It was bring-your-kid-to-work-day so I joined my father for a day of filing papers, learning about property and casualty insurance, and forced conversations with people who seemed really old but were probably 24.
Looking back it's clear my dad wanted to bring me to work primarily because it gave him an excuse to treat me (himself) to a nice lunch. He'd recently been introduced to sushi and was excited to expose me to a new world that would blow my Happy Meal mind. He was especially looking forward to my first taste of unagi - cooked eel. When he ordered for us, as he said the word unagi he almost whispered it - like a prayer. Sushi had transformed him.
We ate several plates which I mostly choked down. I remember my dad saying, "Just try it a few more times and one day you'll be in the middle of doing something and have this weird craving for sushi. That's how it happened to me.”
Years went by and everything he said came to pass.
By the time I was in college I had found the local sushi buffet and spent my hard earned tips on miso soup, seaweed salad, rolls of all kinds, and yes, the toothsome, crispy, savorysweet delicacy that first rewired my brain to love the idea of raw fish flesh: unagi.
I did something enough times to convince myself it was something I wanted to do.
More than that - I assumed the identity of someone who behaved a certain way through the conscious decision to perform an action I wanted to introduce into my life.
A friend and mentor of mine would say it this way: I became who I practiced being.
As a four on the Enneagram I find nearly all of my identity in my feelings. When I started going to counseling I soon found the joys of getting lost in unuseful thoughts about my past. At the time I believed this was an improvement - I graduated from being completely overwhelmed by what I felt to being utterly obsessed with thought.
Although I was plenty occupied, neither thoughts nor feelings were contributing to my growth.
I'd write pages of journal entries and send them to my counselor before each appointment, which she dutifully read. Then one day she told me I wasn't allowed to write about my feelings or share my thought-spirals with her anymore. She said she'd only speak with me about actions which took place in the real world - not my feelings about them, or what I thought.
Each week she prescribed me an experiment to perform - something I had to do - and I'd come back and tell her what happened. If I started to talk about how I felt or the thoughts that bubbled up she'd stop me and simply say: "No sir - what do you want to do next?"
I'd tell her I didn't know what I wanted to do but I had lots of deep thoughts I could share and would love to write her poem about the fear and frustration I was feeling...
She'd stop me again, "You were in theater in high school. Try this: Throughout the week pretend you're in a scene where you're playing the lead character. If you were in the audience watching, what would you want you to do? How would you want you to behave? Get clear on the actions that character would employ and go out into the world and do those things. Play the part."
It worked. I became more like the person I wanted to be because I began to act in such a way.
Last year I started coaching entrepreneurs. The greatest determining factor between someone who will come up with an idea worth trying and those who flounder is simply this: Getting out of the building and doing something in real life.
No one wants to go do customer interviews. No one wants to bother strangers by asking for advice. No one wants to call in favors. No one wants to build a thing and get feedback from their peers…
Yet the ones who do those things often create viable business ideas and find themselves more fulfilled along the way. The impostor syndrome dissipates. When they behave like entrepreneurs the believe they are entrepreneurs.
I once believed certain people were born with the gift of discipline. For them, choosing positive new behaviors wasn't as hard as it was for me. I soon learned this was yet another limiting belief. No one enjoys practicing new and uncomfortable behaviors. But there are those who learn to maintain focus on what they really want - which is on the other side of their discomfort - and trust the right behavior now will drive their beliefs later.
Unfortunately (and much more often), this goes the other way as well. We allow ourselves to get stuck in the rut of preexisting beliefs. We let the way we've grown accustomed to being in the world serve as our single source of truth.
If this is what I think about others it must be the way the world is - I’ve thought that since before I can remember.
If I feel this way about myself it must be true - it’s always been how I feel.
We can lose years this way. We can lose our whole lives.
The beautiful thing about these complicated brains we've been given is this: We have the power to choose what we think and feel. And for those of us (I'm at the front of the line) who have trouble shifting our thoughts and feelings, we can decide to participate in experiences that will shape us into different people:
When we adopt healthy habits we transform into a healthy human being
When we perform creative behaviors we soon identify as a creative person
When we take risks we become the person who lives an adventurous life
When we are courageous with our ideas we become courageous people
When we spend time with people different from us we realize we're not so different
When I continued to eat sushi I evolved into the dude who loves to eat sushi.
We become who we practice being.
Behaviors drive beliefs.
Can I get another round of unagi please?