Who you are is transformed by the actions you take to fulfill a goal outside of your comfort zone.
Before you attempt to fulfill them, you need to get rid of your traumas.
You do so by talking about and/or writing the experience.
Personality Isn’t Permanent is a self-development book written by Benjamin Hardy.
It is the best self-development book of all time.
If you are stuck in your life, that’s the only book you need.
Unlike most self-help gurus, Ben Hardy practices what he preaches. He has a Ph.D. in psychology and was the most read writer in the world on Medium between 2015 and 2018.
Since the summary is long, I wrote an executive summary as well.
I recommend you read the book for a full understanding of the principles.
Table of Content
- Myth #1: Personality Can Be Categorized into Types
- Myth #2: Personality Is Innate and Fixed
- Myth #3: Personality Comes from Your Past
- Myth #4: Personality Must Be Discovered
- Myth #5: Personality Is Your True and “Authentic” Self
Short Summary of Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D.
Despite what personality tests will tell you, personality isn’t fixed. It changes as people go through life. Personality tests are mere photographs of a person’s emotional state at instant T. They don’t mean anything at all, neither about your future nor your past.
Personality is shaped by different factors. These are:
- Goals and purposes (active)
- Environment (active/passive)
- Social role (active/passive).
Most people don’t decide their personality because they:
- Have no goals nor purposes.
- Develop their personality because they fulfill a certain social role.
- Don’t proactively decide to control their environment but react to it.
As a result, they are what society needs them to be – not who they want to be.
Because of trauma. Traumas are rules and principles we make about the world and ourselves after going through a painful experience that we didn’t process emotionally. They are barriers that exist in our minds.
Traumas create a fixed mindset which prevents you from evolving and changing.
Before we begin working towards our goals, we must solve our trauma to transform the fixed mindset into a growth mindset.
We solve traumas by writing and talking about them, which enables emotional release and processing so that the mental barrier that existed can be lifted. We transform our fixed mindset into a growth mindset.
Once we have solved our trauma, we can start working towards our goal.
We do so by focusing on it and deciding exactly what type of person our future self is.
Once we know, we need to enact the qualities of that future self, we need to talk like they talk, do what they do, and think as they think.
We do so by working towards a big purpose that is outside of our comfort zone.
The will to fulfill this purpose enables us to take action during which we have “peak experiences” that make us grow. We take on the personality of our future self until we reach the goal we had set for ourselves.
Your goal → shapes your actions → shape your personality.
You transform yourself through goal settings. Not the other way around.
Summary of Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D.
Personality tests pretend to teach you “who you are”. It is implied that who you are is constant and fixed in time.
That’s mainstream thinking. And it’s wrong.
Personality isn’t fixed.
The reason why personality is seen as fixed is that psychologists almost only deal with the past because they have been trained to think that the future is caused by the past.
That’s a problem.
If you were your past, it’d mean you would not be responsible or capable to influence your present and future.
As you know, this is entirely false.
You are in control to make decisions about what you want in life.
The two most important factors influencing your ability to make choices are your social and cultural environments and your emotional development as a person.
The reason why most people want to be told what to do and who to be is that choosing who you want to be is hard and risky. If you fail, it may hurt.
This creativity to create yourself can also take you to weird and surprising places, and people don’t like weird and surprises.
They want predictability, and stability.
On the other way around, when you decide what you want to do, who you want to be, and actively work at it, amazing things happen.
You’re moving forward, fulfilling a vision, focusing on the person you want to be.
No One Was Born with a Personality
Whatever personality you had, you developed it.
Extraordinary people weren’t born with their abilities – they learned them and worked hard to become who they became.
They had to transform themselves into the person they are now.
Most people see them as extraordinary, but the truth is that they are just random people. The difference is that they had a goal worth pursuing, and they pursued it.
Your goal is the reason you develop new attributes and skills and have curated transformational experiences.
Without a meaningful goal, attempting change lacks meaning, requires unsustainable willpower, and ultimately leads to failure.
When you have a “why” and train yourself and practice what you want to achieve, you fail at first. Then you become better. Then you succeed.
Personality is no different. It’s like learning piano. Whatever you want to achieve is achievable. You just gotta work hard for it and focus.
While most people base their identity on their past, successful people base their identity on their future.
Elon Musk can build a spaceship company because he wants to go to Mars. Every day, he wakes up thinking about going to Mars, and what to do to make it.
He doesn’t think about the times he got bullied at school. He doesn’t talk about the PayPal days. That is completely irrelevant.
Future is all that matters.
This is how successful people live. They become who they want to be by orienting their life toward their purpose.
But this is not easy.
You must face uncomfortable truths you’ve been avoiding, and take ownership of your life.
Most of the time, we think about trauma in the context of war or extreme events.
However, more often than not, “trauma” is planted in minor incidents and conversations that limit your view of who you are and what you can do, creating a fixed mindset.
This can’t be ignored and must be fixed.
This book will teach you that who you are isn’t fixed, how to reframe your traumas to free yourself from your past, and how to build your present to become your future self.
Chapter 1: The Myth of Personality
Vanessa O’Brien was a finance executive solely focused on her career. All that mattered to her was work, the stock market, and the upcoming promotion.
After the crisis of 2008, she started having doubts. Fast forward to today, Vanessa is a completely different person.
What happened to Vanessa is that she completely changed her goal which transformed her and her life.
Peter Diamandis calls this a Massively Transformative Purpose.
When your purpose is so big, you fully immerse yourself into it and become the person you need to become to achieve it.
As we can see, personality is not fixed.
A personality test merely takes a picture of your feelings and moods at instant T. Should you take the test in another context, you’ll score differently.
All of “you” is constantly evolving as you go through life.
The way to influence who you are depends on you. You can choose to let yourself be influenced by external agents (environment, culture, family, friends, TV, advertisement).
Or you can decide who you want to be by setting goals and developing the attitude needed to achieve them.
Let’s Debunk Some Myths
Myth #1: Personality can be categorized into “types.”
There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.– Carl Jung
Personality types are social constructions. The notion of a personality type is a discriminative, dehumanizing, and inaccurate way of looking at the complexity of human beings.
Take the Myers-Briggs personality test.
It was created by Myers and Briggs at their home and based on their experience with people. They invented the idea that if you reacted in such a way, it wasn’t based on the fact that you had acquired this trait, but that it had always been there “inside of you”.
These personality tests damage your future by imprisoning you in a label.
“Henry is an introvert, so he will never be good at public speaking”.
These types of statements often become self-fulfilling prophecies, hence making the personality test “relevant”.
While labels (writer) can serve goals (becoming a writer), goals (writer) can never serve labels (becoming a writer). The idea that you have to achieve something to become that thing may forever prevent you from achieving it.
Your personality should come from your goals. Not the other way around. To quote Paul Graham, “the more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.”
Abandon all labels that are preventing you from becoming who you are. Lazy, dumb, scared…abandon it now. It’s only limiting you. You are nothing, and can become anything.
Researchers found a strong correlation between social roles and personality types.
If the social role demanded that one person exhibits one of the five personality traits (remember OCEAN for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism), they would usually develop that trait.
It was the fact that they needed to develop that trait that made them harbor it, not the other way around.
Should we put these people that developed these traits into different social contexts, their personalities would change depending on their roles (see the Stanford prison experiment).
Careful though! It is not “society” that is deciding who you are.
What we mean here is that you become who you need to become according to the situation in which you are.
People that do not become who they want do not proactively seek goals to become who they want to be.
For example, a 2015 study by Drs. Nathan Hudson and Chris Fraley showed that personality can be intentionally changed through goal-setting and sustained personal effort.
Intentional change, however, is emotionally rigorous—it doesn’t exactly feel good and can even be shockingly painful.
If you’re unwilling to put yourself through emotional experiences, shift your perspective, and make purposeful changes to your behavior and environment, then don’t expect huge changes (at least in the short run).
Becoming psychologically flexible is key to personal transformation. It helps with not over-attaching yourself to your current identity or perspectives.
Becoming insatiably committed to a future purpose and embracing emotions rather than avoiding them is how radical change occurs.
- Who are you?
