How do you identify yourself? If you had to choose three words that most describe who you are, what would they be?
For myself, there are many to choose from like father, man, husband, American, Christian, Rotarian, silver fox, entrepreneur, coach, connector, teacher, and many more.
But which ones really matter? Which would be the most important?
How we identify ourselves and how we speak to ourselves creates our world. In The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, the First Agreement is to be impeccable with your word. Ruiz explains that the use of words casts spells and influences the world around us.
If you tell yourself that you are stupid or helpless or clumsy, your mind will hear those words as instructions and seek to make them true. Likewise, if you tell yourself that you are confident, ambitious, and powerful.
Over the past twenty years, with the very positive intention of destigmatizing mental health challenges, there has been a push to encourage people who suffer from mental health conditions to accept that the condition is part of who they are and not to judge themselves for it.
This is a wonderful thing. It encourages us to measure ourselves against only ourselves, doing the best that we can, rather than measuring against some imaginary concept of perfection.
But this can be taken too far when we embrace the condition as a part of our identity. I have known people with clinical depression and other disabilities who made that a core part of who they are.
The danger in this is that you cannot easily change your core identity. It is who you are. Once you embrace a disability or adversity as part of your core identity, you will guard that part of your identity as you guard every other part. Strategies which might mitigate or even eliminate the adversity are now a threat to you and who you are, and you will resist them.
We should be offended if someone tells us that we cannot do something, but we should be inspired if we are shown ways that someone with our challenges can succeed. However, if we embrace your adversity as part of our identity, we will see such suggestions that our adversity can be overcome as attacks on our identity. We will be offended by the suggestion that it can be overcome because it is part of us instead of simply a challenge we face.
Over the last thirty years, there has been a push towards people first language. “Person with disabilities” instead of “disabled person.” “Person who suffers from alcoholism” versus “alcoholic.”The language is important because when we say “disabled person” then the disability is their identity. When we say “alcoholic” the addiction is their identity.
When we say “person with…” it shows that the person is many faceted and this is just one part of them.
People are increasingly attentive to using people first language when speaking about others, but too often we do not use it when speaking about ourselves.
“I am a minimum wage worker.”
“I am broke.”
“I am a failure.”
When we say “I am” we are putting a stake in the ground and declaring that this point is where I will stand. This is why aspirational language is so powerful.
“I am an entrepreneur” you might say when you first launch your website declaring your business open.
“I am a businessperson” you might say when you get your first job.
“I am an artist” you might say when you create your first work of art.
Consider the two sets of “I am” statements I discussed.
Our minds will seek justification for anything we say. We hate being wrong. If I say that I am broke, then my mind will justify it by making sure that money does not stay in my hands too long. That money makes my statement wrong, and we hate being wrong.
On the other hand, if I say “I don’t have money right now,” or “I am working a minimum wage job right now” then it becomes a situation, not an identity. The difference between “I am cold” (put on a coat to solve that) and “I am always cold” (for which there is no solution).
I have ADHD, and it affects me but does not define me. I identify as an entrepreneur who deals with ADHD. There are many times where the challenges of ADHD affect my work. At those moments, if I identified as a person who was a victim of ADHD, then my mind would seek to justify that identity, causing the disorganization and scattered attention to win.
If I identify instead as an entrepreneur, then my mind will automatically seek to circumvent anything that contradicts my identity. When I am derailed by distraction and disorganization born of ADHD, I will automatically seek to redirect back onto the entrepreneurial path.
While the ADHD is part of who I am, the identity I choose is that of someone who does what he sets out to do. This is how I have hundreds of podcast episodes up, including my Morning Motivation which is about to hit it’s 100th episode of a series which goes out almost every single day. That kind of consistency is not something you expect from ADHD, but it’s something I expect of myself.
The effect is subtle but very powerful.
How do you identify?
Are you broke or are you a person who doesn’t have a lot of money at the moment?
Are you a failed businessperson or are you an entrepreneur who is seeking the next success?
Sit down and write out every word, positive and negative that you might use to describe yourself. Now choose three of them to be the ones that really represent you. And since you’re choosing, you might as well choose the ones you want to be. If you lean into this, you’ll find that you will unconsciously move towards the identity you choose.
If you would like to delve further into this, I would be happy to do a complimentary coaching session with you to explore your self identity and what subtle change you might make to achieve profound results.
To schedule a session, use the calendar below.