Harnessing the Power of Self-Identity

MIrrorSo often we talk about how to get beyond the limiting, even destructive identities we create for ourselves or have been imposed on us in our lives. The fact is, no one should feel beholden to a definition that hampers their self-actualization or undercuts their physical or emotional well-being. That said, what if we examined the flip side of this equation? We often assume a fixed identity is something that works against our greater good, but what if – under the right circumstances – it can be a positive, grounding influence that helps circumscribe our daily decisions in a healthy way? Consider reader Steve’s thought-provoking comment on a post from this past summer regarding “The Uses and Abuses of Guilt”:

As for guilt/shame, I feel them whenever I act (eat) in a way that is not consistent with my identity as a person. Goals may come and go, so I don’t use goals as a motivator, but identity is a constant. Along this line, I know we all have the freedom of choice, but for me, I choose to live as though I have ‘no choices,’ meaning my identity determines actions, and decisions almost make themselves.

While he later suggests this approach isn’t for everyone, I think he’s onto something here. Can we harness the powerful psychological sway of self-identity to train our own behavior toward healthy living?

The Power of Identity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the psychology of living well. Why does it seem to come fairly easily to some, while others continually struggle? While I believe we’re creatures of free will (at least in the colloquial sense), the consciousness that gets us there isn’t usually automatic. We have whole evolutionary schema to consider as well as decades of personal scripts that subtly steer our actions and reactions. This said, the more conscious we are of their influences, the more critically aware we can be of their role in our thinking – for better or for worse. Likewise, we make room to consider other information and cultivate the ability to more evenly weigh various perspectives. In other words, we consciously choose what we want to direct our decisions in any given situation.

Self-identity is perhaps the most formidable or at least confounding of these influences. Our basic animal natures might be the most inherently entrenched, but they’re relatively simple. When we have the humility to acknowledge them, we understand that they’re fairly straightforward. Self-identity, however, is richly layered, often unconsciously complex. And it’s much more powerful than we tend to give it credit for. How we identify ourselves (including those characteristics others perceive or impose that we accept into our self-definition consciously or unconsciously) can influence our assumptions about everything from our intelligence to our mental stability, our athletic ability to our general health and well-being. If we don’t identify ourselves as athletic, how likely is it that we’ll pursue athletic abilities on any level? If we accept that we’re sickly, how likely is it that we’ll ever believe we can truly thrive? If we believe that we don’t have much self-discipline, in how many areas of our lives will this “truth” play out?

Harnessing Self-Identity

Yet, as Steve suggests, we can take advantage of our own assumptions when the self-identity we’re working with supports good choices. If our self-identity was defined in such a way that we gravitated toward the things we wanted anyway, wouldn’t it free up an immense amount of mental energy and emotional bandwidth? We could, as he suggests, let our identity home in on what felt right or “true” to ourselves.

The power to harness here is our natural affinity toward congruence. We want our experience to match our assumptions – about the world and ourselves. In fact, we’ll often go to great lengths to unconsciously manipulate behavior or deny certain data in order to attain that secure sense of congruence. We crave certainty after all – confirmation that what we believe is true. We see it in the context of large groups, but it operates much the same in the space of our individual minds.

Some of us may be totally dumbfounded at the thought of someone losing 100 pounds but putting it back on because – perhaps at least in part – the new image in the mirror was too foreign to mentally assimilate. We may scratch our heads (or bang them against a wall) wondering why a smart person who knows better continually chooses the wrong relationships or unhealthy lifestyle options. Somewhere in their minds, there’s a pattern to fit, and come hell or high water something in their brain is going to make the pieces fit.

The yearning for congruence can be a neurotic, self-sabotaging undercurrent in our lives or a healthily gratifying, simplifying well-spring. If our self-concept, for example, includes a “sensitivity” to sugar, caffeine and artificial ingredients, we’re more likely to steer away from them. If we conceive of ourselves as an avid meat eater, guess what we’ll make sure we seek out at the buffet? If we believe we can’t live without movement or the outdoors, we’ll make time for them. If we’re convinced we’ve always loved sleep and need nine luxurious hours of it every night, you can imagine we’ll prioritize it.

