If you ask most people will tell you that it’s very, very difficult to change some aspect of yourself. Almost impossible, even.
That the thing you’d like to change is deeply ingrained in who you are, is who you’ve always been, and is who you always will be because, well, that’s who you are!
But, truth be told, you’re much more than that.
We’ve already talked about how our identities are shaped by our environment, and by other sources too. We also saw that none of these identities are necessarily truer than any others; they’re just beliefs we adopted at some point in time.
The problem with many of our identities is that we adopted them so long ago that they no longer serve us.
Instead of helping us achieve our goals and become the person we aspire to be, they’re actually getting in our way. That’s why they’re called limiting beliefs, identities that restrict our potential to achieve the things we want.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of limiting beliefs:
Suppose you want to start an online business or some big project, but you believe that you’re one of those people who never finishes what they start.
Well, it’s pretty clear how that’s going to play out, right?
Even if you begin with all the excitement and motivation in the world, your online business will just be another project that barely makes it past the conceptual stage. And it will be yet another piece of evidence that reinforces your limiting belief and identity as a person who starts a lot of things but never finishes them. To break the cycle, the first thing you need to do is [activate your Doer Energy] and discover your ability to complete things (in fact, if this sounds like you, do this before you even consider starting anything else!)
Let’s suppose now you’ve always considered yourself bad at managing your time. The chatter inside your head would go a little something like, “I never have time for anything,” or “I always leave everything to the last minute,” or “I’m a mess and always miss deadlines.”
It won’t matter what time management or productivity techniques you use or how many books you read about it.
Until you change those limiting beliefs, no strategy will work. The only way to manage your time is to start by making yourself the true master of your time. It’s only once you own your time that you can use it to be productive.
What about if you’ve never considered yourself a fit person and tell yourself things like, “I’ve never been able to get in shape,” or “I could never get rid of this belly,” or “I’m not the muscular type”?
Well, you’ll never get the physique you want, no matter how hard you train, no matter how many diets you force yourself through, no matter how many hours you sweat doing cardio… until you tackle the root of the problem.
Basically, your mind will persuade you into giving up that “absurd, silly goal” before you start to see some visible changes in your body.
Any goals that are outside your comfort zone will also be outside your reach until you pinpoint what identity and limiting beliefs are keeping you down. Those ideas created your comfort zone and they’ll keep you in it as long as you hold onto them.
To break that vicious cycle, you need to take charge of and redefine your identities with these 3 steps:
Step 1: Find Your Limiting Identities
The first step is to make yourself aware of your limiting beliefs.
It sounds simple but many of these beliefs are so ingrained in our subconscious that we need to work hard to bring them to the surface. Some people call this your “shadow” because that’s usually what you don’t see of yourself. One great tool to discover this is honest self-inquiry. Another one is gathering honest feedback from people close to you.
Once you’re aware of a limiting belief, start paying attention to how it acts in your daily life. Not all of our identities are in play at the same time and a good way to see how they operate is to look at your everyday decision-making.
If you can, dig even deeper. Figure out when you first absorbed that identity.
For example, I always thought I was a shy person.
But it wasn’t the kind of thing I really thought about much. I just thought it was the way I was and that’s it. So, I didn’t even think to question it (“wait… why am I shy?“)
So, the first step I took to overcome this identity was to understand that I didn’t have to be shy. In fact, I wasn’t born shy—which is always a good thing to remember—it’s something that I fabricated somewhere along the way.
Replace “shy” with “stubborn,” “sloppy,” or whatever identity you constantly find yourself grasping for when you’re trying to justify something. It’s not hard to find them once you start looking. Chances are you’ve probably repeated that story to yourself and others hundreds of times.
Step 2: Look for Exceptions to the Rule
The second step to redesigning yourself is to look for evidence that doesn’t match with the identity you want to break free from. Basically, you’re looking for exceptions to the rule to remind yourself that you made up the rule.
The easiest way to do this is to look for evidence of the exact opposite of your identity.
We tend to filter out evidence that doesn’t support our beliefs. Psychologists call this confirmation bias and it affects all of us. The deeper your beliefs and identities run within you, the stronger this bias will be and the harder it will be to find contradictory evidence.
In other words, we see the world as we are, not how it is.
That’s precisely the foundation we need to chip away at.
We need to stop seeing our identities as accurate representations of reality. We have to weaken their strength by question them and unfilter our perception to let in evidence that doesn’t support our current beliefs.
