What is one quality or virtue that, if you had it highly developed, would make a big difference in your life? What is the emotion that feels most magical to you, and that you would like to experience more often? These and other similar questions help you map your journey of personal growth or self-transformation.
Every journey is a movement of growth and expansion. It is going from point A to point B—from where we are, to where we want to be. When we are talking about external goals—the reason why most people want more self-discipline—then we define points A and B externally, in terms of career achievement, financial status, health goals, lifestyle changes, etc.
Yet self-discipline is also key for working on yourself. Then your “point A” and “point B” will be defined internally. For example, your goal might be to move from
- anxious → calm
- hesitant → confident
- distressed → grounded
- depressed → joyful
- weak → resilient
- low-energy → high-energy
- bored → passionate
- dissipated → focused
In any of these journeys, you will need to cultivate self-discipline to become the new version of yourself. Part of this work might be about creating new habits, routines, and new goals; but the bulk of it will be internal—shifting your body, mind, and heart. That is what I call internal self-discipline.
Defining Your Internal Aspiration
As with external self-discipline (for life goals), internal self-discipline (self-transformation) begins with a clear and compelling aspiration. In this case, your aspiration is about who you want to be—your new self. It’s what I call your aspirational identity.
The easiest way to define your aspirational identity (the “point B” in this internal journey) is choosing your Power Words. These are three words that represent the qualities, virtues, or states that make the essence of who you want to be (learn more). They are in stark contrast with how you are showing up in life right now—your conditioned identity or “point A”.
If you don’t have clarity on your Power Words, it is worth taking some minutes now to reflect on it and choose these words, as they will simplify your whole journey of self-transformation, and make it less overwhelming. It’s okay if for now they are just temporary choices or placeholders, until you have the time to put in deeper thought.
It can also be helpful to integrate the concept of SMART goals to make your journey more focused. For example, instead of having “to be more courageous” as a goal, you’d have “to increase my courage from a three out of ten to a six out of ten, by the end of the year.” Making it more specific encourages you to take more action.
Once you have some clarity about your point A and point B in this inner journey, then from this point onward the process is all about letting go of your conditioned identity and aligning with your aspirational identity.
Letting Go of Your Conditioned Identity
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. — Lao Tzu
The first part of the process is to let go or transform your conditioned identity, with its limiting beliefs, emotional addictions, and negative mental patterns. Of course, this topic cannot be fully covered in a short article (in fact, my new book, Wise Confidence, is focused on this). My goal, here, is to just give you some pointers to get started.
First, we need to recognize that your old identity has a strong momentum to it. You have believed it, affirmed it, and acted based on it for years, if not decades. So it is a force to be reckoned with. Knowing this helps you have the right mindset of patience and perseverance for this process.
There are many ways you can practice letting go of your old identity. Here is a quick overview of the five most important ones:
- Witnessing. This skills is trained in meditation practice. Instead of dialoguing with your thoughts, or trying to push them away, you simply observe them come and go, as a detached witness. You recognize the thoughts arising in your mind and let them all be as they are without “touching” them, believing them, or continuing them. (To train this specific skill, try the Inner Silence meditation, part of the Mindful Self-Discipline app.)
- The Not Now Technique. Think of it as the snooze button in your brain. When negative thoughts or limiting beliefs come up, you postpone engaging with them by saying “Not Now”. You then immediately re-focus on what matters most. If they return, repeat “Not Now” with a firm yet calm inner voice, setting boundaries for your thoughts. (Learn More)
- Mindset Work. This involves actively dialoguing with your thoughts, challenging their assumptions, and replacing them with more realistic, positive, or empowering thoughts. It is widely used in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and in much of the personal development literature.
- Active Imagination. Using your imagination you can put your old thoughts in a box, shred them to pieces, efface them with a mental eraser, or gently place them inside a bubble in a flowing stream. You can also visualize alternative outcomes to past traumatic experiences. The possibilities are infinite. Imagination is one of the most underrated tools of self-transformation. It is a powerful way to change yourself, provided that you have the mental strength to believe your imagination into existence.
- The ROAR Method. If you are dealing with powerful emotions or impulses, rather than only thoughts, then the techniques above are unlikely to work. Instead, you need to process that emotion without suppressing it, but without being carried away by it either. The ROAR Method is a mindfulness-based intervention that does exactly that. (Learn More)
(You can learn more about the Not Now Technique and ROAR Method in the book, Mindful Self-Discipline. The other three methods—witnessing, mindset work, and active imagination—will be covered in my next book.)
