Your past and future selves can both affect your present self. You can actually imagine your tomorrow, remember your past, and fuse both to develop a positive perspective. Today, Penny Zenker interviews Dr. Benjamin Hardy, the author of Personality Isn’t Permanent, about crafting the avatar for your future identity. Want the opportunity to have a brighter future? Discover Benjamin’s strategies for reframing your past and honing your future.
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Crafting Your Future Identity With Dr. Benjamin Hardy
Benjamin, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
I’m super excited to interview you. I’ve been following you for a while on Medium. Every time I read one of your posts or read one of your books, it makes me think deeply, step back and evaluate who I am and where I’m going. I appreciate that deep thought.
Thank you. I like to challenge people to think hard about things. I’m glad that it’s had that effect.
It resonates with me, because my philosophy is that I want to be out there. My mission is to help people think and act more strategically. That’s exactly what you’re doing as well. Asking those pertinent questions and helping people to be more intentional about what they create.
I want people to be intentional about how they live every day and about how they go about what they’re going for.
Let’s talk about you. How did you get passionate about helping people to live intentionally? What’s the breaking point? There’s always a juicy personal story behind it.
I’ve got some juicy stories, which I share in my books, but I will briefly share and I’ll highlight the high points. One being my parents’ extreme divorce, which was pivotal in my life.
How old were you?
I was eleven. I’m the oldest of three boys and was eleven years old. We grew up in a religious family and the divorce was crazy. Both my parents immediately became totally different people. My father became an extreme drug addict. My mom had zero religion. It was interesting. They’re both amazing people, and that was a weird episode in my life watching things happen. Essentially, junior high school, I had zero foundation. There are Traumas, which are events that happen to you and there are traumas, which are living in a chaotic environment. I was dealing with both.You can't start a goal-driven path without first starting with your future identity. Click To Tweet
About age 19 or 20, I barely graduated high school and was doing nothing with my life. I attempted community college but dropped out after a few weeks because it was too hard and I had no why. I had no reason to do it. I had no confidence or skill even to read a textbook. I was playing World of Warcraft all day, living in my cousin’s house doing nothing and decided to leave. My younger brother ended up joining the military and I ended up serving a church mission. To me, that was the way out. I left. I ended up living in Pittsburgh for a few years doing a lot of community service and reading a lot of books.
I ended up having good leaders that helped me unload a lot of the trauma and baggage from my past and helped me to figure out a future. That was the big one. That experience opened me up and I saw a lot of things that I’d never seen before. I was in the ghettos of Pittsburgh, doing community service and being in people’s houses and trying to help people overcome their obstacles. That experience was great for me. I learned how to journal and I read many great books. That’s what set me off on my path. When I came back home, it was obvious to me that the people in my life couldn’t comprehend the changes I have gone through.
They saw you as who you were when you left.
They could only see and relate to my former self. To me, that person was no longer me. I felt like I needed to do different things and continue to surround myself in new environments. I liked the quote from Dan Sullivan, “Surround yourself with people who remind you more of your future than your past.” I kept going. I wanted to continue to study psychology. I wanted to continue to understand how this stuff works. I ended up getting a PhD and that was the big pivotal experience. I’ve read probably 1,000 books since then. We went to foster care. Crazy experience of doing three years of foster care and eventually adopting those kids and now having two others. There have been a lot of huge pivotal events in my life and I continue to seek those to be honest with you. I know that, as I talked about in the book, my future self is hopefully much better and a more mature expanded version of my current self. I want to go through transformational experiences in my future that update even who I am today.
In your new book, Personality Isn’t Permanent. I love that as a title of thought-provoking. You talk a lot about your future self and being intentional about creating your goals and desires in being that future self. What does your future self look like? How do you paint that for yourself? I know you go into a lot in the book and I don’t want to reveal it. I want people to read it. How do you put those practices that you share in the book? How do you put them into practice? What does your future self look like?
Let me tell your amazing readers. There are lots of good findings in psychology these days. First off, for example, you. I’m guessing you would argue that your current self is a little different than who you were 5 or 10 years ago. Your readers would probably agree. You’ve gone through a lot. You don’t see the world the same way. You have different preferences. You tolerate different things. Maybe there are certain things you don’t tolerate anymore that you used to tolerate. You prefer things now that maybe you didn’t prefer back then. It’s good from an identity perspective to recognize your current self is different from your former self, and that your current self is also different from your future self.
