Thursday, January 28, 2010

Identity: Who Do You Think You Are?

Before you can assess your Mojo—that positive spirit—toward what you are doing—that starts on the inside—and radiates to the outside, you have to determine who ‘you’ are. How do you define yourself?
Ask me this question concerning my profession—and my answer is simple and immediate: “I help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.” That’s a 10-word description of how I see myself as a professional that’s so indelible it may as well be tattooed on my forehead.
I didn’t always define myself this way.
When I was fourteen, I was a ’one of the boys’ back in Kentucky. That’s how I saw myself. A few years later, I was the first member of my family to graduate from college. By my late twenties, when I had a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from UCLA under my belt and a teaching position at Loyola, I saw myself as a researcher and professor. It wasn’t until my forties—more than half the average person’s lifetime—that I could even approach a self-definition as pithy as “I help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.”
Now, tell me: Who do you think you are?
Take your time. It’s not a test with one correct answer. On the other hand, it’s the kind of question that ends up stumping the vast majority of people.
Identity is a complicated subject, and we make it even more complicated when we’re not sure where to look for the best answer. Many people hurtle back to their past—to signal events, memorable triumphs, painful disasters—to define themselves. Some rely on the testimony of others—a boss or teacher’s good review—as a means of defining themselves. Still others project themselves into the future, defining themselves as who they would like to be rather than who they actually are.
Let’s take the complexity out of the question. Let’s make it simple—so we can understand our identity and, in turn, do something about it.
At its core, our identity is determined by two dynamics complementing and competing with one another.
One vector represents the interplay between our past and our future. I spend a lot of my time admonishing clients to stop clinging to their past—and certainly to stop using the past as an excuse for current or future behavior—but there’s no getting around the fact that much of our sense of self is determined by our past. How could it not be? Then again, if we want to make positive changes in our lives, we also need some sense of a future self—not the person we think we were but the person we want to become. This tug of war between our past and future selves, not surprisingly, can leave heads spinning as we veer between the comfort of our past self and the unknown promise of a future self.
The other vector tracks the tension between the image others have of us and our self image. It’s the different weight we assign to what others say about us and what we tell ourselves.
Each of the four boxes created by this matrix represents four different sources of our identity. Each of these four sources of our identity combine to influence our Mojo.

• Remembered Identity
• Reflected Identity
• Programmed Identity
• Created Identity

In summary, how do we know who we are? Our identities are remembered, reflected, programmed and created. My suggestion to you is simple. First review the various components of your current identity. Where did they originate? Review the matrix in the context of how you see yourself today—and who you would like to become in the future. If your present identity is fine with you, just work on becoming an even better version of who you are. If you want to make a change in your identity, be open to the fact that you may be able to change more than you originally believed that you could. Assuming you do not have “incurable” or “unchangeable” limitations, you, like Bono, can create a new identity for your future, without sacrificing your past.
Your Mojo is that positive spirit toward what you are doing now that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside. To understand how you are relating to any activity, you need to understand your identity—who you are. To change your Mojo, you may need to either create a new identity for yourself or rediscover an identity that you have lost.

Life is good.

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