Acting out of Character (to Achieve Your Goals)

Acting out of character usually carries a negative connotation.

In this article, I want to put a different spin on it.

Behaviour modification is the foundation of a growth mindset and positive transformation.

It’s a process which must be embraced, despite the discomfort of breaking free from your current avatar.

Let’s take a look.

Your present avatar

Identity formation begins in childhood as thoughts and beliefs accumulate.

We strive to maintain that self-image into adulthood, even if it’s not in our best interest, clinging to bad habits and unhelpful behaviours.

In a film or book, a protagonist rarely acts counter to their motivations or out of alignment with their role.

Similarly, our minds seeking cognitive harmony in real life, encouraging behaviour consistent with our self-image.

Furthermore, it’s preferable to remain in the role we’ve created due to the discomfort of breaking character to try something new.

The only problem? Our identity, formed during adolesence, often doesn’t make for the best movie.

Just as a director would modify a character to improve the end result, we must give ourselves similar permission to edit our story.

Fortunately, as a mind-made phenomenon, our narrative isn’t fixed and change is possible.

How to decide when to break character

Firstly, we must decide which parts of our movie need editing:

  • Look at who you envy and wish you could emulate
  • Identify things you’re slightly scared to do
  • Earmark activities that arouse interest and curiosity

Secondly, we can identify activities we’re hesitant to pursue by finishing the following sentences:

  • I’m not the type of person who…
  • I don’t believe…
  • I don’t like…
  • I don’t want…
  • I can’t be bothered…

Surface level, your completed sentences might sound like legitimate, valid reasons for inactivity.

Let’s say you don’t believe you can start a business, for example.

Now, examine the basis for this belief. Have you ever tried? How many times?

Sure, you might not even enjoy running a business, but why use a false belief to deny yourself the opportunity if it’s something you want to try?

That would be a cop-out, your present character self-sabotaging a potential storyline before it’s even begun.

However, the real culprit for inaction is often fear.

Constantly test your existing character by questioning the validity of your assumptions…

Then intentionally experience that which you resist to see where you stand.

This is why I like 30-day challenges, because they allow us to dip our toes in the water of behaviour change.

A couple of personal examples:

  • I believe in exercise – this is a valid assumption; good empirical evidence exists for its benefits and personal experience demonstrates that I feel better engaging in this healthy habit.
  • I believe in minimalism. Is this useful frame or just a response to fear of spending money and financial scarcity? Investing in a few quality purchases and exploring my reactions to these lifestyle decisions is an ongoing area of exploration.
art blur cartoon cartoon character

How to break character

Okay, so you have an idea of areas to work on. Here are three tips to get going:

Choose a role model

Imagine someone you admire and what they would do in your situation, before following suit.

It can be someone you know, a famous person, or even a fictional character.

You can also choose different individuals for different activities, as long as they motivate you to follow the optimal course of action.

Treat life as the game it is

Imagine life is a computer game or stimulation.

There are no negative consequences in this realm, and rather than taking every experience so seriously, you simply play for fun!

Explore the game with curiosity and embark on fascinating adventures with your new character.

Make different decisions, take more risks, and act positively.

Don’t overthink

It’s tough to think your way out of existing thought patterns.

You end up chasing your tail, tying yourself in knots.

To break free from our current reality requires action, even if we don’t possess all the answers before beginning.

It’s always possible to steer a moving ship, course-correcting as we sight additional reference points.

Furthermore, when we act out of character for long enough, our thoughts and beliefs slowly catch up.

Considerations of breaking character

As with any lifestyle change, there are consequences to consider.

External criticism

Firstly, you might get kickback from those around you, in response to your character behaving differently.

After all, they’re starring in their own movie, in which you play a supporting role.

By behaving differently, you suddenly threaten the narrative they’ve created.

If you associate with unhealthy people, for example, and suddenly improve your diet, it can appear as an attack on their lifestyle choices.

Alternatively, if you’ve experienced a breakup, your lifestyle choices might seem odd to an ex-partner.

Such pushback is inevitable and there are three possible outcomes:

  • You become intimidated and retreat into your familiar character to keep the peace
  • Your friends and family adjust their narrative to accommodate your character change
  • You write one another out of the shared storyline and seek alternative, aligned co-stars

Cognitive dissonance

Another factor to consider is that even having changed your character’s actions, his or her self-image might take a long time to catch up.

After acting a certain way for many years, it’s still possible to experience residual self-image dissonance from our adolescent experiences.

Some of the most outwardly successful people in the world continue to experience intermittent episodes of imposter syndrome.

However, this shouldn’t stress, depress or deter you.

Approaching the process with compassion for your current character is essential, along with the knowledge that you’re the product of your previous experiences.

Only by relinquishing the past and changing your character’s actions in the present can you begin your transformation.

Rewrite the script

Changing your character for the life you want instead of the one you’ve got is part and parcel of personal growth.

It will feel uncomfortable at first, ripping up of routines and replacing them with wholesome new habits.

You’ll likely experience ego-driven self-doubt and even external criticism.

But if you’re sick of your current story and dream of exciting adventures, know that you can rewrite the script whenever you want.