- In what ways have you defined yourself or others by what was done in the past?
- Have you limited and overly defined yourself by categorizing or typifying yourself?
- What would happen if you stopped boxing yourself into a category and opened yourself to the possibility of change?
Myth #2: Personality Is Innate and Fixed
In a study made over sixty years, researchers tested the personality of the same group of people (on the OCEAN scale).
When they discovered the results, they were shocked.
People kept on rating differently years after year.
-> people are highly adaptive.
Even after going through extreme change, we quickly adapt to that change and it becomes our new norm (see the Hedonic Treadmill theory).
Hence, we may feel like the same person as we age and gradually change, but we aren’t actually the same at all.
Life feels “normal” as it keeps on going, while in fact, it may be completely different from the past.
Quick question: How much time do you spend imagining your future self?
For most people, the answer is “not much”. What we have learned so far described two major obstacles that prevent people from creating their future personalities.
- We assume our present personality is a finished product.
- We overemphasize the importance of the past, which leads us to become increasingly narrow in how we view ourselves and the world.
Since you know your personality changes regardless, it’s time you decide who you want to be so you can achieve your goals.
It’s time you take your own personality into your own hands.
This is the power of choices. It is time to choose for what your future self wants, not your present self.
Who you want to be in the future is more important than who you are now – and it should inform who you are now.
It’s like a walk. If you intend to walk from Paris to Moscow, what would be your focus?
You should consider the present from a future vantage point.
Life starts taking on a whole new meaning when you begin thinking right now about what your future self will want.
Rather than making decisions based on your current identity, you should make decisions based on your future identity.
It’s your responsibility to set your future self up for as much opportunity, success, and joy as possible.
This is how you become the person and create the life you want, rather than becoming someone with regret.
- Who is your future self?
- How often do you imagine and consciously design your future identity?
- What would happen if you based your identity on who you want to be, rather than who you’ve been?
Myth #3: Personality Comes from Your Past
“Causal determinism” is the idea that whatever happens now is directly caused by a past event or condition.
From this view, people are determined—not influenced—by prior events, like one domino in a toppling chain.
Where does this idea come from?
In looking at human behavior, psychologists have come to agree that the best way to predict future behavior is by looking at past behavior.
And in fact, that phenomenon is validated over and over again. It seems people are quite predictable over time.
- They continue to be defined by past traumas that haven’t been reframed or dealt with.
- They have an identity narrative based on their past, not the future.
- Their subconscious keeps them consistent with their former self and emotions.
- They have an environment supporting their present rather than future identity (“friends” and family members shaming you for attempting something different).
These are the four levers that drive personality.
And guess what? You can control them.
When you change, reframe, or manage these levers, your personality and life will change.
Here’s a story explaining why your past does not determine your present.
Tucker Max was a party boy and author who sold millions of books about his adventures. Then he made a movie.
Predictably, the movie bombed. That crushed Tucker’s ego. He went to therapy for three years, then released a statement saying he no longer identified with the person in the books.
As such, when he reads himself, he only feels empathy for that guy that wrote the words. He is not embarrassed one bit, or ashamed by who he was because who he was is another person than who he is now.
When you begin to actively and intentionally move forward in your life, not only does your future get better but your past does as well.
Your past increasingly becomes something happening for you, not to you.
An unchanging past is a sign of emotional detachment and rigidity—an avoidance of facing the truth and moving forward in your life.
The more mature you become as a person, the more differently you’ll view your past experiences.
But how can the past change?
Imagine getting a 10% raise.
Nice! You decide to celebrate and eat lunch with your colleague Mary.
Mary is excited! She also got a raise of…15%.
Suddenly, that 10% you were happy about does not seem so good in retrospect!!!
This outlines how instead of the past shaping the present, the present shapes the past.
The present is so complex that even that, we are not sure of. The way you remember your past is only one way, and certainly not the objective version of the events that happened.
When you allow yourself to fully relive your past and process the emotions that were then unprocessed, you change it, you let it go, free yourself, and can then move forward.
Context Is Everything
Our past is subjective because we give it meaning.
If we don’t challenge it, the interpretation and emotional attachment impact us.
Trauma happens to all of us, both in large and small degrees.
When our trauma is unresolved, we stop moving forward in our lives.
We become emotionally rigid and shut off, and thus stop learning, evolving, and changing.
By continually avoiding our past traumas and the emotions they create, our life becomes an unhealthy and repetitive pattern.
We get stuck.
But as we open up and reframe the trauma, we can take a positive and mature view of the past.
The present and future then stop reflecting the past. We are free from the trauma.
How we describe, interpret, and identify with our past has far more to do with where we are, here and now, than it has to do with our actual past.
When you keep on blaming someone or something from the past, that makes you a victim, and that reflects more on you now than whoever or whatever it is you’re blaming.
“Changing your past” doesn’t mean you discount the emotional charge of these experiences!
It means you change its interpretation.
As Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
In order to change your past, you need to become more psychologically flexible.
Psychological flexibility is the skill of being fluid and adaptive, holding your emotions loosely, and moving toward your goals.
The more flexible you become, the less you’ll be overwhelmed or stopped by emotions. Instead, you’ll embrace and learn from them.
The less emotionally developed and flexible a person is, the more they will avoid hard experiences; the more they’ll be limited and defined by painful experiences from their past.
This is counterintuitive, as many people come to believe the best way to deal with hard experiences is by burying their emotions and fighting a silent battle, alone.
This is not the way. Consider this quote from Emile Zola.
“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through, it will blow up everything in its way.”
Emotions should not be buried. They are the doorway to growth and learning.
The reason people’s personalities plateau and get stuck in repetitive cycles is because they are avoiding the difficult and challenging emotions involved in learning and in connecting with themselves and others.
As a result, they remain weighted down by their limited perceptions of their past for far longer than necessary.
- What stories are you telling about your past self?
- Who was your former self?
- In what ways are you different from your former self?
- How has your past changed due to more recent experiences?
- How would your life be different if your past was something happening for you rather than to you?
- How could life change if you embraced the truth that your former and current selves are two fundamentally different people?
- How would your life be if you never again blamed or limited yourself and your future based on the past?
Myth #4: Personality Must Be Discovered
Personality is built, not discovered.
Passion about something is developed, not uncovered.
As Dr. Jerome Bruner, a Harvard psychologist said “you are more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.”
Good feelings are a consequence, not a cause. When you receive a salary from your job, you get paid after working for a month, not before. The salary is a payout the same way passion and motivation are a payout.
As such, the author describes wanting passion before putting in the work as, and I quote, “get-rich-quick thinking and completely lazy.”
Passion is the prize, but you have to invest first. Personality is no different. It is not something you discover but rather something you create through your actions and behaviors.
Personality is a by-product of your decisions in life. Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Lincoln did not do what they did because of who they were. They became who they became because of what they did.
Purpose Trumps Personality
Without a deep sense of purpose, your personality will be based on avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure, which is an animalistic mode of operating.
When you’re driven by purpose, you’ll be highly flexible and you’ll make decisions irrespective of pain and pleasure to create and become what you want.
Moreover, if you are serious about your purpose, it will change your personality.
Your purpose isn’t something you discover, but something you ultimately choose for yourself.
Stop looking for it and make the choice, then let the choice transform you.
As you proactively make positive decisions, develop skills, and seek out new experiences, your personality will develop and change in meaningful ways.
It will adapt to the level of your goals and decisions, rather than the other way around.
Don’t Try To Find Out How You Are – Choose It!
Trying to discover your personality leads to inaction, avoidance of hard conversations, distracting yourself through consumption, and making excuses for how you’re currently living.
It puts you in the passenger seat of your own life.
Instead, you should be the driver.
According to Cal Newport, the idea of finding your passion is based on self-absorption.
People want to find work they are passionate about because they’ve been taught to believe that work is all about and for them.
However, the most successful people in the world know that work is about helping and creating value for other people.
As Newport states, “If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (‘what can the world offer me?’) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (‘what can I offer the world?’).”
The author takes the same approach to marriage and relationships.
While there needs to be a connection at the beginning, a successful marriage is not something life owes you – it is something you build!
