Identity is mostly discussed on LW in a cautionary manner: keep your identity small, be aware of the identities you are attached to. As benlandautaylor points out, identities are very powerful, and while being rightfully cautious about them, we can also cultivate them deliberately to help us achieve our goals.

Some helpful identities that I have that seem generally applicable:

  • growth mindset
  • low-hanging fruit picker
  • truth-seeker
  • jack-of-all trades (someone who is good at a variety of skills)
  • someone who tries new things
  • universal curiosity
  • mirror (someone who learns other people's skills)

Out of the above, the most useful is probably growth mindset, since it's effectively a meta-identity that allows the other parts of my identity to be fluid. The low-hanging fruit identity helps me be on the lookout for easy optimizations. The universal curiosity identity motivates me to try to understand various systems and fields of knowledge, besides the domains I'm already familiar with. It helps to give these playful or creative names, for example, "champion of low-hanging fruit". Some of these work well together, for example the "trying new things" identity contributes to the "jack of all trades" identity.

It's also important to identify unhelpful identities that get in your way. Negative identities can be vague like "lazy person" or specific like "someone who can't finish a project". With identities, just like with habits, the easiest way to reduce or eliminate a bad one seems to be to install a new one that is incompatible with it. For example, if you have a "shy person" identity, then going to parties or starting conversations with strangers can generate counterexamples for that identity, and help to displace it with a new one of "sociable person". Costly signaling can be used to achieve this - for example, joining a public speaking club. The old identity will not necessarily go away entirely, but the competing identity will create cognitive dissonance, which it can be useful to deliberately focus on. More specific identities require more specific counterexamples. Since the original negative identity makes it difficult to perform the actions that generate counterexamples, there needs to be some form of success spiral that starts with small steps.

Some examples of unhelpful identities I've had in the past were "person who doesn't waste things" and "person with poor intuition". The aversion to wasting money and material things predictably led to wasting time and attention instead. I found it useful to try "thinking like a trader" to counteract this "stingy person" identity, and get comfortable with the idea of trading money for time. Now I no longer obsess about recycling or buy the cheapest version of everything. Underconfidence in my intuition was likely responsible for my tendency to miss the forest for the trees when studying math or statistics, where I focused on details and missed the big picture ideas that are essential to actual understanding. My main objection to intuitions was that they feel imprecise, and I am trying to develop an identity of an "intuition wizard" who can manipulate concepts from a distance without zooming in. That is a cooler name than "someone who thinks about things without really understanding them", and brings to mind some people I know who have amazing intuition for math, which should help the identity stick.

There can also be ambiguously useful identities, for example I have a "tough person" identity, which motivates me to challenge myself and expand my comfort zone, but also increases self-criticism and self-neglect. Given the mixed effects, I'm not yet sure what to do about this one - maybe I can come up with an identity that only has the positive effects.

Which identities hold you back, and which ones propel you forward? If you managed to diminish negative identities, how did you do it and how far did you get?

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As I understand it, in (a grossly twisted) Kahneman's language, identity is what System 1 is happy to wear, and what you suggest is to use System 2 to pick the outfit to dress System 1 into. Dangerously stretching this metaphor, one has to make sure that the clothes fit. For example, the growth mindset might not fit well if your System 1 is happy to watch TV all night. You also will have trouble if your identity clashes with what others around you wear. It might be enough to get into sweats and sneakers to find oneself going for a run, or you might look silly if everyone else is dressed for a ball. Hmm, have I just switched from metaphorical to physical clothes?


I think I disagree. System 1 doesn't care about any particular identity nor any particular action. It cares about general, somewhat vague emotions. To use one of you examples: system 1 will not care about watching TV all day. It will care about relax and entertainment. It will be equally happy if you play relaxing and entertaining computer games instead ... and you could pick those compatible with the "growth mindset"

I think it depends on whether by 'identity' we mean something conscious and deliberate, or something mostly unconscious and automatic. My 'identity' as a Californian, as someone who owns lots of black socks, etc. is pretty slow-system, since those are inert discursive facts that happen to occur to me when I think about myself. On the other hand, lots of other generalizations about me are mostly implicit, intuitive, emotional, etc., and they can guide or encapsulate my behavior without my noticing them. Identities are like moods, personality traits, etc.; they tie together large-scale patterns of experience, and consciously recognizing or endorsing them can reify them more, but isn't always necessary for them to be operational (or, as constructs, explanatory).

