Have you ever found yourself thinking: "I wish I was the kind of person who..."?
I know I have...
I wanted to be the kind of person who works out all the time
I wanted to be the kind of person who eats healthy
I wanted to be the kind of person who levels up in their career
But when I had those thoughts, I wasn't that kind of person.
Like most people, I assumed my identity was fixed. That I could only be the person I was right then and there.
Luckily, I was wrong.
I know I was wrong because I ended up becoming the person who works out, who eats healthy, and keeps growing their career, even though I didn't start that way.
So what changed?
Every time I’ve made a life change that stuck, It started with changing my identity. According to bestselling author Nir Eyal:
So if you want to change how you act, you first need to change who you believe you are (a.k.a your identity). The question is, how do you do that?
How to change your identity
Let me start by sharing a story.
I was not an athletic kid. I hated gym class and did everything I could to avoid breaking a sweat.
In my early 20s I realized I need to be more active to stay healthy so I would take the occasional walk or aerobics class, but I couldn't stick with it.
I assumed I just wasn't the kind of person who can regularly work out.
But then something changed...
I had just moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) and he was the epitome of a gym rat.
My boyfriend decided he wanted to start running. He thought moving some of his workouts outside would be good for his mental health.
Every Sunday he would ask me to join him, and almost every time I said "no thank you".
But there was this one time when I had nothing better to do, so I joined him.
The track was packed full of "athletes" wearing Nike and ugly $200 running shoes. Everyone looked like they belonged there, except me.
I put on my headphones and started walking. I passed a few runners who could have been models, but then I saw a group of teenagers, a mom with a stroller, and a couple in their 70s. They were all running and sweating but they seemed...happy.
My mind started racing: "If normal people can do this, I should be able to do this".
Before I knew what was happening my legs started moving and I was running. It only lasted about a minute, but I did it. I ran.
That was the beginning of forming a new identity. Maya, the runner.
It took me 4 weeks to run 1k, and another 3 months to do a 5k run, but I've been running ever since.
(Yes, I got the fancy ugly shoes too)
What actually happened?
- I saw my boyfriend work out 5 times every week and I got jealous. It made me feel bad for not working out.
- I saw people like me, do things I told myself I couldn't do. It was proof I was lying to myself.
- I stopped thinking "I can't" and started realizing I can, but "I don't". While you can't argue with "I can't", you can easily change "I don't" by taking action.
- I slowly started changing my identity by "faking it". I bought running clothes, invested in running shoes, and even upgraded my headphones to make me feel like a professional athlete. I read about running and started following a few influencers to get tips and motivation. I also had my boyfriend keep me accountable. It was now clear to both of us I can run, so I couldn't make any excuses.
How to change your identity to become the person you want to become:
1. Make a conscious choice to try. Describe the change you want to make, even if you don't yet believe it is possible: "I want to become the kind of person who..."
2. Watch your self-talk. Stop telling yourself "I can't" and instead use "I don't".
Turn "I can't run" to "I don't run"
Turn "I can't eat healthy" to "I don't eat healthily"
Turn " I can't get an executive role" to "I'm not an executive".
3. Find a role model. When you think about the kind of person you want to become, who comes to mind? Can you think of anyone who embodies those traits, habits, or skills?
Use them as your role model. Study what they do, how they act, and what they say. Get so familiar with them that it feels like you are friends.
4. Start thinking and acting like your role model. Adopt their beliefs, repeat phrases they use, and try to develop similar routines.
Every time you need to make a decision ask yourself: What would [your role model] do?
5. Join a community of people who embody the person you want to become.
Want to start running? Join a community of runners
Want to become a people manager? Join a professional group of leaders
Positive peer pressure and our natural desire to "fit in" will help shift your mindset toward your new identity.
It's a process
Changing our identity takes time. It requires us to let go of the person we are right now, to become the person we want to be.
It's a process, but after you put on this "new identity costume" a few times, it will start to feel comfortable, until eventually, it won't feel like a costume at all.
I believe in you.