Throughout your days, your brain relies on the past to give meaning and direction to the moment. You then act without thinking today based how you define yourself from past experience. You will avoid negative things that threaten your identity like possible failure or rejection. You may also avoid positive things like claiming your power or success.
Bestselling author Mark Manson’s Law of Avoidance is, “The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”
Psychologist Dan McAdams of Northwestern University says old goals, obsolete values, and outdated self-perception are the “core planks of a life narrative” that gives you a false sense of security. These narratives provide a sense of consistency even when your stories do not support your best interest or desires.
Most of us numbly spend our days living by old beliefs and repeating behaviors without question. These patterns become entrenched, keeping us from our unspoken desires and the possibility of making a powerful transformation.
The brain dodges the risks inherent in change and personal transformation with convenient rationalizations. Often, these statements contain the word, should. Shoulds come from what you think your family, friends, managers, and society want you to do. Shoulds sometimes provide moral direction. Other times, blindly obeying shoulds can leave you feeling unfulfilled, irritated, or empty.
Transformation: How to Change Your Self Concept
To change, take risks, and move forward, you must feel safe enough to explore WHO you think you are today and WHO you can become. Due to the brain’s preference for self-preservation over self-actualization, you can’t count on your brain to imagine all that is possible. Self-reflection will most likely not go beyond the boundaries of the stories holding your perception of reality and identity in place. If you choose to override your brain to realize your potential, I suggest finding a qualified coach who has experience working at the identity level. You may know another professional or someone who is willing to be direct with you when your brain needs a good challenge.
Effective coaching is identity-based, shifting both your perception of a situation and how you see yourself in relation to this situation,
with the focus on achieving an envisioned desired outcome.
Early in my career, I saw myself as the Warrior who could fix everything. I was hired for my experience and knowledge around changing organizational cultures. However, as a small woman in a room of large men, I had to have a powerful voice to be heard and respected. It worked, until it didn’t. The higher I rose in leadership, the more conflicts I encountered.
In the last company I worked for, my boss told me I had earned my seat at the leadership table but I would lose it if I didn’t quit pushing people so hard. He said, “Instead of forcing people to do what you want, can you inspire them to see what you see?” Realizing my resistance could keep me from getting what I wanted, I knew I had to make the shift. I liked sharing pictures of what was possible in the future. I enjoyed engaging everyone to talk about how we could make this happen. I had forgotten this part of me. I might still be a Warrior, but I now more often wield an inspiring vision instead of a sword.
Find someone to dialogue with about how you define WHO YOU ARE TODAY and WHO YOU CAN BECOME to create more possibilities by considering the following questions:
- Looking at a current challenge, who do you see yourself being in this situation? Start by naming the role you hold, such as a leader, team member, or parent.
- Add an adjective, such as newest, youngest, most experienced, or most knowledgeable.
- Add an adjective that describes how you feel, such as clueless, angry, resigned, excited, or scared.
- Define who you think you should be, such as the wise one, team advocate, responsible guide, or equal contributor.
- Describe how you would like the situation you are facing to look if what you desire can be created. Don’t add the word, “but” to your description. Just paint a picture that works best for you.
- When looking at this vision, who are you at your best? How do you think, act, and feel? What values are you honoring? Your vision might match who you think you should be, or you could desire something different for yourself that would feel more fulfilling and successful.
- Now go back to how you define yourself today. Are you already shifting as you see who you can become? Are there any imagined shoulds or real circumstances you believe are holding your current identity intact? Can you break these rules, taking small or large risks to try out the new identity you want to live into?
- What fears are now blocking your transformation? Are you afraid of judgement or rejection? What is most important to you and your future that is worth it to you to move forward even if you are afraid to create a broader self-concept? If you can’t start shifting today, can you determine when beginning to make this shift is possible?
Answering these questions can give you the power to choose how you want to show up now. No matter how well your old patterns served you, now is a good time to become someone new.
“Risk itself is a process of constant unfolding. And taking risks is the process of peeling back the layers of what you are, to be who you want to be.” – Phoebe Eng, author of Warrior Lessons: An Asian American Woman’s Journey into Power
You have the power to change both your narrative and the outcome.