building self-esteem Identity

How to Change Your Identity

In solution focused counseling, we usually start with a deceptively simple question, “ What do you want to see change as a result of counseling?”  In a big sense, we’re really asking, “how do you want to change your identity?”  Or put another way, how do you want to change how you view yourself so that you can start doing things that work better for you?

For example,  if you’re socially anxious, I want to know how you want to see yourself in the future.  If you see yourself as fearful in social situations, worried about how people will judge you, then how will you view yourself when things change for the better?  Maybe you’ll see yourself as brave even when you make mistakes at work.  Maybe you want to be someone who is comfortable in stressful situations.  Or, maybe you want to be someone who can take calculated risks.

We don’t just want to change behaviors, we want to change your identity.  We want you to change how you see yourself.  You probably have a lot of negative things you think about yourself and this affects how you interact with the world around you.  When you make a determination about how you want to be different, you start changing your identity for the better.  

Change Your Identity with Small Changes

James Clear, in his book, “Atomic Change”, comments that there are three areas of change, 1) Outcomes, 2) process, and 3) Identity.  Most people start with trying to change the outcomes.  For example, they may want to quit smoking cigarettes.  However, starting with the outcome in mind, can make it hard to change the behavior of smoking.  Changing the process (how you will quit smoking) can be a step closer in the right direction.  But changing your identity is probably the best way to change the process, and then the outcomes change on their own.

Let’s take another example.  Let’s say you want to get better at keeping your house in order.  Cleaning the house over the weekend is an outcome.  Putting things away, vacuuming, doing the laundry etc is a process.  However, what if you decide to start thinking of yourself as a fastidious person who likes orderliness?  Then you will find you can keep this new identity about yourself going all day long. 

Start With Small Changes

You may start noticing those things you tend to leave “undone” around the house and start taking small, frequent steps to keep things put away.  You walk through a room and notice some dishes on a table and grab them as you walk into the kitchen.  Once you’re in the kitchen you notice the box of cereal you left on the counter and decide to put it in the cupboard.  Feeling good about what you just did, you walk out of the kitchen and take something from the kitchen that can be put away elsewhere.

Changing how you think of yourself—changing your identity— can lead to small sustainable changes in your behavior.  These are new habits you develop that start to add up to bigger habits and behaviors.  Soon, you can be that new identity you were afraid couldn’t happen.

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults.  He can help with anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, relationship problems, and more.  For more information, please visit the website at