Let’s talk about our self-identity and what that means for us as transformational leaders. Whether you see yourself as a leader or a follower, our self-identity impacts us in powerful ways. So what is our self-identity? How do we become who we are? How do we identify who we are? Who do we ourselves think we are? Very simply, self-identity is the thoughts we believe to be true about ourselves.
As you are pursuing the truth about yourself and identifying your self-identity, recognize that all of us are also filtering information through the lens of our hippocampus, as well as our self-identities. That means that, if information arrives at the doorway of the hippocampus with passion or emotion, plus purpose or meaning, the hippocampus receives stores that information. Then, as this process happens with the same information over time, that information will then enter our cognitive memory. Once it gets into our cognitive memory, it will never go away, and we are pre-programmed to expect that certain outcomes will result from certain actions.
Our self-identity is made up of three major categories: personal experiences, social comparisons, and internalization of others’ judgments. Let’s explore these areas.
1. Self-Identity Formed Through Personal Experiences
The first category that shapes our self-identity is through our personal experiences. That includes everything that has ever happened to us in life. So think of all your life’s experiences that were poured into your self-identity. They are all included. This means that our perception of ourselves is, in part, shaped by the events of our lives. Our self-identity is the thoughts I believe to be true about myself based on all my life’s experiences.
It’s highly possible that we all have some lies and misconceptions running through the filter of our hippocampuses, that place where events are stored when they become a part of our cognitive memory and which would cause these lies and misconceptions to be poured into our self-identities. Perhaps these lies and labels may have originated from an elementary school teacher, a coach in school, a parent, a sibling, an aunt, an uncle, or a boss. At some point, it’s possible that someone said something to each of us that we believe to be true although what was said was untrue.
Let’s say that you see me in the grocery store, and you know me. Two of my young daughters are with me, both of whom are under six years of age. One of them is on one side of me, and one’s on the other. You come up to me and say, “Hey, Ford!” You then look at one of my daughters and say, “Wow! You sure are pretty!” Then you look at the other daughter and say, “You’re so sweet!”
What could happen is that if both of my daughters replay that scene over and over, one will believe she’s pretty, but not sweet. The other daughter will believe she’s sweet, but not pretty.
These sorts of life experiences go on every day in our lives. As leaders, we’re also doing this to other people, while, at the same time, it’s also happening to us.
2. Self-Identity Formed Through Social Comparisons
Second, our self-identity is shaped by social comparisons. These are the thoughts we believe to be true about ourselves as we compare ourselves to others.
Now, let’s stay in that same grocery store. Have you ever gone through a checkout line and looked at what’s on either side of you at about your knee level? Have you ever seen what little children look at that’s pouring into their self-identities. What do they see? They look to the right and see candy and gum. They look to their left and see all kinds of magazines with people on the front cover, many of whom pay a lot of money to make them look that way. So, from a very young age, the children are thinking I’m supposed to eat this and look like this. They start comparing themselves to what they see on that magazine.
Such social comparisons feed into the thoughts we believe to be true about ourselves that form our self-identities.
3. Self-Identity Formed Through Internalization of Others’ Judgments
Third, our self-identity is shaped though our internalization of others’ judgments. In other words, we decide what to believe about ourselves based on what we think others think about us.
Have you ever presented something at a meeting or given a talk and, after you finished, you thought, “How did that sound? Did I do okay? Did I say what I wanted to say?” Your answers to these questions are shaping your self-identity. While we don’t really know what others thought about us or about our performance, we decide within ourselves what we think they think about us.
Identifying What I Believe About Myself
Are there things you believe to be true about yourself, either positive or negative, that may not be true? Have you ever thought about what you really think about yourself? For a helpful exercise, take some time and write down any areas of your self-identity, both positive and negative, that you believe to be true about yourself that, that if you really thought through them, you’d discover they’re not true.
One helpful tool to help you discover the thoughts in your self-identity is people I call bumper buddies, people you trust enough to invite them to speak truth to you. These are people who can help you identify what you believe and help make sure that you are believing the truth.
Changing Your Thoughts About Yourself
How can we change something in our self-identity that we might want to change? How can change something in our thought process that we might want to change? Let’s talk about that.
First, list some of the positive thoughts you have about yourself and dwell on those for a moment. Focus on one of these thoughts. What feeling do you get when you think about that thought?
Now, ask yourself, “Whenever I feel this way, how do I act? How do I behave? How do I impact the people around me when I’m feeling this way?”
Next, repeat this process with one of the negative thoughts on your list. How does that negative thought make you feel? Then ask yourself, “Whenever I feel this way, how do I act? How do I behave? How do I impact the people around me when I’m feeling this way?”
How can you reduce those negative thoughts? How can you shift the negative thoughts into positive ones? The more you think positively on a daily basis, the more you’ll feel positive. Your positive feelings will result in more positive actions. Your positive actions will create a more positive impact and positive outcomes for that which you are aiming to influence. That’s how you change your thoughts and how you create a more positive self-identity.
I think we all want to view ourselves in a positive way, and these are some thoughts and tools to help us think about our self-identity more accurately. As transformational leaders, we want our self-identity to reflect who we want to be.