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Identity… is a choice.

“But, if I’m not this, what would I be?”

This was a question I was asked by John who was experiencing a crisis a little while ago. At that moment John and I weren’t in a classic coaching conversation per se. We were in a conversation where he appeared at the edge of what he felt could handle in his life.

Comfort in the familiar

As we explored the experiences that had got John to feel this way, it became clear that although he had never been happy or fulfilled in life. Instead he had found a form of comfort in the familiar. As for others I’ve that I’d met over the years, it was not one incident that took him to this place. It was the culmination of small experiences over a sustained period that caused him to develop and over-invest in a sense of self and identity which was holding him back from reaching his full potential.

When this happens, it could be described as a form of Stockholm syndrome; we develop a strong connection and relationship to our identity and the dissatisfaction we feel, rather than accepting that identity is a choice.


Exercising choice

Ernesto Spinelli describes our identity like sediment forming at the bottom of a container of liquid; the layers form over time, and as they settle, they become more rigid. Using this metaphor, we can recognise that although our identity can feel fixed, it can still be changed through the right application of will and energy.

When considering how we exercise our choice over our identity, it’s important to recognise that the rigid, sedimented layers are creating a form of inertia-based resistance which is holding us in the place we find ourselves.

To overcome this form of resistance there is a simple equation that can help:

R < D x V x FS

R = Resistance – what do you have invested in your current circumstance?

D = Dissatisfaction – how dissatisfied are you with the current state (the more the better!)?

V = Vision – what do you want a future you look like, feel like as you show up as an authentic self?

FS = First Steps – what first steps can you take to move beyond your dissatisfaction toward your vision?

Using this equation, for change to happen the product of D x V x FS must be greater than the resistance which comes from our sense of comfort in our present state.


Stepping into the future

From the conversation with John, it became clear that he was thoroughly pissed off feeling how he was. The comfort he had in his identity was wearing off and his level of dissatisfaction was at an all-time high.

Based on his question of, “But, if I’m not this, what would I be?”, it was clear that in terms of the equation he had no vision of what a different state could be, or what first steps he could take to get there.

With this realisation, and using the equation to bring focus, John took on the task of seeking to answer the first of ‘The 3 Questions’TM– Who am I? Through this question he was able to explore who he authentically wanted to be across all aspects of his life. From this definition John was able to take some further first steps to live this identity in its full.


I am…

Through his experience, John’s sense of self and the identity he invested in shifted from finding comfort in dissatisfaction, to pride in being himself. During our final meeting together John said, “this morning I looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time I can remember I felt proud to be me.”


Something to consider…

Think of the parts of your identity that you feel proud of and the parts you are dissatisfied with. For those parts you are dissatisfied with, consider what you have invested which keeps you holding onto them?


Something to try…

Take a minute to consider the questions of ‘who am I?’ and ‘who do I authentically want to be?’. For these questions consider how you can take some first steps to bring your answers to life.


About The Purposeful Leader

At The Purposeful Leader we help you establish a more authentic identity. Through ‘The 3 Questions’™ we help you focus on your sense of identity and purpose, and then, help you direct your energy in a more mindful way to bring these to achieve the success and fulfilment you desire.

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