The only thing you need to change to transform your life

Two twin brothers grow up in an extremely rough environment. Their father spent his entire life going in and out of jail, abusing their mother, and eventually died in prison.

Brother number one decides to follow suit. He, too, becomes a degenerate criminal who ends up spending long stints in prison.

Brother number two gets straight A’s in school, goes to university for criminal justice, and eventually becomes a detective — he’s as straight of an arrow as you can possibly be.

If you were to ask both brothers why they chose the route they chose, they’d give you the same answer:

Look at my father. What choice did I have?

You’ve probably heard that anecdote before, or something similar, that illustrates the power of your own perception.

You come up with this ‘self’ that’s a combination of your experiences, traits, and most importantly the interpretation of all the above. You create this idea of who you are — an identity — and once fully formed, it’s very hard to break out of.

Why? Because you spent so much time creating it that the idea you chose the wrong identity is too painful to bear. So you tend to stick with it no matter what.

Why am I bringing all of this up? Because of the simple truth that will determine your future success.

The way you view yourself is the only thing you need to change to change your life. That’s it. It’s all in your mind. You know it, but you fight it, and until you accept it, you’ll always stay the same.

The cliche is true — believe in yourself. Of course, fully believing in yourself is hard to do without doing the work. So you have to do the work. But then there’s that catch 22 — you have to believe in yourself enough to do the work in the first place so you can believe in yourself. Ugh.

I’m not one to pretend an identity overhaul is an easy task. I’m not even necessarily saying it’s worth it. Dreams are worth it to me. I’m willing to get my ego bruised in the process of trying to get better.

But I can also see how some people might not want to do that. There’s no guarantee that going through the process is going to work. That’s the kicker. If you’re going to try, you have to have faith.

So how do you get there?

Until you understand your perception of the world isn’t real, you’ll never change. What do I mean? You’re so convinced you know how the world works.

Over time, you’ve created these little narratives and notions you use to cope with life, none of which are objectively true.

Some examples:

  • Rich people are all greedy, inherited their wealth, and are products of nepotism
  • Only people with extreme levels of talent can be successful
  • A guy or gal just can’t get ahead in this economy
  • I can’t succeed because I’m a minority or marginalized person
  • It takes money to make money

    I could write 100 of these. We all have them. And we all think they’re the truth. They’re not. You know how I know this? Because there are counterexamples to every narrative and other people in your exact position react to it differently.

You see this negativity based certainty everywhere — in comments sections on blog posts and YouTube where people go out of their way to create self-fulfilling prophecies, in casual conversations (particularly during happy hour), and of course from your dear friends in the media who surely want you to live a successful life.

It’s all BS.

You’re using rationalizations to cope. I do it. You do it. We all do it. Untangle your rationalizations, do the work, and believe in yourself. That’s the entire recipe for a successful life. Every blog post I write is an iteration of that ethos.

Ask yourself. Does it even make sense to hold onto a negative narrative, even if it’s true? How does it help you? Wouldn’t a little bit of delusional confidence help you even if it isn’t warranted as opposed to being down on yourself?

You’re in a war with your mind. Make no mistake about it. You have to fight for your life and fight for yourself — your real self.

Be yourself is terrible advice. At least, the way it’s usually prescribed. Don’t fall for the authenticity trap. Don’t ‘keep it real’ in lieu of living the life you’re supposed to live.

Society seems to be in this race to the bottom by way or martyrdom. We’re in a competition for who can do the least to improve themselves. We’re all expecting to be accepted no matter what we do.

But the thing is, deep down, you don’t like being this way. The people who try to cultivate this nonchalant air and act like they don’t care about self-improvement are doing the best they can to lie to themselves, but they don’t believe their own BS either.

You want to be your real self — unencumbered, unstifled, and able to follow through with the dreams you have dancing around in your mind. Most of us put up this veneer of authenticity as a protection mechanism because we don’t believe in ourselves. That’s what’s going on here. That’s where all the outrage is coming from. But what do you do about it?

Question yourself to death while in the process of trying to change your life.

Here are some of the questions I like to ask myself when I’m facing tough challenges:

  • Why not you? Why does someone else get to be the successful one? Why do you have to sit on the sidelines and watch?
  • Has anyone with less natural talent and skill done what you’re trying to do right now? If so, why can’t you do it?
  • Why do you care what people think of you at all? Who gives a f***? You realize these people don’t even believe in themselves either, right? Why are you giving their opinion so much weight?
  • Are you really incapable of [insert goal]? For what reason are you incapable? Is that the truth, really? How justifiable is your excuse?
  • Why are you wasting time worrying when you could be dead at any moment? Why are you hesitating, at all, ever, when you’re nothing more than a blip on the radar of the universe? Live. Go.
  • Does this cure me? No. Do I believe in myself a little bit more each day? Yes.

I’ve talked about this before. Self-improvement is ineffectual. Reading a blog post or watching a video or writing down your goals or taking one step toward your dream doesn’t do all that much in insolation.

Learning to believe in yourself is a cumulative game — a lengthy one. I mean, you’ve spent however many years building an identity that doesn’t serve you.

If you’ve spent decades living a certain way, it stands to reason you’ll at least need a few years of dedicated effort to reinvent yourself.

So begin the process of reinventing yourself — gradually kill the old you and become a new you.

All of this is in your head. What you believe to be true is true. You are a master of your own reality, but you think you’re a slave to it. Over time, you can begin to put reality into your frame instead of the other way around. When you do that, you’ll look back and laugh at how the limits you used to think were so real were totally imaginary.

I continue to learn that lesson each time I push through a challenge, kill a piece of my old identity, and replace it with a new one. Everything I worried about was BS. All the limits in my mind were fake. I shouldn’t be afraid of anything that isn’t a legitimate physical threat. I’m doing myself a disservice by believing anything less than the idea that I can achieve most things if I just do the work.

It’s you vs. you.

That’s the whole battle.

Who’s going to win?

Ayodeji is the author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.