Creating Identity Change

Creating identity change is difficult. Because we might feel conflicting thoughts between who we are and what we are trying to do:

"This is not me"
"I could never be that person"
"This really doesn't fit my personality"
"I would never like doing this activity"

Maybe it is because our current identity is the biggest obstacle towards achieving positive change, refusing to believe that the new behaviour is someone who we can truly become.

"Whatever you think is stopping you from living the life you want is not stopping you, only you can stop you. "

Nevertheless, to change means letting go of the old and accepting the new:

“Every next level of your life will require a different you.”

- Leonardo DiCaprio

Fortunately, identity change can be made easier - by understanding how the old can accept the new you. First, we dive into the concept of self. Then, we examine how a new identity can be created through learning and habits.

The Concept of Self

Your is identity a concept of self -  which is an understanding of who you are based on your personal experiences. It's how you tend to label yourself in situations and how you view yourself as a person:

"The individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is"

- Baumeister

Changing this self is a constant process, as each experience adds to your identity and repertoire of thoughts, feelings and beliefs. These experiences are stored in your memory as synopses - a condensed little story that includes your judgement of the experience you had.

In other words, your memory of these synopses becomes part of the lens through which you see and experience everything. These memories are tied to emotions, based on deeply emotional experiences that then became your reason for believing and acting the way you do. Therefore, to change, you need to start creating 'credible' experiences that your concept of self can accept as a new part of you.

Creating 'Credible' Behaviour

"Often it is not the person that you think you are that is holding you back, but the person you think you are not. "

Even though our identity help us to make a story of who we are, it also makes us blind to the adoption of new identity traits because we don't see how they can become part of us. This creates a complication, because we cannot use what we already are, to disprove what we are not;

"In order to have what you really want, you must first let yourself be who you truly are. "

To become a new person the simple solution is to disprove to yourself who you think you cannot be. In other words, field test your false assumptions and create evidence that disproves your limiting belief. It is a step by step process that goes like this:

"This thing isn't me, but I want it to be."
"Okay maybe it's something I can do in small steps, if I really do my best."
"Hey I see I can actually do it!"
"I can do this because I'm made for this"

Put differently, new identity traits become a part of us once we have credible evidence for them.

"It's the mind the creates the chasm, and the heart that crosses over it. "

- Nisargadatta Maharaj

As a result of this process of identification with new identity traits, we broaden our horizon and recognize capabilities and skills we never thought we would or could have.

"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

The path to True Knowledge

Zeno, the founder of Stoicism had his own way of describing this process . He posed that there were four stages of development, which he illustrated with the example of the flat, extended hand, and the gradual closing of the fist:


Zeno stretched out his fingers, and showed the palm of his hand, – "This is Perception," – he said.

Then, when he had closed his fingers a little, – "Assent is like this."

Afterwards, when he had completely closed his hand, and showed his fist, he said:

"This is Comprehension. He also gave that state a new name, calling it katalepsis (κατάληψις).

But when he brought his right hand against his left, and with it took a firm and tight hold of his fist: – "Knowledge" – he said, was of that character; and that was what none but a wise person possessed.

- Zeno of Citium

We can relate these steps of development with the concept of self;

  • Perception means becoming aware of what isn't part of you
  • Assent means learning to accept that it can become a part of you
  • Comprehension means fully grasping, internalizing and incorporating it as a part of you
  • Knowledge means 'knowing', realizing it has become a part of your sense of self

Comprehension is the crucial step in this process, because through comprehension, we create credible behaviour and internalize the new identity trait as a part of our new sense of self.

Learn Skills & Create New Habits

In short, learning new skills and creating new habits help us to overwrite our concept of self and transform into the person we wish to become.

Baumeister, R. F. (Ed.) (1999). The self in social psychology. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press (Taylor & Francis).

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