There’s an enormous difference between reading that the human body functions optimally on an average of 8-9 hours of sleep and personally believing to the core of your identity that you need and love it. You might learn in middle school health class that 2-3 servings of meat the size of a deck of playing cards will give you adequate protein, but that can’t match the influence of your own individual identification with craving meat at each meal. Likewise, if your parents referred to you as the family’s veggie lover who always finished off whatever was on your plate and the serving bowl, this will likely stick with you as you grow older. In short, it’s the colossal distinction between “I should” and “I am.”

Revising Self-Identity

All of this raises the natural question, “What if my self-identity isn’t something that serves my good?” In other words, what if our self-identities are more likely to dictate eating too much sugar or working out when it’s convenient? Obviously, we can’t trade it in, but can we retool it? The answer appears to be yes. In the words of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The self is a fragile construction of the mind.” A recent Atlantic article, “Personal Identity Is (Mostly) Performance” quoted Csikszentmihalyi to support the idea that our outer environments must continually support existing identity constructs. Without them, the old assumptions and associations can lose their potency.

This is good news for those of us who could use a revamping. The more we rid our lives of the details and reminders that bolster what we want to let go of, the better able we are to make space for something new and healthier. That can mean clearing out our cupboards, switching out our cookbooks, changing our daily routines and shopping sources, socializing differently, overhauling our wardrobes, and revising our calendars. In other words, transform as many relevant externals as possible (giving special attention to the ones that have the most impact) and let the effects seep inward over time. Fake it ’til you make it.

Simultaneously, however, we can rewrite the internal summaries that define us. I truly mean that literally. Take the time to rewrite your identity with pen and paper (or keyboard). Do something visual in addition. This is who you are. Put up reminders all over the place – your car visor, your bathroom mirror, you sock drawer, your cubicle wall, your refrigerator, etc. The object isn’t to become someone else entirely. It’s to reframe those touchstones of self-identification and broaden the scope of your life to include possibilities you’ve never allowed yourself to consider even if there’s ample evidence that they fit the life you want.

If you struggle to re-envision a different identity other than a self-destructive one you’ve struggled against in the past, let me throw in a modest proposal here. Over the years and the course of several books, I’ve been intrigued by the resilience of the Primal/Grok model. When I first proposed it, I’ll admit I envisioned it as a convenient visual, a narrative centerpiece for the blog and a bit of entertainment. That said, regarding the primal side of my human heritage has entered my consciousness and identity in a unique way. There’s something to believing in an inherently health-seeking, richly intuitive dimension of yourself that’s in touch with the most basic rhythms of life. Anyone who knows me understands I live a very modern existence, but the Primal metaphor genuinely expanded my understanding of what I need to do to thrive in life. It’s also helped upend some lingering ambivalence at unexpected turns my life took from the original vision I had for it a few decades ago. I see myself and my life in a very different light as a result.

In a sense, the Primal narrative – understanding our evolutionary legacy as it lives within our genes – is an additional dimension to embrace in our identities that reaffirms physical needs and psychic layers the modern culture often tells us are expendable (e.g. time in nature, a deep more than broad social network, continual movement throughout the day, etc.) and offers physiological reasons why we may have struggled against physical ailments – a realization which may supplant old emotional messages that have distorted our self-identities. Whether or not the Primal message informs our identities, we gain from opening to the possibility of larger, deeper and older influences in our potential. In their light, we may have a different view of our own personal stories.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on the role of self-identity and behavior.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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49 thoughts on “Harnessing the Power of Self-Identity”

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  1. Thank you Mark – this was the perfect read at the perfect moment. Really appreciate this posting.

  2. This is the true source of “Vegan Powers” you know! Once your identity is firmly carved out of fairy tales and set in concrete you acquire them. 🙂

  3. Thanks for this today Mark. Exactly what I need right at the moment…I went through a re-envisaging of my identity on a bank holiday Monday last week, held fast for 5days but have been struggling with self-sabotage since the weekend.
    The reminders of my simple steps, 1 for each major role in my life, are going to go up everywhere to constantly remind me to fake it until I make it…

  4. This topic brings to mind something that I heard or read very recently (don’t remember exactly where, but it resonated with me): “Vegetarians don’t take ‘cheat’ days and eat meat once a week because CW tells them a ‘cheat’ day is OK once in a while because being a vegetarian and not eating meat is part of their identity.”
    ….Something along those lines, but I think you get the meaning behind it. How we act, especially when no one is looking, the idea of integrity, reinforces our identity.

