No Follow Through? It’s Actually More Damaging than You Think
“I’m not drinking anymore,”
The words rang hollow, and no sooner that I said them, did the laughter start.
“No, I’m serious. I just can’t do it anymore.” I retorted, which was followed by muffled laughter and a few “mmmhmmm,”’s and “I’ll bet”’s.
You see, it wasn’t the first time I’d said these things. I was the shameful bottle-dumper on Sunday mornings, turning my head away from the sink so I wouldn’t have to smell the stuff I had drank the night before.
I said those words so much you could call it my hangover mantra: “Namaste away from booze. . .until next time”
But of course, Friday rolled around, and I did what I normally do on Fridays. I cozied up with a bottle of red and my couch. I took tasting notes because I love wine culture and it made my habit feel like research.
I was in the midst of trying to start a business — photography this time around — which meant that if I wasn’t working Saturday and Sundays (outside of my full time career), I wasn’t REALLY an entrepreneur.
But of course, when Saturday rolled around, I was too hungover to feel motivated to do anything. Because one bottle of red turns into late night drinks with friends, as was the routine.
And so I did what I always did with my hangover: I carbo-loaded and binge watched Netflix, trying to stuff down the shame I felt about not accomplishing my dreams (again), with avo-toast and other such treats.
The days rolled into each other in much the same way. Me claiming I was going to finally stop drinking, followed by me stirring up cocktails, popping corks and meeting up for happy hour.
“Your identity follows your behavior.” — Benjamin Hardy, PhD
Looking back now, with almost 30 days of sobriety under my belt, (the longest stretch of sobriety I’ve achieved since I was a little thing drinking wine coolers), I realized that this constant goal setting and failing was setting me up for failure in all aspects of my life.
You see, most of us believe that our identity is what dictates our behaviors. But as Benjamin Hardy states, the opposite is actually true. As is the case with the psychological concept called self-signaling.
To quote Benjamin:
“Self-signaling. . .means that, as a person, you evaluate and judge yourself the same way you judge others — based on behavior. So, if you watch yourself do something, you identify yourself with that behavior.”
So while I was busy making empty promises to myself about FINALLY quitting the booze, I was simultaneously proving to myself that I was unable to follow through with anything.
That I was a failure.
That I couldn’t change my drinking habit, let alone my life.
That I was the kind of person that said she was going to do a thing and then never actually accomplished the thing. I always let myself off the hook.
That’s how I was living for years. Proving to myself over and over again that when I set my mind to something, it didn’t matter, I was going to fail at it.
My behavior was shaping my identity as a flake and a wannabe.
How One Seemingly Insignificant, Often Laughable Thing Changed My Life
“Small things — if not corrected — become big things, always.” — Benjamin Hardy, PhD
It’s always a joke, quitting alcohol. People would laugh, I would laugh because who was I kidding — me?! Quitting alcohol??. And then I’d pour myself a drink.
But looking back it all seems so connected now. I was continually failing at quitting alcohol, while also struggling to finally finish ANY business idea I started.
I blew through tons of new business ideas, swinging wildly from one niche to another, but was never able to stick with anything.
I started things, but would often feel like I was simply incapable of pulling off the huge feat of being a business owner and entrepreneur. So I failed, over and over.
I spent thousands of dollars of my own money and my families, but failed every time to follow through and finish what I started. I gave up when it got hard.
Just like I gave up on staying sober every time someone tempted me with a glass of wine, or tequila soda.
I would give under the pressure, my identity lodged in my failures. Certainly me, the girl who couldn’t even stay sober for a week, couldn’t run a business.
It was true. I never followed through, really, with any business idea.
How small achievements, done repeatedly, changed all that
“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” — Stephen Covey
Simultaneously, while I was making claims about how I was going to get sober, I was also trying to figure out a way to quit my job and start something on my own FOR REAL THIS TIME.
But again, this was all just a lot of talk. I didn’t think I was actually going to be able to quit my job.
Then something funny happened.
An opportunity fell into my lap to move to Costa Rica for 3 months to do a work exchange.
Suddenly I had a way to do something I’d been wanting to do: quit my job and start a new life.
So I did what any self-respecting risk taker does. I quit my job, kissed my wonderfully supportive hubby goodbye and was living in the jungle within a month.
Identity Shift #1: That one thing, though risky, helped shift my identity: I was suddenly someone who commits to her goals. I had wanted to quit my job and start a new life, and I did.
Shortly after I purchased all my anti-wrinkle jungle clothes, I signed up for a writing and online business course from my favorite author, Benjamin Hardy.
Identity Shift #2: I was picking up steam. I bought a course to actually teach me how to do something I’ve always wanted to do (be a writer) and actually make money doing it (something entrepreneurs do, apparently).
My behaviors were going directly against my identity at the time. I was committing to things, taking risks to achieve my goals and making financial investment into things I actually cared about.
Slowly but surely, my perception of myself was changing.
The Nail in the Coffin for ‘Old Me’
Two months into living in the jungle and launching this writing career, with a tequila hangover, I decided to quit the booze (again).
This time felt different though.
I did the hard work of changing my physical and digital environment to support the outcome I wanted, which was to be sober. I unfollowed alcohol-centric Instagram accounts and I publically announced my intentions to be sober for 30 days.
Then I did it. I succeeded. I’m still succeeding.
Finally succeeding at being sober for longer than a weekend has shown me that I am capable of setting my mind to a difficult goal and sticking to it.
I don’t think it’s any surprise that the path to being a successful writer is clear to me now. That I made a choice to be a successful writer and every day I’m sticking to that goal.
It turns out my identity isn’t fixed. Just because I used to be a drinker doesn’t mean I have to be now.
Just because I used to be a wannabe entrepreneur doesn’t mean I can’t be a real one now.
My perception of what I thought I could accomplish has changed dramatically since I decided to quit my job back in October 2017, and I don’t think it’s a fluke.
Our identities aren’t fixed, despite what your behavior is telling you.
I changed my entire perception of who I am, and thus my life, by doing small things over time. Inch by inch, I changed my identity by doing things that shocked me, that went against my ingrained behavior (of being a drinker that never followed through with anything).
If you’re stuck in the vortex of saying you’re going to do things, or accomplish goals, but never do, be wary. The small, seemingly insignificant things we fail at every day can spill over into the rest of our lives.
It did for me, both for better and for worse.
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