My fast system doesn't like it when I sit and watch TV all day, because it doesn't want to see itself as a slacker. Does that mean I consciously reasoned through that process, and it's really a slow-system thing? No, because what I really mean is that there's a whole bunch of tiny in-the-moment aversions (a sense of listlessness, a tendency for transient sadness to stick around more, a missing sense of novelty+exhilaration+accomplishment, a lack of 'my interpersonal health bar is going up' feeling) that start accruing in the background when I veg.


For example, if you have a "shy person" identity, then going to parties or starting conversations with strangers can generate counterexamples for that identity, and help to displace it with a new one of "sociable person". Costly signaling can be used to achieve this - for example, joining a public speaking club.

Counterintuitively, I think that joining Toastmasters has actually made me identify more strongly as an introvert, mostly because my introversion is never more painfully obvious than when I'm there. So, observing myself attending Toastmasters isn't enough for the "sociable person" identity to stick; I'll have to get to the point where I observe myself attending Toastmasters and also observe myself not feeling terrible about the whole talking thing while I'm there.

I've had success in similar situations by reframing things and adopting the "extrovert in training" identity. Struggling at the limit of my ability reinforced that identity, even when that limit was low. For example, an extrovert wouldn't attend the first 45 minutes of a party and then get overwhelmed and leave, but an extrovert in training would. Meanwhile, the identity reinforced my desire to struggle at the limit of my ability (maybe I can stay for 75 minutes), which led to rapid improvement. The general heuristic of reframing from "I am having trouble with X" to "I am learning to X" has helped my motivation immensely.

Also, you are awesome for taking concrete steps to gain the skills you want. Have some positive reinforcement.


This is a great example of a growth mindset motivated identity! If you're not yet good enough at a skill according to your inner judge, just call yourself an apprentice.

That is a useful reframing. I’ll give it a try!

Have you noticed any improvement on social anxiety since you joined Toastmasters? Is it in any way easier now to speak up?


There are several confounding factors so it’s hard to know for sure, but I do think that Toastmasters has helped me improve at a specific sort of social interaction: having to talk when I don’t know a lot about a particular topic or when my thoughts aren’t well prepared. I’ve gotten a lot of practice at this with an exercise Toastmasters calls “Table Topics”. During Table Topics, each person goes up to the front, is given a prompt, and then gives a 1-2 minute impromptu speech on the given topic. Table topics force you to talk for at least one minute about topics you sometimes have no interest in or think you know nothing about, which has helped me develop some useful skills:

  1. I usually know more about things than I think I do, and quickly accessing this buried information is something I’ve gotten better at. I think I know almost nothing about football, but if I actually take some time to think about it, that’s not true. I have a vague understanding of the rules, and know about brackets and betting, and know some things about head injuries. I can talk about these things.

  2. I’ve gotten much better at taking a topic I’ve been given and transitioning to a related but more comfortable subject. I might be uncomfortable talking about the Superbowl for a minute, but I could transition to instead talking about other athletic competitions I know a lot about, like marathons and ultramarathons.

In non-Toastmasters settings, these skills have been useful when I’m trying to talk to people who have different interests, or when I’m put on the spot to talk about something I feel like I don’t know a lot about.

In non-Toastmasters settings, these skills have been useful when I’m trying to talk to people who have different interests, or when I’m put on the spot to talk about something I feel like I don’t know a lot about.

This sounds like you became more sociable. Now I'm curious how would a sociable person be like to you? I mean... what is the line that separates the sociable from not sociable in your perspective?