    1. This was on a podcast recently and its bugging me that I can’t remember which one (its either Joe Rogan, Bulletproof Exec, or Abel James Fat Burning Man). But it is true, it’s their identity and not even a question whether they’re going to abide by it. Its fascinating to think about identity determining your actions. I don’t think its a short or easy road to get there but something I hope I can one day I can live out.

      1. Right, probably Abel James! I started listening to his podcast a couple weeks ago! I thought it was either his or Vic Magary. Anyway, I agree with you: “Its fascinating to think about identity determining your actions.”
        I’m surprised every day at how much I read or listen to in the Paleo community now and all the ah-ha moments I keep having, but when I really think about it so many of these ideas I’ve heard before or known for such a long time. I’m just finally acting on them rather than wishing I was in the “right place” of my life to do these things that make me feel good. And yes, not a short or easy road, but with good habits, persistence and just acknowledging this as something we want to achieve, we have a good start!!
        Grok on!! 😉

  5. A wonderfully timely post, Mark…thanks! Having just returned from an amazing time at Primal Con Tulum, I have been able to self-identify as a “primal being” more than ever before. This has naturally and effortlessly led to me eschewing non-primal foods, avoiding chronic cardio, and choosing my close friends over Facebook. I feel an inner peace and ability to live in the present like never before. All because of how I now perceive myself!
    Grok on, everyone!

  6. You put into words what I have learned over the years. I am one of those people who lost 100 pounds, felt very uncomfortable (alien) in my body and let it creep back on. I blamed it on “stress”. That was 30 years ago.

    Now I am diabetic and have a clearer view of who I am. I WANT to eat clean and exercise. I KNOW why I live this way, and I don’t feel bad when I don’t take part in things that will eventually do me harm. Too bad it took 20 years to get here, but I made it.

  7. Great post, great timing! I was just posting myself today about how snacking for me is emotional/stress/boredom eating, not true hunger, and how I need to re-train my mindset re that. Whether it’s daily affirmations of the you one wants to be (fake it until you make it), re-reading our own Health Mantra’s on a regular, daily basis to incorporate them into our souls…whatever it takes. Life is about tweaking ourselves to be the very best that we can be.

    Thanks again!

  8. Interesting post, this is what we are teaching our son. We will ask about certain choices that he makes that will interfere with his peace or happiness. What are you going to do about that? Do you have a plan for change? You don’t seem to me to like the result so it’s a choice you can make, what are you going to choose next time? He still needs direction so we point him in the direction of change and make sure he has the tools to do it. As an infant he had a “disconnected” mom who did ok caring for him while he was nursed but when he was weaned he became neglected, has a memories of being awake in the morning looking for food that had fallen on the floor while his mom slept. Needless to say when he came to us he had problems identifying that he was hungry and needed to eat since he’d had to ignore that feeling at such an early age. (He’s always been primal – LOVED meat, cheese, milk, various veggies and fruit – not much of a grain eater EVER) We have experienced how his early life has shaped his current life as well as things that have come through on his DNA from his bio-parents.
    Not too long ago he got to experience the truth that he can have what he wants if he believes it. We were shooting baskets and he was missing them, so I told him that he’s made them before and he needs to stand with his eyes closed, envision the ball going from his hands through the air and into the basket, then believe it has already happened. (he thought I was crazy of course but did it) He shot the ball and made the basket and continued to do it the rest of the game. He continues to use it and now thinks he has made it snow two times.
    I have a neice that continues to make her body very large even though she’s had surgery to prevent it. She got to a smaller size and it seemed to not fit with her vision of herself although she says she wants to be more of a normal size, not skinny but a “normal – for herself” size. She seems to be stuck in the “I weigh over 300 pounds and that’s who I am” so for now that’s what she is. I hope she can find a way to make her vision match what she wants to be. Her choice. Sigh, we kindly dispense information and hope it empowers a person to motivate themeselves to some action that is healthy.
    Sorry for such a long winded comment. 😛

    1. But very profound 2rae! Its true that we are taught things at an early age that can take a while to unlearn.

  9. mind=blown…

    But seriously, very poignant and meaningful. This article really helped. Thank you.

