One of the best things about the rise of technology is that it has enabled us to connect with people all over the world. I thought about this today when I randomly came across an “over 50 makeup” YouTube personality who was talking about Superhuman by Habit. She was talking about some specific habits that had helped her, and I felt good about myself for being able to impact someone. How interesting to be able to benefit each other across the internet.
It’s also interesting that we have specific identities to each other. To her I’m “the habit guy” and to me she’s “the 50+ makeup lady”. Hopefully there’s a lot more to each of us than that, but the internet has made it so that we come across so many different people that we are forced to distill people down to an identity.
To some extent, I think these identities have always been there, but they’ve been internal. In high school I thought of myself as a slacker who did crazy things. If someone suggested doing a crazy thing, like climbing a construction crane or jumping on a moving train, I would go do it. I liked doing those things, but I also felt some sort of obligation to my identity. People liked me for who I was, so on some subconscious level I wanted to reaffirm that identity.
This was also true of negative habits like slacking off. Even if I had time to do some homework and really didn’t mind doing it, I might be more likely to put it off and try to do it in the morning before class, because that’s who I was.
One of my identities was someone who was shy and bad with girls. When I learned pickup and, over the course of a couple years, shifted my identity to being someone who was good with girls, two things changed.
First, I realized that identity was malleable. If I could go from being so bad to so good at something that felt like a core attribute of who I was, I could probably do that with anything.
Second, people just updated their map of my identity. Once I tried to show off for some friends to walk up to a random girl and get her number, in hopes that it would inspire them to also learn about pickup. I overheard one say to the other, “Well yeah, but he’s always been good with girls.” Nothing could have been further from the truth, of course, but it was interesting to see how quickly I could be redefined.
The point is, we treat identity as a boundary, when really it’s just an ephemeral summary.
It matters somewhat how others think of us, but it matters far more how we think of ourselves. It’s so common to see someone who lets a negative identity hold them back. They’re a loser, or poor, or lazy, or flaky, or a liar. No one wants to be those things, but it’s comfortable to live up to your identity, and most people’s actions are dictated more by comfort than desire.
How do you want to think of yourself? How would you like others to see you?
Really think about it. As you do, you’ll probably find your mind shooting down ideas. You’ll think, “I want people to think of me as funny”, and your brain will say “but you’re not.” Push through that and allow yourself to be honest about how you want to be seen.
Think about how people see you now. Some people will have trouble being honest with themselves here, either because they’ll put themselves down or because they’re too blind to their weak points. Sometimes it’s easier to think about how you would see a clone of yourself.
I have a fundamental belief that others will always see you for who you are. You can try to hide it and can limit interactions to the superficial to prevent them from figuring you out, but I think these efforts usually fail, especially with time. Because of this you must actually become who you want to be seen as, and you should advertise accurately (i.e. don’t try to pretend you’re someone that you’re not).
Identify the gap between how you want to be seen and who you actually are, and work on closing that gap. If you used to procrastinate like I did, update your identity to “someone who is working on overcoming procrastination”. It’s honest, but it’s also useful, unlike “someone who procrastinates”. Don’t try to fix everything at once, just pick one or two things and get them to where you want them to be.
Catch yourself when you say things that reinforce a bad identity. If someone says, “I’m always late”, I know they are not going to change. Subtle things like blaming things on “the rich” are also bad, because they reinforce your identity as someone who is poor. Identity is just a construction of language, so we can’t allow ourselves to use language to cling to bad identities.
I will literally never say anything bad about myself that is forward-looking. I don’t mind saying, “Wow, I really messed that up. I’m totally responsible and should have known better.”, but I will never say, “I’m such a loser. I always mess stuff up.” Our brain, which controls most of our actions through the subconscious, is programmed by our thoughts and speech.
Don’t choose a one-size-fits-all template of an identity. Don’t be “a gamer” or “a stoner” or “an entrepreneur”. Those are boring and limiting. Make up your own identity that is true to who you are and how you want to live. It should be a little bit difficult to describe yourself, because no individual can honestly be categorized easily, but it should not be impossible, because you should know who you are.
Photo is a helicopter we saw on Lake Mead. I think it was some sort of military exercise.
For the first time in years today I had the thought, “maybe I’ve written everything I have to write and I should stop blogging.” Then I thought about the people who prepaid a year of Patreon and felt like I couldn’t quit!