We can all understand the value of developing the greatest possible inner identity. But putting that knowledge into practice can be a daunting, difficult task. After all, where do we start? If I woke up this morning identifying as an overweight, intellectually average, unpassionate professional, how do I suddenly become a passionate, growth-oriented, vibrant individual who strives after my greatness? Here are the three strategies I always focus on:
1 – Speak It
If we want to create a greater and more inspiring identity, we need to have the courage to speak it. There are two categories of speaking our identity into existence. The first is having the courage to speak it to ourselves. When we echo our desired identity within the chambers of our head, we can lock onto it and begin believing it. This means constantly reminding ourselves who we want to become. We can say it out loud inside of our heads, or even speak it out loud when we’re alone and no one else can hear us. The more we tell ourselves who we are, the more we will believe and embody our new identity.
For example, we can tell ourselves:
I am the type of person who learns something new every day.
I am the type of person who commits myself to Hashem.
I am the type of person who gets out of bed when the alarm goes off.
I am the type of person who works out and stays healthy.
I always see the best in things.
I am a passionate person.
Speaking our identity out loud works best if we do it consistently. Every morning, look yourself in the mirror, and reinforce your identity and values. Remind yourself who you are and what you wish to accomplish. Repeat this practice throughout the day, as well. Set up a timer or visual reminder on your phone and have set times in the day that you reinforce your commitments and identity. It could be a list, or even something as simple as a quote or picture. The more that we have the courage to activate these ideals, the more ingrained our new identity will become.
The second category of speaking our identity into existence is having the courage to share our new identity with others. This is far more challenging, because opening up about our new goals requires a level of confidence in our newly committed direction and also opens us up to being judged by others. But the very reason that makes this so difficult also makes it so powerful. Sharing our goals and commitments with others can also be the impetus for actually achieving them, as it is often the greatest way to ensure that we remain loyal to our commitments and maintain our new identity. Generally, it is quite difficult to keep our commitments and achieve our goals. New goals, especially one like developing a new identity, are often generated from a spark or flash of inspiration. Maybe it was an inspiring lecture or article, or a great conversation, a moment of reflection, or witnessing someone else achieve something spectacular. We sit down and think about our lives, our accomplishments – or lack thereof, and the direction we’re heading in. Right then and there, we commit to becoming a greater, or the greatest, version of ourselves. We have a grand vision of our future and what our life will be like.
But what happens when the inspiration fades? What happens when it’s time to put in the work? We look at the exercise bike, the book, the business plan, our relationship, and…we don’t feel like doing it. The spark of inspiration has faded, and we no longer feel the same irresistible pull towards our greatness. So we simply give up on the goal and go back to living our normal life.
However, when we share our goals with other people, it immediately creates external accountability, pushing us to keep our commitments. The moment we tell other people who we are going to become or what we are committing ourselves to, we feel a need to carry through with our plan.
Why do we feel so much more pressure to achieve a goal when we share it with others? On the most basic level, we don’t want to appear untruthful. If we tell our spouse, friends, or family that we are going to start exercising and eating healthier, and then they see us walking around every day eating junk food, we don’t feel very good about ourselves. They know what we told them, we know that they know what we told them, and they know… you get the picture. The same applies when we tell people that we’re going to start learning and reading more, or start a business, and they see us wasting our time, indecisive, and unable to start. Because we feel the pressure to appear consistent and truthful, that pressure can be enough to help us get started.
Thus, by telling other people about our commitments, we can utilize the external pressure and accountability that we create by sharing our goals with others and ensure that we stay on track and keep to our commitments.