  10. This is very interesting. Actually most of our self-identity comes from patterns of behavior and ideas we internalized as a means to feel safe in our early environment. Our conscious will can control only a tiny fraction of our behavior, and this is why it is so hard to exert willpower. Unconscious cues and patterns of thought/behavior always win out. You breathe without thinking about it, right? Some of those destructive (or constructive) behaviors come from a similar place.

    Mindfulness training is a very powerful tool for getting in touch with the unconscious and unraveling patterns that are not helping you. Simply sitting for 15 minutes a day and focusing on the breath, you gradually become more able to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without attachment.

    I highly recommend “Wherever you go, there you are” by John Kabat-Zinn.

    1. Yes, this is exactly what I’ve found. Mindfulness is the best way of influencing the oldest part of our brains that we can’t access directly.

      The Sleep Book – Dr Guy Meadows gives some great simply exercises to work with that you can apply to all aspects of life,not just for insomnia. I worked with him on retreat 15 months ago and can say it certainly works.

      Creating the space between yourself and the ‘chatter’ in the head is the art, once you can observe and notice without judgement or reaction it makes so many aspects of life easier to work with.

      His bus analogy is excellent, your life is the bus, you are the driver, you will always have a range of passengers (your thoughts and emotions) both welcome and unwelcome. The goal is to welcome all of them aboard and notice they are present but not spend time stopping the bus to eject the troublesome ones, they just become more of a nuisance and don’t disembark anyway – meantime you are not driving where you want to go.

      1. If we ignore the troublesome passengers typically they get smaller and more manageable. Thoughts grow with attention.

        Mindfulness is a proven approach which is very ancient — probably primal, in fact.

        It requires developing a patience with your mind, a non-striving observational and curious attitude. Just sit and be with whatever happens.

  11. Leave it to a pastor to disagree with you Mark– on self-actualization!
    But then I guess you’d expect that.
    However, when it comes to thought patterns and training the mind to think
    with logic, reason, and desired effect– there are some great pints in this post.

    Maslow’s Hierarch of needs:

    However, I believe the real goal is experiencing the transcendant:
    “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,
    against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

    Until one can fend off the spiritual obstacles (either real or perceived enemies) one cannot come to real terms with oneself.

    1. There are some great pints in my past. I think I should probably make it a point not to pound so many with impunity.
      Self-restriction is step one of my latest go at self-actualization.

      1. This cracked me up. Yeah, restriction of pints can be a positive step to take.

        1. I have got to check my spelling! I guess I had too many pints and missed making the point.

          I’ll be more careful in the future– maybe stick to shots.

    2. Experiencing the transcendent is the pinnacle of human experience, I would agree. And the Maslow’s hierarchy is a helpful model. If any of the foundational aspects of that hierarchy go awry then there is the risk that the person will be so bound-up in that problem that they are “distracted” from the possibility of experiencing the transcendent. It could be ill health, a messed up family life, misplaced priorities (“keeping up with the Jones”) etc. If we take care of the body and life that has been given us then we enable ourselves to experience everything more fully, including the transcendent.

  12. Enlightening. Mind-blowing. But also intuitive, like I always knew it, but never consciously thought it. For example, months ago I realized that my current self (and therefore, the way I go about my day) doesn’t match up with my “core” self. Before having kids, I used to run, bike, swim and my social life matched it, with group runs, master swim team, etc. I saw myself as active and healthy, but not an “athlete.” After kids, it was tough to do those things, so my peer group became moms. Many moms revolve their lives around their kids. Their kids all have activities, but the moms just sit. I’m really not into watching sports or activities, I’m more of a do-er. But I let myself become the mom everyone else is. Since then, we’ve scaled back our kid’s activities (they’re happier), we’ve done more activities with our kids (family karate, family fencing) and I’ve devoted more time to taking care of myself (going to the gym, no matter how long my to-do list). But I still find that my peers can be terrible influencers, indirectly, just by how they live their lives, so I have to be careful that it doesn’t rub off. I have to hold my image of myself in my mind.

