Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?!
“Whether we realize it or not, each of us carries about with us a mental blueprint or picture of ourselves…this self-image is our own conception of “the sort of person I am.” It has been built up from our own beliefs about ourselves. Once an idea or belief about ourselves goes into this picture it becomes “true,” as far as we are personally concerned. We do not question its validity, but proceed to act upon it just as if it were true.
All your actions, feelings, behavior—even your abilities—are always consistent with this self-image. In short, you will “act like” the sort of person you conceive yourself to be. Not only this, but you literally cannot act otherwise, in spite of all your conscious efforts or will power.”
—Maxwell Maltz, M.D., in his bestselling book Psycho-Cybernetics
A professional baseball player, with access to the world’s finest trainers, nutritionists, and hitting coaches, is suddenly deserted by his abilities when he enters the postseason, returning to form only when the regular season starts again the following Spring.
A fat person begins a fat-loss program and has initial success, only to slowly lose ground to self-sabotage, cravings, parties with delicious treats, and a lack of motivation. This happens several times over the years.
A troubled student continues to make bad grades even with all the best well-intentioned help from his parents and counselors.
What do these three examples have in common? Attempted actions that are inconsistent with the actor’s self-image.
Someone who sees himself as a person who “folds when the pressure is on” will never be able to perform well in the playoffs no matter what kind of world-class abilities he normally possesses or what kind of help he has.
Someone who sees himself as fat or someone who “has always been fat,” “has a weight problem,” “has a slow metabolism,” or “is always going to be a bit chunky” will always revert to those behaviors that lead to the accumulation of excess fat tissue, regardless of the quality of the regimen he follows or the depth of his willpower and discipline.
A child who sees himself as a “D Student” will never complete all the steps necessary to consistently make good grades, no matter how much he wants to or how much he “applies himself.”
I’ve written this article in response to some reader and client questions about some of the things I’ve been posting on my Facebook Page. If you’ve been following along there, this will answer some questions for you.
We will only ever behave in ways that are consistent with what we believe to be true about ourselves—with “who we think we are.” This is why it is possible to know exactly what to do and then not do it.
If you had a pen and a pad of paper, you could write down exactly what steps it would take to solve most of the problems in your life. You could write down a plan to lose weight, a plan to stop the arguing with your spouse, a plan to improve your performance at your job, a plan to organize your finances, a plan to keep your house clean and organized, and on and on and on. It’s not that we don’t know what to do; it’s that we don’t do what we know.
So you are a “certain type of person,” and you perform “certain behaviors” that are consistent with this “certain type of person” that you think you are.
When someone decides they’d like to change, they usually begin by identifying the “certain behaviors” that they are going to need to change. So they change those behaviors using willpower and discipline, and initially they start getting good results. The problem, though, is that the “certain type of person” that they are hasn’t changed, and—as we know—a person will only ever behave in ways that are consistent with the “certain type of person” that they are. And so gradually the person’s willpower and discipline erode; after all, you can’t fight your self-image forever, and even if you could, what kind of life would that be?
So the person’s behaviors revert back to those “certain behaviors” from before that are consistent with the “certain type of person” that they believe themselves to be. Order has been restored and, as far as your personal identity—”who you think you are”—is concerned, all is right in the kingdom.
Now, the perceptive among you are thinking what I am fond of saying: “There’s got to be a better way.”
Stop trying to change the external—the “certain behaviors”—in order to create a different life outcome, which then alters the internal—the “certain type of person” or “who I think I am.” Change can only happen by first altering the internal—the “certain type of person” or “who I think I am”—which then alters the external—the “certain behaviors”—which then alters your life outcomes automatically.
A clutch hitter does not need any special advice or instruction to perform well in the postseason; hitting well under pressure is just something that a clutch hitter naturally does.
A lean, ripped, slammin’ hot person does not need any willpower or discipline to abstain from going to taco bell after dinner or buying a Cinnabon at the mall; those things are just not things that a lean, ripped, slammin’ hot person naturally does.
A bodybuilder does not need any willpower or discipline to refuse a night out drinking with his buddies or a slice of birthday cake at the office; going out drinking and eating birthday cake is just not something that a bodybuilder naturally does.
An A student does not need to exert any willpower or be told over and over again to do his homework; doing the homework is just something that an A student naturally does.
So when you offer a lean person a Cinnabon and they refuse, they’re really saying, “Don’t you know who I think I am?” Don’t see them as someone who is exerting great willpower and self-control; they’re not. They didn’t actually want the Cinnabon in the first place.
When you offer a puritanical teetotaler a drink and they refuse, they’re really saying, “Don’t you know who I think I am?” Don’t see them as someone who is sacrificing something for a greater purpose; they’re not. They didn’t actually want the drink in the first place.
