The Identity and Change Connection

I can’t remember where I first read it, otherwise I would give that source credit, but I’ve heard and read this phrase numerous times over the years, “It is impossible for a person to consistently act in a way that is contrary to how they see themselves.”  I know that many motivational and spiritual growth speakers, like Zig Ziglar, have taught that if you see yourself as a winner then you’ll act like a winner and vice versa.

The Bible, especially Jesus and the Apostle Paul, taught this over 2,000 years ago. Jesus, for example said things like, “You are the light of the world” to a poor, rag tag group of Roman oppressed Jews.  He was constantly trying to get them to change their view of God and themselves because He knew if they saw themselves differently, they would act differently.  The Apostle Paul’s writings are absolutely saturated with words focused on changing new believer’s internal image of themselves.  He wrote literally hundreds of times in his letter statements like, “You are new creations, you are light so act like children of light, you are more than conquerors, you are joint-heirs with Jesus, you are Christ’s body, God’s own Spirit lives in you and empowers you….”


In their best-selling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard authors Chip and Dan Heath wrote, “Identity is going to play a role in nearly every change situation.  Even yours.  When you think about the people whose behavior needs to change, ask yourself whether they would agree with this statement: “I aspire to be the kind of person who would make this change.”  If their answer is yes, that’s an enormous factor in your favor.  If the answer is no, then you’ll have to work hard to show them that they should aspire to a different self-image.”

James March, professor of political science at Stanford University says that people tend to rely on two basic models to make choices. The first he calls the “consequences” model.  I’m sure you’ve used it at some point in your life and it goes like this.  On one side of the paper you write down the “pro’s” or benefits of this decision.  On the other side of the paper you write down the “cons” or costs associated with this decision.  You compare and then decide.  This is a rational, analytical approach often used in economics.

The second decision making model March calls “the identity model.” When using this model we ask ourselves basically these three questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What kind of situation is this?
  3. What would someone like me do in this situation?


Depending on your awareness of how human beings function; It may surprise you to know that the identity model is used far more often than the consequences model by people all around the world.

Here is the proven reality: people act more based on how they see themselves than what the facts may tell them.

If you want to change yourself or help others change then

1. Connect with how they already see themselves or

2. Help them change how they see themselves. Research, motivational speakers, and the Bible all agree on that major, major point.

If you want some proven, practical, doable help in how to change your life or help others do the same this short but powerful book could really help: Powerful Personal Development in 12 Minutes a Day

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