  13. I love posts like this. Our psychology has a huge impact on how we relate to our external world, especially health and fitness (at least, that’s how it works for me!). I truly ascribe to fixing the inside, mentally and physically, before we start to see results on the outside (like weight loss or body comp). Both positive and negative self-identities play an integral role in our lives, and can either give us the boost we need to reach a goal or really become that person, or can keep us stagnant and incapable of breaking bad habits.

    I had this journal growing up that had various prompts to spark writing ideas. One of the pages was titled: How I See Myself. I couldn’t have been more than 12, and I remember drawing something that looked like the Michelin Man. It’s funny but sad, because that’s truly how I saw myself–I had struggled with weight my entire life. I continued to struggle with it into my early 20s, despite being an athlete and playing collegiate sports. Enter paleo and Primal Blueprint and Whole30, and I finally don’t see myself like that anymore (for the most part…20 years of thinking I look like marshmallow puff takes its toll). This way of eating helped me think of myself as a healthy individual, an athlete deserving of being called an athlete.

    Just a wonderful post. Thank you, Mark.

  14. It all makes perfect sense! When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition at 16 I was lucky to have a doctor and parents that helped me take a proactive (non-medicated) approach. 17 years later and I have never said I “suffer from….”. Sure, having Fibromyalgia it is a huge part of the reason I make healthy choices (it’s not much of a choice in my mind – eat healthy and exercise or be in pain) but so many people use it as an excuse. One woman who seemed particularly defined by her condition told me her doctor told her not to lift over 20 lbs. Shame on that doctor for telling her she was limited and unable to do things and shame on her for believing him! This woman refused to believe that I was “sick” like her. Since I am a 5’4 woman who happily deadlifts 145 lbs, does weighted squats and kettlebell swings with well over 20 pounds I suppose she was right, I am not sick like her. We just happen to have the same autoimmune condition.

  15. Your excellent post brought to mind a favorite Aristotelian quote, “to be a hero, one must simply behave like a hero.”

    By changing behavior, we can change our self-identity and consequently, alter our physiology, personality and even character for the better.

    1. Mark – another amazing post. I love the Aristotle quote too. Thanks so much.

  16. I marvel every day at the power of our subconscious minds. We might be very passionate about something and really want it and think it would be great for us, but if the subconscious mind doesn’t want it, we won’t get it and we’ll be wondering why. My mind is full of limiting beliefs that I’m fighting every day. Beliefs that probably got programmed in while I was very young. The only way for me to make real progress is to reprogram these beliefs and replace them with positive ones and deep positive intentions.

    Your suggestions under the topic “Revising Self-Identity” are interesting. I’ll try a few of those.

  17. Primal psychoanalysis – woot!

    I had a near-death experience in my early 20s. Before that, I didn’t know myself and didn’t think about it. Afterwards, it was, “Self? Hello, nice to meet you.”

    The experience slowly opened my eyes to every facet of myself and how I could control many things I previously had set on auto-pilot. I changed many aspects of my life.

    What I’ve found though, is most folks I have ever known are on auto-pilot their whole lives. I think humans are built this way. Why fix something that ain’t broke? Why need to think about self identity when it is set to a default? What’s all this psycho-babble anyway?

    Coming to Mark’s Daily Apple means that someone is searching for something – some diet and health magic. Self-help is a slow transitional transformation for most. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are so many layers to it – culture, habit, background, family, resources, survival. But as we’ve seen over and over, people can be highly resistant to change, and I don’t know how much this has to with self-identity. It’s a baser, animal instinct that instills a great deal of fear in people. I don’t know that it can be self-programmed.

    I think deeper articles like this one can be good at preaching to the choir or cheerleading the team – those already on the road to change through their own growing awareness. But I don’t know if it can help people who are still in instinctual, or auto-pilot mode get to the level where they can truly change themselves. Like I mentioned, it took almost dying to fully open my eyes, and I didn’t even realize my eyes were opening until reflection years later.

    Deep, Mark, very deep!

