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?


33 thoughts on “How Your Identity Fosters Your Goals”

  1. I love the idea of re-defining a word or act that doesn’t initially agree with you – like marketing. 
    An identity of mine that brings good habits is – resilience. I just don’t stay down after I “fall” so to speak. And an identity that could change is – easily distractable. I blame adhd, but I’m sure I could get creative in combating distraction.
    I also very much agree with the first paragraph of this post! I wrote a post about that on my personal blog last week.. positive affirmations have rarely done it for me.

    1. @deniseurena Ooh. Resilience is a great one! However, I’m blaming you for putting Chumbawumba in my head now. 
      Please, let us know how it goes in creatively combating distraction. I’m sure many of us would like to hear those insights!

  2. I love to think about how my roles influence my behavior. I work hard to identify “sub-identities” that help me motivate my work. For marketing, I think of myself as a “Connector.” I hate marketing, but connecting people who need what I do is much more motivating. Connecting to people, learning their stories, sharing mine– I love doing that!

    1. @PilotFire A connector is a great framework! I’m convinced that nobody who likes marketing DOESN’T have a personal definition of marketing that’s meaningful to them.

  3. I could have written this post, but it would have taken 10,000 words. Shanna, you gotta teach me how to deliver this much punch in such a concise way.
    It’s times like reading a post like this that I’m glad I have my Personal User Guide. A wonderful source of good habits has been my embrace of uncertainty the past few years. Being willing to experiment – regardless of what the outcome may be – allows me to create new habits far faster and much more deeply than I historically have been able to. I love the thought of being a mad scientist and tinkering with my life in crazy ways!
    However, I don’t like my habit of preaching environmental consciousness and not being environmentally conscious. Case in point: disposal diapers for Grant. I’m not slamming other parents for using disposal diapers, but it’s clear that the ecological impact of my decision to have Grant wear disposals five out of the seven days a week (not on the weekends when it’s “easy” to have him in cloth) is not a good one. Time to step up my game yet again? I think so.

    1. @joeyjoejoe Being a mad scientist is a great framework for forming habits! As for Grant, I’m assuming that it’s tough to use cloth diapers because most daycares won’t use them and you can’t exactly carry a diaper pail around with you. I think it’s one of those thing you have to compromise on. The BEST thing would be for us all to live in dense urban areas and walk everywhere. But sometimes we choose to live in the country and keep a car anyway.

    2. @joeyjoejoe Yes, she is laser-sharp with those words, isn’t she! I guess I’ll just keep reading her stuff and comments like yours and continue to learn:-)

  4. Hmm, my own version of this post from our discussion is still percolating. It may or may not eventually make an appearance 🙂
    “I’m the sort of person who…” and “I want to be the sort of person who…” have been crazy powerful phrases for me since I started using them. It might be because the questions are new, not ones I’ve used before when trying to decide how to make changes, but I think it also has to do with the level to which they reach. I’ve never been a good actor, struggling to step outside my own skin and perspective. Coming back to the core me-ness is really helpful for me.
    I’m working now on being the sort of person who maintains an oasis of tranquility. (Not sold on the wording, as it sounds overly dramatic to me, but maybe I need that sort of epic, dramatized feel!) That includes my external space as well as my internal space. I’m taking these one at a time, so who knows what’ll be next? 🙂

    1. @remadebyhand Ha! Oasis of tranquility is exactly the wording I used on my goals for the year.
      Since I started reminding myself “I’m the sort of person who takes care of her things”, I’ve flossed my teeth every night, moisturized, ate better– even spent time this weekend peeling and chopping vegetables to eat during the week. I’m REALLY impressed with how well it worked, and so quickly.

      1. @Shanna Mann Maybe that’s where I saw it! Haha I probably stole it from you. It doesn’t sound like something I’d come up with at all. I’d probably say “organized house” 🙂
        Hearing about your success is inspiring! I’ve definitely been more enthusiastic about my mindfulness program, been emptying the sink of dirty dishes before bed, and when I cleaned yesterday I even wiped the tops of the baseboard (which I should do more often…gross!).

    2. @remadebyhand You know, those Calgon commercials were probably very effective. I mean I can hardly remember anything but I can recall the “take me away” line in their 70s and 80s ads perhaps because they were overly dramatic. The O of T thing sounds good to me!

  5. Heck, I’d take the word ‘market’ out entirely… that helps people a lot.  “I am the type of person who tells people about the different ways I can help them.”  Almost doesn’t even sound like marketing, does it? 
    I love your assessment of joie de vivre and how it applies to you. I, on the other hand, know for a fact that the universe conspires on my behalf. Look at how I made it rain. And actually, I’m having torrential downpour in another life area at the moment too, but that’s another story. 
    On the other hand, I’m definitely working on changing the belief that I’m the type of person who’s supposed to be in the background and not in the spotlight. Podcasting and blogging and speaking engagements, oh my!