Marry for aligned purpose, not personality, because personality will change over time. Purpose, however, will transform you and your partner over time.
- What purpose are you creating for yourself?
- What would happen if you stopped trying to find yourself, and instead became more creative and collaborative?
- How would your personality develop and change if you went to work on it, chiseling and shaping it in desired ways?
- Who would you be if you could creatively design yourself? (Hint, hint: You can.)
Myth #5: Personality Is Your True and “Authentic” Self
Another problem with the “fixed view” of personality is that people feel entitled to do only the things that feel natural or easy to them. The things “they were born for”.
If something is hard, difficult, or awkward, then people say, “I shouldn’t have to do this.”
People believe they have an “authentic self” which is who they should remain true to.
This self is seen as innate, the “real” them.
Unfortunately, this reveals a fixed mindset, and is often a reaction to a trauma or a lack of healthy connection to parents.
“Authenticity” these days is simply another way of saying “I am lazy” or “I am like that and won’t change.”
That prevents people from improving and getting out of their comfort zone.
- Who do you really want to become?
- What would happen if you stopped trying to be “authentic,” and instead faced the truth of why you’re limiting yourself?
- What would happen if you had hard conversations with the important people in your life?
- What would happen if you were “true” to your future self, not your current fears?
Conclusion of Chapter 1
Your personality is not fixed nor inherent. It is malleable and flexible, and it is something you can shape yourself.
When you understand the four levers that move it, you become the driver of your identity. You can transform yourself and achieve your goals. You can become flexible.
- Identity narrative based on the future
- Aligned subconscious
- Supportive environment
Your past and your future can increasingly become a story that you shape and define.
Chapter 2: The Truth of Personality
Do you know Andre Norman?
Andre grew up poor in a violent neighborhood where “getting out” was difficult. As a kid though, one teacher believed in Andre, and she got him to start playing the trumpet. The right goal sent Andre on the right path.
But then, Andre’s goal started drifting. He replaced playing music with hanging out with the cool kids.
Shortly later, he ended up in prison where his goal was to become the king. To become the king, he had to kill people. One day, as he was about to make his final act, he asked himself a question.
What was after becoming the king of the prison? Not much.
Andre’s actions had been motivated by his ultimate goal, and now that he saw the goal was not really…meaningful, he doubted his own actions.
That got Andre thinking.
He decided to change goals and got a new one: getting out of prison and into Harvard.
Long story short, he did get out of prison, and into Harvard, and now, he is an acclaimed speaker that teaches people how to reframe their goals to improve their lives.
Once Andre committed to a goal, nothing stopped him. As a result, he fulfilled it.
- Where is your life going right now?
- What wall is your ladder facing, and where will you be when you get to the “top”?
Your Goals Shape Your Identity
Everything you do is goal-driven. These goals shape your personality.
It becomes a problem when those goals are not actively chosen or defined.
Binge-watching YouTube has a purpose, even if it’s just to distract yourself.
How do you know whether you are on the right path?
You study yourself. More specifically, you study your actions.
Seeing every action you take as goal-driven allows you to take stock in the quality of your decision-making.
- Why are you engaging in this behavior?
- What is the purpose, reason, or end?
- What is the goal?
- How does this “goal” align with what you’re ultimately trying to do?
There Is a Reason for Everything you Do
How you spend your time matters. It reflects your goals.
Looking at what you’ve done the past twenty-four hours and then examining the reason for your behaviors will help you see what your goals are.
You will only be able to control your time and yourself when you truly determine what you want for yourself.
Your goals must be actively and consciously chosen, then pursued.
Spending your days on activities leading you to something incredibly important, something you truly value, is how you live without regret.
- Looking back at your list of activities from the past twenty-four hours, which ones are aligned with your future self?
- Which of those behaviors will your future self not engage in?
- Which of them, if removed, would free up more space and energy for what you ultimately want?
The Three Sources of All Goals
Personal confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities. —Dan Sullivan
Goals come from three sources.
Goals come from what you know. You can’t decide to go to Mars if you don’t know Mars exists.
Similarly, you can’t decide to become rich if you don’t know it is possible to become rich.
I started believing more in myself when I met people that had studied at Oxford and that weren’t any different than I was.
If I could get into Oxford, what else could I achieve?
You won’t pursue or engage in something if you don’t want it. But then, why do people do jobs they hate? Because they want the money. Neh. Actually, they want to pay the bills.
That’s their goal. Now, what if you changed the goal? What if you abandoned paying the bills, and chose a meaningful goal instead?
Just because you want something doesn’t mean you should want it. Our desires do not come from our innate personalities. Instead, our desires are trained, usually through experiences we’ve had, society, media, and those around us.
Often, your current desires—such as sleeping in, binge-watching Netflix, or staying up late with friends—contradict your future self’s desire, and are incompatible with better outcomes.
Now, desires can be trained. You can train yourself to want something.
When you evolve as a person, you develop a sense of purpose that expands beyond your personal preferences and interests. This purpose pushes you outside of your preferences and transforms who you are.
You train desire by actively and intentionally pursuing a goal. As was discussed in the previous chapter, passion follows engagement and skills.
Since you can learn to become passionate about anything, you might as well be intentional about what.
You won’t pursue goals you don’t think you can achieve.
Your current goals reflect your current level of confidence
Your job and income level are based on your confidence. Your friends are based on your confidence.
How you dress is based on your confidence.
Confidence is the basis of imagination—which is required for seeing and choosing a future beyond your current capability and circumstances.
Confidence reflects your personal belief in what you can do, learn, and accomplish.
The challenge of confidence is that it can easily be broken.
Confidence is fragile and erratic.
Negative experiences can wreck your confidence and imagination.
The good news is that confidence can be built, through courage, getting out of your comfort zone, and doing difficult things.
This is why you should have goals located outside of your comfort zone.
As you pursue these goals, you’ll have peak experiences.
Those peak experiences will make you more flexible as a person.
You will understand you are flexible and can change.
You will become more confident and capable to create and achieve even bigger goals.
You can build confidence in two ways:
- Through small and consistent actions outside of your comfort zone.
- Through bold one-time actions towards your future called a “power move”.
It can be quitting your job, investing in a mentor, going for a run in public, having an honest conversation, publishing a blog post even if you’re scared, asking for a raise.
The more power moves you make, the more peak experiences you have. The more peak experiences you have, the more flexible and confident you’ll become as a person.
The more flexible and confident you are, the more imaginative and exciting will be the future you create and pursue.
Identity Should Be Intentionally Designed, Based on Your Desired Future Self
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. —Albert Einstein
Most people let society define who they are.
Few people intentionally define and shape their identity based on who they want to be.
You need a vision, something meaningful to pursue because you won’t push past your perceived limits without visualizing your future self free of those limits.
Designing your future self requires imagining what their reality and daily experiences are like—the more vivid and detailed the better.
What are their freedoms, choices, circumstances, experiences, and daily behaviors?
When you become the driver of your own identity and focus on your future self, you care less about how you view yourself now.
What seems totally mind-blowing or exciting to you now is “normal life” for your future self.
Exercise: write the life of your future self. Be as specific as possible.
- What is your day-to-day life like?
- What do you stand for?
- How much money do you make?
- What type of clothes do you wear?
- How do you interact with other people?
- How do you view your present and future?
- What is your purpose?
- Where do you live? Who are your friends? What skills and talents do you have?
Select and Pursue One Major Goal: Your Future-Self Filter
To decide on your mission, simply look over all of your goals and then ask yourself: Which one of these goals would enable me to become the person I need to be to achieve everything else I want in my life. The answer to that question is your mission. —Hal Elrod
Now, choose one major goal. Having multiple goals is a reflection of fear and a lack of decision-making. Choose one goal. Just one.
This one goal must support all the other. Financial goals are often important because they sustain all of the other goals.
If you want to look better, earning more enables you to spend on better clothes, get a gym membership, and maybe even a personal trainer.
Choose one goal.
One goal creates focus. Focus creates momentum. Momentum and confidence spill over into all other areas of your life.
While reaching a goal is a process, process itself shouldn’t be your goal. That leads to mediocrity as it doesn’t give you any direction.