I would think the difference is that sociable people feel comfortable even in a less formal gathering, when you don’t know of anyone you would particularly like to talk to and nobody has asked you to talk. Even in such a situation, a sociable person could find something interesting to do, involving other people, and be reasonably confident that they are not being rude or boring, and end up enjoying whatever they find to do.


The adventurer probably does the most for me, finding new paths and places and people brings such delight. My conscious identification as a person sidestepped a bout of gender-confusion when I realised I hadn't ever identified as man or woman, merely with pieces of each.

I'm less sure about, say, my combination of someone who "gets it done" and "doesn't show imperfect work". The majority of interesting work that gets done is done coincidentally, because it needs doing, and isn't up to my standards. I've been experimenting with ways to overcome this, but with social commitments to share interesting work, not with identity changes.

I have been for a very long time a cryptic, who doesn't bare theirself to strangers, much less the public, and likes to play with words more than express clearly, I'm slowly replacing that with "an open person". I conciously push to show a more vulnerable bit of myself before I normally would these days, so far just with people that I imagine eventually sharing with anyway. I got burned pretty badly my second time trying that, but the the first time had me already completely convinced. Plus, I never could have written this if I hadn't.


The adventurer identity has been a key subset of the "try things" identity for me. Not every new attempt can be classified as an adventure, though, so an "explorer" identity might be more generally applicable. It increases the playfulness and creativity aspects of trying things.

Openness is a very useful identity, I'm glad you are developing it!

Social reinforcement for learning to be more open/vulnerable! :)

I think the imperfect work thing is a huge barrier for many people, and I would guess that both identity shifts and commitments would help here, and their effects would sum/multiply.

Some time back, I argued that if we want to really promote rationality, we need to get people to adopt rationality into a part of their identity.

Stanovich believes that spreading awareness of biases might be enough to help a lot of people, and to some degree it might. But we also know about the tendency to only use your awareness of bias to attack arguments you don't like. In the same way that telling people facts about politics sometimes only polarizes opinions, telling people about biases might similarly only polarize the debate as everyone thinks their opposition is hopelesly deluded and biased.

So we need to create a new thinking disposition, not just for actively attacking the perceived threats, but for critically evaluating your opinions. That's hard. And I've found for a number of years now that the main reason I try to actively re-evaluate my opinions and update them as necessary is because doing so is part of my identity. I pride myself on not holding onto ideology and for changing my beliefs when it feels like they should be changed. Admitting that somebody else is right and I am wrong does admittedly hurt, but it also feels good that I was able to do so despite the pain.

Perhaps the most striking effect of the teaching of the CoRT [Cognitive Research Trust] Thinking Lessons in school is a change in self-image. Before the use of the lessons there seem to be two self-images. The first one is "I am intelligent," which means that exams can be passed, the teacher's questions can be answered and school is a success area. The second one is "I am not intelligent" and school is a waste of time and lessons are boring. After the CoRT lessons there is a change to a single self-image: "I am a thinker." This is a constructive and positive image: "I am able to think about things, my ideas have value, I can listen to others." The "intelligent" or "not-intelligent" self-images are value images which must be defended. The "thinker" image is an operating image which is operated rather than defended. Note that the self-image of a thinker does not have to include the adjective "good."

-- Edward de Bono, De Bono's Thinking Course, p. 9

A more catchy label would help. "Rationalist" doesn't have the same simplicity and gradiosity as "truth-seeker", although it is more specific.

Very good. I think, in fact, that people - especially highly educated people - have adopted rationality into a part of their identity, even though they haven't done so to a nearly sufficiently high degree. Ever since the scientific revolution, people have become more and more willing to give rational arguments for their views.

This is just one way of many in which I think Less Wrong, CFAR etc do not constitute a break with what is here termed traditional rationality, but continuous with it. Sure, there are plenty of new and very interesting ideas developed here, but by and large, Less Wrong is a branch of the great rationalist tree. That's something to be proud of, in my view, because that tree is humanitiy's greatest achievement.

That said, I'm all for making people adopt rationality into a part of their identity to a higher degree. In fact, my present work in philosophy is partly concerned with strategies for making this happen. I'm sure there are many such strategies and they should be extensively studied.