        1. @sarahemily Oh no. Sorry Sarah, I meant the market as in grocery store. My mom called it the market.  Poor attempt at humor. My bad! But in your capable hands, a useful analogy is possible:-)

  6. I am not the type of person that tells others what to do, but I don’t mind showing them.
    I told myself that I am a SEAHORSE and I’ll be damned that I am. Idiot at the coffee urn taking 8 minutes to stir in honey and sugar? No trouble at all. I stare out the window and let my thoughts drift through the sea of ideas for my next post or make faces at Tammy and wiggle my tail.
    I am a composer and if that is the case and I want to be able to talk shit about it like I do, then I need to be in the habit of doing it each day. I do edit my pieces and play them each day, but I need to be composing original material. each. day.

  7. michaelwroberts

    I think the identity that’s helped me is being slow to speak when I don’t understand or agree with a situation. Rather than charging in and expressing my feelings, I wait to get a better grasp on where someone is coming from before responding. It’s been incredibly helpful in meetings and email.
    At the same time, I still need to work on being aware of the needs of others to a greater degree. If I’m in a direct conversation, then I can follow with what’s happening. When that person isn’t right in front of me, I’m not thinking enough about how I can further help that person out. (Too much self-awareness, not enough others-awareness!)

  8. Sorry for being so slow to comment, but I had to read the great article you and Erin discussed, read all of the great comments here, and do the exercise you suggested, Shanna.  I love this post, and I’m trying to link it to my word that I chose for the year on Erin’s blog. ‘Compose’
    I think I have multiple identities (one personality though!) that are currently working to some degree:
    I’m the type of person who:  is positive, enjoys fun every day, takes care of her health (didn’t used to!)
    What I need to work on:
    I am the type of person who enjoys writing every day.  So I guess it’s good that I chose the word compose.  I would also like to be an ‘oasis of tranquility’ so thank you Erin and/or Shanna!  Perhaps if I can be the type of person who is composed, I can compose more.

  9. I am not the type of person who likes to be domineering, but I can be assertive when I need to advocate for myself.  <- took me a while to come to that. I’m WAY too accommodating to others and often forget about my own needs (or am afraid to voice them because I don’t like confrontation)

  10. Thea van Diepen

    About the positive affirmations thing, you are totally right about the cognitive dissonance. When we say something that we don’t believe to be true, it actually puts our body under a ton of stress. Say that thing a lot, without ever believing it, and we get chronic stress… which causes a lot of nasty things. Positive affirmations only work if a) you already believe them or b) you can convince yourself that they’re true (which is a little like what you’re talking about here).
    On the other hand, if you say something that you believe to be true, you feel peaceful about it, and you can use that as a way to find out what you believe about yourself already, and to check if you’ve become convinced of something you weren’t before. The easiest way to do that is to get totally relaxed, then say the thing you’re trying to figure out if you believe, and pay attention to how your body reacts. If there’s stress, you don’t believe it. If you feel even more peaceful, you do believe it. And, if you believe whatever you’ve said about yourself, it has already become real in your life. 🙂

    1. @Thea van Diepen “he easiest way to do that is to get totally relaxed, then say the thing you’re trying to figure out if you believe, and pay attention to how your body reacts. If there’s stress, you don’t believe it. If you feel even more peaceful, you do believe it.”
      That’s the whole core of mindfulness right there!  That’s good knowledge to have.

    1. Shanna Mann 
       A-hah!   Yeah
      – googled them, found an interesting history of the band, some lyrics,
      and the video of “Tubthumping” – I don’t think I’d ever heard the song (strike that – ever been *aware of hearing* the song) ,
      but it sure does seem like a viable ear-worm!

  11. “Distraction” – especially ADD-ish distraction – can be somewhat resolved by redefining the term – just like Marketing, above. In conversation with an ADD group last month, we concluded that what looks like “distractions” to the outside world may instead be “Me, clearing out clutter (visual, or emotional or from the ToDo list, or too-small-for-the-to-do-list, but it’s bugging the crap out of me!) before I settle in to work on the Big Project”…Thus: Dishes before sitting down to write; or some weeding in between something else…

  12. sarahemily cjrenzi Hmmmm — seems that CJ had to “market” the idea of “Buy me a Snickers!” to the Mom… convince her of the rightness of the idea, eh?

  13. Thea van Diepen OOh! Thea! I wish there was fireworks to add to a note here!! That’s soooo important, and commonly overlooked – about causing *yourself* to stress about affirmations that you don’t really believe! 
    Thank you for that great insight!

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