How to change your identity

“How can I change my limiting beliefs once I’ve identified them?” “How do I form an identity and reinforce it through habit?” “How do I stop believing something I don’t want to believe?”

I get asked these kinds of questions often: how to change limiting beliefs, as well as how to form a new identity and reinforce it.

Here is a one-stop process for changing your identity. It’s not the only way, but HOLY SHIT, do I believe in it — I’ve seen it work time and again.

But let me tell you — you can’t read this and poof, believe different things about yourself. You must dig in, unearth, and then practice. If you are not prepared to do the work, there’s no point in reading further. (Unless it’s just for fun. In that case, read on.)

A quick note: If you have any thoughts of self harm, feel out of control in any way, or suspect that your beliefs are part of a larger mental health issue, please reach out for a therapy referral. Those situations that are not a fit for coaching or coaching techniques.

Index

  • Here’s what you need to know
  • Understanding your unintentional results
  • The transition to an intentional world
  • Cementing a belief and upleveling it
  • Potential pitfalls
  • One last empowering thought
  • Resources

Here’s what you need to know

  • Beliefs are thoughts that you’ve repeated over and over that you likely now think are inherently true. We’re about to disrupt all that.
  • Our brains are wired to validate and confirm what we believe — we seek and create evidence of our beliefs in every moment. This can be extremely beneficial or extremely detrimental.
  • If you dig deep, you’ll see that you’ve collected hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of evidence to support your beliefs; these are often subconscious thoughts you might not even be aware of.
  • Trying to change your life at the action or habit level (instead of at the level of the mind) often fails because you are trying to create habits that conflict with your identity. In the words of James Clear, “Good habits can make rational sense, but if they conflict with your identity, you will fail to put them into action.” Or — if you do put them into action — you usually won’t sustain them; again, because of the conflict with your perceived identity.
How to change your identity -- thoughts, beliefs, identity

Understanding your unintentional results

The first step to making change is always to first understand where you are and how you ended up there. As they say, you can’t give directions to someone if you don’t know where they’re standing.

Digging in shows you what you’re working with, and it also helps you fully understand that you have created the result that you have currently. That’s right — you created it. (I use the word “created,” not “caused.” It sounds like semantics, but I find “created” to be empowering, while “caused” is blaming.) The good news is that you’re a master creator — if you created results you didn’t want, you can create results that you do want.

Do something woo–woo with me real quick: Thank yourself for having created your current results, because they are showing you your thoughts. Say out loud, “I am a master at creating things. Time to create [more] things I actually want.” 

Case studies

Case study #1: Client has been struggling to lose weight. When you get down to it, he discovers that he believes that he’ll never be able to lose weight and keep it off.

Why does he believe this? Here are his thoughts:

  • I’ve never done it successfully before
  • The men in my family struggle with weight loss
  • There’s no way to lose weight without feeling deprived
  • I’m not willing to do what it takes
  • I’m too lazy
  • I don’t want to feel left out in social settings
  • Our society isn’t set up for weight loss

Case study #2: A client is having trouble writing the book she wants to write. When you get down to it, she discovers that she believes she’s not actually talented.

Why does she believe this? Here are her thoughts:

  • I don’t have a college degree
  • My family doesn’t prioritize learning
  • I don’t have a support system to give me feedback on whether my writing is good
  • I don’t have enough book sales yet to validate my talent
  • I struggle to come up with compelling plots
  • My dad told me I wasn’t very smart

Here’s what’s happening: Both of these people — like every other human on the planet — thinks that their reasons are sound. In their minds, they are just reporting facts. But here’s how it plays out, true or not:

Case study #1: Thought = “There’s no way to lose weight without feeling deprived” → Feeling = Resigned → Action and inaction = Keeps overeating, doesn’t research healthy eating plans, doesn’t make any changes to diet or exercise, seeks evidence that he is getting pleasure from food, doesn’t make a plan for future → Result = Has created the conditions to not lose weight and to continue getting his pleasure from food; has proven to himself that to give this up would mean deprivation

Case study #2: Thought = “I don’t have enough book sales yet to validate my talent” → Feeling = Desperate → Action and inaction: Checks book sales constantly, checks book reviews, doesn’t take a writing course, doesn’t take breaks from writing, doesn’t sleep enough, researches competitors’ work constantly → Result = Looking externally to validate talent; burnt out and not producing work she’s proud of; not creating the conditions to develop her talent

Do you see that they’re both creating their own reality? 

Your turn to get radically honest

What do I believe about [my career, relationships, money, fitness, etc]?

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Why do I believe this? [Unearth all of the evidence that you’ve collected] 

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

What am I creating for myself that reinforces my current identity? [Pick one thought from the box above]

  • One thought from above:
  • When I think this thought, what do I feel?
  • When I feel this way, what do I do and not do?
  • When I do and don’t do the above, what is the result for me?

Does your result create evidence for your original thought? It must. If it doesn’t, reach out to me for help.

Do you see — as clearly as you could see with the case studies — that you are creating your own reality? 

The transition to an intentional world

In a dream world, you identity what you’ve been believing, you identify what you’d like to believe and — bam — problem solved. Unfortunately, life ain’t so simple or linear. The good news is, this keeps me in business 🙂

Let’s start huge

What would you like to believe about your current result or circumstance? Go wild — what’s the craziest, most outrageous belief that you’d secretly love to have? You can believe anything.

Guiding questions:

  • What does my Future Self believe? (Zoom five years into the future and ask that version of yourself)
  • Why does my Future Self believe this?
  • What thought would create my desired feeling for me? (For example, if you seek joy, what thought would create joy? It doesn’t need to be believable yet.)

What we’ve just done is gone to your intentional model — the thoughts, feelings, actions, and results that you’d like to have. But often, there’s a gap between where you are unintentionally, right now and where you’d like to be intentionally.