Your future self is a different person so they would make different decisions. Hopefully, they see the world differently and hopefully better. It’s good for decision making but it’s also essential to engage in true learning. It’s what psychologists call, deliberate practice. You have to have that future self in mind. This is where you begin living intentionally. Defining your future identity. Defining their attributes, characteristics, situation, what they’re up to, what they care about, and how their life is different. You can’t start a goal-driven path without first starting with your future identity. That’s the key.
For someone who might see this as a totally foreign concept. I was thinking and what came to me is some people understand marketing. They understand that you create a marketing avatar for the person that you’re selling to. It’s kind of saying you’re creating your future avatar. You’re defining who that person is, what they do, what they think about, what they buy, who they hang out with. For people who are reading, if this weird concept is blowing your mind, that puts it into something maybe they can understand since there’s a lot of entrepreneurs.
I love that and I’ll state it bluntly. I’m an entrepreneur and it’s funny that we spend much time crafting and honing the avatar for our buyers and we won’t craft the avatar for our future identity. Because your future self is hopefully who you’re becoming. It’s impossible to live intentionally on a daily basis unless you’re walking towards someone.
The challenge that people might have with that is because it’s intangible. It hasn’t happened yet. They have to visualize and not everybody is good at it. You have to practice visualizing it.
Everything you’re saying is brilliant and it’s important. There’s a seven-minute TED Talk called The Psychology of Your Future Self. It’s by Dr. Daniel Gilbert. It’s a good little primer. What he helps people understand is that one of the reasons why we don’t visualize and imagine a future self is because it’s a lot easier to remember the past than to imagine the future. What we do is we look to the past and we use that as the basis for identity, rather than getting better and better at thinking about and imagining a future version of us. Confidence is one of the keys to the imagination. Confidence allows you to think about who you could be or what you could do, and it allows you to have a lot more flexibility with your current identity. One of the key things is that your current self is different from your future self and so you shouldn’t overly value your current perspective. As Stephen Covey said, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”
This is why labeling is negative. Because when you hold on to a label, then that becomes the basis for how you decide the future. It’s a lot better to think about and be honest about, “Who would you like to be or what would you like to have if you were totally honest?” This could be a little difficult and scary and I can fully own this. It can be a little difficult and scary to genuinely think about, imagine, and maybe journal about or tell people about who you want to be or what you want to be doing with your life. Chances are maybe you’ve had negative experiences in the past that have led you to limit what you would be willing to try. Because of painful traumas, negative experiences in the past, or failures that have led you to be maybe not willing to pursue what you would want genuinely.
Believe it’s possible because your past is limiting you. A lot of people feel like, “That’s not real. I don’t believe that. I can say that. I can say an affirmation, but I don’t believe it in my heart.” How do they do that? They can get caught up in a label and in Personality Isn’t Permanent those personality types are giving you that label telling, “This is who you are.” We have all these tools that are keeping us where we are. What’s a tool or a way that we can let it go to open up a way to believe and step into that future self?
There are lots of tools and the tools involve both the past and the future. I’ll give you a few tools you could use that will help you with the future and a couple of tools that you’re going to have to use to reframe your past. Because you have a past, we all have a past, and that past is probably impacting your current decisions. Maybe in ways that you don’t want it to. It’s important to know that your past is not fixed. Your past is a perspective. Like the Covey quote that says, “You don’t see the world as it is, but you see the world as you are.” That same quote is true of the past, “You don’t see your past as it is. You see it as you are.”
First things first, ask yourself, “How did you become the person you are?” “Why have you chosen the life you’ve started to choose?” Usually, you could look back and you can think of a few pivotal events that have led you to see the world the way you see it or maybe events that led you to change your course or redirecting your focus. Thinking about those events. Maybe those are the hardest, most traumatic or most difficult things that you’ve gone through. There are few things you’ve got to do. The first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to be willing to confront those experiences. You could confront them by yourself. In psychology, there are two ideas. One is Exposure Therapy, which is the more you expose yourself to something, the more you neutralize the emotions.Turn the past from emotion to information. Click To Tweet
By simply thinking about and talking about these experiences, the emotions can dissipate. If the past is still emotional, then that means it’s driving you. What you want is you want to turn the past from emotion to information. If it’s information, you can use it. You want to get more context. First off, journal, second off, talk to people about it. When you journal about it, you can then think about it from different angles. I like journaling with questions. As an example, “How would a different person view this experience?” If I’m thinking about my parents’ divorce.
