Identity Sculpting: Build Your Ideal Self
In this essay series, we explore creating systems in our lives to perform better and achieve what matters most to each of us. And fundamental to this is defining who you want to be, then designing and becoming that person.
Your thoughts are repeated to yourself over and over again. Those thoughts become your beliefs. And your beliefs become your reality. Once you accept it as reality, you are stuck with that life.
Tony Robbins said:
“The only thing that’s keeping you from getting what you want is the story you keep telling yourself.”
So often the beliefs you accept as reality are not actual reality, they're just excuses. You've let your excuses become your reality. Don't do that.
Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about becoming yourself.
We can re-wire our brains — we can re-write our view of self.
We can shape the version of ourselves that serves us best. You can view yourself in many different legitimate ways, pick one that empowers and uplifts — rather than hurts and breaks you down.
We will explore how to build legitimacy in your mind for the way you chose to view yourself — to specifically design and sculpt your self-identity.
Habits are formed through identity change — both starting good ones and breaking bad ones. I discovered this notion over 20 years ago and it has been the most impactful insight of my life.
See my previous Identity Sculpting video for practical daily steps to build an identity sculpting practice. But for something this important, we haven’t discussed this concept fully enough yet. So let's go deeper.
“Our actions shape our identity, and in turn, our identity shapes our actions.”
The Silicon Valley “ philosopher-entrepreneur” Reid Hoffman said:
“I believe that each of us should be thoughtful, proactive, and rigorous about our own identity. Shape your identity (and thus your life) to better meet the expectations you have of yourself.”
How? Lay bricks to construct the identity you want.
Each action you take is a brick placed into the structure you're building of yourself. This structure over time, with many bricks, takes shape and forms a rigidity. It's your view of self.
Build deliberately, laying the right shape of bricks in the right place to build who you want to be. Laying bricks reactively or arbitrarily will create a rough, dysfunctional structure.
And if we find ourselves with a chaotic dysfunctional creation, we don't just move on to a new plot of land and start over. The structure and its bricks need to first be dismantled in order to build anew. We only have the one plot of land, the one structure of self.
Build it properly as early as possible. The longer you let the reactive, arbitrary brick laying go, the more hard work to tear it down and rebuild.
But once you have a strong well-designed, well-built structure, you have a robust and enduring self-identity that can withstand harsh weather and ongoing challenges.
What you focus on becomes your reality
You give validation through attention to the inputs and ideas that enter your awareness. Not everything you encounter needs to be validated — you can decide what to validated by deciding what to spend time reflecting on, or even obsessing on.
Where you apply your attention has a lasting effect on you. It lays bricks.
- If you obsess over negative or angry thoughts in your mind, lopping them over and over, they will form your beliefs and your identity, and therefore your reality. They lead to fear, insecurity, anxiety.
- If you obsess on growth-minded ideas, empowering beliefs, they will form a confident and capable structure of self. Your thoughts lay bricks toward your identity.
- Your actions do the same. Your actions shape what your mind focuses on for much of the time. Your actions lay bricks and embed physical evidence for your beliefs. They are building your structure.
There are certainly things outside of your control that impact and shape your identity. Some driven by ego. But many are real and unfair and completely legitimate reasons for negative elements of your self-identity.
They are outside of your control. And there is so much in your control — including what you permit to define you from outside forces. Focus on what is in your sphere of influence, and work toward a level of control over your mind to shape yourself despite negative environmental forces. This can be done. It is done by many people who rise above adversity.
It is YOUR mind. If you make the effort, you can have more influence on it than anyone or anything else.
Ideal Self vs Self Image
The influential psychologist Carl Rogers said people have:
- Self-Image - how we see ourselves, who we think we are
- Self Esteem - how we feel about ourselves emotionally
- Ideal Self - who we should be, who we want to be
Self-Alignment is when our Self Image is close to our Ideal Self.
This is the objective. Good Self Esteem, confidence, and self-worth all result from alignment. Self Alignment leads to a sense of well-being and inner peace — but it’s always a work in progress.
Self-alignment moves us toward Maslow’s “Self Actualization” atop his hierarchy of needs. We first satisfy lower levels to move up to higher levels.
Build our Self Image by laying bricks. Reach the highest level by laying the right bricks in the right places — in terms of both thoughts and actions.
If our values align with our target Ideal Self, thinking and acting according to them leads toward more fulfilling lives — where we act and create and shape the lives we want.
Then how you manifest your identity, further shapes your identity — it's a feedback loop.
You can decide on the identity you want, but it better be aligned with what you truly value, or you will build a prison.
A lot of people build prisons through false identities — identities not true to themselves, either serving what they think others want or an ego-fueled delusion. They end up with identities they don't respect, that are not rewarding, and do not provide real purpose or fulfillment.
As with everything, and most importantly here, you have to ask WHY and drill deep.
Identity is not only a beacon for yourself, it's a marker of who you are and what you stand for. It’s also a beacon for others. If you default to a misaligned identity without deliberation, you will attract the same in others around you. Shape an identity you respect and are proud of, then you will attract others with similar identity qualities.
We build on this further in the next essay on Guiding Principles – Finding Purpose & Meaning in Life.