There’s a saying: you don’t get what you want, you get what you are. As Jim Rohn once said, “Success is something you attract by the person you become.” Sure, you have to accomplish certain tasks and enact certain behaviors to move closer to your goals, but it’s the change in your identity that causes the transformation.
Think of all the things in your life that are a reflection of the way you see yourself. If you want to achieve some wild goal, say, make a million dollars, you have to become the type of person who can reach that goal. Until you see yourself as that person, the money will never come. It works in both directions, too.
I can tell you from personal experience that the amount of money I used to make in my 9 to 5 job is simply unacceptable at this point because I don’t see myself as someone that’s worth so little. This identity change drives my behaviors and keeps me from slacking off and falling back to a previous way of living.
Of course, life isn’t just about money. So what is life about? I’ll give you my take. Life is about the battle between the person you’re meant to become and the person you currently are.
That mismatch is on your mind constantly, isn’t it?
Deep down, you know you’re meant for more. As comfortable as you’ve grown with your current life, as much as you use rationalizations to cope with your current life, you know in your heart of hearts that there’s more in store for you.
We live in a society where the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their time doing things they don’t want, things that aren’t aligned with their true selves. Why do we do this?
I always come back to identity. Our identity means everything to us. Our ego, rooted in our identity, drives everything we do. Identity change is the toughest battle to fight, which is why it yields all the best rewards.
So, what do you have to do to make this transformation stick? You have to let go.
The Only Path to Becoming the Real You
“Huge success eludes people because they can’t handle the temporary deterioration to get to the end. What you know and love about yourself will be destroyed as you’re climbing to claim your destiny. Your mission is more important than you. If you’re sparing yourself you’ll never make it.”
Why cling to who you think you are if it’s not helping you live the life you really want to live? Because you have a bunch of emotions tied to your sense of self. Due to loss aversion, you’re more sensitive to losses than you are to the positive feelings associated with gain. Losing your sense of self is loss aversion on steroids.
Often, the process of changing your life comes with pain, sometimes massive pain. You’ll have to admit things you don’t want to admit, mainly that you’ve spent large portions of your life being someone who you’re not supposed to be.
Most people don’t want to make that admission, as well as the many others you have to make on the journey of change. Most people don’t want to lose specific aspects of who they think they are, even if that means taking their dreams with them to the graveyard. But losing yourself for a while will pay back tenfold down the road if you trust the process.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” — Chuck Palahniuk
Think of your life like a building and a plot of land. You only have ownership of this property and land. Can’t buy anything else. Your building takes up most of the space on the land meaning you have no room to build a new one. Destroy the building and you’ll have…nothing. Rubble, ash, and the land where your building once stood.
But, it’s only at this point where you can build something much better. There are a lot of things, pieces of the building, you’ll have to let go of over the long run, but let’s look at some of the most important ones.
Lose The Protection Against This Devastating Blow
There’s comfort in the coping mechanism of attacking your goals with less than full confidence. You get to preserve parts of your ego rather than having them completely obliterated.
In an article called How to Be Powerful, and Why You’re Not by the Last Psychiatrist, the author uses dating as an analogy for this mechanism. First, he discusses a study that says assuming powerful and confident posture makes you more confident. He then goes into a scenario where a young man approaches a woman to talk to her. He can choose between speaking to her confidently with an open posture out or doing it meekly with a quiet tone in a closed-off posture.
From the article:
Even though an presentation’s chances for success are greater if you speak with confidence and stand up straight, doing it that way and failing is a greater blow to your ego. Notice that the rejection is the same in both cases, but it is felt more severely if you act confidently, posture accordingly. There is more shame. Thus, increasing your chances of failing is a defense against shame.
Think of the many ways you do this in your life. You fear confidently walking up and approaching your goals. If you do it half-assed, you at least get to tell yourself the story that you caused the failure by half-assing it, meaning you get to hide from the truth that even your most confident self can still get rejected by the world.