I’m thinking about my dad as a drug addict. “How would a different person see this experience? How would my future self see this experience? How did my dad see this experience?” One of the things that you want to do is you want to get more information and more context and different perspectives about this event. One of the things I have to do to gain more experience or more perspective is literally asking my dad. We’ve become friends over the years and he’s totally changed his life. He’s no longer a drug addict. I had to ask him like, “Dad, during these this episode of our lives, what led you to some of the decisions you made? What was it like for you?” Getting more information.
What I wanted to highlight and repeat, because repetition is key, what you said that asking yourself those questions. Even from a third party because they’re going to see it from a different perspective, whether you directly ask the third party like you asked your dad. You got curious and you could get somebody to ask but sometimes, you can just put a different hat on and do a roleplay. Sales people do it all the time, “If I’m the buyer and I’m talking to you, what is my reaction going to be?” It gives you a whole different perspective. When I’m coaching other coaches, I’ll ask them, “What would you coach someone else?” They would see the situation differently if they were looking at it by coaching someone else.
By the way, you’re a great coach. I can already tell. How you’re coaching us in this conversation is cool. What you’ve brought up triggered me with this quote, “You can’t read the label from inside the jar.” The idea is that a third-party perspective is almost always a nice way to reframe your perspective because you’re inside the jar. You are the one who saw these experiences and you had an emotional reaction. You’re usually viewing your experience from the initial reaction, but sometimes it’s nice to get out of the jar and get a different perspective. You can do that again in the journal by asking yourself the right questions. “How would a third-party person have seen this experience? How would I choose to see this experience if I was an adult watching a kid go through this experience?” Seeing it from different angles.
That’s key. I wanted to repeat that because it’s valuable.
Keep doing that because you’re a good coach. I love it. I’m being completely honest. You’re good at highlighting key things.
Thank you. I love it too. We’re both passionate about this.
That’s what makes it cool. These are great tools. The thing I love about journaling too is your idea of starting with questions gives you that direction because some people don’t feel comfortable to go to a white piece of paper and write. Those questions give some great guidance.
They’re a nice prompt.
I’m a big word fanatic. Our words will tell us a lot about our unconscious and what we’re thinking. I encourage people when they’re journaling to go back, read it, and circle the positive words. I call them productive and unproductive words. Where do you see yourself emotionally hung up? That’ll give you some indication too about what it is you’re feeling. Because when you’re writing, you’re not purposely making it perfect. You’re giving it something real from your heart and it’s flowing in.
No one’s going to read it, no one needs to read it, you can burn it or throw it away if you want. Write genuinely about the experience and how it impacted you and about how you view it and then maybe start thinking about it from different angles.
Those are some simple and great tips for people.
I’ll tell you a story and it ties in with everything we’re talking about because these thoughts are not finished yet. The journaling and also talking to other people about it, these are not fully-developed thoughts yet. The story will help us understand it. This is a story about my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law was at the gym. She was working out and there was a heavy woman in the gym, an overweight, obese woman exercising in the gym. This woman happened to be wearing tightly-fitted clothing. It was a little awkward for a lot of people.
My mother-in-law could tell that there were people judging this woman and she could see the situation. She also had her own potential judgmental thoughts. My mother-in-law happened to be working out next to this woman, she’s her next-door neighbor. She struck up a conversation and my mother-in-law found out that over the last few months, this woman has lost 150 pounds. My question for you is, if that’s true, does that change how you view this woman at all? If you found out that this woman lost 150 pounds in the last few months, would that change anything about your perspective of this woman?
It would, but my perspective was already different. I’m a master re-framer. My perspective was, “That’s awesome that she is there.” My next thought for somebody like that is, “How inspiring.” It does change my thought but even more so, first I’m impressed that she’s there and she’s putting the effort in. Secondly, to know that she’s lost 150 pounds is inspiring. I think that the human spirit is amazing and I love to hear people’s stories.
I love you more and more as you talk. What I love about what you said is that when you see a person like this in the gym, you’re inspired because you’re like, “Wow.” What I see is this person striving towards the future self. This person is acting incredibly courageously. A lot of people’s easy initial reaction to this woman is like, “This is awkward. Why is this woman wearing such tightly-fitted clothing?” From an inspirational perspective, it’s like, “This woman is acting as her future self.” Initial reactions for a lot of people would be maybe judgmental, like, “This is a little awkward or weird.” If they find out that this woman has lost 150 pounds, often that new context changes their perspective. Usually, it’s like you go from maybe judging this woman or being critical to being inspired. This story is an example that context is a lot more important than content.
