by Niall Doherty

Your fear loves it when you say things like this:

  • I could never do something like that
  • I just don’t have it in me
  • I’m not that kind of person

If you find yourself saying any of the above, I expect you have a rigid self concept. This can be dangerous.

Now, what’s the difference between having a rigid self concept and knowing who you are? You should know who you are, right?

Yes, you should.

You should know what your values and intentions are, but you also need to be careful not to cling to your beliefs. Realize that your beliefs will change over time. That’s just how the world works. A few hundred years back everyone believed that the world was flat, and you were crazy if you thought otherwise. Then along came Nicky Copernicus with his theory of a round planet and everyone thought he was a nutcase. But of course he turned out to be right and gradually everyone accepted this new belief.

The same can be said about the four-minute mile. Everyone thought it was impossible for a human to run a mile in less than four minutes. People had been trying for centuries. Then along came Roger Bannister and he shattered that belief. After he achieved the impossible, suddenly everyone was doing it. Literally dozens of people ran 4-minute miles in the weeks and months after Bannister did it. Why? Because their beliefs had changed. After hearing what Bannister had done, they knew what was possible. They were no longer held back by their limiting beliefs.

A rigid self concept is dangerous because you assume that you know exactly how the world works and what your place is in it. Like I said, it’s good to have a strong idea of who you are, but you need to allow room to grow, room for your beliefs to be proven wrong. Don’t hold too closely to your beliefs.

Instead of saying I could never do something like that, ask yourself, What if I could do something like that? Entertain the possibility, if even for a moment. What would your world look like if you could do it?

I just don’t have it in me. But what if you did? What if it’s there inside you and your limiting beliefs are all that’s holding it back?

I’m not that kind of person. But what if you are? Or what if you could become that type of person?

“Just be yourself”

This is both good and bad advice. Yes, you want to relax and feel comfortable in your own skin. But not always. If you’re always just being yourself, you’ll never grow.

I was 17 years old and the shyest guy I knew. I found it incredibly difficult to make conversation with anyone I didn’t know. If it wasn’t for me being half-decent at basketball and making a few friends through that, I probably would have been the biggest loner in the country. I was especially bad with women. There was one girl who I was very attracted to around that time. We had the same circle of friends, hung out in the same group regularly, and yet it took me nearly three months to build up the courage to go and have a conversation with her.

Friends told me back then to just be myself. Just be yourself and you’ll be fine. This wasn’t very good advice, because myself was the shy kid with zero social skills. What I needed to do was become more than myself. I needed to step outside of who I was and push myself to grow into the person I wanted to be, the person who could go and strike up a conversation with that girl.

Be myself? Screw that. I had to evolve into a better version of myself.

Keep this in mind as you work to build your courage. Any time you find yourself saying that’s not something I would do, or I’m not that kind of person, watch out. You might feel like those things are coming from a place of moral identity, but more often they are coming from a place of fear. That’s your lizard brain whispering at you, trying to keep you in your comfort zone, not wanting you to take a risk and grow into a better and stronger person.

Don’t just be yourself. Be who you want to be. If you screw up, no worries. Start over.

Becoming more assertive

Say you want to become more assertive, but you’re always telling yourself that you’re a meek kind of person, a pushover. That’s just who you are. Fine. That might be who you are now, but it’s not who you always have to be. To become the confident and assertive individual that you crave to be, you’ll need to abandon your original identity, you’ll need to withhold judgement of yourself while you step outside your comfort zone and explore your suppressed assertive side.

So you commit to do this. You head down to the market to haggle over the price of a packet of pistachios. The salesman tells you they cost $6. Your hand shaking and a quiver in your voice, you say “I’ll give you $4 for them.” Now, you are obviously uncomfortable as you wade into the unfamiliar waters of your assertive side. The feeling will get even worse if the salesman pushes back and refuses to budge. You’ll probably want to run out of there saying “Never again, never again. That’s just not me!” Please don’t do that. Give this new side of you a chance to become familiar. It’s scary right now, but only because it’s different. Stick with the assertive exercises long enough to know if it’s really not you, or if it’s just your lizard brain trying to keep you stuck in the so-called safe and familiar place of meekness.

Don’t let that primal fear win. You’re better than that.

In the above example, it would be best to do the ripping-off-a-band-aid approach and go around haggling for an entire day. Immerse yourself in assertion. Try on those assertive pants for the whole day and see how you feel in the evening. If your experience is anything like mine, you’re likely to feel empowered after a few hours of wearing them. You’ll be left saying to yourself, Holy shit, I had no idea I could do that!

Bingo. You’ve killed your limiting belief. You have a new and improved self concept. But don’t cling too much to this new image of you either. You’ll want to move on and outgrow that as well.

Keep your labels loose

I can and sometimes do describe myself as a minimalist vegan vagabond. But I won’t let that description define me. I know I may not be a minimalist, or a vegan, or a vagabond forever, even though I feel strongly about those identities now.

How do I stay fluid? I remember that I was none of those things four years ago. Back then I had no idea who I would be today. I never could have predicted the path I would take, the different hats I would don. So how can I know who I’ll be and what I’ll believe four years from now? I can’t. It would be arrogant of me to think otherwise. So I keep my beliefs loose, ready to be proven wrong. (By the way, a great way to do this is to converse with people who have very different opinions than you do. Try listening more than talking, don’t defend your own position. See what happens.)

Here’s the thing: If you’re growing and evolving constantly, you should be able to look back every six months or so and see how far you’ve come. That six-months-ago version of you should look different to the you of now. You should be a bit wiser, your beliefs should be a bit different, your worldview should have shifted in some way. You should not be exactly the same person you were back then. If you are, you haven’t been stepping out of your comfort zone. Your lizard brain is owning you.

Don’t let that happen. Adopt a fluid self concept. Embrace uncertainty. Question your beliefs, explore new truths.

Don’t just be yourself. Be someone even better.