The Power of Identity

After working with over 550,000 people in seven countries through my seminars and coaching sessions, I have found that when a person makes a change and it lasts, it is because they did not just make a change at the behavioural, emotional or cognitive level, but they make a shift at the level of self-identity.

What is the meaning of identity? Identity is the belief you have about who you are as a person. It is how you see yourself. I remember watching an animated movie called ‘Ice Age 2’ that really illustrates the power of identity. In the movie, there is a mammoth (prehistoric elephant) named Ally who lost her herd when she was just a baby. As a result, she was adopted by a family of possums who brought her up as one of their own. Growing up in a family of possums, she began to believe that she was a possum herself.

The result? She behaved like a possum. She played dead whenever predators like birds flew overhead. She hung upside down to sleep and ran away when other animals came. She never realized that she was a mammoth, the largest and strongest animal around. One day, she met a male mammoth by the name of Manny. Manny tried his best to convince her that she was really a mammoth and she shouldn’t be running away and hiding from everything she saw.

He brought her to a pond and asked her to look at her own reflection to see who she really was. When she looked into the water, she exclaimed, ‘I am a big fat possum!’ She was still not convinced she was a mammoth even though the evidence was right in front of her. What is the lesson in this story?

Many of us are like that mammoth. We have tremendous potential and are capable of amazing things in life. However, as we go through life, we are sometimes convinced by the people around us that we are ‘lazy’, ‘unlucky’, ‘incapable’, ‘weak’ etc… The moment we start to see ourselves as an average person’, we start behaving like one. We start lowering our standards and adopting limiting beliefs and attitudes. Even when we are shown our true potential, we hold onto our limiting beliefs and refuse to see the truth.

The Way You See Yourself Affects Your Destiny

The way you see yourself (your identity) affects what you think you can or cannot do. This in turn affects want you want in life (your goals and standards). What you want will affect what you do (your actions). Finally, your actions will determine your results and ultimately your destiny.

Understanding the power of identity has really impacted my life personally. When I was in primary school, I used to have a very negative self-identity. I used to see myself as loser. I saw myself as a slow, lazy and lousy student. Reflecting back, I have come to realize that my identity was shaped by my past experiences and the negative comments that people kept saying to me.

I used to spend all my time procrastinating, watching TV and playing computer games, instead of doing my homework and studying. I found it difficult to understand and remember what was taught in class, so I didn’t bother to pay attention. As a result, I kept failing my exams and was always among the last in class. My friends would call me stupid and my parents, tutors and teachers kept saying that I was lazy. All these experiences soon shaped the way I saw myself-as a loser.

As long as I saw myself as an underachiever, I never thought that I could ever amount to anything. As a result, I low standards and no future goals. All I wanted to do was pass my exams. Not failing was a great achievement for me. This in turn gave me no inspiration to take action. I would always put in the minimum effort. The result, I kept getting lousy grades. God knows where I would be today if I still held onto that identity. I certainly wouldn’t be the author of this book.

So what made that 180-degree change in my life? I went through a powerful experience that totally changed my identity. At the age of 13, I attended a personal development program for youths. During the programe, we were put through a series of challenging activities to prove to ourselves that we were capable of achieving more than what we thought. I was taught that my past behavior and results did not determine who I was. I alone had the power to choose the person I wanted to be. We were all taught to realize that we had tremendous potential and could achieve anything we put our mind to.

After five days of intensive positive conditioning, I began to see myself as a ‘winner’. I learnt to visualize myself as an ‘A’ student, a winner, a leader and a future millionaire. That simple shift in my mind, made a tremendous shift in my thoughts, behaviours and my life. With this new identity, I began to think that everything was possible in life. I began to set much higher standards for my life. I wanted so much more. I set goals of topping my school, going to university and becoming a successful entrepreneur. I began to behave differently. I started to study hard, ask questions and step up whenever there was an opportunity. No doubt, my grades began to improve and the rest is history. Through my own life experience, I have come to realize that it is only when we change the way we see ourselves, will our entire life change. Today I get a huge level of satisfaction helping both adults as well as youths create shifts in their identity through my life transformational programmes.