  18. Personal identity isn’t always something that one is sure of. You have to create your own image and live it, fully everyday. Some people are told lies about themselves, usually by people who are closeset to them too. They may also be stereotyped or have been told they aren’t capable of much. I think a lot of this factors into determining your identity and how that affects all aspects of living. Sometimes you just need to put down the “book of untruths” that you’ve been reading, and wrote a new story. Nothing worth doing is easy.

  19. We invent self as a child’s fantasy. It has no substance; it is never fulfilled.
    In lieu of ego, try approaching reality as a part of the whole, and watch what happens to your “free will” then.

    1. “try approaching reality as a part of the whole”

      Would you mind expanding on this idea? What exactly is the “shift of focus”, if you will.

      1. Self, identity, and ego are three words for the same tool. The self is what We use to perceive reality. The five senses are tools of sensation, while self is a tool for perception. With the self We interpret all of the sensations of feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting as they relate to a narrowly specific ego. The self is developed by the environment, shaped by experience. Every decision any human being has ever made goes thus: ‘Which of my options produces the maximum amount of happiness, taking into account the price i must pay?’
        Now, that isn’t to say self is bad. Ego sounds like a dirty word, but the tool’s cleanliness and uses depend on the craftsman. If the ego is used as it has been by men since the start of agriculture – when the focus shifted from ‘live within, for, as a part of nature’ to ‘live within, for, only me’ – it perpetuates all the crises We seem to face today.
        Yet the ego is not inherently bad. Shift the focus from ‘me’ to ‘nature’.

        Sometimes people speak of God. While it’s not a bad thing to speak of God, it is unfortunate the biases Our selves have erected around God. The Creator wants Us All to be happy. It is His will. But God is not a male figure with a flowing beard and a Morgan Freeman voice-over. God means Creation, of which We All are a part. It means nature. Call it God if you must; call it nature; call it Love; call it The Universe. I speak of nature not because i am a heathen, but because i believe that what people call God is the force of Creation which is nature.

        To enact the shift, one can only cancel thoughts of self, of ‘my will’ and act in accordance with nature.

        1. Thank you for the informative point of view. I am curious to learn more, but I do not want to hijack the thread. Do you have any books, etc., which I can investigate for more info on this topic? I have trouble comprehending how to “enact the shift, one can only cancel thoughts of self, of ‘my will’ and act in accordance with nature” within the current “modern world” landscape.

  20. I agree with Nack that the self is fantasy. My quest is to leave fantasy behind and just be.

  21. Thank you, Mark.

    I think I unintentionally skirted on this when I was beginning my primal journey. I had not had a lot of luck watching what I ate or cutting out certain foods in the past and I knew that. So to get myself going on primal, I told everyone around me about it – I had many long talks with my parents who still are devout believers in SAD, I reached out to my coworkers to help motivate me and join me in the journey, and I told my family that this was something that had to change in me. I needed the change and I believed in the change.

    And this time, it has been easier. Granted, not perfect by any means, but the more I read on here, the more my mindset changes. I have developed a passion for imparting knowledge on others about PB (you may have had a newsletter subscriber this morning that came from me). It is a part of me and, whether I am falling off the wagon or getting back up, it is not a journey that I can simply depart from anymore. I may be flawed, but I AM Primal.

  22. For me, my self-identity has revolved around a question I asked myself early on…what is the purpose of life, if not to be as happy as possible?

    If you try to be as happy as possible in life and force yourself to approach that question from an OBJECTIVE viewpoint, the more things become clear over time.

    It wasn’t until I stumbled on this blog that I fully realized how important food is to health. From there I began to understand how food affects EVERY single aspect of our lives when we care where it comes from and when we learn to produce it ourselves. Simply, there is not one thing humans could change about their everyday lives that would impact the world like their food choices.

    That’s unbelievable, and something I won’t be able to forget for the rest of my life.

  23. Can anyone do a TL;DR on this article for me. I got a bad case of brain frog right now, and I’m interested in what this article is saying.

  24. Excellent……it kicked what has been swirling in the back of my mind for years to the front mind which keeps struggling with serious past trauma dragging down my real identity….which on the surface operates pretty well…..but which I have never allowed to soak all the way in….to be able to feel the enjoyment of operating well in spite of past troublemakers …..Thanks!

