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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
-Teilhard de Chardin

Changing the things that make us who we are seems to be a daunting and impossible challenge. We may often have moments of inspiration and motivation when we stand up to the person we were and take on life with a whole new perspective. Eventually we find ourselves slipping back into our old ways and becoming, once again, that person we tried to get away from being.

This may drain our hope and inspiration and, worst of all, fill us with shame about who we are. Shame drains our motivation and leads to self-loathing. And, if we loath ourselves, why would we want to do anything good for someone we loath?

The first step to changing who you are is to realize that you can’t. …So, why am I writing about changing who we are if it can’t be done? Because, I’m hoping to change your perspective. What we really need to change is not who we are but what we do.

This may seem like an irrelevant, semantic distinction, but when we define who we are by our behaviors, we present ourselves with a huge barrier. For instance, if I define myself as a slacker, I have to become someone who I am not in order to become motivated. If I, instead, recognize myself as a good person with potential to change and grow who struggles with motivation, then I can face the struggle instead of trying to work against my identity.

Another obstacle we face when identifying ourselves with our behavior is that it becomes a difficult, and possibly humiliating, process just to face the truth about our responsibility in our life situations. We may make excuses about why we’re not exercising everyday because we don’t want to experience the pain of identifying ourselves as lazy or wimpy. Instead, we can simply face the objective truth that we have not made exercise a priority, and then we gain the power to examine and change our priorities.

One way to get a glimpse of who we are is to look at our morals, values and motivations. These can help define who we are and what we can achieve and are often at odds with how we actually behave. But, on the surface, even these things can change over time. We don’t usually make a conscious decision to change our values, rather they change over time with experience.

The unchanging definition of who we are lies within our hearts. Each of us has a deep inner voice, or spirit, which guides our thoughts and decisions when we choose to listen. It is when we choose not to listen that we find ourselves confused and discontented with who we are.

Take responsibility for your actions as actions, not as a definition of who you are. This allows you to make objective, non-judgmental observations of yourself that lead to motivated activities rather than paralysis from shame. See How To Practice Humility for more on this topic.

Realize that the life that you have today has developed into what it is because of your thoughts, choices and actions. This is an empowering realization as what naturally follows is the realization that you have the power to build the life you want tomorrow based on your thoughts, choices and actions today. The alternative to this is to blame other people, circumstances, society, etc. for your conditions which leaves you powerless. Of course, there are often circumstances beyond your control which influence your life, but by focusing on your own influence you find the power to change. See Take Charge of Your Life for more on this topic.

Examine your morals and values to make sure that the changes you are planning to make fit in with your motivations and priorities. Every choice you make requires you to sacrifice one thing for another. Sometimes that sacrifice is negligible; sometimes it’s significant. By consciously choosing the sacrifices you make, rather than saying, “I’ll figure it out somehow,” you’ll be much less likely to go back on your choices or lose motivation. See Avoiding Self Sabotage for more on this topic.

Share your plans with others who will support your decision to change. This is especially helpful if shared with others who are making or have made similar changes. It may also help to avoid sharing with others who may not be supportive until you have achieved some success. The value of having supportive friends and associates can scarcely be overestimated. If you find it difficult to find supportive people within your physical community, find a community online. See Establishing A Support System for more on this topic.

Celebrate your milestones and practice gratitude. It’s more helpful to celebrate time-based milestones as opposed to trying to measure changes you’ve made. For instance, if you have decided to improve your physical health and are focused on, say, 10 pounds of weight loss, you may be frustrated and discouraged if it takes longer than expected or if you gain back some of what you’ve lost. Instead try focusing on 30 days of healthy eating and/or improved physical activity for instance. See Celebrate Milestones To Sustain Personal Growth for more on this topic.

Re-evaluate your commitments regularly to assure that your behaviors stay inline with your personal morals, values and priorities. Recommit to and/or adjust choices you’ve made. Practice self-discipline at times when you forget why you are doing what you are doing.

Once you have achieved some success, help others to do the same by sharing your experience with them. Nothing solidifies a successful change like sharing your success with another person. This type of service will remind you of your own commitment and perpetuate gratitude for the changes you’ve made as you see others struggle to make the same changes.

However, be cautious of becoming preoccupied with the success of others since not everyone will achieve the same success you have.

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