Some time back, I argued that if we want to really promote rationality, we need to get people to adopt rationality into a part of their identity.

That might just give you people who boom their favourite beliefs under the banner of Rationality without actually practicing the art or even having a clue about it. Elsewhere on the net, I notice that people who make a point of their intelligence, rationality, and clear thinking are usually trying to smuggle in some empirical claims about the world on the back of that, saying, not only is there this evidence, but I'm really smart so you should believe me and anyone who doesn't is Irrational and therefore Evil and Wrong.

See, for example, the history of Objectivism.

This was brought up in the comments. My reply was that yes, a rational identity obviously isn't sufficient by itself, you also need to know what actually is rational. But that doesn't mean that a rational identity wouldn't also be necessary.

I got to think of one book that treats this topic: Ernest Gellner's Reason and Culture: The Historic Role of Rationality. Gellner says that Descartes, whom the takes to personify early European rationalism (a notion which he, like Less Wrong, uses in the broad sense which includes empiricism) saw reason and culture ("custom and example") as enemies. Now culture is very similar to "identity", but on a social level. The rationalist criticism's of culture and identity are also very similar: they criticize parts of culture/identity that you, or your society, has acquired for accidental reasons, which there is no rationale for, and which are damaging in some way.

Gellner's argument in the rest of the book is complex and I don't remember it in any detail, unfortunately. The reviews I find on the internet are less than informative. Some parts of the book are quite idiosyncratic, as Gellner often was, but he is always very stimulating to read (though reading him does require a decent level of knowledge of history and of the great sociologists and philosophers). I think I recall some line of argument that says that reason hasn't defeated culture, as Descartes wanted, but rather that our culture been transformed in a rationalist direction - it has come to put a high value on reason and rationalism (that's essentially what I say below, though I'd forgotten where I'd got it from). I don't have the book, though, so I can't veryify that I remember correctly.

Totally, and I think it's worth noting that intellectual/conceptual understanding of these biases doesn't necessarily translate into fixed behavior, even if the understanding is deeply internalized. In many cases, I suspect we'll need to be strategic and come up with 5-second-level behaviors that subvert the biases/heuristics, then install these (through identity and directly).

Very interesting. A point that is obvious but that is still worth making, I think, is that what identity is strategic to choose depends on your personality (and other factors). It strikes that many of the suggested identities imply a high level of "openness to experience" - one of the "big five" personality traits. Now according to some studies openness to experience is 57 % heritable (highest of the big five). This suggests that it is not easy to change your level of openness to experience, which means that if you're not open to experience, the identities suggested in this post would be hard to take.

That said, I think we do have lots of influence over our identities. One identity that I find both very dangerous but also avoidable is the cynical, "disillusioned" one. Unlike many other dangerous identities, it is particularly dangerous to highly intelligent and otherwise rational people as Yudkowsky points out in this brilliant post

I'm especially on guard against cynicism because it seems to be a standard corruption of rationality in particular. If many people are optimists, then true rationalists will occasionally have to say things that sound pessimistic by contrast. If people are trying to signal virtue through their beliefs, then a rationalist may have to advocate contrasting beliefs that don't signal virtue.

Which in turn means that rationalists, and especially apprentice rationalists watching other rationalists at work, are especially at-risk for absorbing cynicism as though it were a virtue in its own right - assuming that whosoever speaks of ulterior motives is probably a wise rationalist with uncommon insight; or believing that it is an entitled benefit of realism to feel superior to the naive herd that still has a shred of hope.

Now according to some studies openness to experience is 57 % heritable (highest of the big five). This suggests that it is not easy to change your level of openness to experience

"Heritable" does not imply "immutable".

I comment on this below.

You don't actually answer Kaj's criticism, though, which is that the statistical concept of "heritability" does not mean the same thing as the English word "heritability". See Wiki article for details on how it can be confounded.

