Action follows identity

Recently, a close friend told me I was better-looking when I didn’t have a big beard and ridiculous glasses. I get this feedback a lot from those brave enough to tell me.

I totally agree. And not just because I was younger and had a lower hairline when I didn’t have a big beard and ridiculous glasses.

But, I didn’t change my appearance to be good-looking. I changed it to inspire action within myself. Because action follows identity.


Three years ago, I made the tough decision to double down on being a writer. I was going to invest every fiber of my being into carefully studying things that interested me, and sharing what I learned along the way.

I was going to have to change my lifestyle—I’d be less social and make less money for awhile. I’d even move to a “third-world” country to be able to afford to make this change.

I was going to have to convince myself that I was a writer, so then I could become a writer. Like Jeff Goins would say, “You believe it until you become it.”


When I talked to Stanford behavioral scientist BJ Fogg on my podcast, he told me about how actions change our identity. For example, when a person builds one good habit, they start identifying themselves as a person-who-does-[blank].

That change in identity has a ripple effect. More than eighty percent of people who start one habit, he told me, soon start others.


Actions shape our identity, but our identity also shapes our actions. One way to change your identity is to change your appearance.

If you change your appearance, you change your identity. If you change your identity, you can more easily change your actions.

So, as part of my identity shift, I changed my appearance. I grew a big beard, and started wearing the most ridiculous glasses I could find. I started wearing a cardigan. I tried to make myself look as studious and professorial as I could.


It worked. Along with my lifestyle changes and my habits, I started to believe I was a writer. I wrote more, and more. I quadrupled my writing output in the first year of my identity shift. After a six-year publishing dry spell, I published three books in only six months.


It’s worth noting that changing your appearance alone isn’t enough to change your identity. You have to change your actions, too. Appearance can help with that, but they can’t do it for you.

You’ve probably known somebody who suddenly started dressing like an artist, a musician, or a writer, and never got any better at their craft. They changed their appearance, but they didn’t use that change to help drive changes in action.

By contrast, you probably know people who are brilliant artists, musicians, or writers—but you’d never know by looking at them. They’re all action. They don’t need to change their appearance—their identity is established.


Now that my change in appearance has helped me change my actions, my identity as a writer is more solidified. You could hold me down and shave my head and beard and force LASIK upon me. Tomorrow, I’d still get up and confidently put my fingers on the keyboard.

Changing your appearance can help you shift your identity. If you can use that identity shift to inspire action, you can make that identity shift permanent. If you do the actions, and become convinced of your identity, it won’t matter what you look like. You can do anything.

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