As Peter Thiel explains:
“Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready—for nothing in particular.”
Commit to Your One Major Goal: Why Results Matter
Your life reflects 100% of your commitments.
Whatever your life looks like now is what you were committed to. Your weight, your dating life, the money you earn.
If you were committed to something else, you’d have different results.
When you truly commit to the results you want, your life starts improving.
Your future self and the one major goal is what you should be committed to.
Everything you do needs to be filtered through that one major goal.
And that is hard.
Most people never even try to achieve their true desires because they are afraid to admit that it is what they truly want. They are afraid to fail.
When you commit to one specific outcome, however, that outcome must become your new narrative.
You don’t know how you will reach that goal, but you will.
That level of honesty and transparency is both rare and contagious—evoking confidence as you begin making progress.
Another reason to commit to specific results is that it clarifies your identity.
Your identity comes from your goals. Being totally bought in and clear about the end you have in mind instills a deep sense of purpose. You can imagine your future self in the position you want to be.
- Are you willing to commit to your future self?
- Are you willing to commit to one specific goal?
- Are you willing to put it all out on the line?
- Are you willing to be honest about what you truly want?
- Are you willing to refine and enhance your process to ensure improved results?
Go to Bed Earlier and Wake Up Earlier
The author goes out on a rant where he advises people to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier because you do better work in the morning while the night is usually the time of the day when you binge-consume products that do nothing for you.
- Are you going to create more peak experiences?
- Are you going to be more active and intentional with your time?
- Are you going to exercise more courage and commitment?
- Are you going to act toward your future self, become more flexible, and stop insisting that your former self is who you really are?
If there are meaningful choices, there is uncertainty. If there is no choice, there is no uncertainty. – Dr. Ellen Langer
If you’re unwilling to embrace uncertainty, then you are limiting who you are and who you could become.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable for our brain because it means risk, and risk means death.
However, if you want to accelerate your learning, you’ll need to embrace uncertainty. You’ll need to take risks and make mistakes. As you do, you’ll experience far more emotions—highs and lows—and through those experiences, you’ll change as a person.
Those are the very peak experiences you will have when you will be committed to your future self.
It may hurt a bit, but it will also become much more exciting and less repetitive.
Transform Yourself Daily Through Journaling
While most people think of journaling as writing about your past, you should use it to write about your future.
With the right ritual, your journaling sessions can become peak experiences, putting you into the best state of mind to live the rest of your day.
Here’s how to enter that state:
- Remove ALL distractions (phones, etc)
- Meditate or pray
- Review your vision or goals before writing (they should be written somewhere accessible. Don’t hesitate to change them as you move forward.)
- Write about things you’re grateful for—past, present, and future
- Start writing about your future goal
Don’t get attached to what you write about. Write with the expectation and excitement that your future self is real and that you will be successful.
Think in terms of what needs to be done to move forward. Write down all of the things you’ll need to do now and people you’ll need to reach out to.
Conclusion of Chapter 2
The truth about personality is that it can and does change.
Your goals shape your identity. Your identity shapes your actions.
And your actions shape who you are and who you’re becoming.
This is how you can develop yourself and your personality.
Chapter 3: Transform Your Trauma
Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on—unchanged and immutable—as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past. —Bessel van der Kolk
The author tells the story of Rosalie, a woman who never fulfilled her vision of writing children’s books.
When in her thirties, she took a drawing class to fulfill her dream. One day, the teacher was looking at everyone’s exercise and when he got to Rosalie’s, he took the brush and “corrected” her painting.
Rosalie never drew again after that incident. During the 60 seconds of being corrected, she internalized the belief that she wasn’t good at this, and that she would never become good at it.
Drawing and writing children’s books remained a distant dream.
That is the definition of trauma.
Trauma can be as simple as someone shaming, locking one up in a shelf for fun as a kid, or getting a degrading comment from a teacher.
In this chapter, you’ll learn how traumas influence our lives and actions.
Trauma Shatters Hope and Eliminates the Future
Let’s take math trauma as an example.
Math trauma manifests as anxiety or dread, and a strong fear of being wrong.
Most students develop a math trauma after a bad experience with math. They begin to think they aren’t good at math that it will never change.
Next, they stop paying attention to math in the classroom and refuse to make efforts to learn it since “they are not good at it”.
The fear of math which becomes part of their identity.
Pain and failure become associated with math. All imagination and interest in math fade. A “future” involving math no longer becomes possible.
That’s the principle behind trauma.
One of its features is that it stops you from being psychologically flexible.
The trauma creates a rule in your mind, you become rigid and fixed in your thinking.
One way to illustrate that is by measuring the imagination and creativity of people with PTSD.
They score zero.
Imagination is all about mental flexibility—seeing and believing different angles and possibilities, and the trauma simply prevent them from doing so.
When traumatized, you start thinking in black and white. Instead of seeing nuances, you focus exclusively on the event that happened.
You believe the experience you went through is systematic and objective instead of just being one bad experience among many others.
This creates a fixed mindset which according to Carole Dweck, is a mindset rooted in a past experiences.
The opposite of a fixed mindset is what Dweck calls a “growth mindset,” a flexible mindset.
It is the belief that you can change your traits and character. Having a growth mindset means your life is defined by the future and focused on what can change.
Research on both trauma and the fixed mindset shows that they each individually lead to an exaggerated fear of failure to reach a desired goal.
Such failure would make too big of a mark on your identity, leaving you feeling like a total and utter failure.
Instead of even trying, they convince themselves to go for something easier and safe.
The trauma leads us to become rigid about who we are and what we can do. Our past experiences now drive our future capabilities.
This is why making commitments about ourselves and our future should not be done while we’re in a traumatic or emotionally broken state.
From that state, our decisions for ourselves and our future will be limited. Instead, we want to make our decisions and commitments while in a peak and heightened state—when our faith and expectations are high.
- Describe one negative or traumatic experience that you’ve had in your past.
- In what ways has this experience led you to pursue “lesser goals” or held you back in your progress in any way?
- Now reframe those negative experiences by writing how they could ultimately help you become a stronger person.
Personality as the By-Product of Trauma
Traumas are painful experiences—both in our past and future— that we haven’t processed and are avoiding.
Think of it as a spider web. It limits your capacity to move and decreases your strength.
We think that this incapacitated person is simply “who we are”. But it’s not. Who we are is our deepest-held aspirations, dreams, and goals.
Trauma is self-sustaining in the sense that it prevents us from facing our fear and our truth.
Rather than creating the life we want, we build the life around our traumas, enabling them to exist and take space.
Rather than becoming the person we want to become, we stay the person we are.
Rather than adapting our personality to match our goals, we adapt our goals to match our current and limited personality.
- How have negative experiences shaped you?
- Where do you have a fixed mindset?
- Where have you built your life around your traumas?
- What goals are you pursuing to avoid dealing with your trauma?
- How would your life be different if the trauma was gone?
- What life would you ideally choose for yourself?
- Who is your ideal future self, regardless of what you’ve been in the past or what has happened to you?
Moving Past Trauma
A refractory period is the amount of time it takes to emotionally recover and move on from an experience. Some events take minutes, some take hours, some take days. Some take months.
A trauma is an event whose the person who’s felt it did not go through a refractory period.
A way to decrease the refractory period is to be psychologically flexible, meaning, being in touch with your emotions, feel them, and express them as you go through them.
That’s how you can process them.
Being in touch means being aware, and that is different from being grounded. It’s about expressing your emotions BUT without being completely absorbing them. You hold your thoughts and emotions loosely as you actively pursue meaningful goals.
The less you hold on to mistakes or painful experiences, the better you’re able to adapt to what the situation requires and perform in order to achieve your goals.
What happened in the past doesn’t impact the next thing you do, or stop you from being present.
The more psychologically flexible you are, the faster you can let things go.
When someone remains stuck in an emotional refractory period after a difficult experience, they literally get stuck in the memory and continue to experience life from the point of view they had when the event happened.
They stay imprisoned in an emotional and mental perspective.
Therefore, day after day, they continue reconstructing the emotions of the experience. They don’t regulate and reframe how they see and feel about the event. Trauma becomes a rut.
