Yesterday, I had a moment of intense clarity and deep insight. Zen Buddhists might call this experience seeing one's true nature. Mark Manson might call it waking the f*ck up for a hot minute. To be honest, it was probably a little bit of both.
So, what happened?
After some thinking about and listening to the ideas voiced by my heroes, I looked in the mirror and saw a different person standing there. A powerful, positive, present person with near-infinite potential (excuse the plosives).
Identity is a strange thing. It can remain pretty much unnoticed for years, and be considered an immutable part of the psychological landscape.
However, in that moment, I truly noticed how much my beliefs about who I was had limited my behaviours.
It was a bittersweet realization.
One one hand, I saw how my identity has gotten in the way of potential accomplishments, new experiences and rewarding relationships. I am convinced that these limitations have primarily manifested through a process of self-labelling.
My inner voice has forged a self that is simply not conducive to growth and perseverance. "You're an introvert," it says. "You like solitude where you can better focus (and be more comfortable by being unchallenged)."
"You don't need these stressors. Get rid of them. Give up. Life will be easier and more pleasurable if you avoid obstacles."
On the other hand, I felt unstuck. I knew in that moment that my identity was a narrative imposed on myself through language, a narrative that could be re-written, re-structured, and deliberately constructed to bring the best possible version of myself into existence.
In that moment, I saw myself as what Todd Herman calls a "shapeshifter" in this excellent exchange of ideas.
I am not one fixed individual. I am a malleable circle of identities. I can take on the attributes, attitudes and values of my heroes.
In that same video, Todd Herman exclaims that the question "who are you?" is a poor one. It makes us think back to the past and muster up a resume of prior events.
He proposes that we change the question to "What are you?"
Answering that question brings about profound change. You get to decide what stories you tell about what makes you what you are.
Here is a catalogue of questions that I started asking myself:
What are you?
What stories are you telling yourself about your identity? How might they be self-limiting?
How can you re-construct your personal narrative to live the life you want?
What "I have to __________________" sentences do you use?
What "I get to __________________" phrases can you use?
How else can you use language to positively frame your life?