Identity is often viewed as finite and consisting of separate and distinct parts such as family, cultural, religion, personal and professional. But according to Parker Palmer and other psychologists,
Our identity is an ever-evolving core within our biology, and experiences in culture – with our loved ones, friends, people who have harmed or humiliated us as well as people we have harmed, the deeds we’ve done (good or bad) to ourselves and others, other experiences and choices made come together in a melting pot to form who we are in this very moment. 1
One of the reasons that men struggle with building their own strong identities is because of economic forces that enable a plethora of choices and opportunities.
You can be a rock climber, a business owner, surfer, traveler, writer, speaker… the possibilities are endless. Advancements in our society have increasingly left men to their own devices, including finding communities with which to establish bonds on their own.
These freedoms can be overwhelming, and at extreme levels, they can lead members without the appropriate capacities and preparation to seek a life course without exerting much mental effort. They can simply select the social norm to impress peers. All while ignoring self-improvement areas such as emotional mastery, skill development and meaningful relationships.
This is deemed the Status Quo Bias, which is a fancy name for the default option.
Here are more examples of status quo bias:
- Most teachers know that students tend to sit in the same seats in class, even without a seating chart.
- For retirement plans, most individuals pick an asset allocation and then never rebalance their portfolio.
When faced with so many comparable options, it becomes rather difficult to imagine how different passions, investments or other seats in a classroom may make us feel. As a result, guys mindlessly go with the flow and allow the automatic parts of their mind determine how they will spend their lives.
This passive approach to invest in one’s identity causes one’s life course to be dictated by immediate circumstances, with little assertion by the individual. This is an unattractive. It’s just like watching the TV show that came on after your favorite TV show.
Nudge 2 authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sustein, call this the “yeah, whatever” heuristic. The activation energy required to change the channel and face the uncertainties of what else may be on makes it easy to mindlessly absorb what comes on next. TV networks play this game well.
The problem is that these kinds of men unconsciously drift through life abiding by what others direct them to do. They groom themselves to the bare minimum. They get a normal job or attend a typical school, because that’s what normal people do.
Their low-self esteem creates a weak identity due to the irrational fear of breaking social norms, and the risk of not being accepted by others.
The fear that drives these types of men to fit in causes them to present themselves poorly. They dress normal at best, look normal, say normal things, live in a normal place and go to a normal nine-to-five job. Their lack of confidence is instantly visible in their appearance and lifestyle, despite their pick-up lines and checklist behavior.
Think about this – How does your lifestyle speak about how you view yourself?
For guys that take the passive approach, it screams that they battle every day of their life to fit in, to maintain the status quo.
What value does this portray to women?
It portrays that these guys don’t have any more than the next guy.
On the other end of the spectrum are men who are better prepared for the challenges of life. These men can capitalize on the deconstructing of society by pursuing opportunities that lead to self-improvement in a variety of intellectual, occupational, and social arenas. 3
These types of men select their life course based on extensive self-exploration of the options available to them. This is an active identity investing approach that involves a continual and deliberate growth.
Due to the very nature of standing out, being attractive is controversial. You must be willing to do something that is going to differentiate who you are out of a crowd. This takes a willingness to risk people who may not like you in order to live life on your own terms.
If you are unwilling to create friction, unwilling to polarize opinions of you, then you’re going to seem like everyone else. You’re going to be boring.
Sure you can appear attractive and confident, but eventually the truth shines through and people stop finding you interesting.
Men who take an active approach in becoming the type of man they want to be undertake a more challenging task. But taking the road less traveled can lead to greater future personal and economic benefits, and a greater sense of purpose that encourages long-term planning, all while increasing the likelihood of accomplishing bigger personal and professional goals.
This is the process of building identity capital; the process of investing in one’s identity to reap the dividends later on.
Fitting in without any differentiation is unattractive behavior because it manifests a lack of investment in your interests, passions and desires.
Attractive men make their opinions known. They assert themselves. They’ve pushed themselves out of their comfort zone which has allowed them to have unique experiences and ideas. They’ve consciously explored a variety of interest and passions, and as a result these guys have experienced opportunities most people haven’t taken up
An active and attractive identity investor will deliberately choose his communities based on his goals, values and beliefs. This, in turn, encourages a sense of connectedness, integration and support with others, while the passive individual will tend to be alienated and disconnected from others.
The passive response in investing in one’s identity causes the individual to shift values and behaviors from trend to trend, rather than undertake the more developmental tasks, such as actively exploring, challenging and developing one’s beliefs and potential. While the active identity investor takes initiative in his personal development and invests in areas that he wants to build his life around, instead of trends that he knows will gain him social approval.
The active identity investor chooses his life direction based on things that interest him, not what other people say he should do.
By contrast, identity capital encourages individuals to invest in who they are. These types of investments reap future dividends in the dating world and make you not only feel unique and higher value, but they actually make you unique and higher value.
Invest in yourself. Take the Identity Challenge
- Palmer, P. (2008). The Heart of a teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching. ↩
- Book: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (2009) ↩
- Cote, J., & Schwartz, S. (2002). Comparing Psychological and Sociological Approaches to Identity: Identity Status, Identity Capital, and the Individualization Process. Journal of Adolescence, 25, 571-586. ↩