Image (black and white) by Sarah Richter (colorized by InnerSelf.com)
You have an identity. Everyone does. You likely don’t recognize it or would struggle to describe it. But it is there, buried deep within your program. Your identity is the aggregation of dozens (if not hundreds) of beliefs about yourself that you have accumulated over the course of your life.
And, like most parts of your program, the beliefs you have about yourself are not particularly empowering. They were designed to keep you safe. To allow you to grow just enough, but not too much.
Your identity was constructed in response to your environment. When you were told by a teacher that you weren’t that smart, or rejected by a friend group, or stung by a harsh statement from your otherwise well-intended mother or father, you made up a belief about yourself. You then sought out data to validate the belief you had just constructed.
A poor result on a math test was confirmation that you’re not really a math person. A former friend who teased you was validation for your emerging identity as a shy person who finds it difficult to form friendships. Your father’s endless comparisons of you to your older sister were proof that you were never going to be as good as her.
The Desire To Be Consistent With One’s Identity
The strongest driver of human behavior is the desire to be consistent with one’s identity. You will do everything in your power to act in ways that fit with the subconscious beliefs you have about yourself.
Your identity is the primary paradigm that shapes and constrains your actions. Uh oh. Are you starting to see the connection here? If you want extraordinary results in life, you have to take actions that will lead to those results. But the actions that are required for an extraordinary life are most likely inconsistent with your current subconscious identity.
The good news is that you constructed your original identity. And anything you constructed can be reconstructed, including that identity.
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Identity Reconstruction: What Do You Want Your Identity To Be?
Identity reconstruction is some of the most powerful work that I do with business leaders. It can be strange at first, but it is almost always transformational. The exercise is simple: Ask yourself, if you want to consistently take actions that produce extraordinary results—in your career, your relationships, your health—what would your identity need to be?
Once you’ve found a powerful identity that resonates with you, you must embody it. To do so, you have to say it repeatedly with massive physical and emotional intensity. This is the only way to build the kind of certainty needed for your identity to manifest.
You may have been fortunate to have subconsciously formed an identity that has served you well. In many ways, I benefited from an identity of high self-esteem and self-confidence. My father constantly lavished praise on me. He would repeatedly tell me how great I was and that I could do anything.
My Rule: I Will Be Successful In Everything I Do
This emerging identity—that I would be great at everything I chose to do—massively served me. My actions were a natural manifestation of this identity. Given my upbringing, I could easily have been a terribly insecure, anxious, and frightened child. It was my identity, however, that allowed me to overcome the potential negative effects of my environment.
I thought I was the smartest kid in my class. Whether that was true or not, I behaved in ways and achieved results that were consistent with that belief. I thought I was the best soccer player on the field. And despite my lack of raw athleticism and being younger than my classmates, I played as if it were true, making the varsity soccer team my first year of high school, so strong was this identity and so certain was I of its truth. I just didn’t know any better.
Perhaps the most outrageous and illustrative example of the power of my identity occurred when I was nineteen years old and a sophomore at UCLA. I began college at the age of seventeen and supported myself financially. This required me to work full-time. I did so for the first two years of college as a copy boy at a small law firm blocks from the UCLA campus. My principal duty was to photocopy cases for the lawyers at the firm. This was 1989, well before it was cost-effective or even technically feasible to access legal information online.
Despite the menial nature of the job, I loved working there. My aspiration was to go to law school, and the job allowed me to get an inside look into life as a lawyer. I would later have a summer internship and an offer to join the firm after I graduated from law school. But for now, I was a kid who worked in the copy room, whose primary responsibility was to master the art of copying the left and right sides of a large legal casebook in rapid succession. With practice, I cut the copying time of a thirty- or forty-page legal case almost in half.
My interest in the law (and perhaps my copying skills) caught the attention of a first-year lawyer. He took an interest in me and became a mentor and good friend. He was a former debater in high school and college, as was I. We had a shared interest in history and politics. And, most of all, he was what I aspired to be: a young, bright, successful lawyer. I finally had a real live role model in my life.
One day, I received a call from my father at work. I stepped out of the copy room and listened to him explain that his counterfeiting had finally caught up to him. The Ralph Lauren Corporation had sued my father, claiming more than a million dollars in damages. They had hired a prominent L.A. law firm and planned to depose my father. More importantly, however, they had just seized the very little money my father had in his bank account. I told him not to worry, that I would call him back with a plan.
My Rule: There’s Nothing I Can’t Figure Out How To Solve
I was certain that I could figure it out. I now had a mentor and friend who I knew would help me. I walked over to his office and described the situation. This was the first time that I had been completely open about my personal life with anyone who wasn’t a close friend. It was an early and important lesson in the value of being vulnerable.
To my surprise, my new mentor was deeply moved and inspired by my story. He couldn’t believe that I had gotten to where I was in life given where I came from. He assured me that together we would figure something out.
Whether he knew it or not, he was giving me my first lesson in the law. We spent some time researching state case law. It turned out that California exempts an individual from having his assets seized or attached when his income or net worth is lower than a specified amount. Since my dad didn’t technically work or have any net assets to speak of, he clearly qualified for an exemption.
We began to draft a motion to exempt him from the attachment and to have Ralph Lauren return the meager amount that it had already seized. Since I couldn’t afford a lawyer, I decided I would not only draft and file the claim, but that I would represent my father. In federal court!
