What if your “self” was only a set of altered memories, a mishmash of beliefs and values, a collection of filtered perceptions curated out of a much, much greater whole? This “identity set” may seem to be complete; it may seem to represent all of who you are in the world, but it is only one way of organizing identity and presence.
The documented cases of multiple personality where a single “person” embodies disparate expressions may be an example of switching between different “identity sets” at different moments. Each set collects a unique combination of memories, beliefs, values, and filtered perceptions that dramatically change how the person embodies and expresses the life force, even altering basic physiology to include or preclude disease conditions. We are much more malleable and flexible than we might imagine.
In this view, what we consider as our “self” is a deeply ingrained habit, or more precisely, a collection of habitual ways of perceiving, thinking, feeling, acting and responding. Granted, it is a collection of habits that may be especially pernicious and difficult to change. The challenge in changing self arises because these habits are nested in each other and intertwined into the complex we think of as one. You could say we are "self-addicted." This makes me wonder who I might become if if I broke my addiction to my current "self?"
The most effective way to change occurs when we widen the “identity set” to include a greater range of options. We do this when we stretch ourselves or practice acting in new and different ways, which we all do to a certain degree when we flex our behavior in different contexts. We can also model others to stretch our potential. In NLP, we call this kind practice “acting as if.”
© Nick LeForce
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The poem Shell Of Yourself expresses a similar idea:
What if identity were nothing more
than a shell for a hermit crab?
The fluidity of identity is one of my core beliefs formed in my quest to find out how people get through potentially devastating life events. For more on core beliefs, click the tag at the bottom of this post.
Try this exercise: Catch yourself throughout the day and notice patterns in your thinking, feeling, and action. Make a log of these habits of the self. Our sense of our personal self is often maintained or codified by these small acts. For instance, I often make at least one trip back into the house when I leave to go somewhere as I remember something else I want to bring or did not do. I often use this as evidence that I am "forgetful' or worse, "stupid." Another example, I occasionally catch myself in stride, walking more upright and feeling more comfortable in my body. I realized I was modeling the walk of Matthew Broderick, star of Ferris Buehler's Day Off, and now use that image as a conscious method to access a certain state and walk more powerfully in the world.
What small acts (mental, emotional, behavioral) do you use to define yourself (at least in the moment)?
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