As time passes I invest more and more energy figuring out the ways in which my mind and the narratives it produces hold me back from what I want to achieve. Mindfulness teachers will often talk about the benefits of breaking our patterns of identification. Well, here is a specific example I have noticed where momentary difficulty has caused deeper discomfort due to identification with past, current and future goals. I hope that unpacking allows me to let go of the identification and focus on the purer, underlying reasons why I want to pursue my goals.
We all use narratives and stories to create emotional comfort zones. For example, I am good at analyzing, writing, presentations, etc, which generates a foundation for professional credibility. Or, I am an investor which creates an identity within a social context whereby people turn towards me for answers about markets.
We create these identities seamlessly through life, attaching to all sorts of stories. They can have a purpose as we “figure out who we are” but they also have consequences, creating more heightened discomfort when those stories are challenged.
For example, what are the consequences of my investor and a fund manager identity? I have experienced some discomfort in recent months during the market volatility and the challenge of not performing as well for my clients as I would have liked. Some component of this discomfort is perfectly reasonable, but another is entirely unhelpful.
Since I identify as a financial market researcher, crypto expert, fund manager, smart personal and successful professional, the momentary failure to deliver on my professional goals threatens the core of my identity because it calls into question my ability in those areas.
The next mental jump that my brain made was particularly interesting…and it is the reason I noticed this psychological development.
Clinging to any semblance of comfort, my unconscious mind attempted to ‘solve’ the discomfort through the creation of a new narrative. I began thinking about my interest in and skills in yoga, meditation and mindfulness and I created a story that I could become a teacher, instructor and expert in this field.
This new narrative created momentary comfort because I was creating a new identity to cling to, limiting the pain caused by the temporary breaking down of the old identity. There is nothing wrong with these new goals and I probably will pursue them with vigour. But I could quickly perceive a number of negative consequences of this psychological process.
- It is not helpful to swing between and cling to identities. I feel like it displays a similarity to “vine-swinging” in relationships when people jump from one romantic relationship to the next to avoid the pain of the previous. These decisions rarely serve the individual in question because they are not facing up to the reality of what is working, what is not working and what they truly want.
- Swinging between identities undermines the quality of the second interest-area by building it on the wrong foundation. I should not pursue a new interest, just because I experience pain in another area and am looking for a new identity to cling towards.
- What happens when conditions inevitably deteriorate in the new interest-area? What happens when I am not mindful, when my yoga teaching is not appreciated or my practice regresses? Will this cause an identity crisis? As a minimum these unhelpful thoughts of self-doubt will be strong and compelling because I will have unskillfully inserted a dependency through forming an identity around the interest-area.
- The process also undermines the existing interest-area. In my specific example, it provides an excuse to care less about crypto, bitcoin, investing and fund management because I am momentarily tying my identity and self-worth to another interest-area. That is hugely unhelpful because it could reduce the chances of success. I need to give everything to my fund management business. Not because my identity is at stake but because it is what I want.
I want to run a business, a want to manage money, I want to challenge myself, I want to be financially well off with the means to grow my family, I want to protect my networks capital, I want to create a foundation to have a greater impact on my community, I want to spread sound money principles and I genuinely see my business as a vehicle to pursue these goals.
I can understand why my identity is tied up in these principles and goals, but I need to find a way to break the linkage because I can see that it is not helpful to the goals themselves. I am just a person, who is doing his utmost to pursue his interests, goals and have a positive impact of those around him. There is no need for some grandiose identification with a title or status.