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  • James McPartland

Refining Identity

"Everyone acts in accordance with their internal narrative. You are what you are, where you are, and who you are because of the story you keep telling yourself about yourself." — James McPartland

Access Point: Refining Identity | Blog post by James McPartland | Speaker, Author, Executive Coach

We are what we pay attention to. The world acts a mirror - giving back to us not what we want, but who we project ourselves to be – by the story we have constructed about "how life really is". Refining our identity – and creating the life we truly desire – requires a heightened level of self-awareness and deliberate thinking. This journey of discovery opens us up to see that the "truth" of the story we tell ourselves is attributed to our "external reality". This "external reality" stems from the "scripts" we write and carry in our mind – and then bring to life through our actions (or inactions) to make our "external reality" conform to our story.

As human beings, we are meaning-making machines. We can make "reality" be whatever we need it to be to safeguard our position in life. However, if we do not face and own what we are resisting in our life, we can be stuck forever – as we are more committed to staying where we are than to shifting into who we say we want to be. The importance we give to our stories cause them to become self-fulfilling prophecies.

All behavior is an "identity performance" – an act in which we work to keep a particular narrative going. We are walking, talking expressions of our deepest convictions. Recognizing that we become what we think about – we come to find that we can only see as far as our self-talk will take us and only act as far as our self-talk will back us.

Thinking about we think about – and who we are telling ourselves we are or are not – provides an intuitive understanding between who we truly are and who we have wound up being. Or, to put it another way, between who I am and who I want others to think I am. Deconstructing our current identity can raise an awareness that we are (or have been) emotionally attached to imaginary things. What are you explaining, justifying, or defending about your life? What we protect influences how we form our identity and thus live our lives.

Crafting our new identity, one that we can live into each and every day, is simply a matter of practicing on a new playfield. After all, we are playing the game of life, and life is one elongated practice session. You can change who you are by changing what you do. Stepping into a new identity amplifies the paradox of small improvements. If change is important to you, if your "why" is strong enough, any step is actually a big step. Getting out of your head requires action, and it is far easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. Don't feel the need to get it perfect right away. Just get it going.

I'd like to share a set of questions from our recent identity-focused workshop, one where the testimonials from a group of high-performing executives told us they found enormous value. It is important to note that many of these questions required multiple iterations, but as one executive said: "I had never considered that each and every day, I am writing a script, and even giving others directions by virtue of how I write their scripts. I am getting exactly what I have imagined. These questions are hard and yet, given the trajectory of my life, nothing worthwhile has ever come to me easily..."

Questions to ensure that you can fully express your "Future Self":

  • Who are you?

  • What are you committed to putting an end to?

  • What do you refuse to accept in your life?

  • What will you now take responsibility for?

  • What do you want your life to be about?

  • What will you stand for?

  • What vital challenge are you going to take on?

  • What are you promising and to whom are you promising it to?

  • Why will all of this matter when you get to the final days of your life?

To change your story is to change your identity – and thus your life. Ask yourself, what story is truly worth your life?

Finally – if you ever find yourself in the wrong story, exit stage left! It's YOUR life. YOUR story. YOUR choice.


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