Your “Identity” shapes your life.
Identity is a fascinating thing. I’m referring to your internal belief structure as to who you are and how you fit into this world. Eckhart Tolle defines it this way, “In the egoic state, your sense of self, your identity, is derived from your thinking mind – in other words, what your mind tells you about yourself: the storyline of you, the memories, the expectations, all the thoughts that go through your head continuously and the emotions that reflect those thoughts. All those things make up your sense of self.“
The vast majority of people have never consciously thought about what shapes their identity, thus it happens unconsciously. But how you define your identity determines whether you are happy, emotionally stable, balanced, easily controlled by others and beyond this, it has a huge impact on your experiences in life.
And yes, you can change your self-identify. The most straightforward way of changing your identity is to become conscious of your own internal “Identification Process”. When you become conscious of this process, you can choose to detach your sense of self from external forces or influences that have no business being part of “you”.
Here are some examples of how you trap yourself into your identity, and how to change your circumstances…
Tying Your Identity to Your Actions
Many people tie their identity to their actions in life. In other words, they tie their identity to their successes or their failures.
The danger of this, of course, is that when you fail (which you will because failure is part of life) your self-worth takes a nosedive, while successes give you a short-term high. Either way, if you tie your identity with your actions, you are sentencing yourself to a life of ups and downs based on something external from yourself. Yes, it’s healthy to feel good when you succeed and feel upset when you fail, but it shouldn’t be a bone-jarring, life-questioning moment.
Mark Manson, put’s it so eloquently, “It’s one thing to say, “I want to start going to the gym every week.” It’s another to say, “It’s time I finally change and become the type of person who goes to the gym each week.”
The first statement is simple. You want to go to the gym. So, you go (or not).
The second statement implies that to go to the gym, you must completely reinvent yourself. And that raises the emotional stakes massively. If you succeed (spoiler: you won’t), you’ll gain this blissful feeling of being a “new person,” which will last until the next time you feel crappy and want to “change” again. If you fail, you’ll chastise yourself for your irredeemable sloth.
Mark goes on to say, “…that’s the problem with getting your identity involved. If/when you fail at something, you start thinking: “Maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe I’m not one of those gym people. Maybe this just isn’t me. So why even try?” Because you’ve decided these arbitrary actions represent the totality of your character, you will view your failure to get off your ass and put on yoga pants as a verdict on your value as a human being. You will hate yourself. And you will be less motivated to “change” or do anything else in the future.
Mark’s advice? “...there’s no such thing as a “gym person.” There are just people who go to the gym. Similarly, there’s no such thing as a “productive person.” There are just people who do productive things fairly often. There’s no such thing as a “lovable person.” There are just people who aren’t selfish twats.”
Mark believes in the importance of maintaining an identity that is defined by as little as possible. I agree, but there’s more to it.
Identifying with A Bad Habit
Why is it so hard to quit smoking? Most people will say that it’s because nicotine is addictive. I would argue, however, that it’s because the person has identified themselves as a smoker. This means that all efforts that the person takes to quit smoking goes against what they actually believe about themselves deep down.
So, like a plane flying on autopilot, you can take the controls and change your direction temporarily (willpower), but when you let go of the controls the autopilot will take over again and you will start smoking again (identity). Willpower can NEVER beat your self identity.
So what is the solution? Even before you quit the physical process of smoking, change your personal identity to the opposite of a smoker. See yourself as a healthy, vibrant person (a non-smoker) and as soon as you actually believe it, your act of smoking will fall away.
Tying Your Identity to Your Past
Another way people hurt themselves is by tying their identity to past events and strong negative emotions tied to those events, such as guilt, shame or unworthiness. These past ties can be like anchors slowing you down and preventing you from moving forward and finding the happiness that is possible.
You are not your past. You have to cut these negative emotions to past events. The first step is to forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Learn from it, let it go and move on. Sometimes it may take more than this though. Maybe you’ll have to cut ties with certain friends who won’t let you forget the past, or maybe you’ll need to move to a new location.
Tying Your Identity to Your Pain
I’m sure you have met someone who defines themselves by some powerfully negative experience, such as rape, cancer, a crime, or a business failure. This experience didn’t just happen to them, but rather it became them. All of their thoughts and memories are tainted from this experience.
Just to be clear, people handle situations in different ways and this can be part of the coping process. But if this describes you, and if you are ready to move on from this, you need to know that you can move on. You can change how you define your self-identity so that the negative experience doesn’t define you anymore.
A good book for this is Mind over Mood.
Other Identity Pitfalls
You can identify yourself with your beliefs, such as politics, or your fears, or your gender or race. But again, you don’t have to. If you are ready to move on, consciously think about what external things you are identifying yourself with, and detach yourself from that.
What Should I Identify With?
Our happiness and overall satisfaction with life depends upon our self-identity. Most people never think about this, and their identity remains an unconscious mystery. But you can become conscious of this identification process and purposely change it.
Earlier I shared Mark Manson’s beliefs that you should identify with as little as possible. But this still begs the question, “What should I identify with?”
I think this is something that we each have to answer for ourselves, but for me, the answer is simple; I am Soul and God loves me unconditionally (God loves everyone). This is where I dwell (or strive to dwell) because this is the only permanent thing in my life.
Everything else is impermanent. I strive to live the best life I can, but whether I succeed or fail, whether I lose everything or gain riches, I rest in the knowledge that God loves me. That is all.
One Final Point
I want to end by saying that I have noticed that a lot of young people nowadays are dealing with depression and a lack of sense of purpose. I think this perspective could help them, so please pass it on.