How to Change Your Identity
Anytime we think about ourselves, we attach our identity to “what we do” - or our titles and activities. “I am” is how we describe our identity. I am a writer and a photographer. You might be a doctor… bike mechanic… parent… chicken farmer… investment banker… programmer… sous-chef… waitress… student… missionary… manager… factory worker...
These are what we do, but they are not who we are.
An individual can be taught the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the tasks required to work as (a doctor, photographer, etc.), but underneath the knowledge and skills associated with those activities, there is an individual who is simultaneously wearing many hats. A doctor can also be a mother, cellist, equestrienne, baker and much more. These activities become part of our familiar identity. We acquire the skills and then label ourselves according to those skills.
Our habits and beliefs are another part our identity that we are less familiar with because by their very nature as habits, they are automated and largely outside our conscious awareness. These beliefs might manifest as, "I'm a good landscape photographer but I can't ever seem to shoot a good portrait" or "I will never lose these last 10 pounds" or "I can always figure out a way to save my clients money!"
The key to successful personal change, is changing these identity-based habits.
Recently I was talking to a friend who insisted, “I’m no good at remembering people’s names.” I nodded in agreement with her. It’s something that I used to say about myself. It was a habit that had become part of my identity: "I am” someone who doesn’t remember names.
It’s not that my memory is faulty, it just seems selectively faulty! I realized that I rationalized it to others by saying that I spent so much energy explaining to people how to pronounce my name, that I didn’t have any left for remembering theirs. Consequently I rarely bothered to listen when people introduced themselves. This habit of speech created a self-fulfilling prophecy because it gave evidence to my inability to remember names.
When we become inspired to make changes, we get stuck because most of the time, the way we go about creating change is hard. We believe that IF we do (x) THEN we will become the person who can do (x). Or, skills first, "being" later.
While that’s true - it’s also a lot harder than it needs to be. A perfect example of that is willpower.
We try willing ourselves to become healthier, using action habits like exercising more and drinking less alcohol. For a while, it works but at the first opportunity, the brain reverts to its old ways simply because the old ways are easier and more comfortable. All it takes is an emotional crisis, stress or overwhelm and before we know it, we’re back to the old habits.
What if changing our identity was actually step one? "Being" first and skills later? What if we started thinking about ourselves as the person who can do (x) before we even learn the skills? What if we drop our identification with a habit in order to drop the habit… or create an identity in order to create a positive habit?
I thought to myself, “If I stop identifying with this habit, I can drop it!”
I stopped saying “I’m terrible with names” and started saying that I easily remembered names - and within a short time, my identity changed, and I started remembering names quite easily.
Any behavior that you exhibit, is a projection of the kind of person you believe you are. And remember - every behavior has a consequence, intended or not!
Change your identity and your behavior will change. Here’s how:
1. First, start establishing a new identity through mental images, words and feelings around the type of person you want to be. This is done easily using MindPT, where the combination of emotive images and empowering statements makes you think and feel like a successful person in any area of life you wish to improve. No big behavioral change is happening. No willpower is needed. At this stage, you’re simply mentally rehearsing a new and improved identity. You are achieving your goals but only mentally and emotionally. You are mentally and emotionally becoming the person who is capable of achieving those goals. Then, it will be natural and easy to go out and achieve them.
2. Create evidence to support your new identity, with tiny actions.
For example, if you want to get in shape and the way you want to do it is by becoming a runner, you would mentally rehearse being a success at that sport. But instead of immediately trying to achieve your goals by willing yourself to go for a run every day - which can quickly lead to pain, and then excuses and quitting - you will achieve faster results if you start by changing your identity and transitioning from someone who may believe that running is hard, to someone who loves to run every day.
To create evidence to support your new identity, start small. Tiny. In this example, don’t run. Walk. Walk until that’s a habit; and then add to it in tiny increments. Keep track of how long you walk every day, and make small improvements and increases in these measurements. The first week, you might walk for 15 minutes a day; the next week, you could run for 2 minutes during those 15 minutes, every day. The following week, you could run for 4 minutes out of those 15. When you’re consistently running for 15 minutes, you could add 2 minutes at a time until you reach your goals.
It’s these small steps, and small wins, that sink in as part of your identity as “a person who loves to walk and/or run, every day.” The actions are small enough, but they add up and multiply quickly, making for a lasting impact. As you create these tiny new habits, every “win” reinforces the new identity by providing evidence of it.
This is an ongoing process.
Sooner rather than later, your identity will change again as mounting evidence takes you beyond the beginner stages toward mastery. You start thinking of yourself not just as someone who loves to walk or run every day, but as “a runner.” Your habit has become your identity and your identity has created the habit. This is much more effective than suddenly trying to change your life by willing yourself to adopt new habits.
Use MindPT as a tool to change your inner reality first - see/think/feel yourself as the type of person you want to be; and support that new identity by creating proof in tiny increments.
To help you see/think/feel yourself as the person you want to be, check out one of the most amazing MindPT Session Bundles we've created to date: "Relax and Keep Calm" - a brilliant collection that includes "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" and "Living the Big Stuff" by Kristine Carlson; "Peace and Productivity" by Dina Proctor"; and "Serafini Mind Spa" and "Calm Down, Relax and Enjoy" by MindPT founder Kim Serafini. This awesome support kit helps you focus on who you really are - and supports YOU in any endeavor!