Stories Define Your Identity and Your Actions

January 06, 2021

Humans don't just think in stories, humans are stories. Our personal identity is the collective sum of all the stories we tell about ourselves.

Who am I? I'm a runner, I'm a person who cares how long I steep my tea, I'm a PlayStation fanboy. These aspects of myself aren't genetically encoded instructions on how to replicate me, but rather elements that I believe are important.

Stories shape our behavior. At an evolutionary level, stories are one of the ways we advanced as a species. Instead of having to wait for a fear of thin slithering cylinders to catch on at the genetic level (think cats and cucumbers), we can just tell our children to stay away from snakes. Behavior changes speed up from countless generations to the length of a sentence.

Identity stories take these behavior changes to a whole new level. Acting in concert with an identity story requires no energy. Fighting your identity, however, adds layers of friction.

A runner does not need to work herself up to go run. She's a runner, that's just what she does. A person trying to finally start exercising in the new year, however, will have to muster their energy and face the desire for inactivity every time they lace up their shoes.

As James Clear writes, true behavior change is identity change. Transform the stories you tell about yourself. Say that you're a nonsmoker, not that you're trying to quit.


© 2020 Connor Daly