As the author Dr. Joe Dispenza states: “If you keep that refractory period going for weeks and months, you’ve developed a temperament. If you keep that same refractory period going on for years, it’s called a personality trait. When we begin to develop personality traits based on our emotions, we’re living in the past, and that’s where we get stuck. Teaching ourselves and our children to shorten the refractory period frees us to move through life without obstruction.”
Empathetic Witness: How to Transform Trauma
You’re only as sick as your secrets. —Alcoholics Anonymous
Trauma is only an interpretation of an event during which you felt painful emotions.
However, it doesn’t necessarily need to remain traumatic.
Although an initial reaction may be highly negative, all painful experiences can be reframed, reinterpreted, and ultimately used as growing experiences.
It is about changing your view on the experience. It’s about going from seeing it as happening to you, to seeing it as happening for you.
In order to transform the event from a traumatic experience to a “learning” experience and hence, a “positive” experience, you have to get rid of the pain you internalized.
You need to face your emotions and get them out by sharing them with other people.
By processing your experiences and emotions, by facing them, you change them. They become lighter.
Dr. Peter Levine, a renowned trauma researcher, said, “trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.”
The reason why traumas happen in the first place is that the more painful an experience is, the less we’ll talk about it, and the more we’ll internalize it.
This creates a fixed mindset. The past becomes a heavyweight we’d rather not think about.
The avoidance of pain creates addiction we use to numb ourselves to both the pain of the past and the pain of pursuing a desired future.
We get rid of the trauma when we feel the emotion attached to it and process it by expressing it to an empathetic witness.
As therapist Lynn Wilson said, “It is this honest connection between two human beings that, in the end, makes what we endured together understandable and meaningful.”
Family and friends being too busy, a psychotherapist is the one that now serves as an empathetic witness.
You need people who can help you get to your own next level. Otherwise, you’re going to hit some emotional experiences, bottle them up, and plateau or decline as a person.
Molehills can become mountains if you don’t have an empathetic witness to help you process and reframe your experiences.
A true empathetic witness encourages you to decide what you can do to move forward.
This demands courage.
Courage transforms trauma. Encouragement facilitates courage. Getting encouragement from others in your life helps you act courageously yourself.
This is why you need encouraging people in your life.
- List two or three people in your life who have been your biggest encouragers.
- How have they encouraged you?
- Why has it been so impactful?
- Reach out to them and openly thank them for their help in your life.
- A team of empathetic witnesses are people that listen to you express your feelings in a non-judgmental way which enables you to process them and move past them.
- Who are three important empathetic witnesses in your life right now?
- What other people could you add, or do you need, as empathetic witnesses?
- Who could you get on your team, right now, to help you get where you want to go?
- How much accountability and vulnerability do you currently have?
Becoming an Empathetic Witness to Those Around You
You can help others by being an empathetic witness to them.
When you listen to people in a loving and non-judgmental way, you enable your interlocutor to lift a burden, find clarity, process emotions and deal with their repressed feelings.
Being an empathetic witness is about listening and encouraging.
Not about talking. It can’t be done “quickly”.
You need to be there to listen, not solve the problem. The problem needs to be processed first, the emotion released, before any type of solutions can be discussed.
To make sure the event is processed entirely, the listener asks more questions.
- “Can you explain more for me?”
- “What do you mean by that?”
- “Why was that part so important?”
- “Have you given up on the idea of a better future?”
- “What positives have come from this?”
- “How will your future be different because of this?”
- “What can you do now to move forward?” “How can I help?”
- Are any of your relationships stuck in the past?
- Have former experiences created a fixed mindset in any of your relationships?
- Who are three people you could be an empathetic witness to, right now?
Trauma is at the core of who we are as people.
If we transform it, we remove the barriers it creates and can become unstoppable. If we don’t transform our trauma, we organize our lives around them, which decreases our capacity to get out of our comfort zone and achieve great purposes.
A cornerstone of trauma is that it is isolated, internalized, and then avoided.
The initial emotional reaction—which is negative, painful, and paralyzing—becomes the filter through which the memory is stored, hence the need to release it.
Healthy memories change over time. A growing person continually has a changing past, expanding in meaning and usefulness.
If you wish to move on from painful experiences, you can’t avoid them but have to face them, feel them, and release them.
Writing down and organizing your thoughts and emotions in your journal is an excellent way to do that.
It helps you get your feelings out of your mind and process them so that the memory can become lighter…or even completely forgotten.
Chapter 4: Shift Your Story
The author tells the story of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the moon. His whole life, Buzz was driven to achieve the extraordinary.
When he finally did, his life suddenly became meaningless.
Buzz became depressed because he no longer had any goals.
Aldrin’s problem was that he did not seek a goal, but a status. He wanted to be the guy that walked on the moon. When he succeeded, he didn’t see better status.
Once you obtain a status—such as a particular job title, income level, or relationship—your motivation shifts from approach-oriented to avoid-oriented.
Rather than keep on evolving further, your new goal in life becomes to protect that status. You do so by avoiding failure, you stop being courageous and plateau.
Without a future self that has outgrown and outdone your current self, life starts to lose its meaning.
Creating “Meaning” Through Stories
Human beings create meaning through storytelling.
Stories are the filter, the structure, the roadmap that enables us to make sense of the life around us and pursue meaningful goals.
Dr. Crystal Park explains that we create meaning from our experiences by connecting three things:
- First, we define the cause of the event or experience. (“What just happened?”)
- Second, we link that cause with our own identity. (“What does this experience say about me?”)
- Finally, we link that cause and our identity with the bigger picture of how the world and universe work. (“What does this experience and who I am say about the world?”)
Creating meaning is something we do automatically. But it has a dark side. If we are not proactive in the meanings we create for ourselves, we can generate a premature, limiting, and false cognitive commitment about ourselves.
“Because x happened, this means that I’m a bad person”.
“Because x happened, this means that I’m never going to live my dreams.”
Trauma is meaning-making which creates a fixed mindset.
Indeed, the problem of trauma is not about the event itself, but the meaning we create out of it. Something terrible happened, but what made it traumatic was its interpretation.
Trauma is the meaning you give to an event or experience, and how that meaning shapes your view of yourself, your future, and the world at large. The meaning you formed during former “traumas” is now driving your personality, your choices, and your goals. Until you reframe the trauma.
Think about it for a second.
- Why do you define yourself the way you do?
- Why are you the way you are?
- Why do you like or dislike certain things?
- Why are your pursuing what you’re pursuing?
It all comes down to the meaning you’ve shaped of your former experiences, as well as the identity you’ve formed as a result.
As Dr. Stephen Covey said, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.”
If you have a negative view of yourself, then you probably have a negative view of the world. The world is viewed through the lens of your identity. You only see, or selectively attend to, what is meaningful and relevant to you.
Your view of the world and of your past says more about you than it does about the world and the past.
Consequently, you should formulate meaning based on your desired future self. This requires being intentional about your interpretation of your experiences, even your hard ones.
It requires you to decide for yourself the meaning of your traumatic experience, instead of letting your “brain” be in charge of them.
This requires you to be conscious and self-aware of how you have created meaning out of difficult experiences, and what the substance of the meaning is.
- How would my future self respond to this experience?
- What would they think about it?
- What would they do about it?
- How could they turn this to their benefit?
- This is happening for me, not to me.
As human beings, we spend our lives creating meaning out of our experiences to understand our lives and make decisions. When you understand this fact, you start to see it everywhere.
Any type of experience or event is a chance to create a rule or principle which impacts our identity and worldview. Every small experience counts.
When going through challenging experiences, you can actually define their meaning intentionally instead of having it assigned to you. You can choose the mark traumatic events will leave on your subconscious.
Most people don’t do that. Their thoughts are governed by emotions, particularly in emotionally heated situations.
Those thoughts are reactive and unintentional, but create long-term meaning and narrative held by the person, which becomes then becomes limited in some ways.
Instead of having emotions controlling you, it should be your goals that direct your emotions, even when the initial emotion triggered by the experience is difficult.