  25. Lovely post, thanks, it’s a privilege to share in your unfolding journey.

    As a therapist said to me in the last few years ‘it’s not out there’.

  26. I don’t recall where I found this quote, but it seems to apply here …” If you believe it will work out, you’ll see the opportunities. If you believe it won’t, you’ll see the obstacles.”

  27. Making the switch from an unconscious self-image to a defined and chosen self-image can give — must give — an anchor to how you go about in the world, how you interact, what choices you make and actions you take. Let me recommend you consider doing so before you’re forced to by events!

    I had always seen myself as orbiting my beloved husband Michael; my married life revolved around him; I described my life as ‘‘tuning my sails to his winds.’’ In fact, we were only apart (for longer than it took me to go shopping) for a total of maybe-20 days in 17 years! When he died nearly 3 years ago (at age 60, I was 58; we met when I was 40), I was left adrift (to continue the metaphor) in a sea-state six storm: no money, didn’t have his passwords to pay bills online, didn’t know how to run the business, drowning in debt… I was not on the house deed, not on the car, not on his bank accounts (I “didn’t need to be: he took such good care of me”!) (oops.)

    So, I staggered into my new life: dealing with the will and the courts, inheriting the house, working to pay off $50k in credit card debt (double oops), figuring out how to carry on his manufacturing business … a never-ending parade of waves threatening to swamp me — and that’s without mentioning trying to deal with the grief of losing my other half!

    One of the questions I had (and have) to deal with, one of the ways I anchored myself to continue moving forward was to consciously create a new self-description. I had been Michael’s beloved cherished wife for so long; who was I going to be now?! Over about six months, as I refined my ideas of how to present myself to the world (because **how you define yourself is how you act** — is that not the point of this blog entry?), I came to this:

    **I am the youngish widow who does not resist asking men for help.**

    (I needed to specify men because I have a life-long history of ‘being in control’; resisting help even when I needed it; of: “Mother! I’d rather do it myself!” (eek! I’m dating myself: that’s from an old, old commercial, you young folks…)

    I’m still staggering, but having that sea-anchor to steady myself in business and in life means I can review my self-description before I do anything: make a business connection or enter the bank to try, yet again, to get them to put ME on the mortgage (it’s only been almost-three-years, and it IS a federal law, fer cryin’ out loud!). My new self-description means I don’t have to think so hard about how to act or what to say: like an actor, I slip into character and let her do the talking! (I’ve paid the $50k down to $23k; I’ve got the business running reasonably smoothly, I am no longer frozen in grief although it still blind sides and swamps me randomly — and I am able to interact in character in new situations or with new people.)

    Sorry this is so long, you struck a nerve…

  28. I really liked this post. I am a counselor and have been working with my groups and clients this week about core beliefs and how they impact the way we interact with the world. This is a perfect complement to that, it’s also a reminder to me to walk the walk as well. In my job it’s easy to be the objective observer to other people’s lives and struggles but in my own life I forget to utilize the same tools I’m handing out to others, so thank you for the very appropriate reminder. 🙂

  29. David Brooks’s column in the New York Times today actually is about this topic. Worth a read.

  30. One of your very best posts! Here’s an ethnic idea that may work for some. I have a great deal of respect for some of my ancestors. I’m aware that I would not be who I am, without what they were and did, without what they gave me. I carry a photo with me of my dad to remind me of that gift and to keep me on the straight and narrow. I don’t want to veer off course. I want to be able to tell him some day that I tried my level best to honor him, and his ancestors.

  31. Aristotle said ‘what you do repeatedly, Is who you are. Therefore ‘Fake it till you make it’. Just don’t over fake it otherwise you’ll look like a wanker.

  32. I have always believed ideas find us when we need them. I have been struggling with this a lot the past few weeks including an epiphany while walking & talking about this very subject with a friend. Even seeing my problem with fresh(er?) eyes, I was unsure how to move past the obstacle to make the good choices over and over. And voila! – here is your article. I have a feeling I will be reading it several times over the next few days as I work on my self-identity. Thank you.