It strikes that many of the suggested identities imply a high level of "openness to experience" - one of the "big five" personality traits. Now according to some studies openness to experience is 57 % heritable (highest of the big five). This suggests that it is not change your level of openness to experience, which means that if you're not open to experience, the identities suggested in this post would be hard to take.

Curious. I remember there being some evidence that openness to exerperience is actually relatively malleable; something like students spending some time abroad coming back with higher openness. My introspective experience seems to agree with this.

If it's 57% heritable, then ~40% of the difference is due to other factors, many of which you can control. Imagine someone at the 40th percentile of openness and contrast them with someone at the 80th percentile of openness. 40% is a lot.

I think that openness can be changed to some degree. However, even though I think that traits that are highly heritable are harder to change generally, I don't think one could say that one could say that the fact that openness to experience is 57 % heritable means that we have control over 43 % of our openness.

For instance, openness to experience is 57 % heritable in the present social set-up. This does not conclusively show, however, that it wouldn't be much less (or more) heritable in other social set-ups. For instance, it might be possible to develop techniques that increase openness to experience radically.

Conversely, non-heritable factors might be beyond our conscious control (as you indeed point out). A person with low openness to experience due to childhood traumas might have at least as hard a time changing level of openness as a person who is not so open to experience for biological reasons.

In general, I think, though, that high degrees of heritability signals that it is not easy for the individual to radically change the trait in question.

Awesome post! I've definitely spent a long time vaguely thinking that "keep your identity small" was a good idea, while cultivating various identities anyway.

"The aversion to wasting money and material things predictably led to wasting time and attention instead. I found it useful to try "thinking like a trader" to counteract this "stingy person" identity, and get comfortable with the idea of trading money for time. Now I no longer obsess about recycling or buy the cheapest version of everything."

This resonates so hard for me.


Thanks! I still agree with what I think is the main message of "keep your identity small": not allowing things to automatically be part of your identity for historical or political reasons.

Which identities did you cultivate? I'm curious how you dealt with your stingy person identity.

I'm curious how you dealt with your stingy person identity.

Mainly by being able to point out that its purpose has expired. It was really useful being a stingy person in first-year university–I had a lot of time, and limited ability to turn it into money. Being stingy allowed me to not go into debt, at the cost of maybe a bit of happiness–I always felt a bit guilty about i.e. going out to dinner with friends. Once I graduated, the default was to stay stingy, but I can convince my brain to relax on specific items like "go out to dinner with friends" or "travel to lots of places" because, hey, the whole point of being stingy in the first place was to get me through school and to the point when I had a career and savings and could do fun things.

I'm not sure that "jack of all trades" is a helpful identity, given the known benefits of economic specialization. Remember the origin of that term: "Jack of all trades, and master of none." It's often more useful to be really, really good at one thing and trade for what you need in other areas.

It can often be useful to have a "T-shaped" expertise, though: some level of familiarity with a wide variety of topics, and deep expertise in one area. The cross bar of the T helps you when your existing expertise and skills are not enough -- you know enough to find someone who can help you, or to know what new skills / knowledge you need to pick up. (Or, perhaps more importantly, you know what you don't know.)


The "jack of all trades" identity motivates me to practice learning new things and overcome the aversion to being a beginner, which is a useful meta-skill. I have indeed observed a "master of none" effect, where I'm average at singing, dancing, rock climbing, etc, but not amazing at any of them. For practical purposes of sharing hobbies with friends and challenging myself, being at that level for each skill is quite sufficient.

I agree about the usefulness of T-shaped expertise, and this identity helps me form the crossbar of the T. In my field (statistics), having a broad knowledge of the basics for different methods and applications is especially helpful, and I think this is true of many other domains as well.

The "jack of all trades" identity may be a little idiosyncratic to me, though. It's related to the "universal curiosity" one - I seem to have a terminal goal of building a complete model of the world and being able to do anything I think is worthwhile (this is an unachievable goal that I nevertheless try to inch towards).

I find appealing the strategy of identifying with what you can be identified via via others. I suspect that detaching identity from social realities is an error. Choosing how to frame one's traits can be orthogonal to this and solves some of the problems otherwise solved by idealistic wanna-be-self-fulfilling notions of identity.

