Identity Yoga: The Short Version

So, if this was the long version I’d gradually approach the question of identity by talking about advertising and personal branding and role-playing and improvisation. But this is the short version so I’ll cut to the chase.

We all spend a lot of time telling stories about ourselves. We invest a lot of energy in crafting those stories — through the clothes we wear and the places we go and the things we buy. And then we see the world through the lens of those stories.

But those stories are all fictional. And we know they’re fictional. And, when we’re thinking about it, we call them prejudice. Or conditioning. Or bias. Or ego. And when we’re not thinking about them, we just shape our lives to fit around them.

And that’s why we find ourselves trying to go to the gym and not going. Or trying to be kind and being rotten. Or trying to give up smoking/drugs/drink/chocolate/whatever and not being able to even though we want to. Because if we aren’t aware of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and we aren’t able to rewrite those stories, then we can do nothing but live within the constraints they set.

But, if we want to be creative, if we want to be clear, we have to drop our prejudice. We have to approach each moment with fresh eyes. And judge what is best to do based on the reality of where we are and based on our best understanding of the consequences of our actions.

There are three mistakes we can make about the stories we tell about ourselves:

  1. Thinking that the stories are permanent. Or even long-lasting. Or connected to external reality. Or difficult to rewrite. Or substantial in any way. (They aren’t.)
  2. Linking one thing to another thing without checking if that link is true or not. Like, “I have to be rich to be happy.” Or, “I can’t succeed without qualifications.” (Not true.)
  3. Condemning *anything* as never OK. As if one rule can be applied to all situations. Like, “It’s not OK to be rude.” Or, “It’s always good to be generous.” (Not true either.)

These three mistakes create prejudice. And they stop us from seeing things as they really are. And these three mistakes create resistance and tension — that you can feel in your body — and that resistance and tension stands in the way of creative flow. And we find ourselves saying things like, “I would do that, but…[insert mistaken story].”

But it’s possible to notice those stories. And possible to notice the resistance. And it’s possible to rewrite the stories. And possible to release the tension.

And that art of noticing and rewriting stories in order to release the tension that stands in the way of creative flow — that art is identity yoga.

And, like other kinds of yoga, at root it’s a very simple set of moves. And, like yoga, anyone can do it. And even though it’s very, very simple you can still practice for a lifetime and always have more to learn.

My friend Peter Koenig taught me two tricks for rewriting stories as part of his Money Seminar.

The first is for occasions when you think something is not OK. Like, “It’s not OK to be made fun of.” All you need to do is say, “I’m made fun of — and it’s OK.” And if you notice any resistance when you’re saying it, let go of the resistance and say it again. (I know this is the short version — you can read more detail here.)

The second is for occasions when you think one thing is dependent on another. Like, “I can only be proud when I own my own house.” All you need to do is say, “I can be proud with and without owning my own house.” And if you notice any resistance — let it go.

It might sound unrealistic. It might sound like it must be harder than that. But it only sounds unrealistic if you’ve fallen into the first trap: believing that stories are permanent. And you only fall into that trap if you’ve forgotten how to play.

Anyone who knows a small child knows that when you’re a small child all you need to do to become a penguin is say “I’m a penguin.” and you become a penguin. All you need to say is “I’m a cowboy.” and you become a cowboy. Because even a small child knows that the stories that come after “I’m a…” are just make-believe — and you can turn them on and off like a light-switch. It’s only when we get old and crusty and boring that we get superstitious and stiff and fall into believing our own hype.

But if you can remember how to play — even with your own stories of who you are — then the rewards are endless. The Buddha taught that *all* suffering starts with clinging onto the stories we tell about ourselves. The skilful improviser teaches that clinging to those stories kills creativity. The reputable scientist teaches that bias is the death of quality, reliability and professionalism.

So, to be clear, we need to know how to play with our own stories. 
And to play with our own stories, we need to practice a little identity yoga.

I developed the Very Clear Ideas process from scratch over the last ten years as a way to help entrepreneurs get clearer on their projects. It might look simple now, but it’s been through *many* iterations and the current version is tried and tested — used with hundreds and hundreds of people and their projects.