Can You Change Your Identity?

Post 1005

Can you change who you are? Can you change your identity? I do not mean your ID or your name or your driver’s license. I mean how you feel and think – how you view the world.

In a recent blog post on Benjamin Hardy suggests that we can do just that. He cites three studies that show how we can change how we act. The first study is a 1978 study by Ellen Langer where a group of nursing home residents were given a plant to care for. A control group was not given a plant and their daily activity was controlled by the staff. At the end of 18 months twice as many of the control group had died as those with plants. The plants had given them a sense of purpose, a task to perform and greater autonomy. By giving them autonomy and a purpose they lived longer. They changed.

The second study in 1981 was again by Langer. A group of elderly men were placed in a house that was entirely decorated as it would have looked in 1959. The men were asked to only discuss what was going on in the 1950s. Though the men were in their 70s they began to act as though they were 20 years younger. One put away his cane. The men demonstrated improved eyesight, hearing, dexterity and appetite. They had changed.

The last study was by Philip Zimbardo and is well known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. Students were assigned roles as prison guards and inmates. Those that were to act like guards ridiculed and tortured the inmates. Some of the inmates were traumatized. They had changed.

Hardy’s conclusion is we all act a role in life. He suggests that we are not condemned to that role – we can change the role and thereby change who we are – we can change our identity. He suggests that our true identity is not the role we play but what we desire to become.

He then suggests we can make changes in ourselves by adopting a goal – what we wish to become. We then must commit to the goal through constant activity in furtherance of the goal. He suggests that we act the part we want to be until we become that part. This process requires not will power, which he suggests is inherently weak, but commitment. A strong sense of commitment.

Quoting William James, “If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.” If we want an ability or a quality we need only commit to it and then act as though we had that ability or quality. With enough consistent effort we can become what we are acting. It is an intriguing idea. Hardy suggests that if we play our desired role long enough we can become that role.

What do you think?

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.