic self-completion offer valuable insights for athletes seeking to optimize their performance, navigate challenges, and find a sense of completeness in their athletic journey. By applying these concepts consciously, athletes can enhance their overall well-being and satisfaction in both training and competition.


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