Remember how I used to believe I was shy? One step I took to overcome that identity was opening myself up to noticing how some of my behavior betrayed that belief. I noticed how I would stop to pet a dog on the street and end up talking to its owner for a while, or help some lost tourists find their way and having a conversation with them, or just greeting people when I walked into a bar.
These sure didn’t look like the actions of a shy person.
All of this evidence started weakening the identity that had, until then, felt firmly rooted inside of me. It activated my brain’s astounding capacity to reconfigure itself. Instead of seeing my identity as fixed, I started seeing it as fluid and contextual.
Step 3: Defining New Identities
The third step is to replace your limiting identity with a different one. This is more of an art than anything else.
Because your mind has spent so many years firmly believing that certain identities were absolute truths and it’s not going to change without putting up some resistance. It’s not going to immediately admit a belief that’s the radical opposite of what it always held to be true. To convince your mind, you’ll have to progress more gradually.
Plus, it won’t do us any good to simply deny our currently identity (“I’m not shy anymore“). In fact, before we can redefine it, we have to accept it as part of ourselves.
What I mean is that I know there are moments and circumstances in which shyness is present in me and I accept that for what it is. But that’s not at all the same thing as defining myself as a shy person.
See the difference?
We transform the limiting identity into something circumstantial—which is what it’s been all along—instead of considering it as our fixed way of being.
For example, I can admit that there are situations in which I leave things unfinished (circumstantial), but also that I am a person who finishes what they start (identity).
In fact, you don’t even always have to adopt a brand new identity. Sometimes all you need to do is a bit of what I call “volume adjustment”: lowering the volume of the limiting belief and raising the volume of another already present identity, one that does a better job serving you.
It would have been impossible for me to convince my mind overnight that I now was an extrovert and no longer a shy person. In fact, that would have been the perfect recipe for failure.
So instead, I started paying attention to those situations where the shy-me was present. What I noticed in those cases is that, while I sometimes start off feeling shy, I usually ended up connecting with a new person soon after and enjoying myself.
So I took this and converted it into an identity: “I like meeting and connecting with new people.” Combining this with the awareness that I wasn’t actually shy from birth was enough to change my self-image and the way I interacted with the world.
How to Convince Your Mind
Neuroscience tells us that at each and every moment our brain has the capacity to reconfigure any of the neuronal pathways and connections it constructed over the years. So the work of convincing our mind basically comes down to two things: evidence and awareness.
It’s important to catch your mind red-handed, in the moments when any of these limiting beliefs flare up, so you can remind yourself that it’s entirely contextual and not a matter of who you are.
You also have to be alert to all the evidence that you couldn’t see before, the evidence that will positively reinforce the new identity you want to craft for yourself.
Obviously, this isn’t an instantaneous process. Some identities can take a lot of time to redefine, depending on how deeply ingrained your existing beliefs are and how much relevant evidence you can find. But, still, you’re going to start seeing changes from day one.
It’s not an easy job but it’s worth doing.
Redesigning yourself will open up new doors to achieving your goals and obtaining the abilities you’ve already dreamed of. Plus, you’ll get closer and closer to being the person you always wanted to be, which is the whole point.
My Personal Progress
Let me share some of the identities I’m personally working on, in case any of these can serve as inspiration to you:
“I finish what I start”: Very useful for a wide range of areas in your life, such as reaching your goals, following through on commitments, and creating habits. As you can imagine, this is one of the pillars that sustains a total Doer, so elevating your Doer Energy is the best way to get evidence that will support this identity.
“Each day I have more energy”: For me, this belief requires a string of supporting evidence related to nutrition, rest, and exercise, together with an understanding of how energy levels work in the body.
“Each day my body is in better shape”: This goes hand in hand with the last one, obviously, but it is really important since our minds are programmed for self-induced mental aging.
“I can create time for everything”: Time management techniques don’t work. I needed a whole new belief that enabled me to master my time.
“I enjoy helping and serving others”: This is another example of a situation that I enjoy and an identity I’m working to turn up the volume on. If you think about it in terms of karma, adopting this idea makes good sense.
“I create my own luck”: As opposed to “good things happen to me randomly.” I believed that for many years, as if I had nothing to do with how my life turned out. It took a lot of intense work to find evidence of how I created my own luck and I’m still on the lookout for more.
And you, how would you like to redesign yourself? Leave a comment and let me know.