By getting additional context, you see things differently. When I was talking to my dad, as an example, I got a different context. You can journal in such a way and even reframe, as you’ve described, to get different contexts that you’re looking at something differently. Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you see something, the thing you’re looking at changes.” You have to realize that you’re looking at former events, negative experiences from a perspective. When you get a different perspective, you’ll change how you see those events and you can become strategic about changing your memories. Changing how you feel about those memories. Changing the emotion behind those memories, and even framing negative events from a positive perspective. That’s a powerful thing to do.
You can then shape your narrative and your story around your past in a positive way. I view my past positively. I don’t believe it’s limiting me in any way. In fact, I believe it’s propelling my life forward. I’m grateful for it, but I’m also empathetic towards my father because of the information I’ve gotten. Knowing that there are reasons why he was the way he was. The way I was looking at it for so long was from the perspective of an eleven-year-old kid who didn’t know what was going on. I’m hopefully now seeing it from the perspective of a 30-year-old person who has a great relationship with my dad, and who can see that event from a different perspective. I don’t want to be stuck in the jar of the eleven-year-old kid. I want to get out of that jar and continue to upgrade my perspective.Context is a lot more important than content. Click To Tweet
What does your future self look like? Take us there. Years in the future, give us the visual, the audio and all that.
To give some people my situation, I’m 32 years old, I live in Florida, have five kids, I write books and I am an entrepreneur, I do a lot of entrepreneurial activity. My future self will be doing a lot less entrepreneurial activity. I will be in a situation with a lot more financial freedom. I believe that this book will sell and I’m planning on this book selling millions of copies. I’m committed to that goal. I’ve set that goal because of the future self I want to become. My future self has a lot more freedom. I’m going to be going back doing a lot more missionary work, to be honest with you. I’m going towards a more spiritual perspective.
With that said, I’ll still be writing business books and I will still be writing self-improvement that is separate from that. That’s something I love doing, but I’m going to be doing a lot more missionary work from a leadership perspective. I want to be in a financial situation, I want to prepare and situate my life and my family so that I can do that in cool, powerful ways. I’m going to be spending more of my time doing that.
Missionary work in this country or is it in other countries?
No clue. I imagine I’m going to learn Spanish and I’m open to that. I love missionaries. When I was a 19, 20-year-old kid, I was learning much and I went through much. A lot of what I’ve learned is so that I can positively influence that audience. One of my favorite questions that Dan Sullivan asks is, “Who do you want to be a hero to?” That question is clarifying for a purpose. You clarify your purpose when you can answer the question, “Who do you want to be a hero to?” You want to be a hero to this audience. You want to be a hero to the people that you serve and you want to help them in certain ways. I love helping people from a broad perspective to improve their lives and I’ve spent years learning how to help people improve their lives. A specific audience my future self is going to be a hero to are our young missionaries. It’s helping them to be effective because I love that audience.
I’ll be in a place financially through the selling of these books and other things I’ll be doing too to do that full-time. I’ve already prepared my wife and my kids for this. When I first told my wife, “Soon I’m going to stop a lot of what I’ve been doing and I’m going to be doing this.” Because of that future goal, I’m going to get us into a certain situation because your goal shapes your process. It sounds like, “Because this is what I’m going to be doing. I’m going to get us in this place so that not only is it possible but so that it’s okay for all of you.” Initially, she was a little freaked out. I’ll be honest, when I first got married to my wife, even when we were dating, I told her some of my goals and it freaked her out. She’s gotten used to me saying, “This is what I’m going to do next.” It freaks her out and then she gets on board.
It’s always good when your goals freak you out. It’s big enough and they freak you out a little bit.
I’ll be blunt. My future self is my future identity. It’s my future situation. The goal to get there, which does freak me out, is to sell ten million copies of this book. I have no clue how I’m going to do it. It’s absurd and almost embarrassing if you understand the impossibility of that goal.
In the name of reframing, there are many different ways to sell a book nowadays that weren’t available before. You’ve got audio, electronic versions, the physical versions, a distribution mechanism around the world. I believe that’s possible.
I’m committed to making it happen because I’m excited about my future self and about that situation about what I’m doing. Like I was excited to be in this situation. When I was a first-year graduate student, I wanted to become a professional writer. I wanted to be writing for the big publishing houses. I wanted to be making a good income and doing this with my time. I had to set a specific goal and reverse engineer that goal and become that human being, which is something I’ve done multiple times in my life. What happens is because your future self is different from your current self, your future self is dealing with hopefully better situations, problems, relationships than your current self is in. The things that I’m going to be doing in the short-term future is exciting to you that it leads you to be radically committed to whatever goal you’re doing. It’s fun.