Another potential benefit of telling other people about our goals is that they may be motivated to actually join in on them. This not only makes the journey more enjoyable, because we’ll have company along the way, but it also creates another powerful form of external accountability. For example, if you want to start learning or exercising every day, find a chavrusa (learning partner) or an exercise partner. When all of our motivation and energy needs to come from within ourselves, it is easier to tire and give up. Thus, if we are not in the mood to maintain our commitments, we simply give up on them. But when others are depending on us to show up for them, the desire not to let them down can give us the small burst of energy we need. While it may be ideal to have an independent drive to achieve our greatness, if external pressure is needed to begin developing the right habits or to begin heading in a new direction in life, that can become our ideal. Consequently, I often recommend that the best way to start developing a new habit or develop a more ideal identity is to begin by working on it together with a spouse or a close friend.
2 – Believe It
One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that the notion “I’ll believe it when I see it” applies to self-development. For better or worse, we tend to be a bit skeptical about things we’ve never seen before. The moment we get inspired to strive after our greatness, we think about our past and realize that we’ve never been able to achieve anything like this before. So that little voice creeps up inside of us and says, “What makes you think you can do that? You’ve never done it before, so why fool yourself into believing it’s possible to do it in the future?”
But once we understand the power and nature of belief, we’ll realize that it works the other way around. “Once you believe it, you’ll start to see it.” Belief creates vision, focus, and intent. The moment you believe that you’re capable of achieving something, you begin to envision it and see it, and the moment you envision yourself doing something, it’s already done. All that’s needed now is to bring that vision into reality through effort and consistency. Belief is the foundational root and source of all outer expression; once the belief is there, the result is all but a matter of time. Therefore, once you believe you can achieve something, you’ll start to see it manifest in your life.
3 – Just Do It
Sometimes, we just need to act. While understanding that the philosophy and inner psychology of growth is fundamental to long-term success, we can get so stuck in our heads that we end up knowing how to succeed without ever actually doing it. While both believing in our identity and speaking about it are essential, we also need to live it – so much so that this can even be the key to succesfully building an empowering identity. I often have clients tell me that they don’t believe in their ability to succeed, or they don’t feel the passion, drive, or desire to give it their all. One of the most effective pieces of advice I offer them is a principle taught by the Chinuch, the Rambam, and the Ramchal: Our inner selves follow our outer actions. While our actions (and feelings) are affected by our inner thoughts and drives, our inner thoughts and drives can be powerfully shaped by our actions, as well. There is tremendous truth to the axiom, “Fake it till you make it.” If we only did things once we were experts, we would never accomplish anything. Sometimes we need to begin by taking action, initializing our growth externally in the realm of outer expression, and then, over time, we can move inside and begin to rewire our inner thoughts, beliefs, and drives.
Although my clients generally appreciate this idea, some still hesitate. They ask some variation of the question: “But I don’t want to… It’s hard… What if I fail?” My response is always the same: “Do it anyway.”
Of course it’s hard, of course we don’t want to, and of course we might fail. But if we consistently push ourselves, moving outside our comfort zone, eventually, what was once only a dream can become our reality. The first few days, weeks, even months, might be extremely challenging, but we must keep pushing. Eventually, what was once difficult, perhaps even impossible, will become much easier and eventually even second nature. We’ll look back and smile as we see how the impossible has become our everyday habit.
Experiment and Personalize
You probably have a question at this point. Most people do. You’re probably thinking, “Which one of these three strategies should I try first: Speaking it, believing it, or just doing it?” Here’s the truth: all of them! It’s not chronological. They all feed off each other; each strategy makes the other ones more effective and powerful. And as with all things, some of them will work better for you and some will work better for others. And some might not work for you at first, but will be useful to you later, perhaps at a different stage of life. The key, as with all aspects of self-development, is to personalize these tools to your unique situation and find what works best for you. So, experiment and explore, and let the growth begin.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is an author, educator, speaker, and coach who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah, psychology, and leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course. Rabbi Reichman received Semikha from RIETS, a master’s degree in Jewish Education from Azrieli, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Revel. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago and has also spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Exchange Scholar. To find more inspirational content from Rabbi Reichman, to contact him, or to learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.