Now here’s the trick: the first step in changing who you think you are is lying to yourself.
We tend to look around us for what is “true” in order to form our self-image; this is how we decide what “certain type of person” we are. I have this much money, I look like this, people treat me this way, and so on. You now understand how important that is.
Step one is to construct a mental image of yourself, using your imagination, that is your ideal. This ideal will appear as a lie to you. It will appear to be not true. That’s a good thing. You’ve surely heard the saying that if you repeat a lie often enough you start to believe it. That’s what this is.
Take a 300-pound man as an example. His first step is to form an image of himself at his ideal weight, and to identify with it.
His second step is that he must come to believe that this image is more real than what he sees in the mirror. He must constantly agree in his mind that he is this ideal. He must constantly feel what it would feel like to be that size. He must recognize that his current result—his 300-lb. body—is old news. It’s bullshit. It’s not even real. It’s what was. It’s the past. It’s gone. It n0 longer applies.
His third step is that he must repeat this mental image over and over again. In the morning when he gets up. While he’s going through his day. Every moment not actively engaged in some necessary task should be spent identifying with this ideal self. He must constantly feel the emotions that this ideal self would feel. He must ignore all of the past conditions that seem so damn “real” to him. This consecutive mental focus is some of the hardest work in the world.
You might call this “make-believe,” and I’d agree. Think about it: make…believe. He is very literally making a new belief about himself. He is constructing a new “certain type of person!” And we know that if he changes the “certain type of person” that he is, his “certain behaviors” will change in order to remain consistent with that. And new behaviors produce new results. He is changing who he thinks he is!
If he is dogged and persistent at practicing the feeling of this new ideal using his imagination, he will gradually (and this could take months) begin to see evidence of this new ideal.
He’ll be inspired to begin an exercise program, not because he is making himself do it because “he’s too fat,” but because it is consistent with who he now thinks he is. It’s just something a thin person does.
He’ll be inspired to make better food choices, not because he “really needs to start eating healthier,” but because it’s consistent with who he now thinks he is. Thin people don’t take part in all those things that made him fat in the first place.
His friends and family might even react negatively to this change, but they’re out of luck. Each time they suggest something that is not consistent with the “certain type of person” that he now is, he’ll refuse, without having to use any willpower or discipline. He didn’t even want to do those things in the first place. “Don’t you guys know who I think I am?”
Form a mental image of yourself that is an idealized version. Whatever improvement you seek, imagine it as good as it could possibly be. You’ll know you’re on the right track when it feels like you’re lying to yourself.
Realize that your current conditions are actually past conditions. They’re Old News. They’re who you were. This ideal version of yourself that you’ve created is more real than what you can currently see, smell, taste, hear, and touch. Identify not with who you were (what you call your “current self”), but with who you are (the idealized version from Step One). You are the new person. Let the old You fade away.
Practice constantly. Your task is to feel, emotionally, what it would feel like to be that new person NOW. Teach your body to feel the emotions that your ideal self would feel. The pride of accomplishment, the happiness of security, the exhilaration of high achievement, and on and on and on. Take every possible opportunity to rise above your “current” situation and begin to feel the feelings of your ideal situation. This is the hard step. Become the new ideal every spare moment you have.
Take a look at the before/after above. The guy on the left only changed when he began to believe that he was the guy on the right. He would look in the mirror and see the past. When he turned away from the mirror, he would again return to the feelings of the present, which observers would agree is now my present. He felt like I do now.
So dig this: today, I look like the guy on the right. But to me, that’s the past; that’s Old News. I am currently practicing the emotions of an even more ideal version of myself. To me, this ideal self is the present; you would call him the future because he “isn’t here yet.” I disagree. The moment I honestly feel like I am him, he becomes my present. It will take a few months for the two to meet up, but that’s how time works.
So when people treated the guy on the left like a fat guy, that didn’t make any sense to him. Mentally and emotionally he was the guy on the right. People weren’t treating him like who he thought he was. A lot of us see ourselves not as our ideal, but as other people see us. What others see becomes what we see. What others think of us become what we think of ourselves. Had I let other people’s perceptions of me determine my own perception of me, nothing would ever have changed; my behaviors would have exactly matched—as they always do—my perception of myself.
These days when people aren’t treating me like the idealized version of my Self (you’ll meet him in a few months), I can only rebuff them and say: “Don’t you know who I think I am?”
Take some time to reflect on this: “Who you think you are” is going to determine your behavior, since you cannot behave in a way that is inconsistent with this self-image. And your thinking, which creates this self-image, is limited only by your imagination. Your imagination is the engine that produces your thinking, and that thinking directly determines your self-image, which in turn directly determines the quality of your life.
Who do you think you are?
Choose wisely; you will literally become your answer to that question.