Home Foreclosure Feel stuck? TGoogle Behaviorist says you may have fallen into an “identity trap”

Feel stuck? TGoogle Behaviorist says you may have fallen into an “identity trap”


We’ve all been there, in a position where we can’t stop skating. No matter how much effort and energy we put into something, we don’t seem to get anywhere. It’s disheartening and, in some cases, even devastating.

To get out, we need change. But change is hard, especially when you feel like you’ve tried everything, from every angle. Or so we have come to believe.

According to Google’s Director of Behavioral Economics Maya Shankar, what can keep you from changing is not the difficulty associated with the act of change. But rather, the lack of a simple thing. It’s not a lack of confidence. Nor is it a lack of connections, charisma, or even money.

Rather, it’s a disconnect between how we see ourselves and who we really are that holds us back. In other words, what holds people back is their own limited perception of who they want to be or believe they are. It’s perhaps no surprise that entrepreneurs are among the biggest offenders.

The identity trap

During an interview on the Rich Roll Podcast, Shankar explained how we as humans can settle into a personal identity early and close ourselves to change. In turn, this identity trap creates an attachment to who you want to be, which could kill your ability to succeed as the person you really are.

Almost everyone has been there at one time or another. It is human nature and part of our development.

For example, Shankar became a very accomplished violinist at a very young age. Consumed by her love of playing, she grew up with the assumed identity of being a violinist. It wasn’t until she broke her finger while studying at Yale University that she was forced to treat life like anything else.

But even something as prestigious as being a professional violinist is a limiting belief. After all, that was just one aspect of what made Shankar what she is, not the whole picture.

You are more than a buzzword

If you ask a Silicon Valley founder who he is, chances are he’ll say he’s an entrepreneur. Maybe they’ll even spice it all up with the added qualification of “serial entrepreneur” to let you know they’ve been in this business for a while and are something of a seasoned veteran.

But even the most successful entrepreneurs aren’t just entrepreneurs. First and foremost, they are always something else. Something bigger. The title of entrepreneur is only one aspect of their identity, not all of it. For example, Steve Jobs was not just an entrepreneur or a designer, but a brilliant minimalist whose love of simplicity fueled a design revolution. Elon Musk is not just a founder or a serial entrepreneur, but a genius innovator, a lifelong learner and an extremely dedicated worker who has found the trick to working superhuman hours.

Chances are your “direct line”, as Shankar calls it, is far bigger than the label you’ve stuck on yourself. Holding on to this label can hold you back from reaching your greatest potential. In other words, you’re probably more than you like to see yourself. Most people are.

In Shankar’s case, she was not just an amazing violinist, she was someone who loved to connect with others on a deeper level, which made her love playing music. Once that became clear, she became much more than a violinist, but a highly regarded violinist and cognitive neuroscientist, White House adviser, and the director of behavioral economics at Google.

As a culture, we have largely fallen into the trap of labels, with an obsession with brands and personal identities. The problem, Shankar says, is that most aren’t actually empowered by the labels they choose, but held back by them. In a conscious effort to be something, there is a tendency to subconsciously forget who we really are. Let go of the labels that limit you and chances are you will notice that you are becoming much more. Much more you — and more success.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.