Let’s work on bridging that gap.

Hot take: mantras suck

You won’t hear me use the word mantra in my coaching. (If you do, call me out!) Here’s why: Mantras are often phrases that you repeat over and over to yourself without actually believing them. The idea is that, if you say it enough, it will sink in. But I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t work like that. Here’s what does work: Slowing building your belief in yourself, step by step.

How? With ladder thoughts. (Thanks to the Life Coach School for this awesome concept.)

Ladder thoughts

A ladder thought is a totally believable, dialed-down version of your ideal belief that serves to bridge the gap between your current belief and future belief.

Do you remember the story of the paperclip that turned into a Ferrari? The idea is that you start with a paperclip and — one step at a time — you trade it for something just slightly more valuable, until all of the sudden, you have a Ferrari. (Okay, fine, maybe not all of a sudden. But soon enough.) That’s what we’re doing here. Bring your patience and get ready for your Ferrari. (This is a joke; my lawyer would be mad if I didn’t make that explicit.)

A few examples of lead-ins to ladder thoughts:

  • I am open to the idea that…
  • It is possible that…
  • Other people believe that…
  • I am beginning to believe that…

Case studies

Case study #1: A client believes the thought “I am dumb.” A typical mantra would be “I am smart,” but this doesn’t serve the client, because they don’t believe it. Here’s how they might “ladder up” to a new belief:

I am dumb → I am open to believing that I’m not always dumb → I am open to believing that I have some qualities of a smart person → I am open to believing that I have many qualities of a smart person → It is possible that I am smart → I am smart

Case study #2: A client believes the thought “My community doesn’t support me at all.” A typical mantra would be “I have a supportive, loving community.” Here’s a sample ladder thought process instead:

My community doesn’t support me at all → I have one friend who supports me → I am open to believing that I have other friends who support me, too → It is possible that I have a supportive, loving community → I have a supportive, loving community

Remember two things: 1) You are always seeking and creating evidence of your beliefs and 2) Your beliefs (thoughts that you’ve repeated over and over) create your feelings, which create your actions or inactions, which create your results. By living from a new belief — even if it’s just a slightly more productive version — your results will change. This takes us back to step 1; lather, rinse, repeat.

Your turn to get radically honest

What do I want to believe?

What are some ladder thoughts to get me there?

  • I am open to the idea that:
  • It is possible that:
  • Other people:
  • I am beginning to believe that: 

Check yourself: Are these thoughts completely believable to you? They must be. If you can’t find one that is, email me

Cementing a belief and upleveling it

By now, you’ve identified where you are, where you want to be, and how to bridge the space in between with ladder thoughts.

It’s time to cement the belief, uplevel it over time, and change your identity.

How to practice, using the productive, believable thought you found:

  • Write your current believable thought down and put it on everywhere — a sticky note on your mirror, your computer background, your computer password.
  • Begin living from your future beliefs. Ask yourself: Would someone who is my ideal identity do this action or skip it?
  • Make a list of 20 pieces of evidence for your new belief.
  • Ask yourself: What new actions are flowing from my new thoughts and feelings? What new results are these actions creating? How are these results validating or conflicting with my new thought?
  • Check in with yourself daily: Am I still believing this thought? If not, what changed? If so, am I ready to bump it up a notch, to the next ladder thought?

Case study

A client who has believed “I’m bad with money” for years believes the thought “I’m open to believing that I’m not terrible with money.” A feeling of hopelessness now feels hopeful. (Even just a little wiggle room is enough traction here.)

She previously avoided looking at her finances, didn’t research investments, didn’t talk to friends about money, didn’t seek out a financial accountability partner, and didn’t know how much she spent. Her new actions are set up a Mint.com account, set up a free money coaching session with a local bank, track her spending, and make a list of evidence for her new belief (“I packed my lunch today,” “I learned what a Roth IRA is,” “I gave generously to a charity,” “I set aside time to make a plan.”)

Do you see the extraordinary difference these actions might make? One set of actions leads to out-of-control spending, limited awareness, and no plan in place. A slight upleveling in her thoughts leads to more awareness and a plan in place. And she never even had to repeat the mantra “I am great with money” one thousand times!

Potential pitfalls

Blurts

I see this often with my clients — I ask if they believe a thought and they say yes. But I can tell from their tone and body language that they don’t. Once we dig in, we identify that their mind is spewing out quiet rebuttals to the new thought. These are “blurts.” Listen carefully to the blurts and keep reworking your believable thought until the blurts go completely silent. Don’t stop until your mind is completely blurt-free. That’s when you know you’ve found a powerful, believable thought.

Identity conflict

Repeating this concept from James Clear: “Good habits can make rational sense, but if they conflict with your identity, you will fail to put them into action.” If you’re struggling with habit formation, check in with yourself. Do you need to revisit your thoughts around this part of your identity? Use this information to dig deeper and get to know yourself more.

No compelling reason

If you hit a roadblock, ask yourself, “Why do I want to change this belief system?” Cementing a compelling reason can keep you on track or get you back on track.

Misaligned identity

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” This idea from Parker Palmer perfectly encapsulates another potential pitfall — working to create an identity that doesn’t match your inner calling. If you’re striving to be someone who isn’t fundamentally you, it will likely feel off — the uneasy kind of discomfort, not the growth kind. Check in with your inner voice about who you really want to be. (And contact me if you need help accessing it.

One last empowering thought

These concepts from James Clear help you take the pressure off yourself: “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

And this: “Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.”

Now — who do you want to become?

Resources

Books: The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, Atomic Habits by James Clear, Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life by Radha Agrawal, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and Second Mountain by David Brooks

The Life Coach School

And thanks to the lovely minds that helped me flesh this out — you know who you are 🙂