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Practice Being Your Desired Identity

Feb 06, 2023

If you are asked who you are in different points of your life, you will likely have a different answer each time. As a child, you are mostly influenced by parents or people who take care of you. Teachers and mentors have influence on you. Your identity is shaped by what you do consistently. For example, you are a student. Then you are someone who goes to school, does homework, projects and tests on a regular basis.

As adults, when asked who you are, many people will start off by answering what they do for a living. You may say, “I am an electrician”, “I am a homemaker”, “I am a scientist”.  

No doubt you are much more that that. You may be someone who always wants to stretch a helping hand. You may be someone who keeps your word. You may be someone who is always thankful. These are also part of who you are. What your habitual being is defines your identity. Many of these things are learned behavior. In other words, we can change our identity by changing what we consistently do.

By doing something different, and consistently, you get to redefine who you are. Is it possible to go the other way? What I mean is, is it possible to own the identity before you start to be consistently doing the things that define that particular identity?

To answer that question, let us look into what motivates you to do what you are doing now. It may be routine, straightforward, easy or satisfying. Those are some of the possible reasons for you to continue to do the same things. By doing those things, you have formed a pattern, a habit. You also add a definition to who you are.

In order to change your actions, it is not enough to just change what you do. This is probably not effective, or it may not be long lasting. Examine what motivates you to change your regular activities. If there is no incentive, you are not likely to change your habitual ways. If you do not change the way you think of yourself, it is also not likely you will have a long lasting effect.

Take quit smoking as an example. I have seen quite a few patients with similar results. A patient who has been a pack-per-day smoker for several decades. He identifies himself as an everyday smoker. He has no incentive to change that, until one day, he is diagnosed with lung cancer. He quit smoking upon his cancer diagnosis because he does not want to worsen his health or his respiratory function. His will to live is more important than the satisfaction he gets from smoking. He identifies himself as a person who does not do things to deteriorate his health.

Back to the question on owning the new identity before developing a consistent routine of actions that define that identity. Let us look at me as an example.

I used to be someone who finished my patient charts way after hours. That was not something I wanted but I felt stuck, and did not know what to do to change that. I identified myself as the doctor who could not finish her charts faster. At that time, I certainly had enough evidence to support that. In the beginning, I was focused on what I could do to expedite my clinic day and to shorten my charting time. Then my coach asked me to focus on who I wanted to be, take that identity, and show up as if I was already that new version of me. Initially, I was identifying myself as the person who charted for long hours. Then I decided to entertain a new belief. I believed that I was becoming the person who finished all the charts on time.

That subtle shifting of identity, although not a complete shift, was enough to let me borrow from that better version of me. I was thinking what that future me would think, feel and act. I reminded myself constantly. Gradually, I was able to go home earlier and earlier. At first it was 30 minutes, then 45 to 60 minutes. Within three months, I was going home 2 or more hours earlier than in the past. Now I am the person who finishes the patient charts on time. I am already the better version of me, and I am here because I decided a change. Then I decided to ask my future and better self for help.

You can do it too! This does not apply exclusively to physicians, or to charting. Decide on something you want to change about you. Pay attention to the why, the reason behind the desire to change. Then imagine you have already achieved the change, so much so that it is now part of your everyday routine. Imagine that you are your new identity. How do you feel? How do you show up? What things do you do that the current version of you do not do? Be consistent about it. Before you know it, you have incorporated you new identity, and doing the things associated with your identity automatically.

Are you ready to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are you ready to have more time to do what you want?


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