The ‘it’s in my nature’ lie. You are what you choose today, not what you’ve chosen before
Who are you? How do you describe yourself? To answer these two questions, you most likely have to refer to our own history, to a past that has been lived through, but to which you are undoubtedly tied, and from which you find it difficult to escape. What are your self-descriptors? Are they neat little labels that you have gathered over a lifetime? They may include tags such as I’m nervous, I’m shy, I’m lazy, I’m not mathematical, I’m clumsy, I’m forgetful and a whole catalogue of additional ‘I’ms’ that you use. You probably have many positive I’ms such as I’m caring, I’m committed, I’m intelligent but we won’t deal with these now because our focus is on growing ourselves instead of applauding ourselves for the areas of our lives where we are already operating effectively.
Self-descriptors are not in themselves inappropriate, but they can be used in harmful ways. The very act of labelling might be a preventing your personal growth. All self-labels come out of our history. The self-defeating ‘I’ms’ are tied to the use of these four sentences:
- ‘That’s me.’
- ‘I’ve always been that way.’
- ‘I can’t help it.’
- ‘That’s my nature.’
Some people will actually use all four sentences in one shot when confronted with their behaviour. You might ask someone why she always gets upset when the subject of her work quality arises and she is likely to respond, ‘Oh, that’s just me, I’ve always been that way. I really can’t help it, it’s just my nature.’ Wow! All four at once, and each being used as an explanation for why she will never be different and never will consider changing.
It is obviously easier to describe yourself than to change. Perhaps we attribute the reasons for our labels to our parents, or other significant adults in our childhood such as your teachers, neighbours, grandparents and the like. By giving them the responsibility for who we are today, you’ve given them a measure of control over your life today, lifting them to higher position that you and created an alibi for staying ineffective in certain areas of your life. This way you have a neat and tidy reason for not making any changes or taking any risks.
The scary truth is that all or our ‘I’ms’ are learned avoidance patterns, and we can learn to be almost anything if we make a choice to do so. Leaving the past behind involves taking risks. You have become used to your self-definitions. In many cases they function as a support system in your daily life. Here are five strategies for getting rid of those ‘I’ms’ that stand in your way of living a fully productive life:
- Eliminate I’m where you can. Substitute with such sentences as, “Until today I’ve chosen to be that way’, or ‘I used to label myself ….’ but now ….
- Set behavioural goals to act differently that you’ve ever done before. For example, if you consider yourself shy, introduce yourself to one person who you might otherwise have avoided.
- Watch out for the four sentences whenever you fall into using them, correct yourself out loud in the following way: Change
- ‘That’s me.’ … to … ‘That was me.’
- ‘I can’t help it.’ … to … ‘I can change that if I work on it.’
- ‘I’ve always been that way.’…to … ‘I’m going to be different.’
- ‘That’s my nature.’ … to … ‘That’s what I used to believe was my nature.’
- Try to work each day on eliminating one I’m just for the day. If you’ve used ‘I’m forgetful’ as a self-descriptor, devote today to working specifically at being aware of this tendency, and see if you can change one or two forgetful behaviours. Similarly, if you don’t like your stubbornness, I’m, give yourself one day to be tolerant of different opinions, and see if you can get rid of your I’ms one day at a time.
- Find something you’ve never done and set aside an afternoon for that activity. After a few hours doing something you’ve never done or avoided doing in the past, see if you can still use the same ‘I’m’ that you applied in the past.
Remember, the term ‘human nature’ is designed to pigeonhole people and create excuses. You are the sum product of your choices and every ‘I’m’ you hold onto can be relabelled by saying ‘I’ve chosen to be.’ If you go back to the opening questions in this article, Who are you? And How do you describe yourself? Think about some positive new labels that are in no way connected to the choices or descriptions that others have made for you, or those that you have made. Those old labels may just be keeping you from living your purpose.