All of our suffering (except for physical pain) comes from identification. Identifying ourselves with something. The identification makes us so attached to who we tell ourselves we are, that if any of that diminishes or falls away, we go into suffering. We feel so attached to these beliefs of who we are that we feel like we lose (part of) ourselves, should we lose any of them.
If you want to know what you are identifying with look for expressions such as:
I am fat/skinny.
I am poor/rich.
I am an athlete.
I am the funny guy.
I am a fan of team XYZ.
I am dyslexic.
I am a businesswoman.
See the common denominator?
When we say “I am”, we are making it (a part of) our identity. We are telling ourselves that this is who/what/how we are. We are forcing ourselves into a fixed mindset; because if it is our nature we can’t change it, right?
We get to this point after a lot of validation of an idea about ourselves. Either from the dialogue within yourself or from people around you telling you the same thing over and over. If you keep hearing something about yourself, it eventually becomes a belief.
Now don’t get me wrong, we all do this, it is normal to do so, and sometimes these beliefs actually are empowering. However, suppose these beliefs are limiting and holding you back from reaching your maximum potential. In that case, I am suggesting just one small but powerful shift. Instead of saying “I am …” look for what defines it and say “I have …”.
Switching to “I have” doesn’t mean the situation changes. If you said “I am poor” and now say “I don’t have a lot of money,” the fact doesn’t change. Your bank account is still showing mostly zeros.
It does, however, represent a different way of looking at things. When we are completely identified with our situation, we are less likely to change it. The reasoning goes like this:
I am poor, so I will always be poor. It is just the way it is; it can never change because it is who I am. Change it to “I have” though, and something magical happens.
I have (or in this case, I don’t have) a lot of money, means there is you, and there is money. You are not identified with the object. A person without money is different from “a poor person.” A person without money at least has the possibility to change it. It is not who they are.
It also goes for the opposite in this example. A person with money who loses it doesn’t become a different person. A “rich person” who loses his money also loses who he thought he was. However, this goes for everything, not just wealth.
A person with excess weight has the possibility to lose it. If you say “I am fat,” you are subconsciously sabotaging yourself because if you believe it is who you are and lose it, does that mean you are not you anymore? Your subconscious might interpret it this way and, because of that, initiate the self-sabotage cycle of you not wanting to lose the weight cause you see it as losing (part of) yourself.
In essence, this would be the same as you saying “I am a BMW” because you drive one. No one would ever do this. When it comes to our bodies, though, we pretend we ARE the body; instead of that we HAVE a body and become wholly identified with it, which is pleasant when we are satisfied with what we see in the mirror but not so pleasant when we don’t like what we see.
Noticing the emerging belief
Sometimes an “I am…” can also start as an “I have…” For example, you failed at some task you had at work. Your first response is
“I have failed.”
Ok, nothing wrong with that. We all fail. As long as we learn from it, no biggie. But what if this happens a lot? Or if failing is a theme for you in your life? Then this innocent learning experience can turn into a more destructive self-image like:
“I am a failure.”
These are the experiences we want to notice while still in the growing phases and not a full-blown conviction yet.
Anything that we hear often enough, either from people around us or ourselves, will eventually become integrated as a belief about who we are as a person. These beliefs will always start with “I am” and that’s where we can recognize them and then question their actual validity.
How can we use this in daily life?
If you want to stop one of these emerging limiting beliefs in its tracks, you will first have to be aware of them. Start by noticing when you tell yourself an “I am…” When you hear yourself saying (out loud or in your head) any of these types of sentences notice it.
Don’t worry. You will get plenty of opportunities.
After you have identified the “I am” the next step is to ask yourself a question. Ask yourself:
“Is that really me? Or is it just something that I have, or something that I do?”
In this way, you can uncouple the behavior, object, body-quality, etc., from YOU the person. If you manage to do this, you will see that there are two things there. You and the other thing. If these are separate, that means it is not who you are. Subsequently, if it is something you don’t like, you have the possibility to change it. This way, you can go from a fixed mindset into a growth mindset again. A perspective and view of yourself that you are in control and can change in the direction you want to.
If you want to take this one step further, you can also check how often you identify with your thoughts. But that…is for a future article.
Let me know if this helped you look differently at anything you identified with and thought you couldn’t change.