In this segment, what’s one of the biggest learning that you got from writing this book, Personality Isn’t Permanent?
The big thing for me is not overly valuing my current perspective. Not overly holding tight to my current identity. Becoming a lot more flexible in how I view myself. When you don’t hold your current view too hard, then you can be a lot more flexible in imagining a different version of yourself and also imagining a different version of your former self. I’ve gotten a lot more flexible, honestly, and it’s led me to be a lot more intentional about goals and a lot more flexible in pursuing those goals. Because pursuing big goals often requires courage. It requires shifting how you do things and how you speak and communicate about yourself.
When you’re not tight on how you define yourself, but you still have principles and you have a why, it’s not like you’re standing on sand. It allows you not to be as worried about how people think about you. How people define you, and you can move forward faster. Even let go of things faster. Reframe quicker and get information faster. Change the content. I hold my current self less tightly, knowing that it’s going to change and knowing that I’m going to make it change.
By writing this book and diving into Personality Isn’t Permanent, how has that positively impacted the relationships in your life?
It’s huge because in relationships, it’s easy to become dogmatic and how you see people. It’s natural psychologically for us to develop filters. My kids are an example. It’s easy for me to assume that my twelve-year-old son is acting how he always acts rather than being mindful of the situation. Not putting him in a box in my own thinking and saying, “He always acts that way.” That’s being mindless. I’m a lot more flexible with other people as well. Also, recognizing the change that does occur. A big aspect of this is taking a second to look at the current situation and realizing how different it is from the former situation. Taking a minute to recognize that change has occurred and that growth has happened. It’s easy to have such tunnel vision that you don’t even notice the change that’s happened. To recognize that even in the last 3 to 6 months, you’ve changed or your kids have changed. I notice that more, I appreciate it more and I value my people more.
I believe that, so that’s why I asked you because I want everybody who’s reading to understand that this is not just a personal development that affects me and my relationship with myself. This is a book that is going to impact not only your relationship with yourself, but your relationship with everyone else. When you become more flexible with yourself and you loosen up on labels and be able to reframe, and get different perspectives, that affects everything. It improves your communication, which is the cornerstone of all relationships, so that’s going to improve your sales, your family relationships, and your friendships.
It will improve your sales. I know this is an entrepreneurial situation, but I’ll say over the last years, my income has multiplied by ten and multiplied by ten before that. It’s powerful when you’re not rigid in how you see yourself and when you then define who you want to be, then put yourself in those environments, get that education, go through that learning, that change, and shift your narrative. If you’re not good at sales, if you don’t think you are, you can easily become someone who’s brilliant at sales. That’s the whole key. You would need to shape an identity of yourself as someone who’s comfortable with that and who wants it, loves it and enjoys doing it. Your current self may not enjoy that. My former self in 2015, when I first got my foster kids, did not enjoy being with my kids. I’m being blunt. I did not enjoy being a father. I now enjoy that. Your preferences can change. You can choose your preferences. You can choose to become brilliant at selling. You can choose to develop a seven-figure income. That’s the key. “Who do you want to be? How do you become that person?”When you don't hold your current view too hard, you can be a lot more flexible in imagining a different version of yourself. Click To Tweet
Thank you, Benjamin, for being here.
Thank you all and like Benjamin Hardy said, “It is your choice.” Go out and get that book if you don’t already have it. Make sure that you’re taking advantage of all the golden nuggets that are in that book. I’ll see you in the next episode.
- Benjamin Hardy
- Medium – Benjamin Hardy
- Personality Isn’t Permanent
- The Psychology of Your Future Self – TED Talk
- Willpower Doesn’t Work
About Dr. Benjamin Hardy
Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist, successful entrepreneur and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work. His blog is read by millions of people monthly and featured on Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, Cheddar, Big Think, and many others and adds priceless value to your audience by helping them to break free from the shackles of what they perceive as a permanent personality. He is a regular contributor to Inc. and Psychology Today and one of the most popular writers on Medium. He speaks and trains at a wide range of events. He is also training for his first Ironman. He and his wife Lauren adopted three children through the foster system in February 2018 and, one month later, Lauren became pregnant with twins, who were born in December of 2018. They live in Orlando.
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