Spoiler alert: your most confident self will get rejected by the world from time to time. You’ll have to lose that story that tells you you’d be successful if you decided to give things a real try. Confidence improves your chances, but it guarantees nothing. At least, it guarantees nothing in the short term. Long-term, you will be successful if you continue to attack your goals with your chest out until it works.
But you have to take blows in the process. You have to deteriorate a bit. Whether or not you’re willing to do that will determine your long-term results in life.
Let Go of Your Map
It’s extremely difficult to let go of your beliefs. Mainly, your beliefs about the way the world works. You have your worldview ‘the map’ and then you have the underlying reality ‘the terrain.’ Often, the map doesn’t match the terrain.
You have these beliefs about the way the world works, but if your beliefs aren’t getting you the results you want, doesn’t it make sense to take a look at the map? Of course, it makes logical sense, but emotionally, it’s, again, terrifying.
To make the map match the terrain, you’ll have to let certain beliefs go. I don’t know exactly how the world works, but there are proven models over time you can learn to adopt. Again, measure the map by the progress you’re making, or lack thereof.
Some beliefs that come to mind are:
- Success is reserved for the lucky — We use this belief to hide from the thought that we’re more in control of our lives than we think we are
- Things “just happen” and life “just unfolds”- Again, this is another belief we use to absolve ourselves of control. Of course, randomness is a part of life, but we can adopt the belief that we have the ability to make things happen
- There’s nothing you can do — We use this belief to hide from the thought that we could have what we want, but are simply unwilling to do what it takes to get them. Think about how hard that realization can hit you. There’s a better reality out there, a better you, but you’re just deciding to do nothing about it.
- You’re oppressed — This is huge in 2021 and beyond. Everyone now has a story about how ‘the man’ is keeping them from doing what they want with their lives. Often, the biggest source of oppression in your life is your own mind.
- Any belief in a pre-determined fate — The belief that you’re destined for a certain path for a certain reason keeps you from realizing that you have many potential future paths based on your thought patterns, actions, and beliefs in the present moment
Think of the extent to which your narratives are driving your entire life. Also, consider the fact that you are one of 7 billion people on planet earth. Do you really think you have the perfect map even though billions of others have different ones? Someone in your exact same situation can have wildly different results based on nothing more than their map.
You’ll never know objective reality, but questioning and letting go of your negative subjective beliefs about yourself and the world you live in will bring you closer to the person you’re supposed to become.
Let Go of “You”
In losing the previous iterations of yourself, you might have to let go of character traits you used to love.
I used to love my sense of intellectual superiority. Throughout school, I’d coast through every lesson, understanding the concepts faster than any other student. Outside of the classroom and in the real world, I had to realize that there are people much smarter than me. I’m no longer the big fish in the small pond.
Also, Intelligence is just one of the many variables needed for success. Part of my transformation involved letting go of my intelligence identity because I needed to go through challenges I could no longer coast through. I had to lose the sense that I was smart in order to do the extra work required to be great.
Maybe you pride yourself on being caring and generous. There may be periods of your life where you’ll have to be a bit selfish and say no to people who ask for your help now so that you can help more people later. Often, generosity is a martyr complex in disguise. You pride yourself on being a giver to others because you’re afraid to nourish yourself.
You may have built up a sense of honor and integrity because you’re not greedy. You once equated accomplishment with taking from others. But, in reality, you’re being greedy because you’re not giving the most of yourself to the world, which has the bi-product of so-called success.
Often the things we ‘love’ about ourselves are crutches, coping mechanisms, and lies. I can’t tell you which parts of yourself are real and which ones you use to hide.
Only you know the answer. The answer will only reveal itself to you if you put yourself in situations that force you to confront who you really are. Then, once you have a deeper understanding of the true you, with no more places to hide, you can become the person you’re meant to be.
“Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” — Anonymous