How to Have an Identity Shift (Without an Identity Crisis)

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What is an identity shift? How can you successfully change your identity by changing your beliefs?

An identity shift is when you choose to change your identity, moving closer to your ideal self. In doing so, you can become the person you want to be and live a better life. If you want to change your identity, it’s a good idea to change your beliefs about yourself first.

Find out how to bring about an identity shift below. 

Identity Shift: Avoid a Crisis

If you take actions that conflict with your identity, it can create internal confusion that leads to an identity crisis. Identity crises cause you to feel disoriented, question your beliefs, and fear the pain of the unknown. For example, if you identify as an honest person and then you lie to your spouse, on top of your guilt for lying, you may be in disbelief that you lied because it goes against who you are, and you may start to question whether you truly know yourself. 

In other cases, identity crises are triggered not by actions you take, but by experiences you have. One common example is the midlife crisis, which results from a struggle to transition from the identity of a young person to that of an aging person. A midlife crisis is usually triggered by something that conflicts with your perceived identity as a young person: You reach a certain age, you notice your body aging, or someone says something to you that they wouldn’t say to a younger person. 

Anytime you adopt an identity that’s tied to something that changes—such as your age, attractiveness, or job—you’re almost guaranteeing an identity crisis at some point down the road. 

How to Have an Identity Shift

To avoid an identity crisis, if you want to change your behavior, change your identity to fit the behavior you want to maintain. Since your identity comprises your beliefs about yourself, use the strategies we’ve already discussed for changing beliefs to do this. For example, if you want to lose weight and become stronger, you need to shed the identity of an overweight person (and the belief that this is fundamentally who you are) and adopt the belief that you are a healthy person. With your new identity, when someone gives you the choice between a donut and oatmeal, you’ll be less tempted to indulge in the donut because that’s just not who you are—rather, you are someone who values your health and longevity, and the way to support those values is to choose the oatmeal. 

In some cases, you may not need to discard your old identity entirely, but rather expand it to encompass your ideals. There may be nothing about your current identity that is holding you back from achieving your goals and living the life you want—except that it doesn’t include certain beliefs. As long as the beliefs and characteristics that you want to adopt don’t conflict with your current identity (which could cause an identity crisis), decide to expand your identity to encompass these traits. (Shortform example: If you’re an ambitious introvert with dreams of becoming a top-selling realtor, you don’t have to abandon your introversion or your dream. Instead, become an ambitious introvert who is also confident, personable, and an expert in architecture and design.)

Paradoxically, although you can’t change your behaviors without changing your identity, neither can you change your identity without changing your behaviors to reinforce it. In order to have an identity shift, first, change what you believe about yourself. Then, internalize those beliefs through your behavior: in other words, through your words and actions. The more you walk the walk and act as if you are the person you’re trying to be, the more you will become that. This is the key to having an identity shift. 

Take a few moments now to evaluate your current identity and the identity you’d like to embody. Then follow these steps to have an identity shift:

  1. Relax. Get into an open-minded state. 
  2. Ask yourself, “Who am I?” Write down whatever comes to mind. Repeat this multiple times, each time writing whatever occurs to you. Continue until you hit on something that resonates with you. 
  3. If you’re having trouble figuring out who you are, try this exercise: If there were an entry about you in the dictionary, what would it say? Alternatively, if you created an ID card that reflected who you really are, what information would it include and what would it exclude? Would it have your photo, physical description, beliefs, affiliations, motto, aspirations, abilities, accomplishments?
  4. Reflect on the way you’ve just identified yourself. Does your identity evoke pain or pleasure? If it carries pain, remember that you’ve chosen to adopt this identity—it doesn’t define you—and you can just as easily choose to alter it. 
  5. Write a list of all of the qualities you would want your identity to include. Think of people who possess these traits. Now, imagine yourself embodying these qualities. How would it affect how you talk, think, and feel? 
  6. Describe, in detail, who you want to be when you assume this new identity. What kinds of actions, thoughts, and emotions do you want your new identity to trigger? 
  7. Create a plan for embodying your new identity. What behaviors would you need to adopt to be consistent with your new identity? Which friends would you spend your time with to reinforce your new identity? 
  8. Commit yourself to this change. Every day, use your new label to describe yourself—both when you’re thinking to yourself and talking to others. And tell your friends and family about your new identity. If you and everyone around you begin to see you in this new light, you will eventually internalize your new identity. 

Once you’ve had this identity shift, you’re not finished. Due to age, experience, and circumstance, you change constantly, and your identity needs to change to reflect that. Regularly evaluate and expand your identity and continually improve the rules you’re implementing to reinforce it and the references you’re using to support it. 

How to Have an Identity Shift (Without an Identity Crisis)

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Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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