What does identity change mean?
Your identity is, at its core, you you are. It is usually not one thing only, but you are a multitude of different things. For example you are a teacher and a son and a brother and a swimmer and a reader etc. Identity change is when you add a new thing that describes you to the list of identities you have. You can also remove something from your list, for example you can become a non-smoker – although I think identity is usually more about what you are, not having a specific behaviour can also define who you are just much.
How did my identity change?
It started with running, no doubt. Why? It gave me the confidence to go out and do stuff with others, knowing I could do it.
How did I get there?
With small steps, guided through a training plan. Not an all-in challenge I would fail and resent. The goal is to be challenged but not hate what you are doing, since you need to want to come back to it. At the beginning, the best thing is to do whatever it takes to sweeten the pill. After a while, it’s probably best to have a more sustainable and long term beneficial approach. For example, always running while listening to music will eventually become less enjoyable, as opposed to randomly running with music and without, according to research, as discussed in The Huberman’s Lab podcast.
Forming a new identity
In the book Atomic Habits, the author states that “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become” and I find it to be true, based on my experience. I have slowly started doing the specific activity and eventually it became part of my identity and therefore doing it was something I naturally did because it’s just who I am.
If you say yes to 5 opportunities to go on a hike in a row, you will likely say yes to the 6th one. It’s your new normal. And eventually it might even be the case that you are the one suggesting going on hikes. This is because you enjoy the activity and also so that you can keep your actions aligned with your identity.
This is generally said about values, for example this article on LinkedIn article says “Let your core values define you. So if you feel a lack of fulfilment, reflect on the various identities or roles you have in life and work and see if they align with your core values”. This article links identity and roles, which can be translated into actions, to values.
I think a link can also be found between identity and actions. While our identities (and our values) can change over time, the fact that our actions are aligned with our identity can help us feel contentment and fulfilled.
So taking on a new identity comes from developing a new habit or a new way of living your life, but, in turn, it will lead you to do actions related to this identity more often and naturally.
The “negative” effects of identity change
Sometimes folks are subconsciously afraid of changing something and taking on a new identity because they are afraid this will impact their social life. For example if your friend group is based around being foodies and going for brunch every weekend and trying new restaurants and meals, an identity linked to home cooked meals or eating healthy might be seen as a turn off by the rest of the group. This is because by changing your habits you could be “undermining” the core activity of the friend group. Of course this is not necessarily the case and it might steer the group towards healthy restaurants, for example, or switching up going put for meals for cooking at home all together as a bonding activity instead.
Another dynamic that can happen is that your change effectively becomes a testament to your friends’ inability to change For example, let’s suppose you and your friends have always avoided going to the gym or you all smoke. If you start working out or quit smoking, this can be seen as something you were able to accomplish, while your peers did not change anything despite also wanting to do so, deep down. This might separate you from the group.
If you have experienced a shift in your identity, how did you feel and what did you notice?