A friend of mine once said something profound about the nature of personal development and transformation. I was talking to her about wanting to stop procrastinating and she said, “if I stopped procrastinating I wouldn’t be me”.
Let that sink for a moment. She hit the nail right in the head about personal development. One of the key things we have to do to change is to be willing to let go of those parts of us which do not serve us any longer. It’s one of the reasons I believe that true change only happens when you’ve hit rock bottom and have become utterly frustrated. That’s when you have nothing else to lose and you’re willing to let go of something you consider to be a part of yourself. We have a tendency to try to protect our own sense of identities, even if those identities are hurting us. Sometimes letting go of that part of ourselves, or even our whole self is violent and we have to step up and kill that part of ourselves. In stories, this is often represented by the hero character having to fight an evil version of themself (as in Scott Pilgrim fighting Nega-Scott) or a part of themself often conjured up to fight them, such as a monster from their own dreams. By killing those parts of yourself, you become stronger.
You can see this mythically and in stories, where the hero often loses the first confrontation against the villain and runs away. He learns and is reborn and wins the second round soundly. A perfect example of this is the Matrix. Neo becomes the One AFTER being shot and dying. Trinity then spells out his transformation as she stands over his dead body by saying, “I’m not afraid any more”. Pretty classic resurrection story, based on the Gnostic Bible, and thus the story of Jesus, who also, if you’ll remember, was killed and reborn.
Mythically, further, the snake tends to represent change and death and rebirth, by being able to shed its skin and become a “new” snake, in a way. You may have to do the same and shed your skin and become a new version of yourself. Sometimes the people around you aren’t comfortable killing their idea of your old self and exchanging it for your new one and that’s a part of life. People change.
There’s a few ways out of this for those of us who do not want to change only when things get truly horrible. The first is to change what you identify with as yourself. Are you the same person as you were ten years ago? How about when you were ten years old? How about when you were five? When you were just born? Physically speaking there’s almost nothing that’s the same as when you were that young. Mentally either. Personality-wise, there were significant differences. So what ties you to that child, and makes you think you’re the same person? A name? It can be argued that it is a narrative. It is a story that you tell yourself that starts with, “I was born” and “here I am”. We make up stories in order to make sense of everything around us (including us) and these stories are often incorrect. But we cling to these stories like a drowning man to a life-saving device.
Steve Pavlina/Ekhart Tolle/Buddhism makes the point that you should identify not with the things you consider you identity (your memories, personality, past, future, body, emotions, thoughts, etc.) but with the consciousness on which all of these things play out. The awareness of awareness that you develop in mindfulness practice.
Another related way is to reduce clinging attachment, a la Buddhism, again. Try mindfulness meditation and notice how you cling to things, unwilling to let go because of fear.