Identity-based Personal Pillars: Define your Ideal Self

July 20, 2015 — by Matt

So… now what?

In my first article, I outlined the factors and thought process behind my decision to take control of my life’s direction. That decision was my first step toward becoming unboring.

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.” – Mark Caine


The Thursday morning after I posted that article, my eyes snapped open and I sprung out of bed, ready to start my new life. I didn’t feel any different. “But I must be different now” I thought. I had made the decision to change my life – surely that was the hardest part! I once again attempted to jump up and click my heels together (getting a little closer this time but still ending up on my bedroom floor, holding my newly injured knee) and went about my day.

After a day that felt eerily similar to the last few weeks of commute + work + dinner + netflix, I sat on my couch, energy drained, and realized that the decision to change was indeed only step one. Now the real work would begin.

It was time for step two.

Taking Action

Once I had made the decision to make a change, the next step was to take action – to start directing my energy toward the things that I find important and therefore that I want to be central to my life.

But action without purpose is not productive. You know the concept of “busy work” – tasks or assignments in work or school that take up time and energy, but don’t actually contribute toward an overall goal or project? Taking action without a plan or guiding principles is like doing “busy work” on yourself.

Rather than putting together a specific set of goals and a plan to reach them right off the bat, I think it’s important to first define yourself and what is important to you as guiding principles for the decisions you’ll make moving forward.

Defining Personal Pillars

I decided to start by defining the personal pillars that make me the best version of myself and therefore will be driving factors for the direction I take. Consider this a “personal framework” around which specific goals and actions will take shape. This is an important first step for a few reasons:

You can take action before having to get specific.

Like many others, I often don’t really know where I’m going or what I really want out of life. But I don’t think I need to in order to get started. By defining my personal pillars, the things that are most important to me and that drive my ideal self, I can start making decisions and changes that match them. I don’t need to have a specific goal for what music I want to make to have “I am a creative person that enjoys making art” drive how I spend my time and energy.

Very specific goals and roadmaps are sometimes paralyzing. I often put tons of pressure on myself to meet self-imposed deadlines or quantity of creative output, and it has a negative affect on my work and on my peace of mind – sometimes resulting in me doing nothing. Using the more general personal pillar as a guidepost helps me more easily spend my energy on what makes me happy in a stress-free way.

They are personal, and thus inherent to your identity.

James Clear wrote a great article about changing the language of habits from “I want to work out more” to “I’m the type of person that never misses a workout”. I think this concept is also fantastic for general goals or life changes. By using identity-based language, you make these tenants a part of you rather than just “something you want to do”. It’s much easier to disregard a specific habit or activity, and it’s also very easy to beat yourself up about missing a specific goal. But by defining the core of who you are, you grant yourself control over your destiny. Because these pillars are traits of your character they are much harder to abandon than individual habits, goals, “hobbies”, or “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if”s.

They help focus on what is (and isn’t) important.

One of my favorite goals of minimalism (a concept I’ll cover quite a bit on this blog) is to eliminate anything unnecessary that steals energy or focus from what is important. In minimalist design, this means stripping away any elements that compete with the main content or message. In life design it means stripping away any forces, activities, or influences that do not serve your goals. These personal pillars provide focus to what is and isn’t important. If a new activity, opportunity, or commitment is in line with your personal pillars and your ideal self would do it, go for it! If it doesn’t align with what your ideal self would do, maybe it doesn’t serve you and you can leave it behind.

How to start defining personal pillars

I recently went through an exercise to define my own personal pillars. As with anything, I expect that as I learn and grow my thoughts on this process and the role of the pillars will evolve and become more refined, but here is what I kept in mind in my first attempt:

Think about what makes you really happy

Chances are, the things that make you very happy, excited, or motivated are good places to start when defining what is important to you. Another great focusing question is “if money was not an issue, what would you spend your time doing?”

Don’t get too specific

Unlike in goal creation, I found that avoiding specifics when defining my pillars helped me phrase them as character traits rather than activities. “Travel is important to me” is a personal pillar while “I will travel to 30 different countries in my life” is not.

Use identity-defining language

The language itself should define the person you are or want to become rather than outline specific tasks or behaviors. Your phrasing may differ from mine, but the two formats that spoke to me in my exercise (using “creativity” as an example) were:

  • “Creativity is very important to me, and is a driving factor in my life.”
  • “Creativity is very important to me. I am the type of person that is always creating something or making some kind of art.”

Borrow from others

Although these tenants are all personal, you’re allowed to get inspiration from others to spark your thinking. Ask those around you what their driving forces are, or find someone else’s list online from which you can get ideas (just realize that not everything these lists defined as “important for everyone” may actually be important to you – choose only what you care about!).

Keep it short

10 or less pillars is a good place to start. Trying to focus on everything at once typically results in nothing earning true focus, and paring your list down to what is truly important will help focus your energy. And this list is a tool for you – you can update it at any time!

Creating the pillars

In the next article I’ll outline what I came up with in my first attempt to define my own personal pillars. These will be different for everyone, but on the quest to become unboring you might find some overlap with your own driving forces. That’s awesome! I’d like this blog to start conversations about those shared principles so we can all help each other along the way.

What do you think? Does this concept jive with your own journey? Have you done something similar (or different) as a focusing effort for your own life design, and if so, how did it work? Any thoughts are welcome in the comments below!


Simply on a quest to become unboring. Artist, Producer, part-time word-putter-together at SPIRAL SURFER. Chasing freedom. Only getting weirder.

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