Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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How Your Identity Fosters Your Goals

We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence is not then an act, but a habit.

~ Aristotle

I’ve never been very impressed with affirmations. I think they’re kind of hokey, and when you are knowingly lying to yourself, I think the cognitive dissonance is considerable, especially when you’re already having trouble reading your gut and trusting yourself. I think a certain amount of ‘fake it til you make it is fine, but take it too far and soon you won’t know who you really are.

The other day Erin and I were discussing this excellent article which talks about how the habits tied to your identity are amongst the strongest. I know this for myself to be true because my identity of being the ‘type of person who’s on top of things’ has been the foundation of a great many good habits.

Try This Exercise

Try this for yourself. Make a short list of the “type of person you are” or perhaps equally useful might be the type of person you are NOT. (The skill of steering away from the shoals is just as useful as the skill of blue water sailing.)

Do any of the habits or goals you want to create tie naturally into that?

For me, I think of myself as a reasonably conscientious person, so “Stewardship” isn’t too much of a leap. It’s easy for me to think, “I’m a reasonably conscientious person. I’m the type of person who takes care of her things.” And suddenly, I have an identity that applies to any number of habits, from folding clothes right out of the dryer to flossing to negotiating household bills.

In fact, ALL of my virtues tie fairly tightly into my personal identity– except, perhaps joie de vivre.

When Identity Is A Stretch

So what do I do when joie de vivre isn’t “me”? I’ve chosen to define joie de vivre as “I choose to believe that the universe is conspiring on my behalf.”

I don’t *actually* believe that. I don’t think the universe takes any interest at all in me. I don’t think any human life has any more meaning than that of a mayfly and I’m baffled by those who do. I’m aware that choosing to believe the universe is looking out for me is a mental trick of perspective, like putting a mirror at the end of a hallway to make it seem longer.

So how do I tie joie de vivre into my mental image of self image? Well, let’s brainstorm.

  • I’m not the type of person who takes things too seriously. Or alternately, I’m not the type of person who makes things harder on herself by adhering too strictly to an impossible standard. 
  • I’m the type of person who delights in small pleasures and laughs often.
  • I’m the sort of person who enjoys life for its own sake, not any putative “meaning” it might have.
  • I’m the sort of person who would rather focus on the positive than the negative. Although I strive for a balanced perspective, focussing on the positive has numerous additional benefits and fewer drawbacks than being strictly realistic.

Ah. Suddenly “choosing to believe the universe is conspiring on my behalf” sounds totally like me!

The Business Tie-In

This is a skill you can use to your advantage in business, since tying certain behaviors to your identity can have pitfalls.

For instance, I’ve had dozens of people tell me they’re “not the type of person who can market themselves.”

Solution? Either change the definition of marketing to something you are able to do. (It really helped me when Sarah described Twitter as a lounge or bar where you just go to hang out or make friends)

Or change your identity to “I can market any product or service I believe will help people” and then just focus on offering something that will really, really help people. Then the more you’re really helping, the better you’ll feel about telling people about it.

Acknowledge when your identity doesn’t help you in any way (“I’m not the type of person who puts themselves out there“) and take steps to adjust that identity in the direction you want to go (“I’m not the type of person to dominate conversation, but in the process of connecting with people, I’m not afraid to tell people what I’m all about.“) And celebrate the ones that really help you out. (“I might not be the smartest person, but I’m tenacious, and that gets me a lot farther than the “smart” people who refuse to put in the effort.“)

What identity has been the source of good habits for you, and which ones are you going to work on changing?