The Nuclear Weapon of Personal Development Practices

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned creating an identity as a method to improve your willpower. Building a failproof identity is not a frequently discussed topic in personal development circles.

Identity is an abstract concept. It’s hard to explain, understand, and discuss. Yet, it’s one of the most powerful of personal development practices.

Our environment has a massive impact on us. Yet, we can override the effects of our environment with our identity.

If identity is so powerful, why did I write only one post about it?

I think about identity often, but I wrote only one post about it. Even though I like that post, I wasn’t clear on the concept entirely. After yesterday’s post, I asked myself a few questions.

  • What is identity?
  • How do we build one to achieve our goals?

I came up with new answers to those questions, which satisfy me more. Nevertheless, I’m open to other ideas as well. If you have different answers to those questions, let me know in the comments.

What is Identity?

Identity is an abstract concept. We all have a vague idea of what it is, but we don’t know what it exactly is. To make use of this powerful concept, we need to have a precise definition. Here’s how I describe it.

Identity is the collection of all of our mental and physical programs.

Mental and physical programs are tightly integrated with each other. Our mental programs have a significant impact on our physical programs and the other way around.

When we are talking about identity, we are talking about mental and physical programs. When we are talking about building a failproof identity, we are talking about creating failproof mental and physical programs.

That definition sounds more useful to me. I can use it in practice.

How Do I Build an Identity to Achieve My Goals?

With the definition above, building an identity is reduced to updating my programming. I already wrote a post about reprogramming ourselves. In this post, I’m going to focus on this topic in the context of building an identity.

A computer program is a set of instructions a computer has to execute. We can use the same definition for humans. Our programming determines our actions in any given situation. Our actions impact our results. Hence, our results depend on our programming.

Can We Rewrite Our Programming?

You might think that your identity is written in stone and you can’t change it anymore. If you believe in it, that will be your reality. That is what Carol Dweck calls the “fixed mindset” in her book Mindset. The alternative is the “growth mindset.”

If you have a fixed mindset, you can decide to replace it with a growth mindset.

How Do We Reprogram Ourselves?

Reprogramming ourselves isn’t as easy as reprogramming a computer. It takes a while to replace a particular program with another one in our minds. It takes a lot of repetition. It takes getting exposed to the same idea over and over. You need to take the same actions over and over.

Becoming a Fit Person

To illustrate my point, I’m going to give an example from my own experience. A year ago, I was skinny fat and in poor physical condition. Then, a gym opened a few blocks from my home. I decided to become fit.

In the beginning, it was exciting to work out in the gym. After a few months, the initial enthusiasm faded. Going to the gym became a dull part of my routine. But I kept going. It became a habit.

Not going to the gym would result in greater pain than going to the gym. Pain and pleasure are strong motivations.

My programming changed in those first few months. Going to the gym at set times, on set days became a part of my identity.

Watching motivational fitness videos on YouTube also helped me reprogram my mind. Read my post How I Picked Up the Gym Habit Again After a Decade for more on this topic.

Dieting

Five months ago, I also started dieting. Being fit was already a part of my identity. So, dieting came easy.

I always enjoyed eating sweets and craved them. After a few months of dieting and tracking my weight, I realized what it took to lose a kilo of my body fat.

I know how much pain it takes to lose a kilo of my body fat.

When I go through the sweets aisle in the groceries store, I don’t crave them anymore. On the contrary, they remind me of the pain of losing fat.

Building an Identity Involves Learning Your Lessons at the Gut Level

Developing an identity means reprogramming your mind. Reprogramming your mind is learning a lesson on a deep level.

It’s getting a lesson, internalizing it, and acting it out on auto-pilot.

When a principle is your knee-jerk reaction to a situation, that means you have internalized it. For more on this topic, read my post Four Levels of Learning.

You know that you have changed your identity when not only your behavior has changed, but also your emotional responses have changed.

Seeing a cookie, craving it, but not eating it is one thing, not craving it at all and despising it is a whole another.

Conclusion

Building a failproof identity is one of the most powerful of personal development practices, if not the most powerful.

It’s difficult to grasp and to apply. In essence, it comes down to changing your programming on a deeper level.

It results in reacting to the same situations differently, not only with your actions but with your emotions as well. It involves a lot of learning and repetition.

A single blog post doesn’t do justice to a topic like establishing a failproof identity. I plan to go deeper into this topic with follow-up posts. Stay tuned for more on reprogramming yourself for success.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of my latest posts.

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