Pretend you were given a bag of cash and told one of the bills inside was counterfeit. How would you go about finding it?
A bad strategy would be to look at each bill separately, one by one. The missing watermarks and stray-lines around the portrait are easily missed unless inspected next to a real bill. Like designer brand knockoffs, the best way to spot a fake is to place it next to an original.
Now, picture yourself sitting down for a conversation with a new acquaintance. You quickly feel a natural warmth and familiarity with this person. They lean in and listen intently. They present interesting ideas that complement your own. While you’ve only just met, you feel like old friends, aligned in all the ways of the world.
But then something happens…
Perhaps they are rude to the waiter or tell an inappropriate joke. The timing of their smile goes from confident to insecure. You can’t put your finger on it exactly, but their body language doesn’t seem to match their tone of voice.
And just like that, the spell is broken. One slight in-congruency and their entire character is put into question.
It doesn’t matter if this person is actually a fraud. What matters is that they aren’t who you thought they were. It’s enough for you to move onto a new acquaintance and a new conversation.
“Know thoroughly your own character. So you can break your compulsive patterns and take control of your destiny.” -Robert Greene
Like it or not, we all possess habits and thought patterns that run contrary to the person we think we are. Many of these flaws are obvious to us and we conveniently focus on them when thinking of ways to improve ourselves. But there are other, more subtle habits and ways of thinking that are just as damaging. And because we are less aware of them, more dangerous.
These less obvious ticks usually come in the form of nagging self-talk, limiting beliefs, and warped perspectives — bent puzzle pieces inherited from our families and acquired from our peers.
Think of the person who believes she is in control of her finances. She has a great salary, multiple investments, and rainy-day funds. Yet, the very idea of spending money on a vacation, or mention of a large unexpected expense, terrifies her.
There is the CEO who considers himself a strong leader. The company’s revenue proves he steers the ship well, yet he is completely unaware that his chilly disposition — the one he thinks makes him strong — stifles the creativity and morale of his underlings.
Of course, there are many others who outwardly identify as unworthy and easily create habits and thought patterns to prove themselves right.
It’s these termites of identity that fester and plague our foundation. They signal to our subconscious and to the outside world that we aren’t who we say we are. And if we ever want to fully embody the identity we crave, we must find these counterfeit bills hiding in our otherwise legitimate bags of cash.
By looking objectively at all of our habits, spread across our current identity, we can more easily see which don’t belong to the type of person we want to become.
“New identities require new evidence.” -James Clear
When our thoughts and behaviors don’t match the identity we long for, we can only fool ourselves and others for so long. Slowly, evidence will pile up against our ideal and our subconscious will create new limiting beliefs that sabotage our growth.
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes that the most potent strategy for changing our behavior is by first changing our identity. All of our beliefs, judgments, and behaviors make up our identity. What we consistently do and think becomes the evidence of who we are.
When we try to create new habits, we mostly focus on the outcomes we want. However, when we start with identity, we focus on who we want to become. It’s a psychological sleight-of-hand that changes, “I’m going to run a marathon,” to, “I am a marathon runner.”
Our pride is connected to our identity, and we must never underestimate what the human mind is capable of to avoid loss of pride. The yearning for a gold medal will never be as strong as the fear of losing our identity as a winner. We will go to great lengths to avoid being flagged as an imposter by our own subconscious or the outside world. By deciding we are a marathon runner, we will more naturally create evidence to prove this is true.
To leverage our identities for desired outcomes, we must first decide who we want to be. Then, create evidence to support this and eliminate that which proves otherwise. Clear writes, “When the evidence begins to change, the story you tell yourself begins to change as well.”
“Character is destiny.” -Heraclitus
If we want to form new behaviors and change negative perceptions, we must dare to be inauthentic. Like good actors, we must look at our thoughts and actions objectively and decide if they fit the character we wish to play. If this character is financially empowered, would they be so fearful of an occasional splurge? Would they respond to conflict the same way you have?
Hold up your defaults and desires to the light. Inspect them all, side by side. Like a game of one of these things is not like the others, you will easily spot the habits and mental loops that stunt our growth.
The goal isn’t to emerge as a perfect person. But by looking at the evidence of who we are versus who we wish to become, we can become aware of the inconsistencies that hold us back. By tightening up the edges, we can create meaningful shifts in growth.
Our habits, thoughts, and even the very words we tell ourselves become our character. They prove to others and ourselves what we are deserving of. It is through a carefully crafted identity that we invite the outcomes we desire.
As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus wrote, “Character is destiny.”