My dad got irritable if I said I couldn’t do something. He said ‘There’s no such word as ‘Can’t’.
But we all have things we ‘can’t’ do. Here are some of mine:
- I can’t do DIY. It depresses me. I hate big DIY stores; the sight of tools and the thought of all that sawing and nailing makes me feel tired.
- I don’t do modern jazz, or country and western music.
- I have no affinity with certain counties of England. Likewise, some states of America and some countries in Europe.
- I’m an introvert. I don’t much like being in a room with lots of people.
- I’m not a manager. I leave that dull stuff to other people.
- I used not do emotion. But I’m better at that now.
I hear other people expressing similar limitations.
- An author on a podcast said, ‘I’m a writer. I don’t do marketing’.
- Someone I know won’t drive outside his home town, and he won’t go to a small city, not even for a family Christmas.
And that gives us a fixed persona. It limits us.
All of which means you won’t achieve personal change, if your self-identity gets in the way.
As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits said, behaviour change starts with identity change: ‘You need to start believing new things about yourself’. You may have ingrained, possibly false, beliefs about yourself.
You may say, ‘I’m not the kind of person who…’ Or ‘We aren’t the type of family that….’ These are restrictive values. And they quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Henry Ford said, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right’.
In a study by two Harvard professors, teachers were told that certain primary school students were bright, while a control group was, for ethical reasons, not labelled. At the end of the study, those who were described as ‘intelligent’ had achieved much greater gains in their IQ points.
This was doubtless because teachers probably told them they were bright, and paid them more attention. The study has its critics, and has not been replicated. But maybe it contains a grain of truth. We take on certain characteristics. We become who we think we are.
A study published in Science Translational Medicine tested how people reacted to migraine pain. One group took a migraine drug labelled with the drug’s name, while another took a placebo labelled “placebo.” The researchers found the placebo was 50% as effective as the real drug to reduce pain after a migraine attack. In other words, your opinions can lift you up or bring you down.
Now complete the worksheet below. It requires thought and self-examination, so you will need at least 10 minutes.
There’s an editable version here: Identity Worksheet
How do people who know you define you?
If you would have to define your identity in front of a crowd, what would you say?
What are your strengths, the positive aspects of your identity?
What are the weakness or negative aspects of your identity?
Write down the changes to your identity that would help you achieve change?
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