I hadn't thought of this before. Thank you for posting this.

Two identities that I find very useful are:

  • Nothing is beyond my grasp
  • Fearless

Nothing is beyond my grasp is an internal compartmentalizing technique but I find it so powerful and used so often by myself that I might as well assign it as an identity. I do so cautiously. LWer So8res who coined the term, differentiates this technique from overcoming fear of failure. After thinking about it I tend to agree, so I separated it in to another identity which I call fearless.

The Fearless identity is pretty self explanatory. There are times when my will power and motivation are completely sapped because of the crippling fear of rejection, this is when I put on the fearless identity. Other times I will use the nothing is beyond my grasp identity when find my motivation taking a hit not because I am fearful but because I think I lack the competency to do a task well.

I have previously played with these ideas before but only recently formalized it for myself and actively use these identities more concretely than just reading about it. Looking back, before all these meta mind games I've learned, my greatest success in life and romance were when I was unreasonably confident and fearless. Nothing ever turned out to be scarier than what I thought it would be.


"Nothing is beyond my grasp" is an awesome identity indeed! It enables my "universal curiosity" and "jack of all trades" identities, in the sense that I not only want to understand everything about the world and build all the interesting skills, but also have the ability to if I put my mind to it. Did you always have this identity, or did you establish it deliberately?

Have you ever found the Fearless identity to induce recklessness? For me, it interacts with the "tough person" identity, and results in a tendency to neglect safety precautions that I have to consciously counteract - for example, I don't feel sketched out by dangerous neighborhoods, and it took me years to stop being a road hazard cyclist. I do find the Fearless identity to be a large net gain in the social arena (comfort zone expansion practice was instrumental in establishing it).

These identities are a form of compartmentalization - phrased in absolutes like "nothing" and "no fear", they appeal to System 1, while a more precise and technically correct phrasing like "at most 15% of things are beyond my grasp" requires engaging System 2 and is much less effective. I think they actually increase calibration - as you said, nothing ever turned out to be scarier than what you thought it would be, so the Fearless identity was counteracting a miscalibrated fear that never came to pass.

For example, if you have a "shy person" identity, then going to parties or starting conversations with strangers can generate counterexamples for that identity, and help to displace it with a new one of "sociable person". Costly signaling can be used to achieve this - for example, joining a public speaking club.

Often time doing signaling isn't that important. It might be better to get out pen and paper and write down counterexamples whenever they come up.


Writing down counterexamples is a great idea for making them more salient. Costly signaling can also be very effective for convincing yourself, though.

Costly signaling can also be very effective for convincing yourself, though.

If you have to prove that you are something, than you are doubting at some level.

There was a time where I spent a lot of effort into signaling that I'm confident. I think I'm now more confident where I don't do things to prove to myself that I'm confident.

To reach the Peaks of Countersignalling, one must first climb the Hills of Signalling.

It's one way to the peak but not the only one. You can also do the work with pen and paper and analyse your thoughts via the CBT described in the Feeling Good Handbook. You can sit down and meditate till you are in control of your own state of mind. There are many ways. I personally think that I didn't do enough of the pen and paper stuff.

Countersignaling is also not the main point. If you are bent on proving that you are confident you don't have the flexibility to play the game a level higher than everyone around you because you moves are intended to be showy.


Can you give an example of self-signalling getting in the way of achieving your goals? Your confidence example could also have the causality going the other way, where you don't do things to prove to yourself that you're confident because you're already confident.

I'm also confused what you mean by "playing the game a level higher than everyone around you" in this context. We were talking about signalling to yourself, not to others.

If I play the game a level higher than another person than I think through the tree of possibilities and pick the node with the highest payoff, whether or not the behavior in that node looks like something that a confident person would do. If I reduce my space of possible choices to those choices that signal confidence to myself I'm less flexible to adept myself to the situation.

The same goes for proving to yourself that you are intelligent, that you are a worthy human being, that you are normal, that you are rational, that you are contrarian or even that you exist.