Who Are You?
I want you to take a few minutes and to reflect on this question, ‘who are you?’ ‘How do you currently see yourself?’ Do you see yourself as a winner or an average person? A motivated person or a lazy person? An adventurer? A coward? A leader or a follower? Are you a failure or a success? Are you an intelligent person? Are you attractive or unattractive? Be totally honest with yourself and do this exercise now.

Take a look at the identity you have described. Are there certain aspects to your identity that empower you? Of example, if you see yourself as a very determined person, it is unlikely that you will allow yourself to give up easily. At the same time, are there certain aspects of your identity that limit you? For example, if you see yourself as a lazy person, then you will subconsciously behave in a way that is consistent with that identity.

You Are More Than Who You Think You Are

If you have negative or limiting aspects of your identity, the good news is that it is not cast in stone. You can change it! You must remember that the identity that you now have is the result of generalizations you have made of your past experiences and behaviours. It does not define you unless you allow it to.

For example, if you see yourself as a lazy person, how did you create this self-identity? It could be that there were times in the past when you set certain goals and did not follow through. You did not take action at times when you needed to. After witnessing this behaviour in yourself a few times, you came to the conclusion that you are a lazy person. The people around you may have also labeled you as being ‘lazy’ after observing your behaviour. Once you gave yourself that lazy label, it became comfortable and acceptable to keep doing it.

Understand that you are not your past behaviours. Your past behaviours are the result of past choices you have made and emotional states you were in. You have the power at any time to make new choices, put yourself into an empowering state and take action. However, the moment you believe that you are a lazy person, you will not change your choices and your behaviours.

If We Want to Make a Sustainable Change, it Starts With Changing Your Identity

Remember that if you want to change any kind of behaviour or result, you have to first change the way you see yourself. If you want to achieve a greater level of success in your life, you have to first see yourself as a successful person. You will then think and act like a successful person. You will carry yourself differently, speak differently and dress differently. You will spend your time more effectively and demand a lot more from yourself.

Steps to Change your Identity

So, who must you BE to achieve the dreams and the life that that you want? For example, if you want to increase your fitness and health, adopt the identity a healthy and fit person.

If you want to be successful, you have to first adopt the identity of a successful person! You must be someone who is motivated, resilient, decisive and passionate. You must see yourself as a leader and a role model.

Step 1: Write Down Your New Identity
The process begins with you consciously writing down the identity you want for yourself. So take as much time as you need and write down all the parts of your new identity. Do it now!

When I did this exercise many years ago, I wrote down: I am a future millionaire, I am a winner, I am an ‘A’ student, I am fearless, I am an entrepreneur, I am a never say die person etc…

Step 2: Visualize Yourself As That New Person

Everything is first created in the mind before it is manifested in physical reality. For example, if you want to be financially successful, see yourself as a millionaire in your mind. Imagine yourself living the lifestyle you want; living in the home you want, driving the car you want and rmaking million dollar investment decisions. Your mind gives you the power to create anything you want. By visualizing something over and over again with intensity, it programs our subconscious mind to move in that direction, causing us to think and behave in that way.

Step 3: Consciously Act According to Your New Identity

The next thing to do is to follow through with your actions. Consciously decide to act according to your new identity until it reinforces into a habit. For example, if you now want to become a sociable person, start taking the initiative to say hello to people and strike up conversations. Make the effort to remember their names, keep their name cards and to follow up with a call or an email. If it is something you may have never done before (because you were an introvert or shy person) then it may seem uncomfortable at the beginning.

This is where you have to break through your comfort zone and keep doing it over again until it becomes your new comfort zone. The moment it becomes comfortable, your new identity will stay.

Step 4: Make Physical Changes

Finally, you can also make physical changes to reinforce your identity. You could change your hairstyle, your makeup, your clothes and your accessories that are in line with the new you.

The moment I became a speaker, I started to dress differently. I wore suits most of the time and carried a business travel case. I wore my hair in a more mature and professional way. Somehow, our physical appearance affects how we see ourselves and how others see us. You can’t be an achiever and dress in a sloppy manner. It just doesn’t work! So start to look and dress the part and you will become that person you want.

This BLOG post is an extract from my upcoming book ‘Winning the Game of LIfe!’ Do look out for it.