How exactly do you train a new identity?
That’s the big question, and it sometimes feels like an unsolvable riddle.
The Greek philosopher Zeno had a series of paradoxes where he posited the impossibility of motion. In one, the Dichotomy Paradox, he states that in order to travel from point A to point B, one has to go through a midpoint, point C. In order to get to point C, one has to get halfway there, point D. One has to do this an infinite number of times, which is impossible. Therefore travel to point B (and all travel) is impossible. Yet we disprove logic like this every day.
I’ve deluged friends like James with questions, but the details come out vague. Somehow, like travel, they just did it, and the same thing applies to me and the identity habits in my own life. It just happened, and how I hate that response!
One methodology around this vagary comes from Neuro-Linguistic Programming. In it the founders, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, advocate taking exceptional people and breaking down their actions into composite parts in order reproduce their resulting….exceptionalness. Although I am as of yet unconvinced of NLP as a whole system, I like this technique. According to Bandler and Grinder many of their models were using tacit techniques, and it was only by breaking them down could they repeat their results. In Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. the duo dedicate one entire volume to the famed clinical hypnotist’s verbal patterns and a further volume just for his nonverbal cues.
But it’s not as though identity isn’t already a part of habit formation anyway. The Orbell-Verplanken SRHI has several questions dedicated to identity. My move to an identity theory of certain habits is more because I believe ALL the little bits – including gamification and motivation – are cogs in a robust mechanism of self change.
What I want is to use all those cogs to construct a training protocol to make certain behavior’s identities more than just simple if-then grooves in my mind so that I have behaviors that cover radically changing circumstances. For some behaviors, it’s not really that necessary. For some they definitely are.
Milton Erickson was arguably the most famous and successful clinical hypnotist, but his students weren’t necessarily any better than average. But by putting a microscope to his actions Bandler and Grinder were (allegedly) able to reproduce the results. I don’t know for certain if this reducability worked for them with hypnosis, but I have definitely seen it work for other behaviors.
I hope, in Part III, to put people who have developed Identity Habits under the microscope to reverse engineer some plausible methods for this type of change.