If you spent energy on proving those things to yourself you are constraining the field of possibilities for your actions.

Your confidence example could also have the causality going the other way, where you don't do things to prove to yourself that you're confident because you're already confident.

If you would tell me: "Look there an attractive woman and she looks over to you in a way that indicates she's attracted to you, go and tell her she's beautiful and ask her for a date.", I couldn't do it even if I agree with your reading of the situation.

My confidence has limits and there are behaviors that are outside of my sphere of actions.

I have a friend who I have seen telling a woman: "You're too sexy, talking to you would just distract me, so get away from me." and he meant it 100% and didn't interact any further with her. Behavior like that is completely out of the sphere of my actions.

I can practice my dancing turns while waiting for public transportation without caring at all for whether someone who watches me will watch me as strange and I don't do it to prove to myself that I can do it but simply because I want to practice my turns at a particular moment in time and have a few minutes to fill till the train comes.

A month ago I was in a situation where I felt inconfident and I just told myself. No need to fight it or pretend that it isn't there or to hide it. Just allow it to express itself and move on. If people see that I'm inconfident and that I'm vulnerable that's okay.

I've found identity to be a very useful tool for habit forming. For example, when I wanted to start running regularly, I decided to adopt "runner" as part of my identity. This made it much easier for me to actually get up and run every morning. Similarly, when I quit drinking, I decided that "I'm not the kind of person who drinks." I've done the same thing with waking up early, and a few other habits. This does result in adding a lot of things to my identity, but I don't expect them to be any harder to remove than they were to adopt, if that becomes necessary.


That sounds like an effective approach, though for negative identities I would expect a lot of cognitive dissonance at the beginning. If I started telling myself right now that I am an early bird, then while that might become a self-fulfilling prophecy, at first I would have a voice in my head saying "no you're not, look at the evidence". It might be useful to "try on" the identity for a while, e.g. "can I be an early bird for two weeks?". I tried that with vegetarianism, and ended up being a vegetarian for years.


Thanks, that's a great post! Mark has some good advice on changing identities:

  • describe your new identity in writing, and put up reminders

  • identities are often attached to context, so changing your environment is often useful - especially removing/adding elements that reinforce the old/new identity respectively.

The more we rid our lives of the details and reminders that bolster what we want to let go of, the better able we are to make space for something new and healthier. That can mean clearing out our cupboards, switching out our cookbooks, changing our daily routines and shopping sources, socializing differently, overhauling our wardrobes, and revising our calendars. In other words, transform as many relevant externals as possible (giving special attention to the ones that have the most impact) and let the effects seep inward over time.

I think the most frequently used identity I have was created why a public speaking teacher commented that I was just fine acting on stage, but became very shy and nervous when I was speaking as myself. I don't recall if this was her idea or mine, but I developed a 'character' that was basically me sans said shyness. Large body language, typically spoke louder, almost a caricature of confidence. While it was originally just for speaking to large groups, it quickly got used for any conversation with people who weren't my close friends. Sometime during college, I got so accustomed to using this 'character' that I realized it wasn't exactly an act any more.

Ironically, a very useful identity was one I abandoned- in high school, I thought of myself as a prodigy, far smarter than the hopeless plebeians around me. This was probably useful, as it kept me focused on learning on my own when the class didn't move fast enough. On the other hand, as soon as I hit college, I realized this wasn't very helpful since it stopped me from asking questions, noticing that I didn't understand the material, and working usefully with the other students. I think it was very useful while I had it, but by far the most important lesson I learned in those four years was that I am not a genius. (I'm smart, but there's an order of magnitude difference from where I thought of myself and where I see myself now.)

When I was way younger and mildly depressed (and blessed with an incredibly stable hedonic setpoint), I used this quite a bit. First I made a 'I am not a serious person' identity (which unfortunately still bites me in the ass today) so I didn't take that sadness serious and could just dismiss it (seriously, use the right identity traits; I became way too good at dismissing sadness), and later a compartment/helper identity of 'going through this phase is normal and you'll likely grow out of it, you may not feel at all like it; probability is on your side', which helped tremendously in making me stay positive

It's incredible how far you can get just by implementing false identities and beliefs and habits and merge them into yourself. It's almost ridiculous, really


Whatever the choice, it matters. Importantly, discarding an old identity is not childs play. Do not choose identities for short term unless you intend to win only in the short term.