The better you get at emotional regulation in both small and big experiences, the more psychologically flexible you become. Then your emotions and experiences stop defining you in a reactive way.
Here’s how it works.
- Become aware of what you are feeling. You can’t manage something you’re not aware of.
- Understand the difference between primary emotions and secondary emotions.
Primary emotions are your initial reactions to external events. You shouldn’t judge them. They are natural reactions to things around us. For example, being sad when a loved one dies or being frustrated in traffic.
A secondary emotion is what you feel about the feeling itself.
Secondary emotions increase the intensity of your initial emotion, creating some sort of vicious circle that pushes you into destructive behaviors.
Hence, part of becoming psychologically flexible is holding your initial reaction loosely—not taking it too seriously or overly identifying with it, but acknowledging it, labeling it, and then deciding how you want to interpret and feel about the experience.
3. Let go. Accept and acknowledge whatever you are feeling instead of pushing it down, pretending you are not feeling anything.
You then want to step back from the emotion and consider the consequences of acting on it. Usually, the consequences aren’t in line with the values and goals of your future self.
- How much of your current narrative is based on primary emotions, your initial reaction to various events or experiences?
- What is the meaning you continue to give to previous events that no longer serve the story you wish to tell about yourself?
- What is the story of “you”?
- Who are you? Why are you the person you are?
Your Past Is Fiction: It’s Your Story—Get Creative!
The author tells the story of a smoker who attempted to stop smoking several times and always failed.
One day he moved to a new city for his new job and when he was offered a cigarette, he refused. “I don’t smoke”, he said.
He reframed himself as a non-smoker, and he has never smoked ever since.
Side note: this story outlines how powerful labels are. They really imprison you into action. While they can be useful to stop smoking, they can also be destructive, like labeling yourself as an introvert, and hence, acting it out.
The Gap and the Gain: Reframing Your Narrative
According to the theory of “narrative identity” developed by scholar and researcher Dr. Dan McAdams, we build our identity by integrating our life experiences into an internalized evolving story – a narrative.
The story gives a sense of unity and purpose to our lives.
That narrative is composed of the past, present, and future. This means that the three parts composing your story as it is are not fixed, but are happening simultaneously as you’re living your present.
Your narrative evolves as your experience evolves. The facts about the past don’t change, but the way you interpret them does.
Most people trap themselves into a negative narrative and never come out.
A fundamental aspect of “reframing” your narrative is shifting what was formerly defined as a negative experience into a positive one. Instead of having something to you, you need to have it made for you.
You may be wondering “Why would I want to do this? If the experience was negative, why would I pretend that it was positive?” “Positive” and “negative” aren’t facts, but meanings.
The meaning you place on past events determines who you are and what your future is.
Changing how you view your past is essential to upgrading your identity and future. If you want to change your future, you need to upgrade your past since the past may prevent your ideal future from happening.
You do so by changing your story, your narrative with the gain and the gap theory.
That theory states that some people only see gaps in what happens to them, while others only see gains (it’s merely about being positive and negative).
You can live in your dream house and only see the one painting which is missing because it was destroyed in a fire. You see the gap. Or you can see everything else that you gained – the gains.
When you’re in the gap, you can’t enjoy or comprehend the benefits in your life. All you’re focused on is why something didn’t happen the way you thought it would.
This gap gain theory also applies to how you see yourself.
Instead of comparing your present and future version of yourself and see what you don’t have, look at what your past version of yourself had and was so that you can measure what you have gained since.
It is important, especially for short-term goals. Of course, you shouldn’t abandon your vision.
But you shouldn’t compare yourself to your vision as it will most likely be depressing – you should look at everything you have accomplished instead.
Seeing progress motivates you, it boosts your confidence, enthusiasm, and excitement.
So, it’s important to focus on the gain, to shift the view of your own narrative, and reframe the stories where you focused on the gaps to focus on the gains instead.
Practically, it means looking at it asking the question “how much did I learn” instead of asking “how much have I suffered?”
When you reframe your narrative, it is incredibly powerful to shift from what was a “gap” narrative to a “gain” one.
For example, you may harbor negative emotions about something that happened to you in the past. You may view the experience for all that it cost or has done to you. You may be blaming your current circumstances on those former experiences.
But what would happen if you flipped the script on those experiences? What would happen if you proactively shifted your attention and began looking for the “gains” of such experiences?
Re-remembering the past is about filtering your past through the lens of your chosen identity—your future self. How would a more evolved version of you view these events?
How have these events enabled you to become who you are today? Everything in your past has happened—or more accurately, is happening—for you, not to you.
How you tell the story is the story!
What you choose to emphasize or ignore in a story determines the focus and impact of the story.
Part of shifting from the gap to the gain is getting more information.
If you have trouble with the way people have treated you in the past, or the way you have treated others, you may want to go talk to these people and ask them questions, see their point of view.
This will help you see whatever happened in a different way. Eventually, you may understand why people hurt you and be a bit more sympathetic to their situation.
You may forgive them.
Reshaping your Narrative
1. Shift past meanings from gap to gain
Let’s practice training your mindset to shift from the gaps to the gains.
In order to do so, pull out your journal and answer the following questions:
- Over the past ten years, what significant “wins” or “growth” have you experienced?
- How have you, as a person, changed?
- What negative things have you let go of?
- How have your views of yourself and life changed over the past few years?
- What are one to three accomplishments or signs of progress you’ve had in the past ninety days?
2. Think about one to three negative experiences from your past
Now that you’ve thought about your past in terms of the gain, think about one to three key experiences you feel have negatively impacted your life. Write those experiences down in your journal.
3. List all of the benefits or “gains” from those one to three experiences
Now spend some time thinking about and then listing all of the benefits, opportunities, or lessons that have come from those one to three experiences. How have those experiences happened for you, instead of to you?
4. Have a conversation between your future self and your former self
Your former self is not gone. You carry him everywhere you go. However, it is probably a bit bruised, which is therefore limiting your present and future self. It’s time to make your former self healthy.
You’re going to change the meaning of the past. You’re going to let go of the pain you’ve been carrying. You’re going to be left with a different identity than your former self. Your former self will now be totally healed.
Measuring the gains of your experiences to see how far you’ve come is one powerful way of seeing the strengths, rather than the weaknesses, of your former self.
Another powerful technique is having a conversation between your future and former selves. You can do this in your journal, in your imagination, in a therapy session, however, you want.
First, imagine your ideal future self. They are incredibly compassionate, wise, and understanding. They’ve been through a lot and have created the freedom and capacity you want in your life. To get you started, here are a few questions you could answer in your journal:
- How does your future self see your former self?
- What would your future self say to your former self?
- What experiences would they have, if they were to spend an afternoon together?
- What would your former self think of your future self?
- How would your former self feel when they heard the loving counsel of your future self?
- Who would your former self be after that conversation, once compassionately given permission to let go and move on?
5. Change the identity narrative of your former self
When you shift your story, you see new possibilities for yourself.
You’re no longer the victim of what happened. Instead, you’re proactively creating meaning from your own experience. Your past is a story, which you reconstruct and design here and now.
Every time you go back to your past, you influence it. When healed and healthy, the past is simply a source of information that you can use (not a source of emotion, except for positive and chosen emotions).
The past is just raw material to work with. It’s a database that is entirely malleable and flexible.
Following the conversation between your future and former selves, who is your former self now?
- Who is the past version of you that you’re now carrying with you?
- What is different about your former self now that they’ve been healed and transformed?
- How do you feel about your former self?
- When asked about the past, what is the new story you will tell?
Avoid recalling difficult memories when depressed or feeling unsafe.
Rather, intentionally visit your memories when you’re safe, happy, and lighthearted.
The way you choose to remember your past and how you tell your story determine your past far more than what actually happened.
- What is your story?
- What are the pivotal experiences from your past?
- What are the gains you’ve had from those experiences?
- Who was your former self? How do you feel about your former self?
- Who are you now? Who is your future self?
Your Future Is Fiction: What’s It Gonna Be?!
You need to commit to your future self or may hesitate due to decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is caused when you make too many decisions. At the end of the day, you are tired and don’t want to make them anymore, so you make “bad decisions”.
