- I don’t know how to control myself around food.
- I’m an obsessive eater.
- I’m not a disciplined person.
- I’m a control freak.
- I don’t know how to motivate myself.
- I’m too shy to talk to new people.
- I always give up on myself, so that will never work.
- I failed at that before, so I’m a failure.
- I’m closed-off, insecure, lazy, unpleasant, unworthy, un-loveable, [enter negative story].
We all define ourselves with the adjectives and words we have available, and we’re usually doing this unconsciously. Oftentimes, we’ve assumed these narratives from someone else—potentially someone we held in high regard.
Or perhaps we made a decision that wasn’t in alignment with our true, deeper values, such as lying, cheating, gossiping, failing to adhere to our responsibilities, or procrastinating, and we allow that one instance to define us. Every one of us has been here!
Rather than detaching from that one behavior, or even a series of behaviors, we begin to assume these behaviors as our identities. Rather than saying “I was emotional, zoned out, and over-ate.”, we tell ourselves, “I am an overeater”.
If we tell ourselves the latter, how do you think we’re going to act next time?
We’ll likely act in alignment with what we believe to be who we are.
We’d rather not experience the discomfort of misalignment with our “identities”, despite the harm we’re inflicting upon ourselves.
The truth is, we can reinvent ourselves at any time. Sure, there are characteristics and limitations that are hardwired into us (nature), but even then, I believe we can learn how to make subtle changes that enable us to use these to our benefit. Or at least temper them.
By adhering to these narrow definitions of ourselves, we immediately remove the possibility of experiencing personal growth and evolution.
I clung tightly to my identity as an obsessive and neurotic eater who couldn’t be trusted to make my own decisions around food, and all of my behaviors were consistent with this narrative.
By assuming this as my identity, I didn’t have to take responsibility for my own decisions, and I succumbed to this definition of WHO I was, rather than looking at my choices as simply behaviors. And behaviors are malleable.
It wasn’t until I took responsibility for the ability to write my own damn story that I was able to make changes counter to this notion of myself.
Slowly but surely, I grew to understand and accept that I was perpetuating my own suffering.
As another example, we may have made “practical” decisions at one point in our lives that truly felt right to us at the time (or didn’t, but we made them anyways), and before we know it, we and others have labeled ourselves as “practical”.
There isn’t a lot of wiggle room there, so what happens when our heart and soul are begging us to make decisions that are more unconventional? An identity crisis.
Begin to Detach
Instead of clinging to these words and stories, what would happen if we began to separate them from our identities?
There would be a world of possibilities! And a lot more personal responsibility. Rather than believing we are the victim of pre-determined traits and qualities, we would then be forced to reconcile with the fact that we’re actively playing a part in our stories. Initially uncomfortable, but also liberating AF.
How does one do this?
- Take an honest inventory and make a list of the words and narratives you use to define yourself.
- Ask yourself if you’re happy and in alignment with them. Are they serving you today and where you want to be in the future?
- Be radically honest about how you’re responsible for perpetuating the story. Taking responsibility for this can be frustrating and painful, but it’s worth it! (reminding myself here)
- Write down the behaviors you prefer to exhibit. ***We don’t want to get attached to another identity here—so focus on behaviors only.***
- Remind yourself that your identity is always malleable (and perhaps false altogether), and this is a constant process of reinvention.
- Put these new behaviors into action! This process takes time, but the belief that they can change is hugely transformational in itself.
In order to grow beyond our current struggles and our current versions of ourselves, we have to be willing to let our labels and narratives die. To let the former and current versions of ourselves die. This can be scary as hell, but it can also the source of a new beginning whenever we’re ready and willing.