The only way to explain the audacity of that decision was my identity. I was fearless, supremely confident, and believed in myself with a level of certainty that defied logic. It was this identity that drove me to show up to court, appearing without a law degree in front of a federal magistrate at age nineteen. Needless to say, the judge was both amused and intensely curious when I appeared with my father.
My dad was not a normal-looking man, to say the least. He had suffered from an almost fatal case of spinal meningitis when I was two years old, which left him with the left side of his face disfigured, scarred, and partially paralyzed. My father’s dark skin, fiercely penetrating eyes, and a gangster-like appearance contrasted sharply with my blond-haired, preppy-dressed, clean-cut collegiate look. We couldn’t have been more different.
The contrasts didn’t end there. At the opposite side of the courtroom sat a group of four men, lawyers from a prominent L.A. firm, dressed in dark suits, crisp white shirts, and bold-colored ties. The whole image was striking and comical. The judge couldn’t contain his amusement and chuckled out loud.
He began the proceeding by asking me what I was doing in the courtroom. Without hesitating, I told him that I was there to represent my father, and that it was my legal right to do so. That I had prepared the brief that was in front of him, and that I was confident that the law and the facts demonstrated without a doubt that my father’s money had been taken wrongfully.
The judge smiled at me, not out of pity, but I believe out of admiration for my chutzpah. He turned to the lawyers representing Ralph Lauren and, with the look of an angry parent, asked them, “So, what do you have to say for yourselves?” Within five minutes after the bumbling response by the professional lawyers, the judge handed down his order. My motion had been granted, and the small sum of money that had been taken from my father was ordered to be returned immediately.
Surprisingly, I left the courtroom not feeling much. Not terribly proud or happy or relieved. Rather, I felt as I always did. It was simply no big deal. I just did the things that had to be done. Such is the power of identity. It is an energy force that takes its holder along for the ride.
To be clear, I had no idea at the time that I had an identity. And I certainly didn’t realize anything about the power of self-image.
My Rule: I Am Not An Author
I was completely unaware that I was driven by a set of rules—in this case, a set of beliefs I had about myself. Mostly, these beliefs had served me well. But not always. My identity certainly wasn’t consciously constructed and optimized for the results I wanted in life.
Allow me to share an example. For a number of years, I had wanted to write a book. What I hadn’t realized was that I had subconsciously suppressed this aspiration under the weight of a number of limiting beliefs about myself. I’m not ready yet. I need to learn more before I can write. No one will be interested in reading what I write. I don’t even know what I would write about.
Because of this programming, I identified as someone who was not a writer, and I acted consistently with that identity. Which of course meant that I was thinking for years about writing a book but not actually doing anything about it. Only someone who identifies as an author will write a book.
The paradigm of my identity was working against me. Inside me was a book that needed to be written, but it was being choked to death by a set of hidden beliefs and a story that I was subconsciously telling about myself.
As soon as I became aware of this part of my program, it became clear what I needed to do. I needed to create and embody the identity of an author. Not the identity of someone who wants to or is planning to write a book someday, but someone who is already an author. And I needed to declare this identity powerfully. I needed to say it with the conviction of someone who would not accept any other outcome.
I remember when I was writing this book, my wife asked me if I wanted to include a quick blurb about it in the holiday card we were sending to friends and family. Without hesitation, I said yes. I knew the power of my new commitment and identity. I made a choice to rewrite my program, to question my deeply held beliefs, and to choose an identity that served me. The book you are reading now is a result of that choice.
I have spent quite a bit of time (and gone through several iterations) developing my identity. It is as follows:
I am an extraordinary leader, coach, author, husband, father, son, brother, colleague, friend. I command my mind and body to use every ounce of my unlimited potential and infinite capacity to massively and positively impact the lives of others.
I say this every day, multiple times per day. I scream it out loud whenever I can. (I find the car to be the best place for this, despite the weird looks I get.) The commitment to this practice has been life changing for me.
The actions I take and the results I get flow naturally from this identity. It is now so ingrained in me physically and emotionally that I have no choice. My desire to behave in a way that is consistent with my identity is too strong to allow for anything else.
Take a look at your own life. I guarantee that your results are a direct product of your identity. And your identity is one of the most underleveraged assets you have. If you want different results in any area of your life, you must consciously choose, embody, and own your identity.
©2019 by Darren J. Gold. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission from Master Your Code.
Publisher: Tonic Books. www.tonicbooks.online.
Master Your Code: The Art, Wisdom, and Science of Leading an Extraordinary Life
by Darren J Gold
How does anyone get to a point in life where they can say unequivocally say that they feel fulfilled and fully alive? Why are some of us are happy and others unhappy despite almost identical circumstances? It’s your program. A subconscious set of rules that drive the actions you take and limit the results you get. To be extraordinary in any area of your life, you must write and master your own code. This is your guidebook for doing that now. (Also available as a Kindle edition, an Audiobook, and a hardcover.)
About the Author
Darren Gold is a Managing Partner at The Trium Group where he is one of the world's leading executive coaches and advisors to CEOs and leadership teams of many of the most well-known organizations. Darren trained as a lawyer, worked at McKinsey & Co., was a partner at two San Francisco investment firms, and served as the CEO of two companies. Visit his website at DarrenJGold.com
Video/Presentation with Darren Gold: Your Locus of Control