Decision fatigue can be avoided by making a committed choice.
By not making a clear decision for yourself beforehand, you’ve deferred the decision-making process to some future moment when you’re forced to decide.
“It’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time.– Clayton Christensen
Creating Your Future Self
1. Honestly examine the future you’ve consigned yourself to
Before imagining your desired future self, take some time to honestly think about the future you’ve currently consigned yourself to have.
- What is the current future you’ve consigned yourself to?
- How do you feel about that future?
- Is it what you actually want?
- Do you see yourself achieving the goals you have always dreamt of achieving?
If you are not completely excited about the future you honestly see unfolding before you, then there’s a problem. That limited future self is also limiting who you are now.
In order to upgrade your identity, you need something extremely purposeful that you can shape your current identity around.
Choose a big goal, something that matters to you.
2. Write your own biography
You need to aim beyond what you are capable of. You need to develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end. If you think you’re unable to work for the best company in its sphere, make that your aim. If you think you’re unable to be on the cover of Time magazine, make it your business to be there. Make your vision of where you want to be a reality. Nothing is impossible. —Paul Arden
Now, write your future story as if it already happened. Write it as if you were at the end of your life. Write it as if you were someone 300 years in the future writing about you.
- What was your story?
- What were the significant events that happened?
- How will you be remembered?
- How did you live your life?
- What did you accomplish?
Write about your life from the moment you were born until the present. Then take a break. And now write from the present to the future.
3. Imagine your future self three years out
- Who do you want to be three years from now? Get specific.
- How much money are you making?
- Who are your friends?
- What does your typical day look like?
- What types of clothes do you wear?
- What does your hair look like?
- What type of work are you doing?
- What does your environment look like?
- If you haven’t done a lot of future-casting, then you might just start with ninety days from now.
- Who do you want to be in ninety days?
- What do you want to have accomplished by then?
- How do you want to be different?
- What changes do you want to make in your environment?
4. Tell everyone your new story . . . of your future self
Never mind searching for who you are. Search for the person you aspire to be. —Robert Brault
Most people’s identity narrative is rooted in their past. From now on, your identity narrative is based on your future self. That’s the story you tell people from now on when they ask who you are.
Write a three to five pages document about your future life and share it with everyone. They will hold you accountable.
Furthermore, it is important to highlight that your vision should include realizations that are way above your current reality.
It needs to inspire and excite you.
It needs to give you motivation and hope. It needs to be big enough that when you look back, you’ll be shocked by where and who you currently are.
Also, your vision shouldn’t be fixed, but constantly adapted and worked on.
Whatever document you craft your vision on should be a working document, so that you can make sure you can keep on growing.
In order for it to be strategic and useful, it’s helpful to narrow your vision to three or fewer years out into the future.
The vision should focus on your one major goal, which if you achieve will make your future self and everything else you want in your life possible.
Now that you’ve reframed your past and imagined your ideal future, it’s time to get busy.
In order to solidify your new identity, you need to begin acting in alignment with it so that your present self can transcend himself and become your desired future self.
It also means it is time to leave your former self in the past.
Psychologists have a term for this—self-signaling, which means that our actions signal back to us who we are. We judge and measure ourselves by our actions.
If you change your behavior, your identity will begin to follow suit. You will act yourself into becoming.
Your future self is your new standard. If your current payout for speaking gigs is 5 000 and your future self is earning 30 000, raise your fee to 10 000 first, and refuse any less than that.
Prefer being rejected at your new standard than being accepted at your old one. That’s how you force change to happen.
Make your future self the new standard for your current mindset and behavior. Act out your future self now.
Let’s see how it gets done.
Chapter 5: Enhance Your Subconscious
The unconscious is the repository of all of our feelings, regardless of their social or personal acceptability. To know about the unconscious is extremely important, for what goes on down there may be responsible for those personality characteristics that drive us to behave as we do. —Dr. John E. Sarno
The author tells the story of a healthy and fit 36-year old woman called Jane. One day, Jane got into a water-skiing accident and her leg was screwed. The doctor told her she would never run again. Jane accepted it and stopped running.
Some years later, her husband suddenly retired and started doing nothing with his life. That angered Jane but she didn’t say anything.
Suddenly, the pain in her leg came back.
One day, Jane met Steven Ozanich, the author of The Great Pain Deception. Steven asked Jane about her pain, and when he found out about the water-skiing accident some 15 years earlier, asked Jane how things were with her husband.
Jane admitted things weren’t great.
Steven understood that Jane’s pain had nothing to do with the accident, but that it was an emotional problem. He also told her that she would be able to run again very soon.
Jane followed Steven’s advice. She expressed her feelings to her husband, got a rage journal inside which she writes her feelings to process them, stopped therapies for her legs to abandon the idea that the problem was physical, and started living as if the pain did not exist.
Now, Jane is fine and is running again.
Your Memories Are Physical, and Your Body Is Emotional
Like memory, we tend to think of emotions as abstract, residing only in our minds. They are not. Emotions are physical.
If you speak with a physiotherapist, they will tell you about times when by massaging one specific part of their client’s body, they released an emotion that had been stored there for a long time and the client began to cry.
This is called emotional release, or catharsis.
Emotions and memories have physical markers in your body.
The information relayed throughout the brain and body are emotional in nature. That information—the emotional content—then becomes the body.
The experiences we have transform not only our perspectives and identity but become our very biology. This phenomenon is talked about by Amy Cuddy in her Ted Talk: “your body language shape who you are”. The emotions you live (“who you are”) also shape your body language.
People with low confidence, low mood, or low self-esteem seldom walk with their shoulders pulled behind and their head straight, the regard fixed on the horizon.
Why does this matter?
Because we need to reframe how we see our body and look at it as an emotional system.
Emotions are chemical, and our body becomes accustomed or habituated to these chemicals. It can also become completely addicted (think dopamine, and think heroin).
This is why overcoming an addiction is so difficult. Addiction isn’t merely a mental disorder. It is physical.
In order to change your addiction, you literally need to change your biology. You need a future self with a new identity, a new story, a new environment, and a new body.
In his book The Big Leap, Dr. Gay Hendricks explains that when people begin a journey of personal transformation, they will subconsciously sabotage themselves in order to get back to their former self:
It’s like when you feel you don’t deserve whatever good things you receive.
When you begin making improvements in your life, you’re going to subconsciously try to get back to where you feel comfortable.
This is emotional.
If you’re not used to feeling great most of the time, your subconscious will grow uneasy. It will fight back once you try to allow yourself to feel good because it is addicted to the negative emotions of your former self.
Because negative chemicals are what literally make up your body.
If you don’t change your subconscious, then altering your personality will be difficult. If you change your subconscious, then altering your personality happens automatically.
To make powerful changes in our lives, we need to change at the subconscious level.
Otherwise, the change will not be permanent. You could try to force yourself to be positive, for example, but if your subconscious, or physical body, is habituated to negative emotional states, it will default to behaviors that reproduce those emotions.
Willpower doesn’t work for overcoming addictions, at least not in an effective or predictable way.
You are an emotional being. Your physical body is your “subconscious mind,” and the only way to alter your subconscious is by shifting the emotional framework that makes you who you are.
In many cases, the cause of physical pain is not “physical” at all but emotional. Once a person accepts the fact that they have suppressed emotions and learns to express and reframe them, they will stop misdiagnosing their pain as a physical condition.
Of this, Steven Ozanich wrote, “pain and other chronic symptoms are physical manifestations of unresolved internal conflict.”
When you change your subconscious, your personality will change as well. Your personality is merely a by-product or reflection of where you are emotionally.
The untransformed trauma (and the fixed mindset it creates) stunts your imagination. Your future self and purpose are then either nonexistent or extremely limited.
This isn’t what you want. Think of these for a moment:
- Why have you become who you are?
- Are you the person you’ve become out of choice, or out of reaction to your life’s experiences?
- What would happen if you became the person you really wanted to be?
- What would happen if you allowed yourself to feel good more often?
- What would happen if you stopped avoiding your pain?
The author subsequently goes on a rant to practice fasting and give money to charities – not the amount of money you have, but the amount of money you wish to give when you earn your target.
