How you see yourself affects how you behave. It influences what you do, and what you don’t do; what you try, and what you don’t try.

If you see yourself as a leader and you come into a situation in need of direction, you’re more likely to take the initiative. If see yourself as generous or helpful and you come across a need, you’ll be more prone to act. If you see yourself as flexible and a quick learner, you’ll be more open to potential change.

Sure, you may be wrong in your estimation of yourself. You may think you’re better or worse than you actually are. But even that false sense of identity still has an impact on your actions.

Think about all the people who can’t sing, for instance, who still audition for shows like American Idol. They see themselves as singers, and despite the fact that they’re objectively not that good, this view of themselves leads them to take actions that others—even others more gifted—may not.

Which is why it’s important to pay attention to any gaps between the kind of person you want to be, and how you see yourself today. We all tend to act in alignment with who we think we are. And the more we act in a certain way, the easier it will be to act that same way the next time.

Little steps in the right direction

So what do you do when the kind of person you want to be is not how you currently see yourself?

The way forward entails identifying, and then taking, baby steps in the direction you want to go. Because with each small step forward—with each little win—you’ll be providing evidence to yourself that will progressively affect how you see yourself.

Want to be more outgoing, but think you’re too shy? How about starting with saying ‘hi’ to someone you don’t know today. It doesn’t have to be a full conversation. Just a little step beyond what you would normally do is a good place to start. Want to be brave, but think you’re a coward? Instead of focusing on doing some big heroic action, how about starting with doing one thing today you don’t want to do. Maybe it’s having that conversation or making that call you’ve been putting off.

In themselves, things like these may not seem like a big deal. But with each little step you can start to see yourself moving in the direction you want to head. Each action may be extremely small at the beginning, but as you continue to take steps forward, you’ll begin to see yourself in a different light—in the light of who you’re slowly becoming. And as this begins to happen you’ll also be more prone to act in ways that are congruent with that identity. And eventually, you’ll find yourself acting in those kinds of ways naturally—not because you’re intentionally taking steps in that direction, but because those kinds of action have started to flow naturally out who you’ve become.