I see there are two ways to understand identities. One level is where you associate your self with a work, school, group, or lineage. Another level where you associate yourself with habits you do day-to-day.

For example: “I’m a Google engineer”, or in capoeira we would say, “I’m a student of Mestre X”. Sometimes we would say this even before our names, just because we think our identity (or affiliation) will explain more about ourselves, then our name.

On another level, identity is the ultimate compound of all your habits. Your habits are how you embody a particular identity.

When you make your bed, you embody the identity of someone who is clean and organized. When you study, you embody the identity of someone who is studious.1

It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.

Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one. Previously, you were on your own. Your identity was singular. You are a reader. You are a musician. You are an athlete. When you join a book club or a band or a cycling group, your identity becomes linked to those around you. Growth and change is no longer an individual pursuit. We are readers. We are musicians. We are cyclists. The shared identity begins to reinforce your personal identity. This is why remaining part of a group after achieving a goal is crucial to maintaining your habits. It’s friendship and community that embed a new identity and help behaviors last over the long run.1

But there is important “but”. Don’t overdo. Don’t make identities as a part of the group’s philosophy. Always be aware and remember “it’s only potatoes“. It’s good only for the first 2-3 years. It’s always going to explode in your face, if you make it a major part of your group’s culture.

People eventually need to get rid of their identities in order to be free.

When you go to yoga, you don’t go to become a yogi. You are going to find a balance. When you meditate, you don’t do it to become a meditator. You do it to quiet your mind. So when you go to capoeira, you don’t go to become a capoeirista – you got to free yourself. The whole idea of capoeira is liberation, is to break the chains.

Mestre Cueca

Identities are like tennis balls. If you have too many in your hands, how are you going to play capoeira, how are you going to do an au2, how are you going to shake your hand?


1. Quote: James Clear “Atomic Habits”
2. Aú – a cartwheel movement in capoeira.