These are supposed to help you change your subconscious because you have a much clearer vision when you fast and are more detached from your emotions and because by living like the person you want to be, you trump your subconscious into getting it to believe that you already are this person.
Chapter 6: Redesign your environment
If I changed the environmental situation, the fate of the cells would be altered. I would start off with my same muscle precursors but in an altered environment they would actually start to form bone cells. If I further altered the conditions, those cells became adipose or fat cells. The results of these experiments were very exciting because while every one of the cells was genetically identical, the fate of the cells was controlled by the environment in which I placed them. —Bruce Lipton, MD
In 1979, psychologists from Harvard designed a house so that it would resemble the 1950s.
They took a bunch of old guys that were young in the 1950s and told them to just pretend they were in 1950.
They couldn’t speak about anything else that happened after 1950 in order to force their brain to be in 1950.
The television broadcast games from 1950, and they could read the news from 1950.
They got younger. Not only mentally, but physically as well.
Those that had come in with canes left without them. Those that couldn’t carry their bags left the experiment being able to carry them.
That is how POWERFUL your mindset is. It can make you younger.
Context Shapes Roles: Roles Shape Identity and Biology
How people see themselves influences their mindset and emotions. And it also impacts their biology.
We adapt to the roles of our social environment.
It takes a lot not to be transformed by that social role.
Most of the time, you become the role you’re given.
Putting yourself in new environments, around new people, and taking on new roles is one of the quickest ways to change your personality, for better or worse.
Fully take on the roles you assume, and you’ll change from the outside in.
Now, why do people feel they don’t change?
Because of routine.
The reason why people feel they don’t change is that as they age, they engage less and less in new experiences. Life becomes a routine.
You start having fewer “first-time experiences”. You wake up at the same hour to go to the same place to do the same thing every single day. You become emotionally fixed, hence tend to be less open to new experiences, which increases being emotionally fixed in a vicious circle.
The situation doesn’t change, people’s social role doesn’t change, and as such, people’s personalities appear to be fixed.
- When was the last time you did something for the first time?
- When was the last time you did something unpredictable?
- When was the last time you put yourself in a new situation or a new role?
- Are there clothes in your closet that have been there for over five years?
Culture is often ignored because it seems invisible, but it shapes identity, behavior, relationships, and personality.
If you find yourself in consistent environments and consistent social roles, then your personality will show up as stable and consistent over time.
There is a huge volume of literature further detailing how the groups of people you hang out the most with shapes:
- Academic achievement
- Choice of university and degree
- How productive you are at work
- Whether or not you cheat in school and other life domains
- Whether you’re likely to do extracurricular activities and go above and beyond the call of duty
- Whether you engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, doing harmful drugs, and using alcohol
- Your likelihood of engaging in criminal behaviors
- The financial decisions you make and how well you ultimately do financially
- Your chances of becoming an entrepreneur
Since your environment shapes who you are, you need to immerse yourself in an environment that pushes you to become your future self. You need to hang out with people that are who you want to become.
Furthermore, here are three fundamental strategies of environmental design that you can use to force yourself into becoming who you want to be.
- Strategic remembering
- Strategic ignorance
- Forcing functions
Strategic remembering is Tim Ferriss always carrying a copy of the book The magic of thinking big.
It is Ryan Holiday carrying a coin onto which is written “Memento Mori”.
If you want to become your future self, you need an environment that reminds you of that future self, not of your former self.
Goals become realities when you are constantly reminded to go after them. This is why many successful people write down their goals every single day.
They need to remember where they’re going, just like an airplane needs to constantly update its trajectory as it gets pushed off course.
- What transformational triggers can you install into your environment?
- Where would you put those strategic reminders?
- Change your computer password to a phrase your future self would use. Throw your TV away. Remove all of the social media apps from your phone. Look at your closet and get rid of anything that your future self wouldn’t wear. You could fill your entire environment with reminders of your highest aspirations and goals. And you should.
Most of the things calling on your attention are garbage. All social media apps, the news, etc don’t bring anything into your life, nor help you develop and achieve your goals.
Strategic ignorance is about getting rid of everything that prevents you from becoming your future self and anchors you into your past.
Yes, including people.
Strategic ignorance is about knowing what you want and focusing on it entirely.
As people, we are easily swayed or derailed. Rather than putting ourselves in tempting situations calling back on our former self, we should aim at avoiding them altogether.
You can easily design an environment with the principles enabling you to pursue what you are after.
You need to design rules and systems that stop you from finding yourself in a mire of filth or the daze of endless opportunity.
Think about all of the inputs you’re currently getting that are sabotaging your future self.
- Rather than relying on willpower, how could you become ignorant of these things?
- In what areas of your life do you need to apply strategic ignorance?
- What simple decisions could you make right now that would eliminate decision fatigue from your life?
- What are you currently aware of or overly informed about that you shouldn’t be?
- What distractions or unwanted temptations remain in your world that need to be removed?
A forcing function is a self-imposed tunnel that forces you to grind to get out of it.
You imprison yourself and make the achievement of your goal the sole solution to get out of the tunnel. You’ve designed the situation to force you in the direction you want.
Forcing functions exist to coerce you into acting the way your future self would act. It also helps with getting rid of distractions.
Implementing forcing functions into your life ensures that you’re constantly moving in the desired direction, hence the tunnel metaphor.
Forcing functions also require time restraints, which activate Parkinson’s law. This law states that any achievement will take you as much time as the time you allow yourself to have.
Forcing functions can also arise out of the situation itself. In extreme sports, for example, forcing function is the activity. If you are not focused when you do a backflip with a snowboard…you may die.
Forcing functions demand a complete commitment from you.
To quote the author, “the goal is psychological flow and high performance.”
Your life should be designed so that you can focus 100% on your achievement. You want to produce the absolute best, otherwise, you may fail.
One of the most useful and powerful forcing functions is money. If you invest in a costly program, you’ll be more enticed to follow it.
Likewise, if you give 1000 euros to someone and they only pay you back 100 euros at a time every time you hit your goal within your deadline, you’ll be much more motivated to work.
- How can you embed more forcing functions into your life to ensure you become the person you want to be?
- What situations could you create that would produce powerful results?
Conclusion of Chapter 6
If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us. —Marshall Goldsmith
Environment is one of the most powerful and important personality levers. You must change your environment and design it for purpose if you hope to see any result fast.
To quote the author:
“You are the product of your culture and context. You’re the product of the information and inputs you consume. Everything that comes in —the food, information, people, experiences—shapes you. The first step is becoming mindful of your context and how it is having an impact on who you are. The next step is becoming strategic with your environment and situation.”
Conclusion of the Book
Embracing Your Future to Change Your Past Life Is Simple
Everything happens for you, not to you. —Byron Katie
- You’ve made it this far. The question is, what are you going to do now? Are you going to be consistent with your former or your future self?
- Are you going to activate the four levers of your personality and make radical and desired change?
- Are you going to continually expand yourself—imagining and becoming a new future self again and again?
I’ll leave the conclusion of this summary to the author.
“You are now equipped to increase your imagination, motivation, faith, and courage. You are equipped to embrace your future and change your past.
Throughout this book, you’ve been asked dozens of questions. Go back through those questions and answer them in your journal. Use your journal every single day to imagine, design, strategize, and conspire to create and live your wildest dreams.
Personality isn’t permanent, it is a choice.
Your personality can change in dramatic ways. The life of your dreams can eventually become something you take for granted— your new normal. Once you arrive at your wildest and most imaginative future self, take the confidence and faith you gain and do it again, but this time bigger and better.
Life is a classroom. You’re here to grow. You’re here to live by faith and design. You’re here. You’re here to choose. The choice is yours.
Who will you be?”
For more summaries, head to auresnotes.com.
Did you enjoy the summary? Get the book now!
Then you will likely enjoy all the others. When you subscribe to my newsletter, I'll share with you the articles I wrote during the month + the goals I have achieved + those I plan to achieve next month. My purpose is to help you work on your own goals and reflect.
Oh, and I'll also send you a special article for new subscribers only!
How does that sound?