One of the biggest mistakes we can make – confusing behaviour with identity

Have you ever confused behaviour with identity?

A common mistake people can make is to confuse what they do with who they are, and this can be greatly debilitating, significantly restricting their ability to access resources.

Often separating the two, and appreciating that they aren’t necessarily equivalent, can be one of the first steps to creating sustainable change.

A friend of mine told me recently that he needed help speaking in public – ironically he declared this in a group setting while 10 other people were listening.

The way he publicly expressed his problem was this:

“I’ve been asked to give a presentation at work but i know I’M not a public speaker”.

The most revealing word was “I’m”.

“I’m” – or “I am” – is an expression of identify. A summary of who you are as an individual.

It’s not a wholly accurate depiction of what you’re capable of. It’s a generalisation – and a large one, at that – about your potential, and, when linked to restrictive statements like the above, can be extremely dangerous, and psychologically restrictive.

To speak in public is a pattern of behaviour; it’s something that you practice over time until it becomes a skill. It represents an aspect of your identity but it’s not the equivalent of it.

We do this on a personal level too. If you’ve ever told yourself that you are, “just not good enough – as a person”, then you’re confusing behaviour with identity.

“Not good enough to do what, specifically?”

We might not be at a certain level, in terms of our ability, to achieve something but that doesn’t mean it’s beyond our capabilities as an individual.

It’s not an ultimate assessment of our personality. Human beings are remarkably flexible and we can always learn and improve.

“I am” statements can work well when they are followed by a positive and enriching statement, but when they’re followed by something restrictive and disempowering they become dangerously toxic. And they’re just not true.

When i asked my friend how many times he had attempted to speak – formally – in public he replied, “Oh, just the once”.

That’s quite a generalisation: “Okay, so you try to learn a set of complex behaviours by doing it once and conclude that it’s not for you?”

Doesn’t that seems a little harsh!

So, on a personal level it’s profoundly useful to separate the two. If you fail at something it doesn’t mean that “you ARE a failure”. 

It just means that you haven’t learned to be behaviourally flexible enough yet to succeed.

We are potentially so much more than our behaviours suggest. But to appreciate it, we have to start by separating the two in our mind.

Behaviour is NOT Identity.

All the best,



P.S. Here are some other articles that you might find interesting:


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