The Thursday Thesis - 09/08/2018
Say the words “I am” and your entire nervous system stands to attention.
Tell me what you do and I’ll likely drift off to sleep...
It’s a funny thing, but when you think of those two statements the chances are that you’ll conflate them down to being the same thing – even though they are chalk and cheese to anyone interested in making changes to their lives and behaviours.
Here’s why they are different: “I do” is an activity statement, whilst “I am” is an identity statement.
Whenever we say that we do something we are just talking about an activity, a behaviour pattern: it’s just something we do.
For example, when someone tells me that they play guitar, they are telling me what they do. This is different to when someone tells me that they are a guitarist: in this case they are telling me that playing guitar is a vital part of who they consider themselves to be.
The same goes for a person who repeatedly puts lighted cigarettes in their mouth but wants my help to stop doing it.
The subject who tells me that she “...is a smoker” or says “I am addicted to cigarettes...” has made smoking a part of who she believes herself to be. Making a change to her identity will be challenging and painful (for her) because it places her sense of self under threat: we all fight like demons to preserve our sense of self and what is right and proper for us.
Contrast this with the same person who says “...I smoke 20 cigarettes every day” or “...I have a smoke at break-time when I am at work”. This person is recognising – probably below the level of her conscious awareness – that smoking is just something she does. In this case smoking is not part of her identity, so change will be easier to implement and maintain because it conveys no threat to her sense of self.
Here’s the cool part: if you consciously make the things you want part of your identity, they will feel much easier to accept into your life and to integrate with other aspects of who you feel yourself to be.
Likewise, changing your unwanted behaviours can be made easier by de-coupling them from your sense of self.
Both of these routes are driven by language patterns and your sense of identity; simply changing the words nudges your behaviour either towards what you want or away from what you don’t want, and this is one of the reasons why daily journaling, affirmations and goal-setting are so effective.
The daily re-statement of desired outcomes, statements made in terms of our identity, realigns our sense of who we are and what is right and proper for us.
In essence, we believe the lies we tell ourselves about who we are and how the world is.
Try this for yourself, right now: say out loud “I am a singer”, and just notice how that feels, deep down inside...
Now say “I do sing, from time to time” and notice how that feels, deep down inside of yourself.
There’s a big difference between how those two statements make you feel.
Unless you are already a singer, the “I am a singer” statement will probably feel bigger, more significant and more uncomfortable that the “I do sing...” statement. After all, singing is just something you do, isn’t it.
This is why we resist the thing we want, rather than integrate it into our identity and do it more whilst having more fun along the way.
And here’s a little sidebar to stir into the mix: some people will add a situational qualification to their behaviour and constrain it to a place or time when it is acceptable – for example, singing might only be OK when we are in the shower, driving the car, or when nobody else is at home.
So what do you say about yourself, and what does that say about you?
I used to say (jokingly) that I was a good guy who did bad things – just to even things out. The problem is that my tiny, pea-sized brain doesn’t have a sense of humour and interpreted the joke as a mission statement, with disastrous and life-changing consequences.
Now I remind myself that I’m a good man who does good things.
And it’s getting better.
Everything begins with a single thought...
© Neil Cowmeadow 2018
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