''Metacognitive experience is responsible for creating an identity that matters to an individual. The creation of the identity with meta-cognitive experience is linked to the identity-based motivation (IBM) model. The identity-based motivation model implies that “identities matter because they provide a basis for meaning making and for action.”[19] A person decides also if the identity matters in two ways with meta-cognitive experience. First, a current or possible identity is either “part of the self and so worth pursuing”[20] or the individual thinks that the identity is part of their self, yet it is conflicting with more important identities and the individual will decide if the identity is or is not worth pursuing. Second, it also helps an individual decide if an identity should be pursued or abandoned.

Usually, abandoning identity has been linked to meta-cognitive difficulty. Based on the identity-based motivation model there are naive theories describing difficulty as a way to continue to pursue an identity. The incremental theory of ability states that if “effort matters then difficulty is likely to be interpreted as meaning that more effort is needed.”[21] Here is an example: a woman who loves to play clarinet has come upon a hard piece of music. She knows that how much effort she puts into learning this piece is beneficial. The piece had difficulty so she knew the effort was needed. The identity the woman wants to pursue is to be a good clarinet player; having a metacognitive experience difficulty pushed her to learn the difficult piece to continue to identify with her identity. The entity theory of ability represents the opposite. This theory states that if “effort does not matter then difficulty is likely to be interpreted as meaning that ability is lacking so effort should be suspended.”[21] Based on the example of the woman playing the clarinet, if she did not want to identify herself as a good clarinet player, she would not have put in any effort to learn the difficult piece which is an example of using metacognitive experience difficulty to abandon an identity.[22]''


Another identity I forgot to mention is a sort of "court jester", a person who finds it rewarding to be silly and make a fool of herself sometimes. I find this quite useful for things like public speaking and learning skills as a beginner.

There is an "insufficient" mindset that's my biggest obstacle. Like, insufficiently smart to ask questions, insufficiently creative to contribute, insufficiently good tango dancer, etc. Work by Brene Brown on vulnerability has helped me a lot with this.

The identity that helps me most is: I'm a fifth order of consciousness in the making (I just levelled up to 4). :)


You seem to have a not-good-enough meta-identity. A problem with this one is that even when you generate counterexamples, it can declare the counterexamples not to be good enough. E.g. "sure, I learned a new tango move today, but I could have done it faster!". How does the "fifth order of consciousness" approach work?

Yeah, the Insufficient mindset is a very limiting identity. The tango experience was more like... "X months have passed and I'm still not able to compose a dance with the moves I know" morphing into "I can compose but it's too linear" morphing into "I can compose but I have a lot of decision points" morphing into "to hell with good enough. what is important is to have fun" and ending up with me dancing in a tango flash mob in a subway station. :)

How does the "fifth order of consciousness" approach work?

Everyone needs a philosophy of life, a way of being into this world. Mine is one inspired by the way Tolstoy interpreted the teachings of Jesus. In short, morality is redefined as the continuous movement towards an ideal of perfection with the full understanding that you will never be able to reach it. My perfection ideal is the ideal of the Jedi. It has 3 components: emotional regulation (Emotions, yet Peace), rationality (Ignorance, yet Understanding) and noosphere contribution (Death, yet The Force). The Kegan's 5 order of consciousness mind involves all three and it is thus perceived as a valid guideline for my journey. The main advantage being the fact that there is a progression (there are signposts available, e.g. 4th order consciousness).



I also think you don't necessarily want to eliminate negative identities, since they can help you if they correctly describe persistent personality traits. If you "know yourself," then at least you can try to compensate.


Eliminating negative identities doesn't imply becoming unaware of the associated personality traits, you just no longer identify with them. It is thus possible to retain an accurate model of yourself.