Although not exactly a “technique”, I must mention, even if en passant, that changing your environment can also be a powerful aid in moving past your old identity. This could involve moving homes, changing jobs, ending certain relationships, going on a long retreat, or creating some radical change in your daily routine.
Aligning With Your Aspirational Identity
I realize that the dominating thoughts of my mind will eventually reproduce themselves in outward, physical action, and gradually transform themselves into physical reality; therefore, I will concentrate my thoughts for thirty minutes daily, upon the task of thinking of the person I intend to become, thereby creating in my mind a clear mental picture. — Napoleon Hill
The other part of this process of self-transformation is to remember your aspirational identity, and realign yourself with it. It is to be true to who you want to be via your thoughts, words, and actions.
Most of the techniques, here, are specific to the change you are trying to make in yourself. For example, if your journey is from self-doubt to confidence, you would use techniques such as exposure therapy, anchoring confidence in your body, power posing, setting boundaries in relationships, etc.
Yet there is one universal method that you can always apply to realign with your aspirational identity, regardless of how you have defined it. It is to live inside out from your Power Words.
Your Power Words are not a wish, but a commitment, a resolution (sankalpa). They start as a vision of what you want, but then are repeatedly confirmed through your actions. It is, in a nutshell, the practice of self-discipline: “living in harmony with your values”.
For example, if confidence is one of your Power Words:
- Then you need to tune in to the mode of confidence—inherent in consciousness—and be confident.
- You choose to pursue goals you would naturally pursue if you had that confidence. You think, say, and do things your old self would dread, but that feels natural to your new, confident self. In doing this, you are constantly affirming your new self-image by consistently acting based on it.
- In a nutshell, you live as if you are already your new, empowered self.
The same is true if your Power Word is calm, creative, accepting, clear, loving, wise, or anything else
Don’t expect your Power Words to magically manifest into your life simply because you have chosen them. You need to actively tap into your Power Words throughout the day. Manifest them through your willpower by incorporating them into the way you think, the things you say, and the choices you make. Use them as your compass for living.
Act like the person you want to be. Express the qualities of your aspirational identity. Bring your future into the present until there is no more gap.
Is this the same as ‘fake it till you make it?’ You could say that it’s the more enlightened version of that concept. The difference is that you are not faking it, but creating it. Those who call it “faking” don’t understand the mechanics of it, nor the fluid nature of the self.
Knowing that you are not confident and merely pretending you are for the social benefits of it is faking. Deciding that your true self is confident, and then doing your best to act in alignment with it, is creating. A subtle yet profound difference.
Here is a one-minute video summarizing this process:
So this is the core practice of aligning with your aspirational identity, using three Power Words. Here are some other techniques that you can also adopt to enhance this process.
- Daily Affirmations. Repeat your Power Words to yourself every morning before you start your day. Do so with concentration, willpower, faith, and feeling—otherwise your affirmations will not work.
- Mental Shortcuts. Use a mental shortcut to come back to your aspirational identity in the moment. It could be simply repeating your Power Words, or asking yourself a question such as “What would my ideal self do here?”
- POWER Visualization. Use this guided meditation in the app to program your subconscious mind, in very specific ways, to act in alignment with your Power Words.
- Embodiment. Use your imagination and bodily sensations to kindle the virtues and positive emotions you seek to cultivate within yourself. See chapter 38 of the book and the Kindle Your Virtue and Absorb the Virtue meditations in the app.
- Journaling. Ask yourself every night how aligned you lived today with your Power Words. Train your awareness to pay attention to it, and look for opportunities for improvement. Some people find it helpful to rate themselves from one to ten in relation to each word.
Character has to be established through a thousand stumbles. — Swami Vivekananda
Your conditioned identity is the collection of thought-patterns and emotional patterns programmed in your lower mind. Your aspirational identity is the vision you have for yourself, conceived within your higher mind.
The journey of self-transformation, thus, is the journey of strengthening your higher mind, and aligning your lower mind to your vision and values, so that you can be the person you aspire to be. In practical terms, you use the techniques and meditations mentioned in this article to practice letting go of the old self and affirming the new self.
This process of letting go of your conditioned identity will likely feel scary in the beginning. It is like the caterpillar that wants to be a butterfly (aspirational identity) but is afraid of letting go of its cocoon (conditioned identity), for it feels like death. Your current identity may be causing you suffering, but it still feels like “you”.
So, during this transition period, expect that fear of the unknown may come up. You can only be reborn as your new self after you die as your old self. So the courage of letting go, and the faith that there is something better on the other side, are key elements to this process.
In closing, I leave you with three lines that summarize all of this.
Decide who you want to be.
Live inside out from that vision.
Let go of everything else.