For as long as humans have been self-reflective, one of the elemental questions of human existence has been, “Who am I?”

We take endless tests. IQ tests, personality tests, colour tests (Am I a green/yellow or a brown/orange?). We take the MMPI and the DSM-IV (rather the psychiatrist administers those), the LAB profile and the DISC profile and hundreds of others, each of which claims to have the answer to that basic question: “Who am I?”

Notice this: Ironically we look for external tests to confirmation to help us understand that we are indeed ourselves. Interesting that, eh?

Once we decide (or someone decides for us) who or what we are, and we accept that diagnosis, we give up little important things called choice and flexibility. In essence by accepting definition, we reduce our identity to one that supports the narrowness of the belief of who we now are.

Guard your I AMs with your life.

When we say, “I am”, it is important to differentiate between our behaviours – things that we do – and our identity, which is truly who we are.

Knowing the answer to the question of who we are can become a double-edged sword.

We all know the kid who behaved badly come to be known as “The BAD kid”, and perhaps the girl who dressed in a certain way became known as “The SLUT”

When behaviours become identity statements, negative identity statements become traps that are difficult to escape, and ironically our behaviour adjusts to match the unwanted label as we take on that identity…so we end up becoming that which we were labeled.

By keeping behaviours as behaviours (i.e. I did a stupid thing vs. I AM stupid), and ensuring we only use positive identity statements, we keep who we are safe from the randomness of the world around us.

Think diagnosis

Part of our relentless external search for the ‘who am I’ answer can leave us particularly vulnerable to people in positions of authority making pronouncements about us.

One hugely vulnerable area is our health. When you go to the doctor, it is absolutely crucial to keep positive identity statements in your head, because one diagnosis can lead us down a trap that is very difficult to escape.

When the doctor says, “You have _________”, we process that internally as, “I AM ________.” And in an instant our lives rearrange to accommodate the diagnosis.

We begin to live in service of diabetes or cancer or high blood pressure. The diagnosis penetrates every area of our lives until we ARE cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The key is to remember to separate behaviours from identity. Your identity is something to be, truly, guarded with your life. Behaviour is something we do.

 

Think Frank Sinatra: keep your Be’s separate from your Do’s.