Friday, April 13, 2018

Choose Your Identity Wisely

One of my favorite Paul Graham essays is Keep Your Identity Small. Go ahead and give it a read, its really great.

Did you read it? If you didn't I'll summarize: In order to have a useful conversation about something you cannot identify with it.  This is because once you identify with it the discussion ceases to be around the topic but around you and that makes it personal which makes it hard to talk about. We have feeling to protect. You want to have as many useful conversations as possible in order to learn. Thus the conclusion is to keep your identity small.

But identity can be good both ways. One of the most powerful tools  you can use is identity. It goes with the theory that you are what you believe. One of the famous motivation examples is Roger Bannister running the 4 minute mile. It was widely considered impossible but then he did it. Although the feat was super impressive, the more interesting thing is that after he did it, hundreds of people started doing it, including high school athletes. Thus why belief is so important. So back to identity, this means when you truly identify with something it is very powerful. It shapes your actions, habits, decisions because once you truly believe you are good at X, you actually will become. X can be being good at math, being an athlete, being a great communicator, etc.

That's why I choose to identify with being a fitness beast. This has the opposite effect of what Paul Graham is talking about. Now, like identifying with religion, me choosing to identify with fitness is not specifically to prevent other people from talking me out of going to the gym (because this never actually happens),  but it prevents myself from talking me out of going to the gym. The conversation here is really the self talk in my own head ("oh, it can wait for tomorrow, just relax today", "what's the harm in an extra slice", etc.). By NOT keeping my identity small here it kills that conversation: "Of course I'm hitting the weights today because I'm a f****** beast".

Yes, identity is a very powerful tool and you should use it to your advantage. Whether that is to encourage discussion, or kill it.